There are certain small objects packed away in a box in the attic, or tucked into the back of a desk drawer, that I will probably never get rid of, and this poem by Sharon Olds shows brilliantly the reason why. In “Toth Farry” (the spelling borrowed from a note her child once wrote to the tooth fairy) she writes of finding her children’s baby teeth after many years “in the back of the charm box, in a sack.” The poem is delightful to read for its language alone: Olds’ precise description of the teeth, now falling into shards, and her comparing them to utensils like shovel and adz.
But what struck me most was these lines:
…and the colors go from
salt, to bone, to pee on snow, to
sun on pond-ice embedded with twigs
and chipped-off skate blade. One cuspid
is like the tail of an ivory chough
on my grandmother’s whatnot in a gravure on my mother’s
bureau in my father’s house in my head…
That one baby tooth brings forth a whole chain of associations, linked images that come to mind faster than you can describe them.
Reading these lines made me think of my own baby teeth, and of my sons’, and how very tiny those teeth look once they come out. And it reminded me of why the things in my own treasure-box are still there.