• Belonging


    I kept my teeth

    The ones in my mouth and the ones before that

    In a box

    From being pulled out

    The roots so impressive and the cavities so black

    Into a box

    Four decades

    And into another box, after the house went back to the bank.

    The enamel


    Tetracycline suit

    From the early days of sick

    On sick.

    In the dreams, the

    Teeth fall out

    It begins with pain

    Then I pull them one by one

    Until the maw

    Gapes like a

    Clotted cave.

    Sometimes I return to the house

    The strangers

    Click mouths, a tribe and language

    Far from mine.

    I don’t belong

    I don’t belong,

    But have proof

    That once upon a time

    My roots were long.

    My roots were long.

    I’ve been having a lot of  “teeth dreams” lately. Especially now that my mom moved out of the house I grew up in and sent me a box of things she thought were important to me, including a box of teeth.


    Mine were grey and even now they speak of illness, poverty and strength. I was always sick as a child. Tonsillitis, croup, more tonsillitis, and batches of antibiotics between bouts of fearless exuberance. I was the youngest of originally three, then five, then 11 total kids. It’s a long story, especially because as the numbers grew, I still remained the youngest.

    Monday through Friday, my two brothers and I would race to the kitchen to eat cereal before school. Whoever got the box first could determine where it faced… I’d get the ingredient and nutrition side. Niacin, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid had nothing on me when I started school. I was way past “Run, Spot, Run.”

    We lived across the street from the school and treated it more like our own yard, than our own yard. On Saturdays, after eating cereal and reading three sides of the box, pulling on shorts and my favorite shirt, I’d sit on the porch with my baseball mitt and a ball, watching the giant three trees on the greenbelt that wound around the school. Sometimes, I’d pop a hunk of day old gum in my mouth and chew it. Day old didn’t hurt my teeth like new gum, so I always saved some next to my bed.

    Cats would come from nowhere and rub on me, as soon as I saw someone enter one of the school’s fields; I’d climb the wall and get into the school. I could jump every wall there. The local kids and I would compete for style points over scaling the chain link fences and walking on the walls, or spitting…

    In my dreams I often go back there, to that porch. I see it as it was one summer, when mom painted the cement porch and steps Battleship grey and attached a picket fence around the planter bed. In my mind I can flake off the paint, or see the brown coir and rubber mat at the old wooden door threshold and the diagonal X paned windows across the wide ranch front she painted Dusty Rose with butter-cream color stucco. In the dream, there are ranunculous flowers and roses in the beds and giant yuccas clumped along the grass.

    My parents bought that house in 1963, and this year, the bank got it back. I don’t know who lives there now, but in my dreams, when I forget who I am and I look for that one place that will always accept me, I go back to that house on Bogart Avenue, despite its darker secrets.

    My mom says that although she is still settling into her new place, about every third day she tries to get in the car to go home, then she remembers she can’t.

    I wonder if she and I will always keep returning there in our heads. I wonder if exuberance will keep us scaling metaphor and hope; and if being rooted in ourselves will help us both belong here *in the now*. I think sometimes part of belonging means letting go.

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