The Paper On Which I Write: A Poem for my Mom

When I was 5 years old

On the steps of my kindergarten classroom

The warm, dusty concrete beneath my

Sneakered feet

Beneath the

Vast Phoenix sky

My mom taught me how to play

Rock, Paper, Scissors


She doesn’t know this

But that is my very first living memory.


When I was 25 years old

On the heels of a long workday

Enveloped by a dark Chicago sky

Threatening to drench

I walked into a tattoo parlor


The artist the next stall over

Leaned his pierced, inked, bearded, and smiling face over the glass

“Is that the same guy that did The Giving Tree?

You know that book is about motherhood.

It’s so fuckin’ sad.”


I don’t know how many people know how

Trees are made into pulp

And pulp into paper

But how often do we understand

The processes by which we change


All we know is that we do.


When I was 25 years old,

In the kitchen of my second apartment

Enveloped by the smell of slightly burnt dinner

Weaving through the sound of the passing train cars

My mom called me


She doesn’t know this

But there is a pencil on my new tattoo

To represent my favorite line in all of poetry:


“We are growing our future with every borrowed pen”


And were it not for the books that spilled off of walls

Onto our side tables

Couches and chairs

The only thing never asked

To be cleaned up


Were it not for the pages of writing

That lined the walls I grew up between

The hall closet overflowing

With paper

And pens

And crayons

I’m not sure I would have ever learned

How to grow my future.


When she taught me that paper beats rock

What she was saying was

The paper I write on

Will always beat the stones cast

Including those by me

If only I have the courage

To show paper


I know I communicate best on paper

And paper is bleached from its original form

The paper on which I write


From something living

To something with the potential to give life


The same poet

Who talks about growing futures

Also said

“We have to create. It is the only thing louder than destruction.”


I know I communicate best on paper

And the paper on which I write is made possible

By the destruction

Of exactly what gives me oxygen


I agree

That The Giving Tree has the potential

To be pretty fucking sad.

But there is a way to ensure

That trees understand the processes by which they change

And not just that they do.


There is a way

To let them know

That the paper they provide

Is precisely what breathes life anew


They just don’t know it until they’re told

Until we decide

That the pain of the process

Is worth sharing

Is worth showing

That finished products

Are much more than a process

Of bleaching.


That the creation on that paper

On which I write

Is louder than the destruction

Of the tree that gave it to me


And I have to wonder

If there is a difference between a tree

And a piece of paper

If I take the time

To tell them both

That they allow me


To breathe.


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