9 YEARS OLD, MEMORIZING “THE WILD SWANS AT COOLE”
I was something fierce in fourth grade,
Napoleaonically dark as I spat acid and longing
from the gaps left where they had snatched seven baby teeth.
My mother still has them, scoured clean
of jagged edges of not-quiteness in their crevices.
I have often wondered if she, ex-Catholic, somehow
found herself divining a rosary from their translucent clattering.
How then they would sift through her fingers,
praying for my growing in, mixing teeth fallen
and pulled until it was ceaseless ritual of “please.”
I became my own teeth, overgrown, exposed nerve,
slender enough that I asked the dusk
for a way to slip in between worlds.
I knew how roots of words could incise
something open, how fairies could let me through
should I only invoke a boisterous mouthful
of Yeats at elementary school poetry night.
I thought for sure if I recited enough wild swans
into life in that makeshift amphitheater
that I could sneak back with them into some fae place.
Magic had to be stronger with the ritual of their conjuring.
To memorize enough heartbeats of iambs must let open
some old worn-out spot in the mist.
I was awake when they pulled the alchemy
of bone from me: there were no swans on my island
but I imagined the suddenness of their wings
sounded like the crack of roots in my skull.
The noise still hangs below the surface
of Coole’s empty lake; I clear my head
of teeth and swans, hope my gums can hold me.
When I return home, I read Yeats,
go stumbling through the attic dust
to uncover pearl fragments of my nine-year-old self
kept in a porcelain box.
She is there with my teeth, almost visible
in the growing quiet, curled nautilus-like into herself.
I want to say, “take me with you,”
but we know my mouth is too full, that it is too late
to proffer passage through an offering of milk teeth.
I almost forgot how Yeats ended,
but her eyes remind me. She is still
iridescent cygnet, wise enough to know
that my return to her means that I never
found my way through the thinness of the veil.
Instead, she asks me to smile:
I have grown into my molars.