Exquisite

Open wide, says the dentist’s assistant
to the Buddha; I’m going to stretch your mouth
a little bit more, ok?
She blinks at the overhead
light; the xylocaine with the bitter bubblegum
taste and scent has taken effect, and the dentist
plunges the tip of the needle into her lower gum
and jawline, pulling at her cheek for effect.
When the drill begins to widen the broken
enamel of her tooth to prepare for its filling,
she closes her eyes and tries to pretend
she is on a lounge chair poolside, and
the noise and discomfort are merely effects
of a nearby construction project. She’s marveled
at small glimpses caught in the mouth mirror,
her jagged teeth miniature rows of mountains
receding in a ridged landscape. She remembers
a black-and-white film she watched long ago:
“The Passion of Joan of Arc,” how she found it
impossible to tell whether it was rapture
or suffering that crossed the stark face
of the girl martyr played by Maria Falconetti;
how the tipped-back head, wide eyes, and parted
lips might signify both agony and the most
exquisite pleasure. And she can see it’s true
from the faces of people buckled into their seats
as the roller coaster picks up speed before
the plunge, from the way the lovers writhing
in the sheets approach their climax: how thin
is the line that separates one state from
another, how quickly pain might transition
to the joy of release then back again.

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