New York Public Library, Edna St. Vincent Millay archives
Because Norma saved even the grocery lists,
it was no surprise to find a lock of hair
coiled and glued loosely into the scrapbook,
crimped and rusty, more weird
and alive than any calling card or photograph,
letter, erotic or otherwise, sweeter
than the candy kisses fixed upon the page.
I shouldn’t have touched it, but in those days
I was always hungry. Despite the rare books
librarian lurking, I set my thumb against it.
Weightless, dusty, it warmed at my touch.
By 1949, all the grocery lists affirmed
the same fixations: Liverwurst, Olives, Cookies, Scotch.
Liverwurst, Olives, Cookies, Scotch, penciled
on squares of insipid paper. By 1950,
unsteady on her feet; by year’s end, dead at the foot
of the stairs. As I placed the book of relics
back into its archival box, a single
copper wire fell from the page,
bright tendril on the table. I lifted it,
casket of DNA, protein, lipids, and still Titian red.
Really, was I wrong to swallow it?
Copyright © 2017 by Ann Townsend. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.