Monday, March 19, 2007

Crooked Wisdom - A Poem about an Extramarital Affair and the Dentist

Who's been to the dentist recently?
Watch out! Never know what the heck can be going on with those folks and their drills and picks and accompanying hygienists.

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.

According to the essay writing class I'm in presently, I would have to say this poem exemplifies a principle of showing vs. telling.

I'm not sure. But I do appreciate this poet's eye for the many levels of experience.

I wonder if this story is true?
Did Fanning's dentist really lose his wife in an affair?
Was his exam tempered or marred by this knowledge?
Did the poet invent this information, this back story, as a way to explain the seeming cruelty done to his own exposed gums?

"Crooked Wisdom" by Robert Fanning, from The Seed Thieves. © Marick Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Crooked Wisdom

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.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Hello QueenMab!
Thanks so much for posting my poem on your blog to share with your readers. I'm so glad you appreciated it. If you'd care to purchase my book The Seed Thieves to read more, feel free to give me a shout, and I'll send you a signed copy.

Details and contact info are available at

Thanks again for your kind words. Oh, and yes, it is a true story!

Best regards,
Robert Fanning