My parents have always made sure that I have strong and healthy teeth. Although I’m grateful for my teeth, I hate knowing that my obsessive oral hygiene comes from my fear of the genocide still catching up to me.
I stopped begging my beautiful mother to smile in photos
after I learned that her teeth fell out while she carried me.
The aftermath of genocide, she says. My starving six year old
body. Twenty years later, my mother still has to give her teeth
in exchange for my existence. She spends six thousand dollars
on my braces when I am ten. I obsessively brushed
my four front teeth five times a day for years so they
would always be white. This is a life we stupidly think
we can outrun. Still, the dentist tells me when I am twenty
that my white teeth will soon be nothing but nubs
if I don’t stop grinding them. In childhood, my doctor warned
she’s grinding her teeth from stress! My mother asked, What stress?
I am not starving. But from inheritance, I chew holes
through five prescribed mouth guards. I wake and watch
my teeth sharpen smaller by the minute. It’s sickening
how this devotion to survival almost feels like devotion to fear.
How I wrap my floss around my fingers every day and see my gums bleed.
M. Ouk writes poetry from a farm in California.