poem31 Jul 2017 05:00 am

swollen and pitted with arthritis

a blue marble
smooth but for the jagged crack
cleaving one side

a lullaby
a mother never got to sing
to her newborn son

dog tags
dented and scratched

a baby’s tooth

she walks through the cemetery
collecting them one at a time

the knucklebone
rolls to her of its own accord

the marble
is a hard lump beneath her foot
sullen and frightened

she kneels in the wet grass
listening to the lullaby
as she turns the knucklebone and marble
between her fingers

the dog tags
lay just beneath the surface
of fresh-turned soil

she has to dig for the tooth
in an unmarked plot
along the outer fence
while the infant wails incoherently
through his trash bag and rags

the knucklebone
goes to the granddaughter
who treasured the quilts
her grandmother continued to make
even as her fingers bent and twisted

the blue marble
goes to the man
walking through the prison gates
a reminder to hang from his keychain

the lullaby
she writes down in a neat hand
on fine paper
and slips beneath the front door
of the heartsick widower

the dog tags
she delivers in person
to the legless marine
and then holds him while he weeps

the tooth
she keeps for herself
she fills her pockets with them
strings them around her neck and wrists
tokens of the lost and abandoned
as she walks cemeteries uncounted
gathering the gifts of the dead


A skeletal couple gaze at their baby’s first tooth.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Colour lithograph by L. Crusius, 1897.
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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