Periodontist by Michael H. Brownstein

the skin of things—Jorge Luis Borges


Sitting in the dentist’s chair
Waiting to find out what I wish not to know
Suddenly the poems of Jorge Luis Borges make sense to me.
The dentist will need more time and he tells me this,
Borges’ volume of poetry resting on my lap like a bowl of hard candy.


I saw my bottom teeth for the first time in a long time,
three front teeth like broken fingers.
No, that’s not it.
Like three men, one too drunk to support himself.
No, not that.
A rook on the chessboard ready to fall,
a statue too long neglected,
the sudden tear in the landscape—
yes, that’s it—
and the mule deer over there never to be there again.


Dead spaces like shadow between slats of wood.
Dark spaces gutted from light.
They want from me the one thing I don’t want anyone to have.

Once in a day, a year, the life span of the Welwitschia
everything goes that way.
Forces and motions no longer matter.
Packaging slows the impact of gravity.
The North Pole shifts to Chicago .
Bengal tigers come out to prey.

I am no longer coherent
forgetting before I remember


and then this thick Novocain sleep—
an intensity in the strength of eyes,
the incredible noise of the cabitron,
dream streams,
Popsicles of color,
skinned hands,
graying blossoms of breath,

witch woman
crazy crazy
speak sneak

gentle figurine
hazel glass

implied teeth.


Poverty is a rude stepchild.


She said I needed this twenty years ago.
I guess I must be aging faster than my life
and I guess I must have been a tree once, too,
shallow rooted, not yet big enough to damage
water pipes, metal fencing, wooden walls.
When the dentist took the tool to pull the tooth loose,
you’ll feel some pressure, he said, and I remember
the exact moment in another time two hands
grasped the thin waist of my trunk and pulled
until each one of my roots let go of its foundation.


Seven Novocain shots to numb the right side of my mouth, he said. Your tongue will tingle too and there will be a dividing point at your lips where the tingling will mix into an indefinable line. Somehow my right nostril feels it too and I can’t talk. Drool rises up like a fountain skimming the inside surface of my mouth. Blood marks the napkin when I wipe my lips. I am afraid to remove the gauze stuck in the empty cavity between two teeth. I walk down the sidewalk with my two children and tell them, I can’t see. I can’t see. But I can. The soft gray of blue sky, the strong reflection of apartment buildings in picture windows, the vibrant colors of clothing in a storefront across the street, a thick cloud of perfume and the blonde haired woman carrying it along. When I tell my children I cannot talk, this is true, but I talk anyway until they become silent enough to listen.


In the bathroom I feel the string of stitches,
my front teeth triangles of blood,
the gauze rich with color,
blood leaking down my throat in swallows.
Nothing has a taste.
My lips shade into a lipstick I keep wiping away.
I do not know if I can close my mouth.


I’m not vain about all that much, I tell the receptionist when I call,
but I want to think I am vain about my teeth.

Blood crusts in the corners of my mouth,
coagulates itself to itself.

My two front teeth shade to reddish black,
the brackish glow of night.

Do I look OK? I ask her after I answer the bill.
No worse than when you first came in, she replies.

I take the few flights of stairs to the street before I realize what she meant:
Was I this swollen ugly when I first came in?

I try not to open my mouth on the way home,
but when I do at the library

the librarian steps back,
and the man on the computer jumps away to offer me his seat.

Perhaps there is something to this vampire business after all.

Michael H. Brownstein has been widely published throughout the small and literary presses. He has nine poetry chapbooks including Poems from the Body Bag (Ommation Press, 1988), Firestorm: A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Press, 2012), The Possibility of Sky and Hell: From My Suicide Book (White Knuckle Press, 2013).

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