Instructions for Talking to a Student about Suicide; or, a Monologue to Self after the Fact
When he considers uttering "the last syllable of [his] recorded time," putting out the
guttering of his "brief candle," don't tell him "tomorrow and tomorrow and
tomorrow" is another day. He knows what Macbeth knew: "Life... is a tale told
by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (pause).
Don't tell him that after he jumps from the roof of the mall parking garage he will still be alive,
bleeding out like the fish he speared every weekend (pause).
Don't mention the woman who only wanted a pair of shoes to go with the dress for
Saturday night and will buy him, a forever flashback, instead. Don't say how she
will be left with the sounds of his agonal breathing in the rattle of bangles on her
Don't tell him how she will be the mother of one of his classmates. How she won't
recognize his yearbook photo because his hair will no longer be blond, styled the
way she sees it, dark with impact, embodying the ground (pause).
How she will visit the principal the next day to confirm his identity: permanent truant (pause).
How the principal, who can't stop the tears swelling and receding at unexpected
moments like the waves he watched from the causeway, will never forgive
her administration, will quit her career; how the friends he took to school on the key, who say he
was laughing and joking "like normal" that morning, won't ever find their way back home no
matter how many times they are driven. Don't tell him how one of them will duplicate his act on
its anniversary. How everything will be the same: Mall, garage, church, GoFundMe,
Don't tell him about the student from another school who will admire him and walk from her
classroom, not to the bathroom as she will tell her teacher, but into traffic (pause).
Don't tell him by disposability, he increases visibility (pause).
Don't tell him how a witness will take pictures on his iPhone and post his body, crushed
like an ice cube, on Facebook, and that his youngest sister, in her bedroom with
the flu, will see them even before the police show up at the house, and that his
relatives will lie and tell her someone Photoshopped them (pause).
Don't tell him how the paramedics will massage his heart in the ambulance, holding it in their
hands naked the way his mother held him at birth, and how his parents will cup theirs, knowing
no manipulations will ever fix this, that his "walking shadow" will cast them into a darkness so
solid they can't even touch each other (pause).
Don't tell him they will hire a private investigator to discover why, but they will never find the
Don't tell him we are all both accidents and deliberations, how we can choose to believe or
disregard our epiphanies (pause).
Don't tell him how he matters more than everything else that is matter, matter changing from
solid to liquid to gas, matter preserved with chemicals and fired to ash, a matter that no teacher
or poet or priest could ever set to rights (pause).
Tell him (pause).
Note: Quoted phrases are from MacBeth
The winner of the 2018 Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition for The Crossing Over (March 2019), Jen Karetnick
is the author of eight other poetry collections, including The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, 2020) and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016), finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Prize. Her work has appeared widely in publications including Cimarron Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, JAMA, Lunch Ticket, Michigan Quarterly Review, The McNeese Review, The Missouri Review, North American Review, Ovenbird, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, Salamander, Tampa Review
and Verse Daily
. She is co-founder/co-editor of the daily online literary journal, SWWIM Every Day
. Jen received an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine, and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. She works as the dining critic for MIAMI Magazine and as a freelance lifestyle journalist and a trade book author. Her fourth cookbook is Ice Cube Tray Recipes (Skyhorse Publishing, June 2019). In addition to her website, find her on Twitter @Kavetchnik
, Facebook @Kavetchnik
, and Instagram @JenKaretnick