by Marc Swan

In the kitchen by a stash of red wine,
I meet Alice from Bucks County,
a dentist with a story. She’s been
married, widowed, remarried. She’s
been in the Navy, traveled to distant
lands Madagascar, Africa, the Far
East, but what catches my ear is two
weeks postKatrina. I try to imagine
the setting: PPE suit, unrelenting
heat, humidity, the overarching stench
of floaters drawn out of contaminated
floodwaters thick with muck. She talks
of stages: first, if any skin remained,
the check for piercings, tattoos, scars
then orthopedic devices, implants,
finally teeth. She examined each tooth
creating a dental profile, another dentist
did the same and they compared.
If a match, they searched a dental data
base for a name. I ask her what holds.
“The coming together of so many
people to do something useful.” I think
of overwhelming loss recorded, verified
and, the last stage, telling the family
that “yes” we’ve found your loved one.