Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“First Words”

Amy Billone is a poet and a scholar who has published widely in both creative and academic journals. She holds a B.A. in the humanities from the University of Chicago and both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University. Billone’s poetry collection, The Light Changes, was named a best book of the year in 2013 by Kirkus Reviews and won the 2014 IndieReader Discovery Award in Poetry. Billone is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

First Words

The same way at five I stared from the tub
into my father’s terrified eyes after he broke
the bathroom door to save me because I hadn’t
heard his calls and as he shook my body
to bring me back to life I laughed and told him
I didn’t drown, the soap bubbles only filled my ears—
The same way at eight I looked into his gasping face
after he leapt from a moving car because I lay
sprawled on the grass by an upside-down bicycle
and as he lifted me with shaking arms I said I hadn’t
fallen but was writing a poem about how the clouds
were really cotton candy—The same way
at sixteen I crashed my car into a street light
and fainted on the hardware store floor, then woke
to see him gazing blankly at me from the doorway
too frightened to remember the name
of my hospital so I said it for him—The same way
in my twenties I regained consciousness
after a six and a half day coma because I jumped
in front of a train I was so surprised to recognize
my pale-cheeked father waiting like a marble statue
by my side when we rarely talked and he lived
in a distant city that I spoke my first words
even though doctors had said if I survived
I would never recover language: Hi Dad.