“Extraction” by James Bobrick

James Bobrick


I’d queasily been seated in the so-called
dental island for more than half an hour
since the technician had ducked out with X-rays–
a hollow pulp-sick throb insistent in
a lower molar–when the dentist entered,
(I’d picked his ad out of the Yellow Pages
that morning because he took MasterCard
and walk-ins on an emergency basis.)
“I’m Dr. Milligan,” he mumbled as
he sidled up, not meeting my eyes. “Sorry
I’ve got to.” He took a gauze pad and caught
the tip of my tongue between fat palps, pulling
up, down, one way, another, reaching back
to aim the high-intensity reflector
into my mouth. Finally he let go,
and, almost as an afterthought, damp boneless
hands braided my neck, clavicle to jaw.
“You don’t have oral cancer,” he said. “See it
in all ages, recently had to tell
someone, ruined my week. If I had cancer,
I’d throw it in.” Holy shit, what’s all this?
Why was–but gums were numbing and the needle
went in, sliver of glass in orangeade,
and he was flapping my cheek assuring
me that the chance of anaphylactic shock
was receding because I wasn’t turning
blue, and we could proceed to the curettes,
mouth ratchets, burrs, and mandibular forceps
required for the extraction. Afterwards
while I reluctantly focused a mirror
on flesh-prongs clutching bloody gel, he said
he’d left med school so as not to deliver
news any more dire than a root canal–
Enough. Presented with a growing panic,
I got out of there fast, praying my mouth
would keep affirming his career decision.

from Rattle #21, Summer 2004

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