Punctuating Adrian
by Charlotte Renk

The strident urgency of my voice didn't match
the drone of what I was saying.
How could a comma after an introductory
adverbial clause matter as much as the lash
of wind's tongue against the window?

Or as much as the wrathful silence of Adrian's mom
at breakfast after his own voice had faltered,
halting to confess his "no-choice."
She had defended him against his father's scorn,
his contempt for his son's disinterest in baseball or cars,
his early interest in dolls and clothes.

He muttered the truest words he'd ever uttered:
"Mom, I'm...I'm gay...I've always known...uhm..."
words trailing like a shadow in drag into silence,
stifled by clenched jaw, furrowed brow, and lips
pursed down into commas of disgust.

He begged her as he had his small-town god)
to forgive him his "sin" and not to stop
loving him, (See comma for short pause.)
but she could not unknot the choke of scowl,
harder than the dry, half-eaten toast on her plate.

So Adrian did not know where he'd go
from that table, past his classroom, this site
of irrelevant rules behind stark walls.

"Commas mark brief pause," I repeated.
"Unlike scowls," he thought.
"If you use a period at the end of a dependent thought,
(note comma again) you create a fragment."
"Like me," he thought, "as the sentence runs on
and on...and on."

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