The Way Things Go

been having issues with teeth
and insurance these past few weeks
waiting to get my mouth examined

for sharp pain at its core
and today I found a decent dentist
who accepts my bad insurance

and after the assistant’s questions
after the x-ray the dentist
lowers my chair

for a closer look when fire
men tell us to evacuate
due to a gas leak

and now I’m with the dentist
and his staff in the parking lot
poison in the air

talking Cleveland sports
and root canals
but the building never

catches fire
that doesn’t mean strangers
didn’t rush to the scene


(originally published in Edison Literary Review, Spring 2020)

Float Through

Today, I slide on slush on my drive. Unplowed roads, slippery odometer–
morning snow surprise. Pittsburgh’s a city of hills unavoidable, and later,

waiting on a grocery pickup, I stare into the rearview mirror at the frost-
tipped pines when a knock on my window removes me from my existential

stupor. I don’t know how to interact anymore. Crank the window the wrong
way. Peppermint mocha, the years past. I bought a latte this morning but did

not know how to order it. The Dunkin teens stared, dumfounded, and it was
a foggy day like this– in which I float through the happenings– that I last

crashed my car. In Los Angeles, I flew down the dry 405, beat after
a long day in a Hollywood studio, and was amazed at the hospital light

brightness as I passed Westwood, like I could snap my fingers and time
would once again resume, while five other lanes of traffic zigged around

me with no regard to my existence. I was like a visitor to myself dragged
back into being with silent smoke pouring out the mouth of my Ford’s

hood. The front was crumpled but the SUV I slammed into appeared
untouched. The sixteen-year-old girl called her dad to ask what to do.

She took my insurance, my number, then drove off with the rest of the
world, as I stood at the side of the highway waiting for someone to

help me go home, still, to this day.

(originally published in the chapbook Count Seeds With Me (Ethel Zine & Micro-Press), Spring 2022)

Dead Whale

Upon the gum’s shore,
a body beaches–
abscessed tooth of

How the mouth learns
to chew
the glint
of blood.

Soon, this is ritual.

Don’t confess
your ailing–
let bleed from morning
into next.

The dentist says
don’t drink– so
consume the ocean
of the night
and float
yourself to sea.


(originally published in former People, Winter 2018)

Root Canal


the overhead light is a python shining into my eyes
this office is hissing: drills, rotors, a hanging
S at the end of a passing sentence.
they have taken so many x-rays
of my mouth these past few weeks

there the infected tooth stares back
in its gray and black graveyard,
deep in its flaw


the doctor numbs me with needle
puts a cloth in my mouth, a cape
to make my face a superhero.
it’s an uncomfortable placebo
makes me think of super-strength
defense as she scythes the pulp out of me


the doctor says god,
this is a pulp boulder

I have been looking toward heaven
digging and scraping many silent minutes


a drill

bats squeal and fly from the cave of my tooth


the assistant tag-team switches for
a different assistant

the doctor says we’re finally getting somewhere

on the radio:
like a virgin. touched for the very first time


the scent of bone

or blood

or gum

or healing


the assistant says she visited the chickens last week
cute as dickens

I learn chickens have no bladders
and no bone marrow

and here I hold my urine


the doctor tells me open wide
shoving cotton in my mouth

shout, shout, let it all out


they’re trying to figure out the actress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
the doctor holds a scalpel over my mouth
the name at the tip of her tongue

After an eternity I offer
Hahdrey Hehurn

I did my part

they’re proud
and there are no complications


(originally published in Off the Coast, Fall 2017)

Your Teeth, My Teeth

clatter. chew
through apples (nothing).

half a meal, half a pine,
half of what we hoped for,

the way a core reveals itself inedible,
though we knew.

from day one, bites
and bites.

sometimes the juice sweetness
overpowers slow rot.

it was early on, and worms
had yet to emerge from their holes
in the ground to greet us.

all we had to do
was wait for rain.


(originally published in First Literary Review – East, Winter 2018)

Cavity of the Soul (Part II)

(continued from Part I)

At 7 AM Wayne’s alarm trilled him awake. Typically after a dental appointment, there are aches and pains, but he never felt anything this extreme. It felt as if malignant parasites had made a home in his teeth and rented condos in his gums. His cavity was on the right side of his mouth, but most of the pain was on the left. Without warning, the pain would switch sides. It made no sense. Wayne could not wait to sit back in that uncomfortable chair, in hopes that Hakoum could extricate the pain.


The lights in the office were off. The sign on the outside still read “CLOSED”. But as Wayne approached the door, the handle turned and soon enough a foreign hand held the door open.

“Sorry, the lights weren’t on,” Hakoum said, leading Wayne inside. “I just got here myself.”

The doctor flicked the lights on. “Not used to being here before the receptionist, either.”

Hakoum walked into the back and began a brew of pitch-black coffee.

“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked his patient.

“Awful,” Wayne said as he clutched his cheek.

“I figured,” Hakoum said, filing through papers at his desk. “Cavities are more serious than most people imagine.”

“I remember the story from yesterday,” Wayne said with a grimace.

Hakoum looked up from his desk. “There’s no reason to be crass with me this early in the morning.”

“I’m just in a lot of pain,” Wayne said, fingering his teeth now. “I don’t mean to be rude to the guy who’s going to be working in my mouth.”

Hakoum walked from his desk, clumsily bumping into another one on his way to get his coffee, knocking over a bunch of papers. Somehow they fell with a loud KLANK.

Wayne, curious as to how a bunch of papers could make such a loud sound while feigning a desire to help clean up, hobbled over to the stack of papers. There was an oddly-shaped bump at the bottom of the pile. Wayne cleared the top couple papers away and nestled underneath was a big, red power drill.

“That’s funny!” Hakoum said, cup of coffee in his hand. He picked up the drill with his free hand. “A drill like this has no place in a dentist’s office.”

Hakoum took a sip of his coffee and set it down. Smiling, he examined the drill.

“I wish the receptionist were here already,” Hakoum said. He pointed the drill like a gun toward Wayne. “I kind of think that if she’s not here already, she’s not going to show up at all.”

Wayne looked to see if anyone was even in the office at all. The place was completely empty except for dentist and patient, despite it being well past 8:00.

“This is getting a little weird,” Wayne observed, leaning against a desk.

“Dentistry takes a lot of people by surprise.”

Hakoum placed the drill back onto the desk. He led Wayne to the annex and opened the door to the same room they occupied yesterday.

“Go ahead and wait in there,” Hakoum said, pointing to the chair in-between sips of his coffee. “I’ve got to go prep the novocaine.”

Wayne thought about sprinting out of the office at that moment, but as soon as the thought crossed his mind, he felt his gums rage and burn.

So he sat down and waited, staring at the images again, his mouth feeling the imaginary pain that the children’s drawings on the wall portrayed.

He waited for a long time. He waited until the dim light of the room drifted him to sleep.


Hakoum was seen approaching with a needle when Wayne awoke.

“What are you doing!?” Wayne shouted at his dentist.

Hakoum slowed down. “I’m very sorry you woke up. I was just about to inject the novocaine into your right gum so that this cavity procedure would be as quick and painless as possible.”

“Well, wake me up for that, please, next time.”

“That kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?”

“The purpose? The purpose of what?”

“Most patients are deathly afraid of needles. If they don’t know I’m sticking their insides with a needle, it makes it easier for me, too.”

“I’m not afraid of needles, but I DO like to know when I’m getting things shoved inside delicate places.”

The doctor shrugged. “To be completely transparent, I am about to…”

Hakoum stopped speaking, opened his mouth wide, and gasped in horror at whatever atrocity might have been behind Wayne, who turned his head to see what was happening. Hakoum stabbed him in the gum with his needle during the distraction.

Wayne howled with pain.

The light suspended above his chair became brighter than the sun. Wayne began to perceive everything in the room as cats, but soon Hakoum and the cat-shapes in the room became forms of pure blackness. “I want cotton candy,” Wayne mumbled.

“Causes cavities,” Hakoum said in a language that Wayne thought sounded like tongues. “Can’t administer.”

Wayne drifted into dreamland on a cat-shaped cloud…


After the minor operation, Hakoum was drenched in sweat and out of breath. He sprinted into the receptionist’s office. He fumbled through the jar of pens on the desk and scribbled some words on a piece of paper: “CLOSED FOR THE DAY – SORRY” and struggled to sign his name.

He ran outside with the paper and taped it to the door, over the “OPEN” sign. The receptionist sleepily walked down the pathway on her way to the door. Slamming the door, Hakoum went to the couch in the waiting room and pushed it to barricade the entryway. The receptionist knocked, jiggled the door handle, and then tried her key.

Hakoum administered himself a shot of novocaine. He took the power drill and opened Wayne’s mouth.

(to be continued in Part III)