I heard there was a TV show called "Second Chances.” It sounded like fun and I was thrilled to be invited to participate. It was pretty easy to play the game. Five contestants, ten numbers, each with a hidden category. The participants simply have to select a number, and then the category is revealed. No number can be repeated. I won’t go into the details about how numbers are chosen, other than to say each player can choose three numbers and rank them: three, six, eight, for example. If three and six are already chosen, then that player gets number eight, the third choice. Easy enough.

After all five participants have chosen numbers, the category that corresponds to each of them is revealed. After that, they all must write a poem, no longer than twenty lines, about their second chance. An alternative form is the prose poem, which looks more like a paragraph or two, but has a lyrical style. Contestants are reminded that poems do not have to rhyme, but they may. Most contestants don’t bother with rhyming, though, because they’re under pressure to write their response in five minutes.

Once time is up, the poems are presented anonymously, so nobody knows who wrote each one. Note that the submissions cannot have any identifying characteristics so voters can’t recognize the author and just cast a ballot for a lover or family member. It’s tricky, when you think about it. Any poem that does not follow the rules is eliminated.

So the audience secretly votes for top choice and runner-up. Someone or some computer, rather, computes the votes and the winner is announced. The winner gets a prize. He or she is actually awarded a second chance. I didn’t know how they could possibly give out second chances, but week after week somebody goes home a winner, with a second opportunity tucked nicely into his or her pocket. (Both men and women are on the show, in equal numbers, naturally. The producers also try to keep a mix of ages and ethnicities, because that’s the thing they should do and it makes for more diversity in answers.)

Just a few of the categories that are hidden by the numbers are:

  1. Love
  2. An exam
  3. A recipe
  4. A gift given to somebody
  5. A trip
  6. A speech at a public gathering
  7. A pet
  8. A piece of furniture
  9. A mattress
  10. A rainy (or snowy) day
  11. Career

There are many, many more categories, but the complete list would be too much to include here. More can be added at any time, and the selection each week is random, kind of like the way software programs can generate plots or writing prompts. Some items on the list are great, others are ho-hum, and others are downright awful. Of course, it also depends on how the category fits the participant who selected it. 

Anyway, this was the program I was scheduled to go on. I thought how nice it would be to have a second chance. Everybody wants to have another go at something at some time or other, right?

Um, there’s a problem, because although I’m not too bad at writing poetry (my style is fairly abstract, visual), the older I get, the more I don’t want second chances. No, I don’t want chances to redo things about my life. A lot of people wish they were younger or that they could take back harsh words that caused an argument. Those don’t really seem like second chances to me, but you may feel differently. 

I was still thrilled about getting on the TV program, even though I never watch TV. It would still be fun to come up with a whole poem in five minutes. I kept at it, spending hours writing poems to the categories I saw had been used already. You never knew when one would be repeated…

To make a long story short, my preparation paid off. I came home the winner, after all my reticence at going on the program. I had selected number three, because it was my father’s favorite number, and the category behind it was - ready? - SILENCE. So I wrote a poem about silence. It was a perfect theme for me, as you will see. Just know that my poem as you see it here is clearly more than twenty lines, but it was really, really important to set it up in decreasing size of stanzas. In order to cheat, on the program, I had been forced to move some lines up so the total would be twenty. Don’t worry about how that looked. I still won, but you can read the better version here:

Silence is silver, cold and 

precise in what it refuses to 

hold in its mercurial grasp

it would have you, but cannot

forgive the tides that took you

where you wanted to go,

with never why nor how nor

simmer but do not char what remains

Swatches, musty linens, threads

that mangle the view but have held it

on your shelves, in your drawers, in your

cells that sailed away not

in a ship that was ours but

in your own

Words are the battleground and the

crib where we are tucked in at night

not knowing how to say themselves

nameless until called and even then

they might not return

Saying nothing is never a choice

it is the lazy meaning of trouble

too little information provides

return, owns us, finds us

Sit with the sea of syllables

rummage - you do it best

hum our thinking

Find it, the lost lines

or the damage

Speak it whole again.

I left the stage, eyes brimming with tears. I had been given a second chance of my very own and, despite thinking I wanted no more chances to redo anything in my life, I already had a great idea for what I was going to do with my prize. Believe it or not. Couldn’t waste it. Wasn’t going to.

In a way, the choice was easy, because the redo options in my life are few. By this I mean I don’t want to have another chance at love. Had my fill of that. Love is over-rated, anyway. Nor do I want another chance to take an exam. Maybe it would be nice for the Archaeology final I took years ago, but I never became an archaeologist and that wouldn’t be of any consequence. Raising my D to an A wasn’t high on the list of things in my life that hadn’t turned out perfectly. Plus, the bug-eyed professor, chain-smoking probably never gave out A grades and I’ve moved on.

I keep going over the options, because there has to be something out there to use my prize on, kind of like the way you take a gift certificate into a store you never shop in and have to find something to buy. Some people would suggest moving to a place you love. But I don’t want another chance to move - I like where I live. Come on - who wouldn’t like to live on the coast of Maine? I mean, have you seen what we’ve got here? After all, our license plates call it Vacationland, which a lot of people don’t like, because we work AND live here. Nevertheless, we feel good about living here. I’m not about to pack everything up and leave. 

Looking back at my past relationships, I must confess that I really don’t want a second opportunity with any of them. They were either quite good or quite bad, but they’re over. For that very reason I feel no need to have a repeat performance, mostly because I figured out those relationships were mediocre. Sounds mean, but it’s true. It would be easier to try again at a trip, except that I’m thrilled with all the trips I’ve made in my life. Would I have liked them to be longer? Sure. Would I like to go again to several places? Sure. However, that’s not the same as a second chance, which is mostly used to refer to something you do wrong and want to redo, or to something you passed up doing and should have taken the chance when you had it.

What’s wrong with me? I don’t want to redo anything. I have loved my life. Even the proverbial lemons it has given me have so much juice and the seeds have potential for sprouting into new fruit trees - this image sounds so trite, but it’s accurate - that I can’t get a handle on anything. I’m not able to tug the experiences out of the tangles and manipulate them so they’re free and reusable. 

I like the patterns of my life, whether or not they’re perfect. (There is no such thing as a perfect life, you know. Don’t get me started on that.) 

Maybe this whole dilemma as far as using my prize is caused by the fact that - as already made quite clear - I don’t need second chances, not in the way most people view them. I might wish I hadn’t done some things, but a life lived without regrets is more than boring. I enjoyed the risks, so there you have it. It’s the uncertainty that keeps us on our toes. 

The problem is that I want new chances, not same old, same old. As for my missteps, which are of no interest to anybody, I’m too old to have regrets. We need to move on, we all need to move on.

Are you sure about that? Someone slips up behind me and kind of whispers those five words. They’re obviously just in my head because there’s nobody else here, but they do get me to thinking.

There is only one second chance I want, so I’m going to go for it. I will get out my precious prize, maybe rub it like Aladdin did his special lamp, or maybe pat it along the back, like a cat or dog. Something to let it know I’ve had a change of heart and am willing to accept a second chance.

This may be a time travel chance and I might find myself zooming back many years. On the other hand, it could be a type of time erasure. Put simply, it means that time will drift or melt away and a new time, outside the abilities of instruments to measure, will allow me in. So either I go back in time or time just stops, both situations making my second chance to take place. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Second Chance 

I want to shatter the silence between my parents and me. Ask them questions and listen to their answers. Write them down, record them, preserve them somehow. Use my adult, fairly but not completely mature brain, to get to know Mom and Dad. Not to relive my childhood, because that’s just the been there, done that sort of thing. I don’t need a second opportunity to be morbid or nostalgic. Plus, if I get to talk to both of my parents, that’s kind of a twofer. The concern I have, though, is that this opportunity to converse with Mom and Dad after so many years of silence might never stop. There’s so much to say, so much I want to know. Also, you might be a little bored with my family stuff. To understand my choice better, you might try thinking about all the things you never asked your own parents, whether they’re with you now or not. What would you like to know? What if your parents clam up and you don’t get answers?

To avoid having the session with my parents last forever, I made a plan. I would not allow myself to ask either of them more than five questions. As they answered, I would respond and ask them only about what they had just revealed. No frivolous words allowed.

And here we are: Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!

Parents: Hi, Honey. Hi, T… Hi, P…

(No, you are not allowed to hear their pet names for me. I’ve told people that before.)

Mom, Dad, I’ve got things to ask. Don’t worry, this shouldn’t take too long.

(Oh, but I want it to. I want it to take a very long time. I don’t want this conversation to end, ever. However, I don’t want to overwhelm my parents, scare them away. They were simple folk, both rather private in their own ways.)

I’ve got a list and am just going to toss it out. You can answer in any order you like, and if one of you wants to add more to what the other says, that’s fine.

Mom, were you as good at square-dancing as I thought when I was little? I always noticed you sashaying from side to side and even knew how to sing a bit of “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” so I could watch you do it.

Dad, why did you drive a mine-detector truck in the war? What happened when you detected a mine? Why am I still here but you aren’t. I could use some advice on safe ways to live from time to time. Feel free to offer it.

Dad, why did you love all things edible except for yellow wax beans? I don’t like them either. Is that genetic?

Mom, why couldn’t you save the baby squirrels Dad brought home after he’d cut down a tree with their nest in it? Hadn’t you wanted to be a nurse when you were young? Did you ever miss the babies or feel like a failure? I thought for a while I’d like to go into a career in wildlife rehab, but it never happened.

Dad, where did you learn to call square dances? Where is your book of all your calls? I know it’s here somewhere, just can’t put my hands on it.

Mom, did you ever spend any of those two dollar bills Dad hid around the house, tucked in cards, at Christmas? Did you ever use any of the gifts people gave you or did they always go into closets and drawers and beneath the mattress?

Mom, why were you too generous and loving, so much so that people walked all over you your whole life? Did you think you deserved that? Did you ever stop to blame your Methodist upbringing? Did you realize your poured every ounce of your Christian blood in me and I spat it out? I tried to keep it down, but it gave me bad indigestion. Sorry.

Dad, did you really hunt rabbits with ferrets and did you really eat turtle once? Did it taste like chicken? I was offered garlic-fried lizard from Extremadura and gagged on it.

Mom, what was it like watching your mother die like I watched you (only for a much shorter time)? We never got over it, did we?

Dad, you had a really hard life, worked hard, killed hard probably (in the war, I mean). So where did you get your sense of humor? Sometimes you embarrassed me, you know. Like when you answered the wall phone and boomed out: Morris Morgue. You stab ‘em, we slab ‘em. Boy, that was painful to hear, even when my friends thought it was funny. I preferred when you were in the parade, kind of dressed as a clown with bibbed overalls, your tri-colored beard grown long for the celebration, and sweeping horse droppings into a dustpan. Silly, simple, happy. That was you.


There, done.  

However, these are not all the questions I had. I only know that if I’d listened more, observed carefully, things would have gone a lot differently in life for me. I would have figured out early on that Mom’s puritanical attitudes about how the body works and the temptations of the world it faces - those attitudes were dangerous. I would have figured out that Dad’s health was really declining and maybe could have begged the doctor to do a heart transplant early enough.

I would also have known that my going off to college broke my mother’s heart and could have gotten angry at her for keeping that from me. I would have bought a pedestal as tall as a barn and put Dad on it, he was that good of a person. Maybe it was all the beatings he’d gotten when he was a boy, but I never asked.

There, now I’ve done it.

I’ve opened up a can of worms. Worms are something I have a lot of memories about, but don’t need any second chances with them, specifically.

I’ve opened up the can of worms that my parents represented. I use the worms now rather often, when fishing in the depths of memories to come up with an idea, a feeling, a belief that can serve as an inspiration to write.

I told you at the start of all this that I don’t want second chances. Now look what’s happened. I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life, what’s left of it, listening to my parents.

Then what happens?

August 12, 2020 16:47

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Lily Kingston
20:36 Aug 13, 2020

I like how you display her parents lives through questions. I feel like that allowed me to get to know them. Keep up the good work and keep writing!!


Kathleen March
15:45 Aug 26, 2020

Of course the questions were odd, but their purpose was to reveal little bits about the parents. It couldn't be too run-of-the-mill or the story would flop on its face, or so I thought.


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Keerththan 😀
04:22 Aug 18, 2020

Nice poem at the middle. Great story. We all would want second chances but you justified the disadvantages. Wonderful story. Keep writing. Would you mind reading my story "secrets dont remain buried?"


Kathleen March
14:11 Aug 18, 2020

Glad you liked the poem! Thank you. I will check out your story.


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Kristin Neubauer
16:29 Aug 16, 2020

I really liked this, Kathleen, for so many reasons. First, the reflection on the value of second chances. I think, like post people, I just assume that we all want a second chance at something. But after reading this, I am running through my own life and thinking that perhaps I don't. And second, how you told us so much about her parents' stories through her questions. What a unique and interesting way to do that. Great work.


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Corey Melin
02:52 Aug 14, 2020

Very entertaining read. So much to think about when it comes to parents and second chances.


Kathleen March
23:21 Aug 14, 2020

I agree. I think we should do more remembering and conversing with our parents. Better when they're alive, of course, but even if they're not around. Grandparents, too.


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Kathleen March
21:59 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you. The questions were silly, but definitely about real or possible life experiences.


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The Cold Ice
15:10 Aug 26, 2020

I love poems. Wonderful story. Very creative. Waiting for more of yours... Would you mind reading my story “The dragon warrior?”


Kathleen March
15:46 Aug 26, 2020

Happy to read your story. The poem was one that just popped out, as an effort to bring threads together. Poetry has that ability, doesn't it? Great focus on one tiny thing, or bundling up of a lot of things.


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