American Life in Poetry: Column 554

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

"We may never brush our teeth together again" is the axis about which this poem by Jim Daniels turns. Surely we all have moments like this. Jim Daniels’ recent books include Eight Mile High (Michigan State Univ. Press) and Birth Marks (BOA Editions). He lives in Pennsylvania.

Brushing Teeth with My Sister after the Wake

at my kitchen sink, the bathroom upstairs
clogged with family from out of town
spending the night after the wake
and the after—wake—cold beverages
have been consumed and comfort food,
leftovers bulging both the fridge
and the mini-fridge. In our fifties, both
half-asleep half-awake, we face each
other. My sister's smile foams white
down her chin at the end of a day
on which no one has smiled. We laugh.
We may never brush our teeth together again.
No mirror down here to see our haggard faces.
We rinse, we spit. As we were taught.


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 ©2015 by Jim Daniels, “Brushing Teeth with My Sister after the Wake,” from Poet Lore, Vol. 110, no. 1/2 (The Writer's Center, 2015). Jim Daniels' recent books include Eight Mile High, Michigan State Univ. Press, and Birth Marks, BOA Editions. Poem reprinted by permission of Jim Daniels 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.