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Notes on Dentition and the Nature of Grief


Artwork by Aldwin Li, staff artist

The first thing you should notice

is Emily, who is four teeth and

six inches prettier now

than she is here. She didn’t inherit your perfect teeth;

neither of us did. We’ll joke about it forever: how

you’re selfish

for putting us through years of Advil and dentists

with restless hands

that traveled too far below our stiffening necks.

So there’s your criminally straight smile

on the left. Smiling

for photos always makes Mom edgy,

and she always tells you that

you’re too ambitious

because you always take the same photo twice,

once for the memory, and then again

for the clarity. I can’t remember

which one this was. You look

so proud here, with your hands on our shoulders

and your jawline square and tense. Airplanes

never agreed with you, and now

I wonder if it mattered that

this was the first time we had been to Korea

since Grandpa died. Death seemed to brush

past you, a stranger with a much more pressing

appointment. Do you ever

wish you were taller? I think

you’re dishonest

and I wish you had told me

you buried Grandpa in the mountains.

There are mountains

in the background of this picture,

but Mom’s hat is bigger

and so much more important.

Important enough

for me to argue with her

because brown

is such an ugly color. Your favorite color

is gray, even though you say

it’s blue. You took this photo

with your phone because you don’t trust

strangers with your camera. I can’t see

your rosary ring here. Grandpa was

buried in a Catholic cemetery, I had

just gotten my braces off, and you

think everyone prefers it when

you’re silent.

Dad, the photo is blurry. Look at

the trees behind you; they’ve been caught

waving.

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