A Dental Chair Autobiography

“This here, Bill,

is a new gismo,”

the dentist grins,

“for cleaning teeth,

an electrified device

working strictly

on the principle of sound,

a sonar drill

that probes hidden places

my simple instruments cannot reach

You won’t feel a thing”


Voices spin out of the sonar drill:


There’s Tod Moran, hero of “Secret Cargo,”

“Dark Adventure,” “Black Tanker,”

books boys read about the sea:

“Billy, in the spring storms,

spray hitting your face

through the screen,

you knelt by the mast of your bed

and promised to meet me in Shanghai

But I see scraps of paper

blowing down the wharves of your teeth,

clogged root canals, abscessed time

Never really left home,

went to work with a briefcase,

stayed behind”


Out of the sonar drill

a mother’s whisper

and it’s all in her eyes:


“Billy, how could you leave me?


Have you forgotten the nights

I sang to you on the front porch swing

when the wind made you cry?

I won’t let you go,

not a fine boy like you

Don’t forget the secret pact

between mothers and sons

that we be lovers to the end

Stay with me, Billy,

let me smile on the man I made”


Out of the sonar drill

a father’s finger

in the shape of a club:


“Betrayer of the legacy,

blasphemous son!

Prayed for a priest but got you

Disregarded my axioms,

consorted with whores and writers,

wandered from the straight and narrow

But listen here, mister,

you will always have me in you,

say my words, move as I move

My reach is long and blunt

My admonishments thunder in the dark

Bear my mark; slump not”


Out of the sonar drill

a wife’s harangues

shaking like ragged bathrobes

in stale bed chambers:


“Wretched worm!

Off and left me scratching

Claimed you couldn’t take it anymore

No more big houses,

positions in high places

Just wanted to spin

from woman to woman,

write poetry, make love,

lay in the sun

Then one day driving downtown,

drove off into the sunrise,

kept going, never came back,

running from the inevitable:

office hours, marriage, cocktail parties,

a life insurance cache

for my tea time in Nassau”


Out of the sonar drill

Sister Mary Pierre, the Benedictine,

lecturing from a podium

to me all alone

slinking on the bleachers

of my old high school gymnasium:


“Billy, you’ve forgotten the rule,

violated all injunctions, sold thine ass

I told you right here, time after time,

the rule is not to follow the rule,

to do it differently, make it a special thing


But these encrusted incisors simply show

the sordid record of a wasted life,

high hopes smashed on broken bicuspids,

molars shadowed with the plaque of guilt,

the tartar of your despair”


“See here, the stain of your city ways,

the bars and grills, the cigarettes you smoke

with that woman on Wednesday nights

in the windowless room,

hiding, Billy, holding on tight,

hoping it will leave with early morning traffic

Yet, it sits hound like,

jagged growl, panting tongue,

pawing at your stoop

What I see is a brittle mouth

tugging thoughtlessly at a dry teat

I swear to you, Billy,

swallow the ocean, or die thirsty”


Then, the final rinse

and they who haunt me shove it across the tongue,

demanding that I,

“Sign it, Billy, sign it,

sign the typewritten confession….”


But I spit it all out,

the entire autobiography

in black, bloody segments,

make a motion to the chair

with these new, white teeth,

to start my life over again

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