In a Jar

I’m thinking about rolling my tongue over my rotting tooth. Should I do it? Teeth can be very dangerous. Just like our Native hair, they can be used against us, to curse us.

I went to see my aunt—a dental hygienist on the reservation—to get X-rays. It was September, and the yellow and orange leaves were dry and dying.

“It’s worse than I thought,” she said.

I was horrified. I’d already been told my wisdom teeth needed to be yanked out. “They’ll rot,” the dentist had said. I put it off for years, though, and watched week after week after week in the mirror as my far back tooth rotted, not wanting to get it extracted.

My father has dentures. When I was child, I watched from the window in our blue home on a dead-end street as my father called one of his employees a name. Then—BAM!—the guy punched my father, sending him sprawling backward, and his jeckin (that’s Native for butt) banged into the earth, sending ripples through the smooth summer grass. My father then got partials implanted, which were later punched out. I didn’t witness that punch, though. It had happened some days or weeks or months or years after my mother had taken me away in the night. “We’re going home, gwus,” she’d said to me. Home. The reservation. After that last whack to his face, my father got dentures.

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