The first tooth fell out when I was five.
From then on, my tongue played hide & seek
behind my gums, testing, pushing, drawing back.
More teeth fell; pink gaps opened doors in my smile.
Mama washed & dried my baby teeth,
Covering them in shrouds of plastic wrap,
then tied the rectangles in shiny gold thread
straight from fairyland, she said.
Her first lie.
The thread came from the belly of a tall bamboo basket.
I knew because I peeked inside to make sure it was
woolen balls to knit & silk & cotton strands to sew
that Mama kept, & not spitting snakes to charm.
The tooth fairy never took my teeth.
She let me keep them & the crinkled dollar bill
that appeared under each one as they reposed in state,
tiny mummies atop the dresser in my room.
The dollar folded in my pocket,
I put the teeth in a gold-papered box & laid them to rest,
pharaohs to reign the dark world of small things
inside Mama’s teakwood drop-front dresser.
The teeth were mine to keep, she said – companions
for the winged glass horse I bought on Olvera Street in second grade
& a ceramic Siamese cat, a gift from the widow next door
who invited me over to drink tea one day.
Her second lie.
When I grew up & went away & Mama claimed these things –
the horse, the cat, the baby teeth,
all milk & tea & childhood innocence –
because they inhabited a space that was hers.
She ate for me before I was born & built my bones
then devoured the things I called my own.
But the baby teeth, remnants of mineral infusions
from her body to mine, they could have been hers.
Calcium, clay & glass couldn’t strengthen softening bones.
Her spine curved over like the cane she would not use.
Smaller, more fragile, she moved on unsteady feet –
An optical illusion, she said.
Her third lie.
Then came the falls that broke Mama & put her in a wheelchair
before she became dust, before bones made of a glass horse & its wings
a ceramic cat & baby teeth in a gold-papered box
went to the place where lost things go.
M. M. Adjarian has published her work in journals such as the Baltimore Review, Verdad, South 85, The Missing Slate, Serving House Journal, Pif Magazine, Grub Street, Crack the Spine and Poetry Quarterly. She lives in Austin.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.