First Tooth

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt

First Tooth*

 

A poem shimmering forward

like the mirage of human form

awakens me from tattered sleep.

 

Before I’ve reached my pen,

she’s awake again and wailing.

 

The shard of bone gnawing

through her gum claws

closer to the surface, aching

to erupt. We rise, unrested.

 

When I lift her, she tries

to scale me like a mountain.

 

I make coffee while she

worries her toothlessness

like a splinter or a pebble in a shoe.

 

We maroon ourselves

on the living-room floor,

on an island of brief sunlight.

We won’t leave the house today.

 

Through steam-stained windows,

the naked trees are vague.

The sidewalks are phlegmy with ice.

 

Winter grinds its fist into the city.

 

Naptime – she refuses to sleep unheld.

My shoulders ache from stillness.

I search for the image that woke me.

I struggle to dredge the seed from memory,

urge it to burst its smooth skin,

to declare itself.

 

Her cheek against my breast is

firm and cool like rising bread.

 

She wakes again,

and wails her yearning for teeth.

 

I ease her down so I can

stretch the knots from my shoulders.

 

Light gathers in the tears on her lashes.

With a orphaned look,

she reaches for me, both arms up.

 

Her hands panic

like dizzy, breathless butterflies.

 

This is new, this reaching.

 

 

 

 

*Originally published in MotherVerse Magazine

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First Tooth

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