I have 21 teeth, enough to chew my days.
My brother knocked me against a pole one day
at play, leaving me snaggletoothed. I lost four
at once, age nine, under vapors of truth serum
as I descended a dizzying tube of black and purple
concentric circles, listening through the fog
to male and female voices—dentist and starched-white
assistant—and cleaved to a clear memory of the word
adultery, later found in the dictionary, imparting
new insight into adults.
I woke on a black leather couch, pinched
by the assistant with loud whispering, wake up!
Vomiting and miserable, my mother dragged me
home, my arm hanging over her shoulder,
where she fed me soup when I was awake enough
to suppress, but not forget, what was done.
My mouth is small and was meant to be filled
with a full set of 32 teeth, crowded in there
like multiplying generations in a tenement;
thus, they cut out the bicuspids, not yet erupted,
and placed the remaining teeth in separate
silver jail cells. A pretty price was paid,
my consent considered inessential.
At 16, the final set of molars broke the gum line,
and unlike my brother’s and many of my friends’
they were not impacted. Instead they were rotten.
Braces eventually were removed and a bottom tooth
found dead, its nerve torn asunder in an odd ritual
called a root canal, leaving its shell grey and sad.
And a cap for the crooked tooth was placed,
mere months before I left that home for good.
Of wisdom: one by one they were pulled,
I could not afford to fill them. The first was yanked
in exchange for a blow job, I kid you not.
Two were taken at once at a free clinic, the final one
paid for from my own meager wallet.
I’ve just lost another tooth, now in my sixties. A molar,
there since kindergarten. It hurt and hurt for over a year,
though three dentists found nothing, and one offered
a root canal, I finally insisted, take it out! Turned out
it was victim of a peculiar malady, root resorption,
and removed in small pieces, chisel and hammer.
The surgeon proudly took a photo of the ravaged root
and spoke of an implant, a suggestion I plan to ignore.
Beyond these traumas, I’ve mostly avoided dentists
and doctors. I brush and floss, hoping to keep
the remainders tucked in gums, still with me
into the grave.