Dreams of My Teeth
Da spatium vitae, multos da Jupiter annos.
Bug-eyed again. I’m awake in the grip of my clenching and grinding
teeth. And once wakened, my jaws lock down on the notion of death.
Yes, they were always connected, teeth and mortality, even
when I was seven, and climbing the stairs to the specialty dentist’s
surgical clinic, and saw them: the skulls in their glassy display cases.
Death’s-heads, their horrible toothiness wide in its ear-to-ear rictus,
thirty-two points of perfection. Which won’t be the lot of a lot of us.
Me, most especially. Tricked-out, broken, extracted, or missing,
teeth are the witnesses. Who will be hauled up to talk if your corpus turns
up decomposed in the woods, stumbled upon by a drunk?
Teeth. They keep count of the damages. Never grow back or repair themselves.
Teeth are the evidence: Fate does not mean us to go on forever,
fight though we will. And now I remember my mother refusing
even at last in hospice, when eating was out of the question,
even in pain at the end, ever to part with her dentures,
because she remembered (and this part I also remember) the hospital’s
somehow mislaying my father’s, and that was the start of the ending:
his wandering lost in the hallways, vaguely aware he was missing
something important. Juvenal (odd how the mind goes leap-frogging)
lays it out plainly, the portrait of senex, his toothlessness gumming
pity, insipid and mush-mouthed, and horror, the salted, the bloody.
This is by way of persuading us (O vanitas vanitatum)
what we are foolish to want. And before I drift off I imagine
teeth in the head of Ted Williams, in tin-canned cryonic suspension
awaiting the life everlasting, the medicalized resurrection,
chattering wordlessly, Jupiter! Grant me wide spaces of living!
Moaning through blue-purple lips, Grant to me years, more years!
Maryann Corbett lives in St. Paul and works for the Minnesota Legislature. Her poems, essays, and translations have appeared widely online and in print in many journals and assorted anthologies and have won the Lyric Memorial Award, the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, and the Richard Wilbur Award. New work appears inBarrow StreetandSouthwest Reviewand is forthcoming inThe Raintown Review, Measure, Mezzo Cammin, andAngle. Her books areBreath Control(David Robert Books),Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter(Able Muse), andMid Evil, forthcoming from The Evansville Press.