Receding

I am doing my nightly flossing routine when I notice it, the pink flesh of the gum curled back just above my left, I guess if you were looking at me it would be your right, cuspid, leaving the tooth unsightly, long, I pause, twist my head back and forth in the mirror, pull my lip back, yeah the gum is higher above the left, I guess if you were looking at me it would be your right, cuspid, the gum line looks even above all my other teeth, or at least I think it looks even, I trace the gum line with my tongue, I touch the cuspid tooth where it meets the gum and feel a wiry pain, “Shit” I say, “Shit”, I try to remember, was it like that yesterday, did it look like that a week ago, or a month ago, maybe even, maybe even a year ago, but I can’t remember, or tell, as this is the first time I have noticed it, I trace the gum line again with my tongue, “Shit” I say, I go to my room, I leave the light on in the bathroom and I go to my room, turn on the computer, log online, look to see who is online, I see my ex-girlfriend is online, I send her a message, I say “Sorry to bother you out of nowhere, but when you were with me did you ever notice if the gum line above my left, I guess if you were looking at me it would be your right, cuspid was receding?” “What? What are you talking about” she says, I mean she is typing, “I don’t know, I don’t remember”, I say “You don’t remember, but then is it possible that it was”, She says “What tooth is the cuspid”, I say “Canine, you know, cuspid, canine, same tooth”, She says “I don’t think it was, but I’m not sure”, I say “So it is possible it was, but you just didn’t notice”, She says “Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t remember or didn’t notice, but I guess that means it was possible that it was, but I don’t remember or didn’t notice”, “Shit” I say, “How are your parents doing” She asks, and I sign offline because I don’t need that shit, or don’t need to deal with that shit, not right now, I click on My Computer -> My Documents -> My Pictures, I circle through photos of myself smiling, I note the date of each one, I put my face close to the screen, I squint, was the gum line above the cuspid receding or not, I click through some more pictures, find one where I hate myself doing a big goofy grin, I put my face up to the screen, I squint, I zoom in but the image pixelates, “God dammit” I say, “God fucking dammit”, all the while molesting with my tongue, I type google.com, I type big gum line, No, That’s not it-, missing gum line, Receding gum line, That’s it, Gingival recession, “Sensitive teeth – Teeth become sensitive to hot and cold or to sweet, sour, or spicy foods. If the cementum covering the root is not protected any more by the gums it is easily abraded exposing the dentin tubules to external stimuli.”, Have I noticed any additional sensitivity from external stimuli, I don’t think I have noticed any, I get up from my chair, I leave the bedroom, I leave the computer on, I leave the article about Gingival recession on the screen, I go to the kitchen, I open the fridge, I pour myself a glass of cold milk, I swish it around in my mouth with an intense focus on the left side, I guess if you were looking at me it would be your right, But I don’t notice anything out of the ordinary, nothing peculiar so to say, I take another swig and swish, I notice the coldness of the milk, but did it always feel this cold, Or does it now feel colder, Does my tooth feel more sensitive now to the cold milk than it used to, I’m not sure, I swish and swallow, I brew a cup of hot coffee, I repeat the same steps with the hot coffee as I just did with the cold milk, It doesn’t hurt, But maybe I notice the heat of the coffee more than I used to, I don’t know what to do, so I take my phone out of my pocket and the first contact is my brother, who I haven’t spoken to in 1 year and haven’t seen in probably close to 2 years, but I think, who knows someone better than their own brother, right, so I call him, and before he can finish saying “Hello”, I say “Hey, It’s Steven”, “Steven! Man! How are you!” he says, and I say “Look I know we haven’t spoken in awhile”, and he says “Yea, like two years or something”, and I say “No, one year”, and he goes “Really? Are you sure?”, I say “Yeah”, “I think two or at least it feels like two” he says, and I say “I’m sorry but look, I am kind of in a hurry and I have a weird question, last time you saw me did my cuspid seem unsightly long to you?”, and he says “Cuspid? Which one is that again? Is that like the vampire fang?”, and I say “Yea, but you know, some old drawings have depicted vampires with their front two teeth as the fangs, but anyways, it’s the one that would be a dog’s fang”, “Yea, a dog’s fang”, “Yea the canine” I say “my left canine so if you are looking at me it would be on your right”, he goes “I don’t know, I don’t really remember, or I don’t remember noticing that, why?”, I say “While I was flossing tonight I think I noticed it receding but I cannot remember if it has always been like that or if this is a new development”, and he goes “Oh shit, yea, I know a guy that that shit happened to, he brushed too hard or whatever and he had to get some surgery or something where they take a piece of skin from the roof of your mouth and graft it onto where your gums are or else he could have lost the tooth or some shit”, I say “Lose the tooth?”, He goes “Yea, but anyways, how the hell are you?”, I start to panic at this moment and I say “Look, I’m sorry, as I said I’m in a hurry and I have to go but call me tomorrow and we’ll catch up on everything”, I didn’t say I promise because I knew if I would have said I promise I would have felt some kind of obligation, and then I’d have to take his call and have a long talk about everything that is happening, and or has happened, so I hang up, I run back to my room, the article on “Gingival recession” is still on my computer screen, I read beyond where I had stopped previously, it says something about cavities in the exposed notch or exposed root of the tooth and losing the tooth or the tooth becoming loose and being lost, But I can’t really focus because the screen is kind of shaking, I shuffle my feet in a kind of anticipation, I need to call my dentist, I need to make a dentist appointment, but if I call him now I will just get the machine, it is after hours and all, so I have to wait until morning, but so I decide to call anyway and leave a message about my problem so that when he gets in, first thing in the morning, he will hear it, and expect me to come by, there isn’t anything else I can do, So I decide I’m going to go to bed, yes, I am going to go to bed, I turn the light off in the bathroom, I go to bed, but here is the thing, once I get in bed, I can feel the tooth throbbing, if I turn my head a specific way on the pillow I swear, and I swear to gee ohh dee, that it escalates the throbbing, and all the while I am fondling the gum line with my tongue, I’m not sure if I can sleep, If I can fall asleep I mean, I just feel a throb, throb, throb, and I am caught in this cycle of turning my head in this specific way, like the tide coming in and sucking out.

 
 

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Freddy Ruppert currently writes and composes in Prague. http://www.freddyruppert.com

ACHILLES MOM IS A MILF

in a neon painting

crush velvet

you see her

3/5th’s of the way in the water

naked riding a dolphin

you promptly buy the painting

and hold it in front of you

as you leave the thrift store

hiding the erection

the sea woman has caused

you wait til midnight

and then you bring the painting

out of your bedroom and hang it up

near the kitchen table

and it is so dark her nipples seem three dimensional

and the sunset looks like an actual photograph of

hawaii under blacklights

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Wyatt Sparks is a boy who wishes he was a wooden puppet. His work is featured or forthcoming in Red Lightbulbs, GAYNG, and PANK.

Untoward Stories: Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas wrote his first poetry as a lad in grammar school in Wales.

He greatly loved, he said later, `the words alone. What the words stood for was of a very secondary importance . . . I fell in love with . . . and am at the mercy of words.’ Poet and man of letters, Robert Lowell, called Thomas ‘A dazzling obscure writer who can be enjoyed without understanding.’ (Wikipedia) It’s a remark that illustrates DT’s comment about his love of words, and, in truth, goes to the very heart of his style as a poet and short story writer. As DT’s remark implies, his poetry and prose are sometimes as much concerned with the image carried by the word, and the sound and rhythm of words as with the clarity of their meaning when strung together.

Consider ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London’, a poem whose title recites a challenge: a refusal (a charged, counterintuitive word in context) to mourn the death of an innocent. To do so would compel the poet `to enter again the round Zion of the water bead and the synagogue of the ear of corn . . . and sew my salt seed (i)n the least valley of sackcloth to mourn (t)he majesty and burning of the child’s death? He vows not to ‘murder(t)he mankind of her going with a grave truth (n)or blaspheme down the stations of the breath (w)ith any further (e)legy of innocence and youth.’ The abiding thought is left for last. ‘After the first death, there is no other.’ The poem’s underlying `meaning’ is seemingly forged from these images. That he refuses ‘(t)o enter again’ these arenas of mourning, each carrying natural and `religious’ connotation, —elegy, blaspheme, sackcloth, synagogue, Zion, the stations of the breath (cross) —suggests that his secular understanding compels him to refuse this customary grieving after the fact, suggesting perhaps that each of us is called when it’s our time, and no religious experience, no exultation or grief after the fact that can change the finality of that truth. Some have seen the ‘abiding thought’ as an affirmation of immortality.

DT’s most famous poetic thoughts present interesting contrasts: Do not go gentle into that good night / Old age should burn and rave at close of day / Rage, rage against the dying of the light uses images created with strong terse verbs like rave, burn and rage, letting the poet express a more or less straight forward sentiment. Still, consider another-oft anthologized poem:  The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / drives my green age: that blasts the roots of trees / Is my destroyer / And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose / My youth is bent by the same wintry fever. `Bent, crooked, and dumb’ set off against `drives, blasts and wintry fever’. Great word choices, great contrasts. As DT himself has said, he loves the words themselves and lets them do the work.

As the lives of the writers go, Dylan Thomas’s bio, like those of Keats, Shelly, Lord Byron and others, reads much shorter than it might have. “It is considered that Thomas was indulged by his mother and enjoyed being coddled, a trait he carried into adulthood, and he was skillful at gaining attention and sympathy/” (Wikipedia quoting biographer Ferris.) When he died in 1953 at age 39, of complications brought on by chronic alcoholism, he was at the height of his popularity, doing a reading tour of America. His body of work includes a play for radio (Under Milkwood), a number of oft-anthologized poems, a famous essay, ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’, an unfinished novel called ‘Adventures in the Skin Trade’ and a collection of short works, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog’, whose cover pairs Dylan with what looks to be a Labrador Retriever, both with cigarettes dangling from their mouths. (DT’s the one with the bow tie.) (New Directions Paperbook edition, 1940).

The ‘Young Dog’ collection takes young Dylan himself from unfazed lad caught in the midst of various adult foibles, to a dazed and confused young man undone by lost love while on holiday by the sea, where things happen too fast and love is jarringly replaced by surreal world of empty tenement halls, hostile people and dusty, lightless stairways.

In ‘The Peaches’, young Dylan is left outside a saloon in his Uncle Jim’s cart while Uncle Jim is inside, trading one of his sow’s new piglets for whiskey. ‘I could see into half of a smoky, secret room, where four men were playing cards. . .(t)hey all drank out of brown pint tankards and never spoke, laying their cards down with a smack, scraping at their matchboxes, puffing at their pipes, swallowing unhappily, ringing the brass bell, ordering more, by a sign of the fingers, from a sour woman with a flowered blouse and a man’s cap.’ The other stories in the collection bristle with bizarre touches and untoward characters. The cover copy, noting that the stories have “an elation” that is ‘natural and contagious’, reflects on these Welsh folk: “There is the grandfather who marches off in his best clothes to be buried in the next town, the sardonic ‘senior reporter’ on a provincial newspaper, servant girls who know how to deal triumphantly with a fast talking dandy, a twenty year old farmer preaching wildly to boys in a deserted barn, a group of respectable worthies who play at literature behind closed blinds, and always the observant and unfazed young Thomas.” (Cover copy: New Directions Paperback)

The first nine stories of the ‘Young Dog’ collection are made prelude to the tenth, One Warm Saturday. The Dylan of these first stories is the unruffled young lad watching the eccentricities and foolishness of his elders. In One Warm Saturday, the lad comes of age. (He is called ‘Jack’ somewhat flippantly by the girl of his dreams, Lou, although it’s not clear that’s his real name in the story). The first paragraphs bombard the reader with a torrent of images, laying the scene for the young man’s seaside holiday, where he sits ‘near the summer huts to see the brown and white women coming out and the groups of pretty-faced girls with pale vees and scorched backs who picked their way delicately on ugly, red-toes feet over the sharp stones to the sea. . .”

Lou, the object of his puerile love and growing lust, is not some innocent young provincial. She “drinks like a deep sea diver”, and is being kept by an older man, Mr. McCarthy, who’s hanging around drinking with them at the party, her “sugar daddy from old Ireland”. All the same, the lad ‘Jack’ sees Lou `as a wise, soft girl whom no hard company could spoil for her soft self, bare to the heart.’ (Is there a sweeter, more innocent line in all of literature?) They’ve gone to her place in the company of others, and `Jack’ and Lou can’t wait for everyone to leave so they can make love. Meanwhile, a contentious discussion goes through the drinking party like a fever, about whether or not Alfred, Lord Tennyson ‘was a little man with a hump.’

When ‘Jack’ leaves Lou’s flat and the party for a visit to the ‘House of Commons’ (a commode down on another floor), the reader’s concern is justified. The surreal funk that `Jack’ suffers afterward, alone in the dark tenement house halls, climbing `the rotten, bruising, mountainous stairs’, tapping on doors, waking up babies, ‘whispering her name,’ leaves him, like the ‘never-to-be-forgotten people of the dirty town’, lost and alone.

Crooked Neck

Ed’s son has a neck injury from Peewee football, one so bad that the boy’s head is stuck cocked to the side. The doctor said surgery, but Ed’s poultry farmer neighbor said his turkeys get crooked neck all the time. He feeds the birds sunflower seeds for extra vitamin E. Cure-all, he said, they either get better or they die. A pack of seeds costs ninety-nine cents at the liquor store. Ed finds the black shells littered all over the house.

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Annie Hartnett lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She has stories published or forthcoming in Indiana Review, PANK Magazine, and RHINO Poetry.