The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


James Tolan

The Lid Clicked Shut


Clumped and nearly weightless
           in a pediatric towel,
she was still warm
from the womb that held her.

Her mother’s eyes,
          wild as they took her,
before buried in her hands.

           Mine followed
the nurse in Disney scrubs,
who unwrapped the cloth
from Hayley’s small, raw flesh

and, with gleaming tongs,

           her into a tinted bag.

I should have gone to comfort

           my wife

                     whom I heard sobbing

                     as if far away.

Instead I waited

          for the bird-bone click
          of that red bin’s lid
          to lift and then fall shut

on her whose heart we held
last week in our ears.

James Tolan

No Bethlehem


No manger.
No blessed night.
Not one
bright star to guide us,
arms heavy with our gifts.

Her death, faceless as our God
and her, came without the customary
civilities and comforts. No last rites
to help her on her way. No wake
to mark her moment in the light.
No weeping mass. No funeral
or formal prayers. No kneeling or
bowed heads. No hymns
or hearse-led cars in slow procession.
No spades in earth, black veils
and dark suits, no clots of dirt
raining on her lacquered lid. No one
to cry with but ourselves. No memories
but those we can’t seem to stop inventing.




JAMES TOLAN is author of Mass of the Forgotten (Autumn House Press), Red Walls (Dos Madres Press) and co-editor with Holly Messitt of New America: Contemporary Literature for a Changing Society (Autumn House Press).



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