Adult Orthodontics Pam Uschuk Poetry

local_library Adult Orthodontics

by Pam Uschuk

Published in Issue No. 137 ~ October, 2008

For beauty, I had four healthy teeth pulled,

and each morning since I spit blood

pooling like regret’s venom

at the back of my throat, wondering

why I wanted all my life

a straight smile. Sure

the drift of years tugged all the front biters

to the left and the molars bent

like supplicants in toward the tongue

so that I chewed on the thrust up edge

of the right side, but haven’t I always lived

on the edge with my bad enunciation,

a rebellious overbite?

In college I was sent to a speech therapist

who could not manage to create

around my uncooperative teeth

the perfect s or delineate an f

without the whistling music that waltzed

between the gaps. She gave up,

handed me a sheet of exercises that I soon forgot

in lieu of how to keep boyfriends

from running off with girls whose canines

were tamed to round, less prone

to tear into chunks of bright red meat.

For beauty, I worked out, lifted

weights, ran full-out miles,

capped a stray tooth,

tried various mascara tints, dyed

my lips the color of a fresh stab wound,

then finally landed a real job and learned

to smile without exposing those strong

and wolfish fangs. Now, in the mirror

it is absence I see, four clots

like black lakes of terror in my gums

and what I will have gained

when the metal cages are gone–

a smile straight out of Vogue,

white, unwild,


Hit and Run

or Stewe and Ingela

If there’d been wind, the black

nexus of a hawk’s eye refracting

a kaleidescope of blood, but

there was no wind, no blood, just EMTs

cracking the sternum of the shoeless young black man

sprawled on the berm while

traffic crawled like drugged beetles

around him, just firemen’s helmets,

yellow slickers and Sunday’s impatient hands.

The soles of his feet were exactly our color.

If sun hadn’t amplified all the fushia cheeks

of wild geraniums, the stiff tongues of protea

wagging from arthritic stems, had dust

not spun gold between the charred trunks

of African pines on Signal Peak, we’d have seen

even the brightest pigments ignore the broken

as they ignore our happiness.

Don’t we all need

light, even though light is

indifferent to everyone’s grief?

If we hadn’t been headed to the bluff

for wedding photos above the rippled blue

Atlantic, where Wright Whales sound,

no longer pursued by harpoons

for rich perfume, we’d never

seen the end of this man.

In the book of politics, poverty

is the last sin to die.

Who notices one more nameless death

these days. He was someone’s son.

At the scene, no police, no

culprit, just the beginning of rictus.

Whoever hit the young man is long gone

inside a coward’s shoulder

turning away. There was, that day,

just the road and all of us climbing the mountain

and sorrow digging suddenly at the trees.

Cape Town, South Africa

Bell Note

for George Uschuk

A bassoon dropped to the bottom of Lake Michigan

your voice returns in the rain that reduces the world

to amorphous cold smoke I cannot shape.

Shape was never indistinct in your hands that

sculpted everything from kitchen cabinets to built-in beds

and writing desks; those fleshy lathes as

tough and heated as steel poured into molds

for car frames you lifted at the Olds, where you

put in more years than I have teeth

to bite through the stinging barbwire of loneliness

that binds my heart. I recall Sunday

morning phone calls, our bad singing

and your
war stories better than any church-

bound sermons, laughter huge as any savior

that brought me back from tightrope walks

across those myriad ice bridges of self-doubt

swayed by disillusionment’s raw wind.

Sometimes, Dad, there is no loneliness

like an ad for the Superbowl,

all those coach’s blunders you’d cuss out

or the lies of politicians on TV

smiling as they staggered like possums

on the sides of reason’s highway.

Remember driving cross-country year

after year from Michigan to Colorado, the Cutlass

a waxed pendulum ticking to the rhythm of your stories–

the way Johnny Weismuller taught you to swim

in ninth grade or the time you flew the bomber

all the way across the Atlantic from Brazil

to the coast of Africa, spread gold

as a lioness against a gigantic wash of blue–

stories to keep each other awake

as we sucked orange wedges, licked

Snickers bars from our fingertips

numbed on the humming wheel.

What did you say to Mom, who sat

knitting or reading in the back seat, when

she’d startle like a rock dove, head

jerking up at us with her shriek,

“We’re going the wrong way!

That field’s on fire. It’s heading

right for us!” Maybe her delusions knew that

the fire was always heading for us, her heart

that you’d always keep her from the flames.

Today is your birthday, Dad, and what heads

for me is memory’s long smolder

damp as campfire coals

on a star-spidered Michigan beach

where somewhere offshore your voice bells

from its submarine cave

my forgotten loved daughter’s name.