Poem: “Multiple Choice”

This poem came from an assignment I gave my creative writing class, “Fill in the blanks of this sentence:
Life is too short to ______. Life is too long to _____. That’s the title. You write the poem.” It must have been during test-prep month, and what can I say? I got inspired…

Life is too short to
Double-check all your answers.
Life is too long
Not to think about the questions.

Read the questions carefully, kids.
Circle all the keywords.
Fill in circles neatly.
Erase mistakes completely.
And don’t make any stray marks.

Is this what I’m here to teach you?
Maybe it is.
It’s a lesson I need to learn myself
And teaching is my excuse
For figuring out the answers.
This applies to everyone
Most of the advice
We all give is advice
We wish we could take ourselves.

Do I listen to my own wise words?
Think about the questions?
Consider keywords?
I have always assumed
Life will be long enough
To make us pay
For our mistakes
But also long enough
To let us learn from
And in some cases
Make up for them.

Life is only short if
We keep repeating the past
Even if it’s only to ourselves.

They say
If you go back over any test
You are more likely to change
The right answers
And make them wrong
Than the other way around
And what is life
If not one big multiple-choice test
Where you never quite learn your score
Never know what would have happened
if you had bubbled in a different circle?

Maybe this is my job:
To prepare students for this world
Where teachers try to help you
Make the right choices
But don’t always listen
to our own wise words,
Like, “Life is too short to
double-check all your answers.”

I meant that when I said it
But I’m already rethinking
The way I filled in the blank.

If we really make life shorter
By constantly rethinking our answers
I shorten my years every day.

(c) 2009, Roxanna Elden