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I. Sugar Discipline: Dental Poems 11

II. Academy of Fragments 17

III. Singular Room Occupancy: Cantos from Main & Hastings 43

IV. This Holy Room/the great listeners 65

Notes on the Poems and Hodayot 97

There is no refuge from listening to your own silence in the academy,

in the pulpit, or in the safety of institutional bureaus and boards.

—Noah Eli Gordon, The Source

Long-Lined Sonnet For Dr. Young

At the end of my benefits my mouth holds a temporary crown.

Along the Naugahyde arms of the tilted-back chair, my arms are

smooth and thick—the skin of an endangered African animal.

My iPod holds a slight density against the swell of bare belly,

cold beneath my T-shirt. One earphone is in, Eliot speaks with

the voice of the poet—St. Louis faking Queen’s English—over

the buzzing insistence of the drill, latex fingers pulling at

my swollen, etherized gums: these were the bones that were his eyes?

The hygienist, middle-aged, Mexican, comments on the plasma screen

“the one hockey game I went to was Queen Elizabeth in her red dress,

dropping the—what do you call the rubber disk?—onto the ice.”

Dr. Young, twenty-four and carving, ignores her. Beneath her breath

she remarks that beneath amalgams there is almost always decay.

Shaved calcium, dental cement, in my raised chair: I am enthroned.

Reasons You Love The Dentist

1. Your mouth straightjacketed

you can finally stop


2. You will be rewarded

with paste and waxed paper

for keeping still.

3. The drill is white noise: you

creatively attend to silence.

4. A rush of water squirted into the

lower bowl of your mouth

reassures you: you won’t ever be thirsty.

5. In the late 1980S, Dr. Killick patiently

explained his sterilization techniques to your

eight-year-old sister so she wouldn’t fear

contracting AIDS.

6. The chair is a classroom:

you are privy to a new

discourse, new words, old

words reformed.

7. You are

the centre of


8. There are minerals in your mouth

that you have never even considered.

9. Soon your swollen lips will thaw.

Your gums will resurrect and your tongue

will explore Dr. Young’s architecture.

10. Now this hygienist

whose Christian name you’ve forgotten

acts as a pushy yoga instructor,

forcing you to focus on breathing:

through your nose, through your nose.

11. You grind your teeth,

a war vet digs holes in your molars,

carves crevices at the back of your incisors.

Yet Dr. Young patiently rebuilds,

adds height, matches shades of off-white

and says that despite the grinding, the acid erosion,

the slant of your bite, your damaged sibilants,

you are “the most relaxed patient” she’s ever had and

12. also you are lucky, you are still young

you still have good bones.



Molded to

the specifics of

your reconstructed


translucent, a

ghost of


allowed for,


mass of porcelain;


implant or


Clasp it

over the




Cripple your sibilants.


Go to bed.

II. Academy of Fragments

“Erase everything you have written, but keep the notes in the margins.”

—Osip Mandelstam

The Committee Meeting

Jet-lagged, you say to the Doctors

who have gathered before you:

Whenever I stand to present

a paper I feel like a charlatan.

Your Swedish Doctor (associate)

bald with ginger stubble, responds:

I am afraid this noun is not part

of my English vocabulary.

Pop quiz: How many synonyms

can you think up in the next

twenty seconds? You say: a faker.

Suddenly there is scholarly consensus.

Your American Doctor (assistant)

clean-shaven with a Tyrolean chin

and the faint scent of a near-forgotten

stint at a Jerusalem Bible College, says:

There was a recent article about

this—peer reviewed—in the

Journal of Higher Education:

80% of academics feel the same way.

Your Head Doctor, the white-haired nun,

is outnumbered. Smiles ensue and satisfy.

It’s never scholarship until statistics

are involved.

The Assistant Professor: The Job Talk

Freshly doctored, straight off the plane from a town in Indiana eponymous with a cathedral in France—

he is a Bachelor of Business Administration from an Ivy State and a Master of Theology from an Old Jerusalem Bible College. (Or is it BBA from Jerusalem Bible College and MTS from Ivy State? The chronology on the CV isn’t clear).

Three times in one hour he says, That’s the best question I’ve heard all day.

One time he even says it to you.

His attention is focused on uncovering the Semitic antecedents of the past participle used in the

Beatitudes. He has proven that Syriac manuscripts found in caves circling the Dead Sea convey the

word blessed as linguistically identical to the word lucky.

There are blue silk patches adhering to his elbows. He could have done anything with his life. He

could have managed a furniture warehouse in Michigan; pastored a predestined congregation of fourth

generation Dutch immigrants; he could have been the Governor of California—

but he chose to venture north to this Instro-University town to read Hebrew with you in the

basement seminar room, with the reproduction of Raphael’s Madonna and Child a

Would you like to know how the story ends?

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