Caleb Curtiss


The past keeps coming back and there’s nothing we can do but accept it. Foodstuffs and animals, mostly. A fourteen-thousand-year-old loaf of bread, intact beneath the Sahara. A forty-thousand-year-old foal preserved perfectly in the Siberian permafrost. The head of a baby lion pulled from the same crater as the horse, smaller than a Chicago softball, still covered in downy fur; so young its teeth had yet to break gums before its eons-long nap. Humans, too, are found like this, given new names and sent touring like carnival oddities. Today, a three-thousand-year-old wheel of cheese pulled from the mouth of a Jordanian tomb, and I can almost hear my father say it:

a little old but probably still good.


A boy lifts to his mouth an ancient bite of Hamburger Helper balanced atop a spoon that, to this day, can be found nestled in a drawer in his parents’ kitchen. He sits at the edge of his dining room table, which has started to bow in the middle beneath the weight of two, or perhaps by this point, three years of unopened mail: his surname duplicated ad nauseum behind the sealed plastic windows of unpaid bills, over the sheen of junk mail advertising two for one pizza specials. An ad for bicycles. Another for weed killer. A napkin rests in his lap while he dines, Sisyphean, indifferent. His empty spoon disappears into his bowl, reappears full. How can we not call this a miracle? The cardboard box his noodles came from sits on the kitchen counter, archived for the ages, its expiration date covered by a thick line of black ink from the felt-tip of a food bank Sharpie. He could be a statue now: overboiled macaroni resting on a spoon rendered in marble— or with chunks of limestone lifted from the gravel drive just outside.


Every day I would tread barefoot over that rocky trail as it led me to the property’s edge, a lapsed garden once kept by my mother, the site of my summers-long excavations: a shallow network of short tunnels over which I presided, each hole I dug too narrow for my growing body to squeeze through. What had I been looking for? Never would I uncover the secret message I sought; no curling yellow paper slid inside the narrow caverns of the bottles I exhumed. Some came up whole, but most were broken, their bodies cold from the dark earth that held them like its children, kept them there, until its weight finally accumulated and crushed them.


Caleb Curtiss is a writer based in northern Delaware. He is the author of the poetry chapbook A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us, and has recently published work in Denver Quarterly, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Rupture, and elsewhere. Find him online at http://www.cdcurtiss.com.