‘The Root Canal’


Having someone’s hands in your mouth is one of the most unfortunate, and memorable, experiences of a lifetime.

Whether it frightens you to death, or simply reminds you of but another tedium of modern medicine, when that practitioner dons those nightmare blue latex gloves, wiggles their fingers into them tightly, and casually says ‘open wide,’ well, then, there you have the most unlikely juxtaposition of personal histories that might ever occur in your lifetime.

Their fingers, their nails, their knuckles, skin, and thumbprints, in fact, the history of their day combs through your mouth as if was their sock drawer, or candy jar. Their hands are in your mouth. Enough said.

And there they will find, whether you like it or not, the history of your day. Your life. Your breakfast. Your lunch. Your whole damn diet. Let alone more than a hint, perhaps, about your friends and lovers. This is a meeting of lives. Fingers against tongue. Fingernails against teeth. Knuckles against molars. Their hands, your mouth.

Makes you just want to bite them.

But if they are capable, if they have reputable chair side manners, if they have a professional assistant, a well-outfitted office, an impressive lab, even a brilliant receptionist, if they are all as capable as capable can be: Clean. Kind. Smart. Articulate. Then….

Nah, it doesn’t matter. It still makes a visit to the dentist, be it for the ever dreaded root canal, or the simple bubble gum-flavored polishing, that visit to the dentist is simply weird for many reasons but mostly because you end up with the hands of a complete stranger fiddling around in your mouth.

Not so long ago I had a root canal, and this endodontist was admirable in her capability. Top of the line professional, and she was charming. Young, hip, kind, smart, and she listened to great music. I believed I was in capable hands. But then, dang it, she put them in my mouth!

The Root Canal

Four hands, one mouth
drills as thin as stingers
dig the dirty roots
of this tired old tooth
broken once by a pebble
just a tiny piece of earth lodged tightly
inside a wedge of butter leaf
swimming in lightly salted olive oil
nice meal until the harsh crack
then a smooth crown
now a new canal to excavate
more deeply into my past

the shiny enamel model sits
perfectly shaped to match my history
created by this artisan, this person
who is oddly intrigued
absolutely dedicated
to the very smallest of things
that rest inside
someone else’s mouth.

“This one will sound
like a pig’s squeal”
she reports calmly
in her Georgian accent
assuming I know this sound
a Detroit girl who grew up
twice but never on a farm

the sound rang true
through tooth and bone
through skull and ears deep inside
as if that rooting swine
demanded I relinquish
from behind the tartar
below the muddy pulp
my secrets

The sweet resin of JuJubes and Jujyfruits
the daily stroll to the corner grocery
summer vacation at the lake with quarters
in my pocket destined for one thing
and one thing alone, sticky, waxy
wonderful candy and how I
joyfully constructed
that microscopic layer of crust
proudly building
it from the first premolar.
Number five. Right. Upper.
Lateral lingual occusal.

“This one is like a mosquito”
the endodontist offers matter-of-factly
going in with a different drill
not knowing the agony of
summer nights on Lake Huron
me on the top bunk, alone but for one
determined and dictatorial mosquito
ruling the night and biting
the one small patch of skin
that I missed when tucking in
my entire body sweaty and determined
not to be bit.
Too late.

Drill bits like the thistles that lined
the path between lake and cabin
the sunny waves undulating as the doc
hums along to songs of the seventies, this
young expert of all things tooth
could not possibly have been
alive when those songs came out
and I ate Hot Tamales
and Sugar Daddies
with abandon not knowing
some baby born on a peach farm
in Georgia would drill away
my childhood stories

Candy and lakes
and nary a toothache
until now when her slender
fingers, every single one of them
and her sharp eyes keener
with microscopic lenses
clean away my past

and I long for sunshine
and mosquitos
and Good & Plenty.


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