Shyla Shehan: Using the Words I and Can’t

I tried saying I can’t.
I didn’t like the taste of the words
as they were given birth from my mouth
or the reverb as they bounced off 
those who broke me.
They held my head underwater
for over a year
but I survived. 
A person should recognize 
their own hand on the faucet 
or they ought to have been taught
lefty-loosey, righty-tighty. 
Blood cells deprived of oxygen,
lungs sucked flat like plastic bags, 
and I hated myself for saying it.
I hated them for making me say it. 
I hated life 
for rocks and hard places—
water rising between the two. 
I hated the words.
I might revise I can't
with never again
but Kate said not to use absolutes.
A life lesson not learned is a life wasted.
I’m self-taught now.
School of hard knocks 
on wood with one hand,
the other steady / ready 
to turn right.

Shyla Shehan is an analytical Virgo who rewrites her bio on a weekly basis. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska where she was awarded an American Academy of Poets Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Ocotillo Review, High Shelf Press, The Decadent Review, Gyroscope Review, Plainsongs, and elsewhere. Shyla lives in Omaha with her husband, children, and four cats. Her full bio and more are available at


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