Compassion is called for here. In this wickedly funny and sad poem, showcasing Robert Fanning's clever juxtaposition of his experience with his dentist (teeth, gums, drilling, cleaning, x-rayed, exposure, etc.) and what he gleans is the back story of his doctor's life: a marriage gone awry.
Did Fanning's dentist really lose his wife in an affair?
Having learned last night of his wife's affair,
my dentist holds a giant silver spear
and leans over the canyon of my open jaw.
Diving in again, vulture-sure, he picks
at my gum's weak pink flesh. Between
cliffs, down in the bone and coral landscape
of my teeth, nerve tips burst and bloom
like crimson flowers on a hill. Soon
blood's smeared red signature runs
from a deep root and floods my tongue.
Half-under with gas and lovely numb,
I watch his left eye become a clouded moon,
then one black branch of an eyelash
catch a teardrop's sheer balloon. With quick
shame, like a lion tamer stricken with naked
fear, he leaves the work of the open mouth
and the raw wound to another. He lays
the mirror down beside the spear and exits
the room. Anesthesia doesn't dim his grief
a room away. I hear the hygienist say:
She's leaving you for him. You've seen this
coming for a year ...
A bit later he returns, composed in his white
smock, and clips the X-rays of my teeth
to the board. Then he lifts his pointer
to the slideshow of my bite: backlit, exposed,
the skull's little ornaments hang; bicuspids
and molars glow with hunger and decay. See here —
he points — here's the abscess. Here's the cavity,
and here's that crooked wisdom pushing through.