Oct. 26, 2008

The Dental Hygienist

by Tom C. Hunley

She said "open up,"
so I showed her my teeth,
a chipped-white fence
that keeps my tongue penned in.

She rinsed my mouth.
She suctioned my cheek.

She said "How do you like this town?"
so I said "Mmpllff"
though I meant "More every day,"

and she said "Gorgeous weather!"
so I said "Mmpllff"
though I meant "In my mouth?"

and she didn't say anything,
so I said "Mmpllff" and "Mmpllff"
though I'm not sure what I meant,
and she took me to mean
"Would you like to go out tonight?"
and "to an expensive restaurant?"

When I arrived with a bouquet of roses,
she stuffed them in my mouth.

She told me all about her feelings:
how she feels about fillings,
how she feels about failures.

She said "open up."
She said "It's like pulling teeth
trying to get men to talk about their feelings."

So I said "Mmpllff"
though I meant "You smell prettier than the flowers in my mouth,"
and I said "Mmpllff"
she thought I meant "I'm afraid of dying alone."

She said I was a good conversationalist
and showed me her perfect teeth.
I felt an ache in my jaw.
I felt drool crawling down my chin.

"The Dental Hygienist" by Tom C. Hunley from Octopus. © Logan House Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. It was built to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. The canal was 360 miles long, 40 feet wide, and four feet deep — just deep enough to float barges carrying 30 tons of freight. When the canal was finished, cannons were lined up along the towpath just barely in earshot of each other. They fired one after another from Lake Erie to New York City, finishing the relay in 81 minutes.

It's the birthday of the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, born in New Orleans (1911). She was orphaned in early childhood. Her family's house was right next to a church, which is where the girl first heard gospel music. She also listened to blues singers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. But Jackson was a devoted Baptist, and she refused to sing anything but gospel. She said, "When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what's wrong. But when you are through with the blues, you've got nothing to rest on."

It's the birthday of Senator Hillary Clinton, (books by this author) born Hillary Rodham in Chicago (1947), the daughter of a man who sold draperies and was so frugal that even on the coldest winter nights in Illinois, he would turn the heat in the house off, and then wake up early in the morning to warm the house back up before everyone else arose.

Hillary's father was a Republican, and she started her political life as one also, campaigning for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. Her first year of college, she was president of the Wellesley Young Republicans. But she was influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, and she shifted her political views. As a junior in college, she campaigned for Eugene McCarthy.

Her senior year, she wrote a thesis about the strategies and tactics of a radical community activist — which, while she was First Lady, the White House suppressed. She was the first student at Wellesley to deliver the formal graduation address, and people in the audience clapped for seven minutes.

She went to law school at Yale, where she met Bill Clinton. They started dating. They lived together and spent a summer campaigning together for George McGovern. They were married in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in the living room of a house that they had just bought together. She's the author of It Takes A Village (1995) and an autobiography, Living History (2003). The book sold more than a million copies within the first month it was published.

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