The height of my career was when my boss called my personality
“vexing.” He was a dentist and I was his aid. He got kickbacks
from Crest and Dentyne. When I should have been prepping
the X-Rays, he’d catch me texting. The office was practically
all windows. That way patients could sit back and see the beauty
of the interstate. Dr. Tooth Decay. He actually named his business that.
We went days without speaking. I’d slurp a Sonic milkshake
and read magazines on my lunch break. Sit in the lobby with the fish tank.
I had to come in and feed them over the holidays. What a dumb
business expense: living breathing things. “Aquarium therapy”
vexes me. Here’s the thing: he had horrible breath. How do you
diagnose your dentist-boss with a mouth disease? Sometimes he’d do
a cleaning with a bit of ?? wedged in his teeth. The irony killed me.
It’s kind of like the haircut thing: don’t get a haircut from someone
in a wig. Or the restaurant thing, although I still don’t know…
does a fat chef imply good or bad cuisine? And would Napoleon be pissed
if he knew all we talked about was how he was small and mean?
Too short for the NBA but too tall to be a jockey. That’s okay.
A winning horse doesn’t know why it runs the race.
A winning horse doesn’t even know its own clever name.
Forgetting I'd Already Forgotten
Now it’s back, dragged back, up the steps, crawled
over, stood up, ready to be seen—here, by accident.
REMEMBER ME etched into a gold-plated locket.
Happy anniversary, little dear. Only one more month
before the annulment. My dog’s name is Paul, short
for APOLOGIZE. Smell triggers more memories
than any other sense, even sight. I’m attempting to retrace
what was on the blackboard last night. A list of words
that ought to rhyme (fear and pear, worse and horse, great
and threat) and an outline of a boy eating ice.
Which one’s harder, to remember or to forget?
Before the printing press, people had to memorize ideas
or memorialize them in stained glass. Art had a function:
scenes from Beowulf painted; the beatitudes emblazoned
in mosaic. Every object, a plea to memory . . . but even
with all that effort, it’s harder to forget. It happens
only by accident, and the more you want it, the more
you obsess. My ex-wife Colette used to sing a lullaby,
“Never forget me.” Tethered to this imperative, she
successfully possessed me. Then divorced and regretted me.
Alzheimer’s patients recite poems in an attempt to access
old memories. Fear works its witchy runnels through a brain
parched hard with thought. Give it up. Escape. Post-traumatic stress
after a weekend in Las Cruces. I want to forget; I dream
of a clean slate. Unparch me, annul me. Tabula rasa is my desired state.
MELISSA BARRETT’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in BOMB, Harvard Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, the Iowa Review, and Best American Poetry. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and works at a middle school. You can find her online here.