Lachrymals

Some Roman women saved their tears in them.
    They held flat narrow-necked heart-shaped delicate phials
        Below their eyelids against each cheek in turn
And caught their tears. No one could shed enough
     In a single spasm to fill that tiny hollow,
        So the women stoppered them with glass teardrops
And waited. In the meanwhile, some wore them
     Like pendants to have that smooth translucent glass
        (The colors of changing light on the hills)
Nearby all day and all night: none could be certain
    When grief or pain or a sudden abundance
        Of sorrow might come welling into their eyes
Again.  When they were full to the brim,
   Some women carried them as charms
       Of remembrance through their lives
And into their tombs, and some would pour them out
   Into quiet streams or onto the bare earth
         And walk away, and some would drink them.    

David Wagoner 
Atlantic Monthly Magazine - August 2000
(did not originally appear on the Internet)


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