Twentieth-Century Dental Work

by William Doreski

Twentieth-century dental work
gives way, exposing canyons
and crevasses, opening
decay-rimmed holes, exploiting gaps
among hulking gray molars
eroded by grim mastication.

Alone with many others, I wait
in the waiting room for repairs
to fillings of dated amalgam,
bridges to nowhere, crowns now
restless on their mounts. The cries
of tiny children racket down
hallways padded with sea-grass mats.

We old-timers smile to recall
the pain that eviscerated
our childhoods. Now we welcome it,
the probe exploring a nerve,
the rattle of the drill, the sting
of hypodermic, wrenching of pliers.

We welcome the dentist’s nasal laugh,
his love of craft. I hibernate
among the limp old magazines,
resigned to wait an extra hour
while emergency repairs erase
a series of potholes triggered
by frost and a guilty conscience.

The room smells of burnt enamel
and pulp. Those high-speed drills scorch
like flame throwers. I’d guzzle
a cup of tea to calm myself
but don‘t want to snuff the dentist’s
usual humor with tea-breath
brown as an old cowhide jacket.

The room darkens as the winter day
recedes. By six this waiting room
will cough us into a cold night
just like the ones we remember,
and our repaired teeth will chatter
as if gnawing the leathery air.

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