Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Checkup



(A Symphony for a Dental Hygienist)

It’s the waiting that intimidates you:
the walls shelved with pamphlets—
root canal treatment, gum disease, X-ray safety. 
Then the office door opens like an overture for nerves,
and she alarms you with your name.
Your feet, already Novocain numb from crossing them,
press down the Indian bed of nails
beyond the receptionist's counter to the next room,

the one where you do not forget the chair:
doctor’s office vinyl
with a head-and-body tilt devised for excavation.
Of course, there are the instruments,
plastic-wrapped on the metal tray,
alongside the latex gloves and gauzy mask.

The performance begins abruptly with X-rays,
an allegro for two cardboard wings
and your gag reflex;
then your memory is jarred loose
by the Scaler, an andante of scraping and foraging
for bacon bits, orange pulp or toasted crumbs,
your mouth fixed in a capital O
while the saliva ejector hangs under your tongue,
trapped in a maelstrom of spittle.

The lamp beams down
just beneath the ceiling mobile of paper boats.
There’s nowhere else to stare except at the ceiling
and her face.
By now you know the subtle shades of her eyes
better than you know your wife’s –
the blemishes on her brow
and other indelicacies with Lilliputian scrutiny –
until she lavages your mouth with the Cavitron,
con moto moderato,
eradicating tea and blueberry stains
with a crescendo that rivals timpani.

You have made it to a finale
of flossing and electric brushing,
an allegretto of rinsing and sucking,
the metallic taste flowing from your molars
and bicuspids raked and plowed clean.

The concert concludes with the maestro’s brief visit –
the virtuoso’s checkup.
"I’ll see you in six months" resounds like applause,
and you whisk out the door, vivace!
with a new tooth brush and floss in hand
and with no encore.


“The Checkup” was originally published in Spoon River Quarterly.

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