When chemotherapy pulled out
the last of your daughter’s hair, you started carrying
her baby teeth in your pocket.
It started with a headache. A fever,
your daughter melting like a popsicle in August.
It took you a week to tell your husband
about the blood in the toilet.
Cancer entered your home like a greedy tenant,
scratched himself into family portraits,
slept in your daughter’s bed,
swallowed all her blood cells.
Sometimes, you wonder
if you had never caught it,
could you have lived
as if it was never there?
As if it was mold under the wallpaper,
the hungry nail in the yard,
the benign wasps nest growling under the porch,
like saying that word instantly
drapes a shroud over your house.
Once, when she was in the other room,
her blood being read like tea leaves,
a doctor suggested not to bother with college applications.
You couldn’t bring yourself to tell her.
You couldn’t bring yourself to say it.
Sometimes you think she knew,
as she methodically filled out each question and box,
it was never for her.
There is still a stack of unsent applications
hidden like tumor in your dresser.
She kissed every envelope goodbye.
You couldn’t bear to send more of her away.
When she passed,
quietly like a note to God,
all you wanted was to swaddle her
in your arms like an infant, bring her home
from the hospital, fragile and new.
Breastfeed her back to life,
potty train and finger paint,
reteach her the alphabet,
retrace her first steps
back to you.
Five years later, you cry
in the juniors section of department stores.
You preserve her bedroom like a taxidermist.
Her unworn prom dress hangs
like a skinned mermaid in her closet.
You still carry her baby teeth,
a reminder things can grow back.