Bridging the Teeth
Early casualties in avalanches of
jelly apples, taffy, Bazooka bubble gum,
they sweetened dreams of dentists,
could be traded for Tooth Fairy coins.
The Tooth Fairy lifted temporaries
like rabbits, needed them in Candy Land
to make stars, angels, castles
and Halloween costumes.
Timid about the wide space between
upper middle-incisors, the boy seldom smiled.
After the gap became an identifying feature,
he whistled songs, decided against braces.
The teen practiced scales, chords, arpeggios,
improvised on piano, memorized
the colors and textures of solos and combos.
One wisdom tooth didn’t appear,
even in x-rays, a weird random mutation.
One less headache. The crowns
were blue-chip investments.
The permanent set, less fluorescent-white
than tinted ivory, has weathered every
food and drink stoked into the pearly portal.
Though a coward commanded them,
the soldiers proved courageous, steadfast,
never thought go AWOL, defect, surrender,
marched on with tearing and grinding,
their aim was nearly always on target
thanks to Captain Tongue’s loyal
maneuvers through godawful storms.
“We learned to chew gum with pizza
or energy bars at the same time,”
commented the manager. “Plenty of exercise
is key to our team’s winning record.”
Sometimes eyes and nose sprout
impromptu tongues that taste the air,
lips smacking like kisses yearn to nibble,
overeager teeth can’t wait to dig in.
The hardest workers have pulled through
without much-deserved vacations
and retirement, cannot get time-offs.
The canines salute the fallen and wounded
for their undaunted sacrifices
in the interest of everyday goodness.
Those warriors who could not be here
did not depart in vain. They delight
in afterlives of extravagant diversions
with the legendary Tooth Angels.
Bodies burgeoning verdant fire,
untamed souls aglow,
we cavorted like colts,
bees and butterflies dancing,
we were gathering April nectar
when mediagenics inflated
the President’s war decree
and we fell for the bulletins,
believed in the omnipotence
of Motherland and Fatherland,
marched to the zealous rhythm,
sang a superior anthem.
Nothing smelled sweeter,
sounded more virtuous,
than battling for the golden
prospect of Honor.
The sun shines brighter
with the freedom we defended,
the trophies of valiant triumph
we burned to bring back.
Before we could bear
the fruits of parenthood,
Death plundered our divisions
of fledgling hawks and doves.
Robbed of our winged songs,
we drift like cottonwood and
dandelion parachutes, clouds weep
drops of blood and bone,
our pieces spiral the way spring
petals molt, mingle with
fallen leaves, melt under
the anonymous surface of time.
Bruce Lader’s third full-length book is Fugitive Hope (Červená Barva Press). Discovering Mortality (March Street Press) was a finalist for the 2006 Brockman-Campbell Book Award. Winner of the 2010 Left Coast Eisteddfod Poetry Competition, his poems have appeared in Talking River, New York Quarterly, New Millennium Writings, Harpur Palate, Poetry, Confrontation, and other magazines. He has received a writer-in-residence fellowship from The Wurlitzer Foundation.