This moment’s made of teeth. It’s baring them and bearing them, the dead teeth that have been and the teeth still in hiding that will be and the teeth that already are, yours and mine and ours, root-bound inside our mouths but out of them, too, stringy messes dangling. It’s not good little soldier teeth lined up in rows, not whole Cheshire cat grins floating like flashed-out crescent moons, no, it’s every individual tooth, invisible, sharp and stained and waiting. Sharp the blades of my shoulders slumped against one arm of the couch, curved-spine cradle for the weight of your new body—more muscle than last time, more spiky little hairs—pressing down on mine like a crown over a shaved-off molar, sucked dry of its nerves. Ink-stained your arms slid and locked under my crooked back, trapped between it and the couch cushions, we’re all holding each other up like orthodontia: couch, you, me, you, couch. Heavy your head on my sternum, I can still feel it there, sometimes, like the ghost of a tooth pried out long ago, if I find this half-sitting, half-laying position and I close my eyes and I’m sort of high, your slow sleepy eyelids and your stone of a head and all that wild black hair flopping around soft as a surrender. You’ll shave it all off in a few weeks and it’ll look so good, just like this mop looks so good, but right now you’re afraid to get it cut, to have a stranger’s hands on you that way, mostly you don’t like being touched, and neither do I, mostly. We like it when the dental hygienist digs around our gumlines with her rubber-gloved hands and her pointy little tools, we like the way a mouth tastes when it’s filling with blood. I like it when you lay on top of me like this, I like being pinned in your place, and you like it when I comb your hair with my fingers, when I press their tips into your scalp and drag. “Scratch my head,” you demand, when I stop, but fingernails have got nothing to do with it, this is about bones, and the weight of them. Your voice is muffled by your clothes, the ones I’m wearing. I’m wearing your clothes, your sweatshirt, your sweatpants, because I’m not eating again and I’m always cold, sometimes so cold my teeth rattle like they’ve got something to tell me, and you’re wearing a faded black t-shirt because the T cooks your insides hot as a panting mouth. We haven’t showered, January in Chicago and no hot water all weekend, so we don’t smell fake clean, like a flower or the ocean or neutral Lever soap, we smell like us, we smell like each other. The sky out the dirty window is the color of dried toothpaste and I say something, some nothing thing I won’t be able to remember later, and you laugh a real laugh, a laugh like a drill that makes everything vibrate and then there’s your grin on my neck, teeth first. How could it be teeth first, I wonder now, when a mouth must open first for the teeth to find their way out, but it was teeth first, it was always teeth first with us, even in this moment where so much is about to come loose. It was teeth first and it would always be teeth first, with us, and if this was the first time we kissed, a year and a half ago, we’d blame it on our overbites. “This has never happened to me before,” we’d keep insisting, the way we did back then, when we couldn’t stop knocking teeth every time we tried to make out, but eventually we’d just go with it, as if everything we do is inevitable, as if there is no such thing as choices, or learning from them. “That’s how you know it’s me,” we’d start joking, we’d start doing it on purpose, smiles slowly colliding, gentle click of bone on bone and two jaws like trapdoors opening, beckoning, unhinging every day and every day and every day until the day you watch me walk away from you in the park, cicadas screaming like a root canal nowhere we can feel. But this isn’t the first time we kiss. This is nothing so remarkable, just your grin found its way back to my neck a year after the ending, teeth first, and after your teeth come your lips, soft and slow and wet, they linger and I freeze, I freeze because I don’t know what to do to make it keep happening, this time, both of us caught here unawares with our defenses down, your hair in my hands and your arms clamped round my ribs like a custom nightguard and your mouth on my neck, your teeth then your mouth your mouth your mouth. I freeze but the moment doesn’t, the moment keeps going. The moment always keeps going, the moment always cracks apart and scatters into other moments like a handful of dice on the floor, dice or a Mason jar of baby teeth, spilled and useless, now, moments less loose, less open, with the empty space of second chances, with everything that could happen, that might happen, this time, see how this one’s already gone: the caught breath, your mouth a question, the answer we already learned once before suspended all around us, waiting to leak in past the teeth we’re still baring, will always be bearing, in through every sorry gap between them.
Cover art: “Hydroplaning 3,” by Siri Stensberg