Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Tag

Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Ciaran Carson


round your wrist
bore a number

your name
and D.O.B.

two weeks after
two stone less

the day you
came home it

slipped off
no need to snip


Whose wrist is it the tag is around? Who is the poet talking to, directly, who is having a tag around ‘your’ wrist? Normally anybody having such a tag around his/her wrist might be a child, or a baby. This might be the kind of tag one would find most of the time in a hospital, perhaps in a maternity ward.

This short poem is made up of mostly inchoate lines of seemingly unfinished constructions. In so far as they are sentences, they do not follow the normal convention of capitalising the first letter of the starting word in a sentence. Neither do they end the sentence with a full stop. Also absent are punctuation marks separating a succession of items, like for “a number, your name and D.O.B.”

This is because the person who has this tag around his/her – “your” – wrist is such an inchoate being, that we’re not told of its gender, even. It is so immediately recent in existence that it only has a number and a name – but still nameless to us – and date of birth that is not even fully spelt out (“D.O.B.”) or has no specific date revealed.

The line with “bore a number” is rather telling. Pertaining to birth, the word “bore” would mean one bears, or bore, a child. However, in this case it is not a child but a number, something cold and not even specific – which number?- is borne.

The only specificity, in the third stanza, is the number of weeks and the weight that the child lost: two. The placing of “after” and “less” at the end of the two lines in this stanza underpins the moving forward of a life and the cramping of it. The mirroring of those two words and of “two”, sitting opposite them, adumbrates this movement and expiration of life as a cycle.

The penultimate stanza has lines which should have been a parents’ celebration of new life if they were in another context other than in this one. The last line in this stanza has a very poignant, and powerful, run-off, when “it” enjambes down to the first line of the last stanza which begins with “slipped”. The baby’s tag slipped off, and so has the baby's short two-week life. The tag did this so effortlessly because of the weight the baby lost, that there is no need to snip it off, as there was that necessity, when the child was born, to snip off the cord connecting him to the placenta.


The Tag by Ciaran Carson first appeared in the February 15, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.

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