for teens, by teens

Canvas Teen Literary Journal is published quarterly in print, ebook, web, video, and audio formats.

Once I Was

Jacqueline Smith

Once I was eight years old,
my father read me stories
of valiant knights
saving princesses in their kingdoms
and being praised
by all subjects around them.
Once I was eight years old,
I dreamt of tasting the clouds
of cotton above my head,
travelling to lands
further than I could fathom.
Once I was eight years old,
I did not believe
that anything could go wrong
in my life,
in my future aspirations.

Once I was thirteen years old,
my hands developed
their first calluses.
I began to work the labor of a man,
as my father told me,
preparing myself for when one day
I would care for a family,
just like him.
Once I was thirteen years old,
I held the hand of a girl
who told me she loved me.
I kissed for the first time
and memorized the scent
that enveloped her
so the memory of that moment
would never leave me.
Once I was thirteen years old,
perched in my mother’s lap,
as she consoled me
over the heartbreak
of my first love,
giving me the confidence to stand
and not lose sight
of the bright future ahead.

Once I was nineteen years old,
I was enrolled in college
unpacking the many labeled boxes
littering the floor
of my shared dorm.
Once I was nineteen years old,
sitting alone with only
the light of my desk lamp
illuminating a letter
resting before me.
Once I was nineteen years old,
crying in my mother’s arms,
listening to my father’s speech,
watching my chance
at a good future
slip through the crevices of my fingers,
dripping at my feet,

Once I was nineteen years old,
being sent to foreign land
to murder,
and mock
a cultural society I did not know
and would never comprehend.

Once I was twenty-one years old,
I had killed a man
for the first time
in cold blood,
holding his emaciated body
tightly in my arms
as the whites
of his eyes
engulfed his vision
Once I was twenty-one years old,I had watched my best friend
rupture in an explosion
of crimson chaos,
his flesh and organs
only a fleeting memory
as if they never
were a part of his body
at all.
Once I was twenty-one years old,
hearing the voices
of those I had killed
whisper a monotonous mantra
within the depths of my dreams:
“You were once pure,
but now you are
a tainted soul
to be damned for the rest
of your existence.”

Once I was twenty-two years old,
the bloodshed was over
the inevitable loss
now a fear of the past.
Once I was twenty-two years old,
standing in front of the men
I killed for.
A uniform once covered
in the grime of a battlefield,
in the blood of an enemy,
now adorned in medals
of varying metals
representing the very thing
I should be honored for;
yet is such enough
to make one forget
the unforgettable?

Once I was thirty years old,
my life once dark
now growing brighter.
A wife whom I love
a child soon to be
in my arms
where I will protect
and please him.
Once I was thirty years old,
lying in bed beside
the two most important people
in my life
watching them sleep,
Once I was thirty years old,
and I was privileged
to have a minuscule taste
of the future I had
been longing for
since I had been eight years old.

Once I was forty years old,
unable to understand as to
why my surroundings
began to strike alarm in me.
Why my wife
threatened me with her presence.
Why my children
resembled the innocent boys
that bled because
of my doing.
Once I was forty years old,
sitting alone on a stand
gazing down at the woman
I once laid beside
as she spoke to a judge
concerning my sanity.
Her eyes were solemn
trying to conceal
the absolute regret
I knew she felt
for having her children
with a man like me.
Once I was forty years old,
pressing my lips
to the foreheads of my children
one last
Wrapping my arms
around the woman
I will keep in my memories forever.

Soon I’ll be sixty years old . . .

Soon I’ll be sixty years old,
but I will never
reach that age
for I am drained
of all desire
to live.

Now I am sitting alone
in the darkness
of a putrid alleyway
coated in discarded
clothes and food
grasping the cool metal
of a pistol
looking back on the life
I had lived.
A dream lost,
a future ruined,
an innocence tainted,
a prudence corrupted,
a family torn.

I am fifty-six years old,
the barrel
of a gun
my teeth.


Jacqueline Smith is currently a junior at Jupiter Community High School. Jacqueline has enjoyed writing as a hobby since her formidable years and hopes to one day write her own novel. Other interests include anime, drawing, and the quest to play lacrosse at the collegiate level.

© Canvas Literary Journal 2016
Writers & Books
Rochester, NY