When I was a child
I would wonder upon my mother’s face
And upon the parentheses that neatly embraced her smile.
My mother is old:
Parentheses are a mark of the old, I thought.
When I was a student in middle school
I was told that I used too many parentheses in my sentences.
(This was marked upon my page, in Red Pen,
By teachers who thought I was doing it all wrong.)
You don’t need parentheses here, they said,
Or else erase these words altogether!
(These words? They’re not needed, they wrote.)
But I was in the seventh grade,
And I felt I was being clever and mature,
So I continued my arrogant error.
(Parentheses are a mark of the old, I thought.)
When I was twenty-three,
Still young, yet old enough to proclaim myself an Adult,
All at once I remembered my previous opinion on parentheses:
I looked in the mirror, as I do every day,
But this time, as I marked my eyes with black eyeliner,
I noticed something new. I gasped, aghast.
(I am twenty-three, and was shocked you see.)
Crow’s feet had crawled to rest beside my eyes.
Delicate lines danced beneath and beside
My eyes as I smiled, frowned, smiled, frowned.
(Checking, double-checking, as if to be certain.)
There beside my lips, parentheses had formed.
Their lines were not yet deep or indelible,
But were there as I stared.
(And this is when I revised my thoughts.)
Parentheses are not a mark of the old, I thought.
Parentheses, and commas, and m-dashes
Draw Attention to a life well-lived.
(Parentheses prove that many times in life
We’ve taken the time to smile;
Commas prove our experiences are plenty,
And we can list and line them up beside one another;
M-dashes—well, these are the very best—
For with a pause we can revise ourselves mid-thought.)
When I am old,
And have laughed and lived,
I will earn my permanent parentheses,
And I will wear them proudly around my smile,
Just as my mother did
When I was a child.