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 No.” (Not a dream: Steeringwheel fissured every facebone on impact. Slicedlightning. Bodycaressed steeringcolumn. .06seconds. 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.