We kept our baby teeth in a cigar box.
A horsehair broom kept the dust away.
The box held the family’s first pearls,
enamel pocketed with rust and metal.
You couldn’t tell the teeth apart,
Mother’s was father’s was sons’.
Once there were no more mouths
to feed the box, it went into the attic.
My mother tells me,
when I have a child, when it loses a tooth
we will put it in the box.
I don’t want the rot to be passed on.
Familial ritual keeps the shadows
chewing at seams and shoelaces.
The cat has been talking to the walls
again, scratching at the attic door.
The teeth have been chattering apology.
This was never mine, but blood is hard
to clean if it’s been haunted through.
My father has a new mouth
and he laughs more than he did before.
It’s terrifying to see him smile now.
I remember when I dropped my first tooth
into the box with all the other family pieces.
Memories stained yellow,
patched over to fill the black. It’s better
to let it set in. The memory, not the tooth.
The decay holds a door. Your mouth is the key.
Let the ghosts spill from a trap hatch.
Start over. Grab pliers and rid the rot.
Keith Huettenmoser received his MFA from Rutgers University. He is currently working on a novel while teaching English at a Cleveland-based college. His work has previously been published in Badlands, Kerouac's Dog Magazine, The Oddville Press, and others.