Living with the Comma

You were the bane of my childhood writing career.
Appearing much too often in my work, slowly
teaching me the rules and the nuance
required to master you
through the quick words of my mother. I learned
to treat you like a pet with a body and a tail
that belongs some places
and does not belong in others.
(A comma does not belong in your sentence
just because there is a verbal
pause just like a dog
does not belong under the dinner table.)
By the end of my sophomore year of high school
I was proficient in your use
thanks to three trees worth of research paper
and essay drafts that my mother corrected.
By graduation,
you and I were close friends.

At college, we had a bit of a falling out.
It wasn’t my fault
and it wasn’t yours,
I just wasn’t ready
for what the newspaper told me
about you. Some of the rules changed.
Now I had to omit the serial – or Oxford – comma.
You were more complex than my mother
had led me to believe and it made me
uncomfortable. You’d changed.
You weren’t better
or worse – just different.
And it took some getting used to
before we were close again.

Our bond beckoned me
to the profession of copy editing.
But despite working in the same business
and in the same building, our jobs
keep getting in the way of a healthy relationship.
I sit at my desk and edit
and you never seem to get your visits
quite right. You say hello too often
while I’m working on one story, but not enough
in another, sometimes not at all. I understand
it’s your other friends who are causing this problem,
reporters with over- and under-active ring fingers,
but that doesn’t make it any easier
to constantly create and destroy you
with a simple keystroke.

by James Patrick Schmidt

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