Cold left-over lamb sat on a flawed
floral serving plate in the icebox.
Just a thin crack
nothing that you’d notice
if you didn’t look for it.
Hungry in the night, my mother’s
teenage schoolfriend cut herself
a slice of lamb in the dark kitchen
didn’t light a candle
didn’t see the crack
or feel fragments
sharp in her mouth.
She didn’t wake for breakfast
dead in her blood-soaked bed
by tiny shards of gilt-edged china dish
or so they said.
Ever since, my nervy mother’s
feared cracked crockery –
so many plates thrown out
to keep her clumsy children safe –
but looking back, it seems
the truth was sadder. Think.
The girl who bled out in the night
was fifteen, maybe sixteen,
her family respected.
No one since has died of splintered china.
That plate was framed
for crimes against respectability.
Ignorance stood in for innocence;
a pregnant teen meant social death
or a shotgun wedding.
But who’s to blame? The backyard butcher
led by sympathy or greed to wield
an uncoiled coathanger or stabbing crochet hook;
judgemental pharmacists; the unknown boy;
all the hormones driving him and her
to the sad terminus;
the unforgiving laws that punished love?
Did her parents even know
their little lamb was in the family way?
This poem was awarded first prize in the New England Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Poetry 2017.