Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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Balding, with a holistic practice. He pulls his trousers over his mild
paunch, my dentist. In the bathroom of the 19th century building he has
meticulously rehabbed is a calligraphed poster of "Twelve Signs of
Inner Peace," and at the receptionist's desk, an aquamarine bowl with
little cards that say, Expect a miracle. I take several, tuck them into
my pockets.

The more I rush the more they balk. The oldest refuses to put her shoes
on, the youngest will not stop nursing, his teeth clamping down on me.
The middle child is still sitting on the toilet, waiting for a wipe.

It's been years since I've been to a dentist. In our two-hour new patient
exam, Dr. O'Hara asks me in his lilting voice, "How do you feel about
your teeth?" I almost weep in his pastel examination room. "No one has
ever asked me that," I murmur. I flush and turn away.

Expect a miracle

The luscious scaling of each plaque-coated tooth. His tools are so
particular, so accurate. He always selects just the right one. Resting
in the rhythmic scraping, Enya over the speakers, the seagull mobile
and star garland. Like I'm at the beach, I could lie here for hours,
the children playing in the waiting room with strangers.

They wear on me like chronic diseases, hanging on my legs, so that I
limp. When one nose starts running, the other two noses quickly follow.
I barely manage to shower, what with all the noses to wipe, the crumbs
to sweep.

The scaling takes hours. We take four 50-minute sessions just for this.
The first week, the top right. The second week, the top left. The third
and fourth weeks, the bottom right and left. He scrapes and scrapes
until each tooth is smooth as polished marble, wiping his instruments
on my paper bib and letting me rest from time to time. I've never been
so thoroughly cleaned. I don't deserve such tenderness.

The baby sleeps with us. Between me and Jeff. Jeff watches TV in the
other room until he falls asleep. "Are you asleep?" I ask him. "Huh?
I'm resting," he says. Sometime in the night, he comes to bed. I hear
his heavy mouth-breathing and smell his I've-been-out-with-clients
smoky hair.

Dr. O'Hara sells me a special 95-dollar toothbrush that can
actually penetrate between teeth to remove plaque. He knows how busy I
am, three little kids, my husband's never home; when would I ever find
time to floss? He wants very badly for me to clean my teeth; he looks
into my eyes and implores me to floss, to stop my gingivitis from

such tenderness
a miracle

If I can take 15 minutes a day to meditate, he pleads, you can
take five minutes to floss. He has kids too, he says. He knows. But you
have a wife, I want to say. Instead I accept the toothbrush, write a
check for it at the reception desk. He hands me the electric toothbrush
with a pearled smile, knowing that I will fail, that I will not floss,
after all is said and done. He will keep meditating, and I will keep
getting cavities. I take the toothbrush, MICHAEL O'HARA, DDS,
262-352-4220 embossed on the white plastic.

The two oldest sleep across the hall in a queen size mattress on the
floor, but most mornings I wake with one or more curled at my feet or
nestled under my arm, the yeasty smell of damp diapers, sweat, milk.

Because I love him. And because he loves me. Because I love him, I let
him work on me without anesthesia. He doesn't bother with gloves. The
mask is tossed aside.

the yeasty smell

Without anesthesia. "Are you sure?" he asks. "Oh, yes," I insist. I
want to feel, to know every spin, every whirr of the drill. His short
fingers in my mouth comfort me.

Without anesthesia.
Without gloves.
Without masks.
Without children.

His fingers without the gloves taste slightly metallic. I accept his
touch, his high-pitched drill, his lovely composite fillings. I let him
remove each mercury-sodden amalgam filling and repair each tooth with
white porcelain, remaking me, pristine and white.

a miracle

It hurts for only a moment, I tell him when he stops the drill to look
at me with his funny magnifying spectacles and ask if I'm all right.
"I've been through childbirth," I say to reassure him.

Jeff says, "he's not a baby anymore." I say, "he's still nursing."

"Three times," I add, three kids, three births. I can't see his eyes
through the telescoping lenses. Only a moment. With my tongue, I poke at
my hollowed tooth.

the drill whirring like hummingbird wings
seagulls circling above me

Every six months I am back, for more probing, more scaling. I ask him
about his family. He takes off his magnifying glasses and his eyes
look moist. "My wife moved out," he murmurs, taking their daughter.

such tenderness
a miracle
the children playing in the waiting room with strangers

When he tells me this, I love him more, his hair graying at his temples
and his manicured beard. I lie there in his mercy and goodness and
project my love to him as he works on me. I wish I had more cavities
for him to repair.

Only a moment, his fingers probing my mouth.

They're selling their house, he tells me, and he's buying an even older
house. He will spend his evenings and weekends rehabbing it. I imagine
him with his very small, meticulous tools peeling paint and applying
grout, sanding and finishing original woodwork. He will work a sill, a
cornice, a single molding at a time.

I say, "Do you want to be the one to carry him over when he wakes up
crying in the night?" I keep the baby in the middle, away from the
edges of the bed.

I ring the angel chimes at the receptionist's desk after I make my next
appointment, leave with the brackish taste of my dentist's short
fingers. I toss the electric toothbrush on the car seat next to me and
rushing to get home and cook dinner I get a 75-dollar
speeding ticket.

the drill whirring like hummingbird wings
seagulls circling above me
such tenderness

Peggy Hong was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Hawaii and New York. She is the author of a poetry collection, Three Truths and a Lie (forthcoming, Water Press and Media); the poetry chapbooks Lies and Fables and The Sister Who Swallows the Ocean (CrowLadies Press); and a fine art letterpress book, Hoofbeats (Gokiburi Press). Poetry publications include Spoon River Poetry Review, Rhino, Bamboo Ridge, and Mothering magazine, among others. A graduate of Barnard College, she received a Master of Fine Arts degree at Antioch University with a dual concentration in poetry and fiction. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her husband and three children, ages 18, 16, and 13. She teaches at Alverno College and Woodland Pattern Book Center.

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