Poetry

Ode to a Tooth (#14)

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I’m sorry you’re dead.

I had braces when I was 17, too old
for that childish smile, I thought-
we waited so long because
my mother said my teeth would “straighten themselves out, probably”;
they did not.

They put little metal bands around all four
of my back molars, which
made it impossible to
chew, enunciate, or clean
my easily de-calcified teeth-
they were yellow when the metal came off, like
decaying fruit too useful yet
to be thrown away.
I needed fillings we couldn’t afford;
“we’ll go soon,” my father said.
We did not.

I was older, and #14 was pronounced, DEAD.
“Unrecoverable” was the word.
I’m sorry, I whispered to 14. It was
an accident- they gave you a metal band!
Sitting in the cold waiting room I wondered
what they would do with the
white, pearly shards of my tooth,
grown so painstakingly when I was a girl.
That’s the thing about
growing older-
things stop growing back when you
yank them out.

I read about a plastic surgeon who
molested his patients while
they were drugged (the senate will be voting
on whether or not
that matters)-
my surgeon was gay and my nurses
were ugly, efficient women and
I was relieved.

I was lain on the table and a nozzle was strapped to my face
before I had time to remember
what laughing gas did.
The nurse taking my blood pressure asked me to
un-clench my fist because
“You’re giving me the reading of
a woman having a heart attack.”
“I am,” I said. No one laughed.
I sucked in the gaseous, minty smell
coming out of the plastic tube in droves
while they told me to open and close my hand
ten times and raise my elbow and lower
my hand and rest your thumb here no HERE and I prayed,
Please don’t let me wake up,
Please don’t let me wake up!
A tear rolled down my cheek as they dripped something into my blood
“She’s going under,” someone said
I kept my eyes open as long as I could
so they would know

The next thing I remember is someone
bringing me a blanket and ripping
the tape off my arm from where
the pale blue mark of the IV had been,
and leaving as quickly
as they came.
The room was empty, the gay doctor and his efficient nurses gone;
I had been lain down and
quickly cut, then rolled off again like a
fixed-up radiator, a decaying engine.
Fine with me, I thought. I don’t care
who you are, either.

The space where my dead tooth was yanked stands empty,
death like the combustion of a star-
nothing will grow in its place, so I must grow
into the nothingness
around it.
I’m sorry I killed you;

I’m sorry you’re dead.

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