599: Fatherteeth

599: Fatherteeth

599: Fatherteeth


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Once, I was with my friends in Cape Cod and slipped on ice and chipped my front tooth. I had to fly all the way back home to Kentucky with a busted lip and a shattered tooth. I was lucky enough to have a good dentist who came in on a Sunday and removed the shards that were stuck in my gums and got me on the road to recovery. But tooth stuff haunts me. I hate it.

What is it about the mouth that feels so personal? I am impeccable with my tooth care, my flossing, my avoidance of sugar, and still I had to have a tooth pulled last year. Why? Because even with a bite guard diligently worn each night, I am apparently trying to grind my teeth to dust while I sleep.

I have finally learned not to cry at the dentists; they are good folks. But my teeth do feel particularly precarious. I want my teeth to all be okay. I want them to remain in my skull so one might recognize me in a stack of other skulls if I were to, say, end up in the catacombs.

In today’s truthful poem we see how the importance of teeth, and the emotions attached to them, can not only be individual but inherited.

by Ashley Brooke Dailey

I flick the tooth with my tip tongue
              & it knocks against its neighbors.
A sound, like the crack of a knuckle
& the tooth, grown      nickel-sized
falls into my palm—
Everyone at the airport has somewhere 
to be as my smile            shakes loose.
              Is it a dream? I don’t always know      
myself.              Sometimes I choke 
on old bubblegum webbed between 
my teeth. Or sometimes 
              my mouth is a machine bent 
on destroying itself:       tectonic teeth 
collide, splinter. Bruises & bone dust     
             cover my wet bottom lip.
The Dictionary of Dreams tells me: 
      “You may dream of tooth loss if   
you feel powerless,       out of control. 
You may dream of tooth loss if 
you cannot correct the Bronco in time, 
for example. If you cannot 
          stitch your father’s teeth 
back into his head, for example. If you
cannot say        No more or just 
(Not a dream:
Steeringwheel fissured every facebone
on impact. Slicedlightning.
Bodycaressed steeringcolumn. 
Bodyshucked & limp. Remember? 
Remember?       He does not.)
You cannot 
               swallow a whole mouthful
of teeth at once without consequence 
even in a dream—this is pretty 
straightforward dream science. 
          When I’m awake 
my dentist tells me get a mouthguard 
& melatonin.       My father tells me 
           his dentures are impervious 
to all manner of acids, sugars, & chemicals 
as well as other havocs      he might invite 
inside his mouth home. 
          When I’m awake 
I do not chew gum. 
But when I do, I chew until 
          my jaw is sore & popping. 
My inheritance is this: I think about 
my teeth more often than any other 
                 bones in my body.

"Fatherteeth" by Ashley Brooke Daily. Used by permission of the poet.