“The Last Toothbrush” by Echo Wren

Echo Wren


When the end of the world arrived, I still had my toothbrush.
I felt ridiculous clutching it, but I had just finished brushing
when the alarms rang, and I needed to hang onto something.
I went out into the street in my pajamas.
The dawn had not yet broken, and in the civil twilight
wandered men who had fallen asleep in yesterday’s
shirt and tie, and children following the rules
of hide and seek, and couples dressed in rumpled bedsheets,
rustling like yesterday’s news.

I surveyed the dazzled mob. Most of these people, I bet,
hadn’t brushed their teeth yet, and among them
I felt like the luckiest. I was the wealthiest
in civility, in manners, in the passing style
of luxurious hygiene. I smiled forth the promise
of untainted breath, stain-free chompers
chomping through a new day, free of the life
I had lived and the life I had eaten, the blank slate
of my mouth with no history of decay—
and my pajamas were a clean pair.

I hung onto that toothbrush, why I don’t know.
It wasn’t a hand, it wasn’t a memory, the bristles
were worn down into curls. But the end of the world was here—
all boundaries were breaking, we were half naked
half awake on the streets, and somehow,
someway, through some blueprint of muscle
memory and the inheritance of rituals
and two-minute habits, I found myself
trying to find new ways to build
the walls again.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018
Tribute to Immigrant Poets


Echo Wren: “I escaped Vietnam with my mother as a small child. I have no memories of my homeland, but somehow I recognize the soil, the sounds and smells. This language of impressions, preceding my capacity to understand, still forms the foundation of my being. I love poetry because it captures things half-remembered and lost. I write poetry because I am looking for home.”

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