Monday, February 11, 2013

My White Teeth

I take my teeth out of my mouth every evening
and soak them in a filthy  blue plastic container
the dentist
gave me. I suppose I should show some
pride in my mouth and marinate them in a ceramic
pot where they can sprout gums and perhaps
part of my anatomy. Right now they're amazingly
alien to me, an occupant of my mouth, as if I were
eternally sucking on an acorn.
A primitive device
that allows me to chew. I would like to extract
them from my face one morning on the
I take from Upper Montclair to the city
so all the lawyers could see them and puke.

I'm estranged from my own ass.
What's wrong with me? I perpetually
like a foreign object. I can take my teeth out
and it seems to me I should be able to remove
my fingers and put my dick in the refrigerator.
I suppose that's why I was a
for five years—not because I wanted to change the world
but because no part of me was connected to anything.
I sit on the bus alienated not only from the
from the driver, but from the bus itself—
I expect it to spit me out—I'm amazed it stops
for me every morning and allows me

I have to rearrange myself better—cut my hair,
iron my jeans, wear a clean shirt.
Oh, I can get up in the morning, insert my teeth, get
go to work—I can even chat with my boss,
whom I despise more than my teeth.
But what am I? I long for sensation, not experience,
not travel—sensation—to feel the unusual, to feel.
What am I talking about here? I wanted to write something
with structure,
like my teeth, something I could chew with,
but so what? Everyone rambles nowadays and
becomes famous. I'm reading Frank O'Hara and he
but I suppose he's famous because
of his exotic death—sort of like Sylvia Plath.

Today I went to the Modern to see Robert Ryman.
I was looking at slides of paintings of buildings—
were so precisely done, they depressed me.
They reminded me of my teeth. I needed
to see something indefinite, something
about suicide.

Ryman's white canvases, his aluminum
panels, his baked enamel potholders—
is the world so minimal I can barely
find something to hold onto? But I wasn't
depressed. I said, "There goes my century,
even if I wasn't part of it."

Everyday is an execution. I queue up for the
bus obediently,
I keep my teeth in my mouth,
I thank the driver when I get off . . .
I'm that mechanical. If only it were a
philosophical problem—like dialectical materialism—
I could come up with a poetic
unusable solution to live by. But no,
it's something unnameable—like Ryman's paintings—
something minimal, nonnegotiable, inert,
painting the paint, he calls it,
a large surface with shades of white.

(This poem first appeared in the Journal of 
New Jersey Poets.)