If A Poem

My poem is after a poem with the same name, written by Melissa Fite Johnson. Both of our poems remake a world where things are different with our dying fathers. In mine, I turn back time—initially just to arrive before he loses the ability to speak, but then, I turn time back further, to before the fall that precipitated the end, and then even further back to when he was diagnosed with the kidney disease that shortened his life. It’s another elegy to my father, another way of mourning him.

—after Melissa Fite Johnson

If a poem resurrects, how many times
have I tried? I catch an earlier flight,
the day before, two days before—early
enough that he’s still speaking when
I arrive. Early enough to know he hears
me when I say I love you. Early enough
he can say it back. If a poem is a time
machine, I back up further, to the day
his body plunged to pavement,
to the day his lung popped, his heart
bruised, his spleen tore. I back up to before
the paramedics arrived, before they couldn’t
get the IV into his collapsed veins so they
crushed fentanyl and he snorted it. Let’s
go back further, rewind a decade or two
or three. Let’s go back to the diagnosis,
let’s start intervention early, let’s tweak
his diet, the drugs, the therapies. Let’s
give him more than 73 years, let’s give me
more than 41 years with him. If a poem
grants wishes, I want them all to say father.

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the full-length collections Her Whole Bright Life; Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart; and Beautiful & Full of Monsters. She is the Arlington County Poet Laureate, a Virginia Center for Creative Arts Fellow, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Riot in Your Throat, an independent poetry press. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Find her online at



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