Liz Oates

Rookie (January 25,1990 / San Francisco, California)

Prince Of My Heart - Poem by Liz Oates

My baby prince,
you are no longer a child.

It is your courage, not my own
that has lead me through
the miles of moth-eaten steel that has become of our past,
whose jagged edges once cut my flesh,
leaving delicate, pink marks
that are only now beginning to fade.

I still remember the games we played
to help us forget-
the ones we will never stop playing,
but only because forgetting is always
more practical than remembering.

I call you baby prince
because I can still beat you up,
even though you’re nearly a foot taller than I am,
and because you’re still a year younger than me,
and because no matter how smart you’ve gotten,
I can still get the best of you.

My only love,
there is no you and I,
there is only one unit,
a resounding “we” that is carried high on our shoulders,
though no one would ever guess.

I don’t remember your birth,
because I, myself was too young,
but even so, I know that from the beginning you were mine
and I loved you
like I have and will never love anything else

I used to tie your shoelaces,
and you would get angry because I was too slow.
I never got angry, but tried harder
to tie faster.

When dad brought that girl over from Russia,
we walked to school together,
cursing her for being ignorant and self-righteous,
and for getting out of bed too late to put on her make-up,
and for being pretty and young and for sleeping in dad’s bed-
a place that you and I had claimed long before she entered our lives.
Once, out of spite,
you screamed and taunted her all through the local supermarket,
small finger pointed toward her thin, blonde figure.
because she had farted.
We could not have been happier when she cowered in embarrassment.

When we were in Mexico, years ago
we found our aunt’s hidden stash of chocolate sauce
and turned her neat, terra-cotta kitchen floor
into a sticky-sweet slip ‘n slide;
we laughed until the fun was over,
but then we paid.

And when I started playing with fire,
you watched with awed curiosity -
saw how the flames licked my supple fingertips,
noted just how long I could keep my hand over the candle before it hurt,
and you saw how I held a Bic lighter to my mouth
and then let out a burst of hot, blue flame
that in an instant was gone.

I taught you my tricks.
You learned, and perfected them.

One year, we set the woods on fire behind our house,
as I’m sure you remember too.
We were so scared when we figured out
that the hose was not long enough
to reach the slowly-growing inferno in our back yard.
Then panic began coursing through our bodies
as we resorted to beating it out with our hands and feet,
and I remember the relief when we extinguished it and walked back inside,
blackened and smelling of charred cloth,
hands hot, raw and stinging,
and then the shame when Dad told us he knew about it.
We were never good at hiding our forbidden adventures.

We no longer have a need for invented games.
Sony and Nintendo have seen to that.

We don’t light fires together because you’re far away,
although I heard that you singed off your eyebrows
and had to hide your face behind your hair that is now much longer than mine.
I laughed and applauded your persistence of our dangerous hobby.

We no longer claim dad’s bed as our own.
We’re too old to sleep with him anymore
and our places have been taken
by a woman neither of us like, but have grown used to.
We’re still kids,
but you don’t even have to say that like me,
you don’t feel like a kid anymore.

We’re worn out old coots
who laugh and reminisce over Pine Sol-dusted tabletops,
who pretend they’re still young,
so they swear too much
and wrestle each other until they’re bruised and sore.

My baby prince,
when you fall in love,
I swear I’ll be there.
And I’ll hug you warmly on your wedding day,
and I’ll hold your hand at the hospital when you’re going crazy
with anticipation for your first child.

Baby prince,
when we’re old,
not just feeling it, but living it,
we will sit by the window together
and you will watch me smoke cigarettes,
telling me to be careful because of your asthma,
and I will remember being thirteen,
in exactly the same position
and you will have made me smile,
the way only you have been able to all along.

Baby prince,
my only true love,
you will one day carry the sky in your pockets,
and if it gets heavy,
don’t hesitate to ask me to lend a hand.
For you, I’ll have more than two to lend.


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Poem Submitted: Sunday, August 6, 2006

Poem Edited: Monday, August 23, 2010


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