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Teeth

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For knowledge, says the Old Sage, add; for wisdom,
subtract. My head in a surgeon’s chair, checking
Lao Tsu’s math as these teeth I barely knew
I had (mumbled of as wisdom) introduced
themselves—rude party guests—right as they had
to go, their pinched goodbye-hello. Like learning
you’ve been speaking your whole life in prose,
or my late eighth-grade astonishment that I—
confirmed a Gentile in almost all respects—
had hung so long among the circumcised.

Hard to know what you have, I’ll have you know.
Harder to know what you haven’t. Knowledge! The nerve!
Hushed up like a gulp behind the tongue,
shrewdly shooting roots down at an age
my gums were smug from rolling words around,
when my morals (like my molars) proved
basically interchangeable. Wise
I wasn’t, but I wanted it so painfully then.
Now I’ve had it—you have it, doc. You know
the drill, or whatever you’ve got. Take it away . . .

Source: Poetry (July/August 2009)

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This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

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Teeth

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