When my grandmother’s mother complained of a toothache,
her own mother strung up a row of incisors from the backyard apple tree
until they swung gently in the wind like the wing bones of a bird
still trying to lift its dead carcass into flight.
For every day the toothache persisted, she ripped down another incisor
until at the end of the month only the string was left
but the sapling’s branches still hunched under the weight of the nonexistent teeth.
The point was that pain always leaves its owner bent out of shape.
When my linguistics professor inquired why I always wrote about love
in some form or another, I brought up the same story
and made some profession about poetry being the language of love
because every word stabs deep into the heart.
But when I returned home from class that day and heard the news
that my grandmother’s husband had died, I thought of those teeth
drifting lazily in the wind so many years ago
and realized that poetry is not about love; it is love.
Because when the poem is read, when the life is over
and burned into ashes in the ground like the incisors,
the shapes of the words continue to float in our minds
without even string to hold them up,
much the same way in which love continues to exist
long after we have stopped falling into it.
BY MEGGIE ROYER