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American Life in Poetry: Column 254

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

What might my late parents have thought, I wonder, to know that there would one day be an occupation known as Tooth Painter? Here’s a partial job description by Lucille Lang Day of Oakland, California.

Tooth Painter

He was tall, lean, serious
about his profession,
said it disturbed him
to see mismatched teeth.
Squinting, he asked me
to turn toward the light
as he held an unglazed crown
by my upper incisors.
With a small brush he applied
yellow, gray, pink, violet
and green from a palette of glazes,
then fired it at sixteen hundred
degrees. We went outside
to check the final color,
and he was pleased. Today
the dentist put it in my mouth,
and no one could ever guess
my secret: there’s no one quite
like me, and I can prove it
by the unique shade of
the ivory sculptures attached
to bony sockets in my jaw.
A gallery opens when I smile.
Even the forgery gleams.

 

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Lucille Lang Day and reprinted from The Curvature of Blue, Cervena Barva Press, 2009, by permission of Lucille Lang Day and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.