The dental hygienist didn’t talk about her boyfriend
or her latest home improvement project or even
the movie she saw on Netflix, so funny,
she couldn’t stop laughing.
She yanks a blue hydration tube.
Bangs cover her eyes,
a mask hides her mouth. She is a friendly mole
dressed in a smock with pictures of Wilma Flintstone
who labors at divesting my teeth of tartar.
There are no clouds on the ceiling like in Ernie’s office,
my Oakland dentist who built his practice
catering to Medicaid recipients,
owned a share in a pizza delivery business,
handed out cards saying, Get Drilled at Ernie’s.
This office has none of that charm, except for
a garden outside the window
matted with orange zinnias and yellow snapdragons
and Dr. Jan Bagwell who has saved my mouth
on more than one occasion,
bright red lipstick her calling card.
A place where water is suspect,
and how guns are a hobby,
you could say a way of life, not the assault rifles
of my old neighborhood trained
on rival gang members and errant police officers,
but on deer ambling through the piney woods,
and how people in these parts
have enough aunts, uncles, and cousins
to fill up a school gymnasium, and
hand-me-down quilts made by grandmothers
with a life-time backing,
not the Bay Area aquarium
filled with anemones and neon-colored gravel
on every incoming tide, a mixed soup,
a Vietnamese Pho, basil and scallions,
not the bayou trembling
with marsh grass,
cypress stirring the pot
waiting for the sky to torch,
a scrim of thunder, the rain.