bad nerve—200 pound head,
hair festering like a turnip in its dark soil, nails curling and
for the feather and scale, for the rubbery jugular inside the
throat of the lamb.
Time throbs now, like a star. I nurse a little numbness from
I let warmth swell from the itchy towel wadded under the
This is the pain of divination, Job’s pain, condensed,
From one o’clock to the earliest light tipping the thrushes
behind my blind neighbor’s house to take up again their
I am running my tongue along its enamel walls, polishing
the leopard teeth and the cow teeth.
I am planing this altar-piece in my mouth. I am
worshipping the thorny and the essential:
the mare with her foundered hoof; the field lark, her beak
cracked by pellets.
It is something for the self, and something for the beast
At its edge, the orange Valiant struggles off towards
the paper thuds on the front porch. I can feel the sun
pumping its clear oil into the apertures of lilies.
I am thinking, first, of the blonde boy from first grade,
his teeth rotted black by Milky Ways, then of the carpenter
two doors down the street, his good smile splintered by
hammers and crowbars.
But, finally, it is my old shepherd, toothless and fierce, who
comes back to me each morning,
toothmarked and torn, his pretty coat matted with the clay-
Three-legged, half-blind, he cannot give it up. His
stupidity and vainglory keep him snapping
at the unrelenting night, even when it catches him and
The clenched jaws shake at his withers and snout, yank,
and he breaks with a popping
of cartilage, with a rifle-shot of bone, so he crawls back
through the green cockleburs of exile.
When I find him, slumped against the tin of his toolshed,
still as a feed bag, all the look gone
that sobered meanness, the look soaking to the center of
his deep bruise, each morning
when I touch him, wading into the shallow breath at the
end of his pride,
I place my hand in his mouth and take the tongue he will
I cradle the fruit of his toothless gum, delivered to the
aurora of abscess, thinking, in pain’s pure
meditation, how the tooth was named for wisdom because
it came in so slowly.