August 22, 2005

Finnegan is a tooth rat.

I know, sounds improbable. Some might even say it’s kind of gross, but in the Barkowitz family, we don’t have a tooth fairy. We have a tooth rat.

Finnegan’s story is not well-known, even to those whose teeth he collects. The bare bones of his story goes something like this: an Irish tooth rat, Finnegan lives in the attic of Read Brothers in Charleston, South Carolina (a family store). Finnegan’s mission is to search out teeth from the Barkowitz and Read families when they are placed under pillows, and to leave little rewards for those teeth.

Growing up, I accepted Finnegan as fact. My children do too. This poem is written from Finnegan’s point of view.

You left me an enamel treasure tonight,
proof that your childhood is falling out
as your roots reveal another row
of permanent changes.

I was there, hiding in the shadows
when your parents saw the first
moving pictures, lily-white buds,
later flowering into pearl-studded
crowns for a princess’s mouth.

I was there when your first teeth
broke gums. I soothed your
feverish skin with cool cloths
as your tiny hands struggled
to express your triumph and tragedy
of those first teeth.

I was there at the first check-up,
helping to count your teeth,
helping the hygienist remove the cookies
from your hesitantly open mouth.

And I will be there, through
orthodontia, wisdom-teeth, cavities
and caps. Whitening, straightening,
miles of floss and gallons of paste.

I will help hold you together,
binding you in a line to your parents
and their parents, and theirs.
Teeth stretching back through the generations.

And you will tell my story to your children,
inspiring them with the tale
of a small Irish tooth rat,
living in your family’s store,
whose sole job has always been,
not only to collect teeth,
but more importantly,
simply to celebrate your triumphs.


  1. Thank you for celebrating Daniel Read’s (and our)treasured legacy…Finnegan the Tooth Rat!

  2. An Irish Tooth Rat !!! In a world of dainty tooth fairies, this is so wickedly enjoyable and original.

  3. Hi Daniel,
    It has been some time since I been here, but I really like this one.
    Very funny

  4. I love this! Growing up with my five siblings, we always left our teeth for the “Tooth Rat” who would leave change and a personalized poem. Now my children leave their teeth (and a poem) for the Tooth Rat. I thought he was peculiar to our family (also Irish). I’m glad to see another family with a similar tradition. I am amazed that he also leaves poetry!

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