Where Are My Teeth
Ou est mes dents? my father—whom I have never heard speak French, asks.
He is fluent, it turns out: he and Sofi, the blonde orderly, talk and listen to the same
50s hits CD: she holds his hand and spins around his chair.
His teeth go missing for two days.
I have his spare set, and send them express in a quilted jewelry box.
These are the ones he had made for him in Curacao, that turned out to be absurdly tiny, as if he had a necklace of seed pearls in his mouth.
He grew a mustache until he was able to replace them.
“Where did you put them, Dad?”
“I threw them under the railroad tracks.”
They turned up with the dirty sheets and towels.
In 1955, Elvis sings, “Train, train.”
He sings about a sixteen-coach monster that takes away his beloved.
And never will again.
Is what my father calls Lily, whose roses are returned to me because “she will eat them.”
Every day in bright lime green, and beaming: we have all been called here, after he fell and would not wake up—
“His breathing is bad,” the nurse said, handing over the keys to the palliative room.
I made it there in a few hours, calling to him, “Don’t go, don’t go” and somewhere in mid-litany he sat straight up and asked for water.
We arrived on our mother’s birthday after all,
She looks wrung out and small as she opens card after card,
Holds up her sponge cake after the candles have been lighted.
The night I arrive, Jim has to get Mary and I clamber over the bars of his bed
And lie beside him.
Comme une singe, I later explain to the amused orderly.
I put on Motown hits and we talked as the sky changed from dead blue to
A rush of black,
And we talked about feeling badly for not doing enough; about little Michael being like an angel on loan and seeing the Temptations on a sunny day;
We talked until the others came back and Mary, so relieved, spun like a top and
Made up a song called “Papadoo,”
And we planned what we would do the next day, after tucking him under the fuzzy blankets he likes, with the snowflakes and stars.
We will get him 7-Up and a peanut butter sandwich, clean clothes and a board game.
And open the door a little nervously.
Still stuck between our shoulder blades the knife that says “Your father is almost dead,”
That holds in the blood of remorse and guilt, the vast stream comprised of all of the little losings so far and the red ocean to come.
Dad can see the grid of streets from his window, a slice of the Oratory.
Sometimes he sees my mother, on the balcony in just a light sweater, and worries.
Falling golf balls: they are birds, I tell him, and he is embarrassed.
“I’m just trying to figure things out,” he says.
What and when he sees is a mystery to us: suddenly, the bed screws are buttons that the cats might choke on;
The restraint on his wheelchair is one of his torturer’s devices.
One night, he must have spotted the enormous Laura Secord Easter egg my mom
Left on top of his closet.
She came at lunch and, seeing the empty box, asked if it was good.
“Yes,” he said, and smiled.
At Easter he would hide tiny foil-wrapped eggs everywhere.
For months I would find them in hampers and drawers; once, in the slot behind the telephone.
I dragged a chair to reach in the cupboard above the fridge and found one there.
This was proof to me of an Easter miracle. “My dad can’t reach that high,” I told one of my friends.
I had some problems with logic and magical thinking when I was a kid.
I ate paint chips, hearing only chips when my mother complained about the damaged ceiling.
I also slept lightly and cannot imagine how the big Bunny managed to hide so many eggs in our little apartment,
How the Bunny reached the top of that closet, how he stood up without help,
How his silken ears twitch, as he remembers the rush of yellow yolk then the sacred sweetness of the shell.
Douglas Crosbie, Lynn’s father, reading to her and her baby brother James.
These poems are from the collection The Corpses of the Future, which is being published by the House of Anansi in 2017. Lynn Crosbie‘s most recent novel, a post-punk mystery featuring Kurt Cobain, is called Where Did You Sleep Last Night.