By Guest Blogger Andrea Ropko

There is a tiny population of middle schoolers wandering around Winston-Salem who would possibly have a reaction to the following phrase:

“Don’t underestimate the power of punctuation.”

You might be met with rolling eyes and a slow-groaned, “Did Mrs. Ropko put you up to this?”

I’m okay with that. It means they heard me.

You might even ask them if they have considered playing around with their capitalization, line and stanza length, alliteration, and intentional repetition. If you do, it’s possible this dear, select group would have no idea what you are saying to them. I’m okay with that, too. I know my audience. Their Room Poems were due on Friday. That was several days ago. Life has most definitely moved on.

Room Poems: a teenager’s hommage to their sacred space. A happy place. Sometimes. Rooms that have seen tears, heard confessions with pets, hurt from belly laughs with friends. Sleeping, snacking, homeworking, gaming. A place for books, clothes, trophies, and family pictures. I asked them to connect, tap into, and take writing risks. I asked them to play with their patterns of words and sentence structure to create a smooth rhythm and flow. These elements can happen naturally. They can also be intentionally manufactured, consciously chosen, and repeatedly finessed.

Of course, I found myself thinking about rooms that I have lived in over the course of my forty-something years. The attic space on Carr Street in Chapel Hill that I shared with a girl from Buffalo and a family of chipmunks. I slept on a lousy twin bed and had one sauce pan for the cooking. Eating was not on my list of to-do’s at the time; the sauce pan was unnecessary clutter. Then there was my spot on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C. Its backyard was the National Zoo. Elephants make for some interesting middle of the night neighbors. My CD collection was my prized possession at that time and I never bothered to hang any of my framed pictures. As much as I shaped these rooms with my minimalist decor choices, the time spent in those rooms, the mood of the room, the people in those rooms, the energy of those rooms, shaped me more than I shaped it.

I also kept thinking about the lifelong writing tools I asked them to practice. And practice again. And again.

In an attempt to live true to my writing instructor creed–a writing teacher worth her salt doesn’t assign anything she isn’t willing to do herself, here is one of my room poems.

Heath, Go to Sleep, Heath

Convenient to downtown and Lupie’s Cafe,
a nursery
in a charming (read: under 1000 square-feet),
two-bedroom bungalow;
complete with its own pet o’possum,
and a rusted bread truck in the backyard.

Gender neutral green paint from Lowes
to match the Central Park toile crib bumper.
Torn for a few days between Sea Glass and Sweet Mint;
two very distinct shades of light green.
Which one we chose, I have no recollection.
Easiest parenting decision I would ever make.

Heath was what one might call a bad baby.
Not that anyone would ever call a baby bad.
But I was always surprised by how often I was asked if he was a good baby.

Heath never slept.
Well, not never.
Just not at night.
And not in that crib.

Good babies sleep.
Bad babies do not.

During the daytime shift,
we never sat in the Sea Glass-Sweet Mint room,
preferring the outside where noise and light kept us company.
Rainy days with the TV and picture window.
Back to back episodes of Reba on the CW
swaddled and soothe us.

Down goes the sun, again,
and the outside world lay sleeping,
that baby and I
in that Sea Glass-Sweet Mint room,
rocked back and forth
in a wooden, creaky chair,
listening to a CD made by Uncle Dale,
entitled: Heath, Go to Sleep, Heath.

The CD churned on repeat;
spinning in a Sony AM/FM/CD Clock Radio with Dual Alarm,
discontinued by the manufacturer some time ago.

The first song on the CD:
Iron and Wine’s
Jesus, the Mexican Boy. 

Rocking, humming, crying
into Heath’s soft baby head.

1am, 3am, 5am–
“Jesus the Mexican boy/
Born in a truck on the 4th of July/
I fell in love with his sister unrepentantly/
Fearing he wouldn’t approve/
We made a lie that was feeble at best/
Boarded a train bound for Vegas and married secretly.”

If post-partum depression had a sound:
it would sound like Iron and Wine.

The CD would roll into the next track:
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s
Simple Man. 

Pressing his tiny head into my neck,
slowly rolling  it back and forth.

If it had a smell:
it would smell like sour breastmilk.

Back and forth in that piney wooden chair;
back and forth on the old hardwood floors.

Boy, don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself/
Follow your heart and nothing else/
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try/
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied.” 

If it had a color:
it would be mustard-colored infant poop–
with a side of pale green paint swatches.

Rocking, humming, crying, sniffing
Heath’s Castile soap baby head.

I would revisit that room again.  Not in a I’ll go back with an all-knowing perspective and do it differently (differently meaning better). And I definitely don’t mean I would have another baby. I am too old and tired for that. I can’t claim that no one told me infancy could be that dark and lonely and bleary-eyed making. I had a camp of ladies around me who said it could be like that and assured me that it wouldn’t last forever. You know, the days are long and the years are short, kind of platitudes. But if I could go back one night and rock that crying, colicky baby, I would gladly do it again. Iron and Wine style.


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