Meditations on Mortality
Caught in the Teeth
‘It happened like this, Elaine, I came down
this morning to open the Book,’ Popie wags
his bald pate at the Bible on the cabinet, not noticing
the mistake of names, though Nana bristles by the sink,
‘and I felt something in there with my tongue tip, kind of catching,
like a piece of popcorn kernel, which they tell me
I can’t have anymore. But never mind.’
He takes another sip of paint stripping coffee,
being careful with his lips against the rim,
mouthing the china like a horse would, after
getting hold of a fresh, sweet carrot. Nana
hovers between us and the stove, fiddling
with nothing, there is nothing to cook.
She has always been frightened of mortality,
or evidence of it. She sees this as proof
that even her best china, her silver plate,
will pass away. The fact that we will is beyond her.
She jumps just this way when she catches
herself replacing my name with that of her daughter.
‘Anyway, I set to digging at it with my tongue,
it felt real strange, half disconnect, half pressure,
and the next thing I knew, they’d all spurted out.
All of them. The whole top row.’ He smiles now,
and it is ghastly; the heart of rotten fruit,
flyblown road kill, an aged, toothless mouth.
‘Like I was spitting seeds.’
Nana sucks in air, to draw time back, in recall or fact.
‘Did it hurt, Popie?’ I look at dark oak table top,
at blue plastic placemats, at the glass dish
red-streaked, glistening, left from the baked apples,
anyplace not his mouth. He reaches out with worm-veined
warm hands, to touch me. His voice a rumble, with a lisp.
‘No, no. I didn’t feel anything. Just wonderment.
‘The feeling you get when you’re out hunting
and you see something; an eagle, hawk or a snow
white fox, something too good to shoot,
running through winter-light, so clear and so blinding,
that you feel lucky enough to have lived to see.
It should have been awful, but it wasn’t.’ He smiles again,
but not for effect. Covering time’s most recent wound
with fingers and thumb.
‘Anyway, I cannot get your Nana to look
at me, so it’s a good thing the dentist called me back.
They can see me Monday morning. While you’re
at the gym. I asked if I should bring the teeth,
thought maybe they could mount them in resin,
glue them back in. The dentist- she’s a lady
weightlifter. Ever hear such a thing?
But she’s pretty enough for all that- said that I should
just chuck them out before they spoil. I can’t quite do that yet,
can’t go around divesting myself of myself
without thought. So I’ve set them in a dish
in our bathroom. By the sink. They’re kind of pretty,
after you get used to them. Your Nana doesn’t like it.’
I am not quite sure how to answer; I take a sip
from my cup. Nana is standing in the light
of the window. Florida spring-light, golden and green
through new leaves, clothing her in radiance
that clings to her skin. She smiles to see it,
thin hair glimmering, she smiles at her man.
‘There are different kinds of pretty.’ She tells him,
laying her lips on his cheek. She cannot, yet, bring herself
to kiss that changed, that well-loved mouth.
She needs time to adjust.