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Mary Carroll-Hackett

She Sang to Him, I Imagine

her pain ringing on a hot wild

wind, grief-bent mother of this

child, oldest human burial in Africa,

a boy, barely three, unearthed

at Panga ya Saidi, laid carefully

on his side into a pit, a pillow

fit beneath his head, small hands

curled toward his face. Our tiny

dead—for he is ours—undisturbed

in this space for 78,000 years,

fragments in the dirt revealing

the care taken in wrapping him

in animal skin, that mother's need

to see that her boy stays warm,

that, in eternity as she knew it,

he come to no more harm. How

easily we dismiss the old ones,

reducing them to flint tools

and cave drawings, caring more

about funerary behavior than about

their longing, and their loss.

Mtoto, the scientists called him,

Swahili for child, but I want to know

what she named him, how her hands

recalled the feel of taming his hair

beneath her fingers, how she turned

toward the lingering echo of his

laughter, only to find no one there.

I want kneel with her, and sing

that keening song all mothers fear,

knowing that any moment's relief

from such a void will never last, how

vast and destroyed a continent is grief.



things I keep

keeping, those mismatched

socks my daughter wore, the spoon

with my mother's monogram, that

ornate C, the bracelet

my sister gave me, beads as blue

as an afterthought, the feather

and gray stone my now grown

son brought cupped in his small

hands at four, standing as if

in prayer, the curling lock

of my dead husband's hair, worn

like a charm in a locket he chose

before he left, to keep you warm,

when I'm gone, he said, some

strange gentleness in what

is left behind. Think how little

depends on us, this I we cling

to against extinction, pieces,

small gleanings of lives

lived, then not. Summer still

breathes the sparrow briefly

into flight, autumn gilds its wing,

and winter sings into silver skies,

while I—that I—string my locket

around my neck, tuck a stone

into my right pocket, and move

into my brief turn in the light,

into everything, and nothing,


Mary Carroll-Hackett is the author of eight collections of poetry: The Real Politics of Lipstick, Animal Soul, If We Could Know Our Bones, The Night I Heard Everything, Trailer Park Oracle, A Little Blood, A Little Rain, and Death for Beginners, which was released from Kelsey Books in October 2017. Her newest chapbook, (Un)Hinged, was released in fall, 2019. She co-directs the Creative Writing program at Longwood University and teaches with the low-residency MFA faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan.


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