East Tennessee, an hour from the mines,
and Tuesdays, at the public clinic, I’m
buckled into full extraction mode.
My knuckles blanch on forceps
dug into blackened stumps
the meth mouth offers me.
Numb, his eyes twitch: More. More
of what collapsed him in the parking lot.
Blood wells up, ligaments let go.
He hardly moves as I bear down
and slowly, slowly turn out teeth like screws.
Off-days, my hands, clammy as a mist, float above
a keyboard: poetry at three removes from urgency.
Imagination is the act of sweeping clouds.
I inject inside a woman’s lip.
She’s reclined, head nearly cradled in my lap.
Her stringy hair droops across my knee.
“Why are your front teeth gone?”
I’m asking quietly.
“My husband caved in my jaw.”
If I lay crisp witness out,
clamber through these gullied woods,
will a mourning dove burst into view?
Who neither hears nor sees the whippoorwill?
A fresh scar rakes another woman,
starting in the scalp, across her eyelid, into
the pucker of a mid-cheek gouge.
To my surprise, her eye’s alive.
“What happened to you?”
“My boyfriend done come home on meth
and put my face through a window.”
Eric Forsbergh’s poetry has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Journal of Neurology, Zeotrope, The Cafe Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and the Northern Virginia Review, which awarded him a Pushcart nomination in 2016. He is a Vietnam veteran.