American Life in Poetry: Column 358

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Jaimee Kuperman is a poet living and working in the Washington, D.C., area, and she shares with many of us the experience of preparing one’s self for a visit to the dentist. Do you, too, give your teeth an especially thorough brushing before entering that waiting room?

The New Dentist

Driving to the new dentist’s office
the slow drive of a new place
with the McDonalds that I don’t go to
on the left, the mall two miles away.
The Courthouse and the Old Courthouse
road signs that break apart, the fork in the road
that looks nothing like a fork or a spoon, in fact
at best, maybe a knife bent in a dishwasher
that leans to one side. And I know the dentist
will ask about my last visit and want to know
in months that I can’t say some time ago
and I know he will ask me about flossing
and saying when I’m in the mood won’t be
the appropriate answer.
He will call out my cavities
as if they were names in a class.
I brush my teeth before going in.
It’s like cleaning before the cleaning person
but I don’t want him to know I keep an untidy
mouth. That I am the type of person who shoves
things in the closet before guests arrive.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Jaimee Kuperman and reprinted from her most recent book of poetry, You Look Nice Strange Man, ABZ Poetry Press, 2010. Reprinted by permission of Jaimee Kuperman and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.