The Jane Moran Prize
Remembering the Girl with the Blackened Teeth
At the age of ten who knew or cared
about the meaning of decay
or that it made a difference if you placed
a kiss on lips that covered blackened teeth?
You only knew she was the one who smiled
at you and wished to sit with you at lunch
and help you with arithmetic and read
her book to you, have you read yours to her.
She wanted to be with you on the playground,
on the bus, the field trip, with you after classes.
With you. With you. With you. The words—
the only ones—you longed to learn at school
or anywhere you could. She taught you what
they meant. Before you also were instructed
such a mouth meant poverty, bad diet, rickets.
Yet now, with the new old kiss of time,
I put my lips to yours again, remembering
that mouth and how it told me with its smile
you didn’t mind my own: the yellow buck-toothed
one not yet subjected to the necessary discipline
and power of correction.