Thursday, July 30, 2020


My son lost his front tooth
when he bit my arm 
and I jerked it away.
Every afternoon he spirals 
into a fit of exhausted rage. 
My midlife version is coiled
but I pulled back a little too hard
and the tooth went flying. 

It was his third tooth of the pandemic,
the second in a week. 
Like those dreams 
where my teeth splinter and crumble, 
like the walls of a Berkeley wreck
purchased by friends 
back when two young teachers 
could afford such a thing. 
The husband put his hand 
through drywall like bread dough.
The wife patted it back in place:
No, we need that. 

We believed we could save things
with our hands, though even then,
we smelled our own desperation.

This morning an earthquake hit,
the single-jolt variety,
the sound of wood creaking,
old bones stretching.
When our house stood foreclosed 
three residents ago
it became a party spot.
The evicted owner's teenage son
invited his friends. 
There was beer and a yard,
but no electricity.

Have you ever seen a small child's skull?
The rows of adult teeth waiting 
in vertical wings? 
Behind their perfect skin,
a horror show. 
My son says,
"Maybe I will grow a vampire fang."

My dad told me the richest town near ours
was built on sand 
that would rock during an earthquake 
like a bowl floating in a bowl--
he cupped his hands to show me. 
It wasn't a metaphor,
but I know he envied the homes there:
acreage and old trees and tiled roofs. 

Look, it's easy to see loss upon loss,
all that is stationary becoming sand.
Because it will. 
Because I stopped Googling virus deaths.
Because it's 147,000 now.
But after 17 years of therapy,
sometimes, in the dreams 
where I lose my teeth, 
I tell myself,
Maybe things will work out.
I'll call my dentist. 
And the Berkeley couple 
remodeled a guest house 
that they lend out free
to anyone visiting the neighborhood.

I searched for my son's lost tooth
as he screamed at the sight
of blood on his shirt. 
When I bent down and looked up
I saw it in his nose
like a kernel of corn.
I thought of teratomas,
those tumors with teeth and hair,
and I laughed. 
Tragedy plus time and all.
Even if the time is minutes,
even if we never quite catch our breath.
What world is this, 
where a parody of life 
springs from tumors 
that are, mostly, benign.