Penny Red

By Maura Stanton

Art Attribution: “Untitled (Hourglass)” by Mary Vaux Walcott

I found a cancelled English penny stamp
Stuck in a library book, and pinched it up,
1909, October 8, 6:50 p.m.
Somebody must have licked it right before
They posted a letter, and left their DNA
Stuck to the glue, and somebody else
Unpeeled it, saved it, stuck it between the pages
Of a book that later got shipped abroad.
Curious, I scrolled through many timelines
On the Internet, looking for an event
To illuminate my stamp’s special date.
Was it connected to the first force-feeding
Of a suffragette, or the invention of plastic?
Did it speak somehow about Robert Peary
Planting a British flag at the North Pole?
Assassinations, channel flights, divorces—
Newspapers listed so many births and deaths
For October 8, along with church bazaars
And trials for murder, that I gave up.
No one could ever catalogue the actions
Trapped inside a minute, one slice of time
Wiggling and throbbing like a drop of water
Viewed under a microscope. All I knew
For sure was that one foggy London evening
This stamp got stamped—at 6:50 p.m.—
And all that happened simultaneously,
Kisses, jabs, strokes, leaps and gunshots,
Got blended into history like chemicals
Stirred by a glass stick, the tall beaker
Foaming over with the new and potent brew.

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