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Poem-A-Day

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Millay’s Hair

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, June 27, 2017.
About this Poem 

“Some of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s literary and personal archives are held in the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress. Millay’s sister Norma saved, as the poem says, everything—not simply manuscripts and notebooks, but also expired dog tags and grocery lists, a raft of Millay’s life detritus, simultaneously mundane, compelling, and deeply moving.”
—Ann Townsend

Millay’s Hair

New York Public Library, Edna St. Vincent Millay archives

Because Norma saved even the grocery lists,
              it was no surprise to find a lock of hair

                            coiled and glued loosely into the scrapbook,
crimped and rusty, more weird

and alive than any calling card or photograph,
              letter, erotic or otherwise, sweeter

                            than the candy kisses fixed upon the page.
I shouldn’t have touched it, but in those days

I was always hungry. Despite the rare books
              librarian lurking, I set my thumb against it.

                            Weightless, dusty, it warmed at my touch.
By 1949, all the grocery lists affirmed

the same fixations: Liverwurst, Olives, Cookies, Scotch. 
              Liverwurst, Olives, Cookies, Scotch, penciled

                            on squares of insipid paper. By 1950,
unsteady on her feet; by year’s end, dead at the foot

of the stairs. As I placed the book of relics
              back into its archival box, a single

                            copper wire fell from the page,
bright tendril on the table. I lifted it,

casket of DNA, protein, lipids, and still Titian red.
              Really, was I wrong to swallow it?  
 

Copyright © 2017 by Ann Townsend. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Ann Townsend. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.