Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Deciduous Ode
If any of George Washington’s baby-teeth had been kept till now,
they would be put somewhere in a public museum for the world to wonder at.
—William James, from a letter to his son, March 27, 1888

I’d like to think some baby teeth remain,
pebbles enameled
with a velvet dust, tumbled, chipped and stained
where they molder in a bin, almost
forgotten mementos
of a former self,
the legendary fruit tree–chopping ghost.
By now, they must resemble chalk
like the Needle Islands off the Isle of Wight
displaced—they must emit
the slightest whiff
of sulfuric rot, this set
that shaped the founding phonemes of his talk.


If I found a few of mine, I’d hold them
on my tongue
like cracked aspirin—
not to dull the loss of them, or return them home,
but to hear them strike their still-intact
counterparts, the clack
as they conspire
against me in slurred chitters, sassing back.
Even their bored successors choose
to stand in a full-pincer flanking position,
pretending not to listen
to each plea and prayer
I mutter. I feel them loosen
and lean toward the ground. They’ll desert me, too.


So why save these, the teeth our daughter lost?
And why
in a Ball jar on my desk,
as a paperweight for a to-do list
with half the items left undone, unchecked?
Because, if I threw them away,
I’d lose this bone archive
of those years. Because, when I shake the jar,
they clink like spoons against
the champagne flutes of wedding guests—
Because her bicuspids are
still white as gauze,
still clenching, knuckle-taut. Because
it scares me that the first
to come in weren’t the first to leave.  

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