My hygienist likes to include me
in the decision making.
“Shall we use the hand scaler
or the ultrasonic today?” she asks me.
I like the way she says “we,”
like we’re doing something intimate
like building a snowman,
or more like dismantling one
after an ice storm, flake
by frozen flake. “The calculus
is caused by precipitation
of minerals from your saliva,” she explains.
“You can’t remove it with your toothbrush.
Only a professional can do that.” She’s very
professional. She doesn’t dumb it down.
“Pay more attention to the lingual side
of your mandibular anteriors,” she says.
I love it when she talks like that.
I love the names of teeth: incisor, third molar, bicuspid,
eyetooth. Her own teeth are
virtuosic. “Calculus comes from the Greek
for stone,” she says. “In mathematics
it’s counting with stones. In medicine,
it’s the mineral buildup in the body: kidney stones,
tartar on teeth.” She teaches me all this
as I sit there with my mouth open,
First appeared in Off the Coast
Paul's poems have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net. He has been published in Carolina Quarterly, Shenandoah, New Delta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Atlanta Review, Poetry East, The Sun, and many other journals and anthologies. He has won a Pushcart Prize, the Comstock Review's Muriel Craft Bailey Award, and chapbook contests from Grayson Books, Riverstone Press, Frank Cat Press, and Split Oak Press. He has seven full-length collections of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), A Little in Love a Lot (2011), Hurt Into Beauty (2012), Naming Names (2013), Selected Poems (2014), and The Bad Guys (2015). He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.