November 22, 2017

K. H.

THE VISIT

“Haven’t just sat and talked
in a while,” my father says as he wheels
a low chair to my side.
But we’re not here
to talk. The cleaning will take
fifteen minutes, tops. I lean back
in the stiff operatory chair.
Fluorescent light shines down
my gullet. The thing about dentists
is that they’re always demanding you
to smile, bite down, open up,
rinse. He just needs you
to listen. “She’s not well,”
he shakes his head, meaning
the stepmother I haven’t seen in years
because she loved to dance
so hard in bars she broke
her ankle, and drinking made
the dentist snap his cell phone
in half, sloppy in the lobby
of an Olive Garden,
mean. “I still see her
sometimes,” he says and removes
his fingers from a glove
to comb thin grays
over his bald spot.
My mouth is full
of gauze. I can only offer
variations of mhmm’s as he tries
to wipe gunk on the napkin
wrapped around my neck
like a bib, misses,
stains my shirt instead. The closest
we will be for months.
I like to think it’s better
this way—he’s good
at his job, makes my mouth
nice and numb and free
of rot, and small talk is just
small talk. The next appointment is no
rush. “It’s so weird,” he says
when I stand with clean teeth.
“When your kids are grown, and don’t
need you anymore, and suddenly
you’re their dentist,” he laughs
because it’s better this way,
maybe it’s better. I swallow
blood. When I was little
and losing baby teeth, I hated
their volatility. “I just want
to look,” he’d say
with a tobacco-stained
grin. I never felt my teeth
leave their sockets.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

__________

K. H.: “I was raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, went to college in Ohio, and still live in Columbus. The stereotypical writer is supposed to live in New York City, not flyover country. I didn’t always love the Rust Belt—the hint of Pittsburghese that clings to my voice, that sense of isolation that living in a town with one main street, surrounded by cornfields, fosters. But it is a place of poetry, too.”

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