dentist office
Dismantling a Mouth
by Betsy Mars

First, survey the surrounding areas:
forehead temperature, check;
hands, sanitized;
oxygen saturation adequate;
no contact with suspicious persons.
No recent travels to foreign lands.
Remove the mask. Swish
with hydrogen peroxide for a minute,
spit into a vacuum which sucks
any danger away. Now for x-rays.
The room is prepared, purified air.
The technician hovers, shielded
and gloved, protected from poisons
which might leach from the soil
of your mouth. Another cone covers
the air immediately above your face,
sealing the area from any contaminants
escaping your mouth, as she scrapes,
picks, excavates. Finally satisfied,
she polishes, making teeth shine —
a bright clean smile
rarely seen these days
as you replace your mask.

PHOTO: Dr. Carolyn Doherty and dental hygienist Stephanie.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I recently went for a dental cleaning and checkup, though I had been wary about going. They assured me on the phone that they had all kinds of procedures in place and I was really impressed with all that they had done to assure that it was as safe as possible. Despite all that, I was thinking about the dedication and courage it takes to get up close and personal with someone’s mouth (outside of household mouths) these days, and the thought occurred to me that it was like diffusing a bomb or walking through a minefield, though I mean no disrespect to people who do those jobs, and I certainly don’t really feel it’s comparable. Still, there is an element of risk now in such intimate work, and I feel very appreciative of their willingness to do it. My gums and teeth are very grateful for the overdue attention.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Betsy Mars is a poet, photographer, and an occasional publisher. She founded Kingly Street Press and published her first anthology Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take Up the Knife in October 2019. Her work has recently appeared in The Blue NibLive Encounters, and The New Verse News. Her chapbook Alinea was released in January 2019. In the Muddle of the Night, her collection written with Alan Walowitz, is coming soon from Arroyo Seco Press. Visit her at, and find her on Facebook and on Twitter.