Welcome to New Faves, a feature where prior Menagerie writers introduce writers you haven’t met before. What better way to expand the circle of writers we love than by asking writers we’ve published who they’re into? So pull up a chair and stay a while. You’re about to read your new favorite writer.
I fell in love with Liz Blood’s writing completely and all at once. We met in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She could describe a tornado or a sky heavy with mammatus clouds, painted pink by a late summer sunset, better than anyone I’d met. Reading her work, I am endlessly “understanding what it means to be alive and here in the soup with the rest of us. Biting.”
When I read “Teeth” I love Blood’s deeply embodied speaker: “I was warned about the tongue, but it’s my teeth who are forever forgetting themselves. Rioting, slipping words through their uneven gate.” Blood describes a riot, the riot of teeth and want that calls me home. Provokes me to consider, even treat with tenderness, my own rioting self.
- I am eight years old and lose eight baby teeth this year. When I lose the eighth tooth I think it’s a sign, though I’m not sure of what. It’s the summer of 1995; the bombing happened a few months ago. I only need to say the bombing because I live in Oklahoma City and everyone here knows what that means. I decide eight is my lucky number. The year is a very unlucky one. The tooth comes out in my dusty backyard on the creaking, rusted swing set. My mouth tastes of a penny and I tongue the little bead of meat inside my raw gum. I hope losing eight teeth in my eighth year will bring some luck, some change—for everyone—me, my little siblings, my whole city, so we can all feel better soon.
- “The tongue destroys,” my father says. So I learn to sit in silence, to bite my tongue so hard that I redirect words back down the well of my throat. For years, I imagined a young girl down there at its bottom, while a small man, a gatekeeper, hoists up words in my mouth—but never the girl. My tongue obeys and becomes lame. My teeth do not. They turn themselves outward in an attempt to let more words through a crack in the gate.
- Playing soccer in middle school, my hand collides with an opposing team member’s mouth. Her brace-laden teeth cut the meat of my thumb—bloody, small, square indentions from the metal appear in a pattern on my skin. The parents of my teammates talk about how much that hit must have hurt her mouth. I want braces so badly and—while I know better than to say so—I don’t feel sorry for her. I want to know the pain of transformation, to show whoever is looking that we aren’t poor.
- These small seeds of bone evolved from plates lining the mouths of ancient fish, before fish had enough of the water and said what’s up there, closer to the light? Teeth ever-signaling their heritage, that they have arrived, that it is possible to have the means to evolve. To crawl out of the ocean, to come a long way. A dream within a dream. I never dream of my teeth falling out. But I have long imagined them falling in line.
- In my original orthodontic treatment photos, I am fourteen years old with an uneven mouth, wearing my favorite tan corduroy jacket. My shoulder-length, sun-in’ed hair parts just left of middle. I smile when I’m told to, shut my mouth when I’m told to.
My teeth are over-crowded, my jaw abnormal, there is talk of surgery and surgical maintenance fees, monthly payments, the cost of anesthesia, the uncertainty of a fixed profile. The ortho tells me my overbite may continue to worsen into old age. The upper jaw moving away from the lower along the horizontal plane. When I’m an old woman, my top teeth might jut further out than they do now.
We are one month post-9/11, when I sat in ninth grade biology class, watching on live television the second plane crash into the second tower and people jump from both buildings. I cannot imagine being an old woman. But I can imagine chasms that can’t be breached.
- Mostly, my mother brings me to these appointments, but my father comes along once. He jumps at the orthodontist, accusing him of preying on a young girl’s vanity. But the transgression here is two-fold. I inherited my vanity from Eve, who sunk her original teeth into the fruit of the garden. My crooked mouth descends from hers.
- My father could not afford the treatment. And so his vanity was also at stake. We believed in prosperity gospel—good things come to those who serve God. My teeth must be my fault as his lack of money must be his. My father reminded me over and over that whichever man I married would be the most important decision of my life. My father told me I was pretty enough to be on television. When I hope to fix my teeth, it is not possible for me to know where my vanity is located, or if I have given it away and to whom, or if I can buy it.
- From James, chapter 3, verse 5:
“. . . How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness . . . For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
- I was warned about the tongue, but it’s my teeth who are forever forgetting themselves. Rioting, slipping words through their uneven gate.
“What’s the problem?” the orthodontic paperwork asked more than twenty years ago. Problem was, no one asked me.
And so this unrestrained outbreak of bone. Profuse, protruding, profane. Too many in one area, guffawing inside a small, hot, crowded space. My mouth, home for their trouble. I admire them: their gnash, release of laughter, the celebration of themselves. Incisors waving on high. Marching, but not in single file. Legion, heaving, grinding, and squeezing. Ghosts of stars, it is right that they constellate.
- After many years of verses and proverbs, my father finally said to me what he meant. His tongue flicked against his teeth.
You never know when to shut the fuck up.
He sucked his teeth. Just shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up.
The tongue cannot do all that it does without the teeth. Perhaps my tongue lashed my teeth, turning them, jutting them out. Whatever the case, they went askew inside a clenched jaw. A jaw so eager for freedom of movement that one half grew faster than the other.
- Sometime in the year or so after Trump took office, I notice I am grinding my teeth at night. I wake up, jaw clenched tight as a fist. I hear of this phenomenon first on the radio—women the country over grinding their teeth in their sleep. Dentists take notice. Dentists make money. The body is infinitely susceptible to suggestion. My mouth becomes an uncontrolled mill, biting off time and tedium, chewing things over so that they may become smooth.
- In every city I visit, the skyline looks like teeth. A lower jaw of concrete and steel working against an upper of choked air and gravity. In the new days of post-9-11 New York, it’s as if the city’s front pair has been knocked out, a city defanged. In Oklahoma City, too, a small expanse of land—a park where the building stood, a flat reflection pool, and a little bit of the original foundation. A tooth knocked out for good. My adolescence in and out of orthodontic offices with no resolution ever, my adolescence watching the war on terror with no resolution ever, my adulthood, wherein everyone has a resolution or an answer, and nothing seems to have changed. Wars begun under the guise of liberating women. Wars waged on their bodies. Wars waged for revenge. Wars waged for god. God who pays in kind to those who serve him, while small children huddle in corners, biting their lips till the shelling stops.
There is no sense to be made here but we are out of the water now. My mouth—molded, imaged, scanned, x-rayed, and photographed more times than I can recall. Never straightened. Each time I see its likeness on a screen in the doctor’s office, I see a city of bone that destroys and devours at the same time that it feeds.
- I am fifteen years old when my friends and I double-up on the inner tube behind the ski boat. A floating tower of four girls. The boat takes off, the rope tugs then jerks as we accelerate across Lake Eufala. It’s windy, the water is choppy, and my friend’s father does his best to throw us from the tube. Two of us are brand new to this sport. I am white-knuckled, my whole body tight. It takes two, maybe three whips across the wake before we go flying. Up over the white water, airborne, then crash—my mouth into someone’s shoulder, my body rolling across the water, blood and spit and tears. Twenty years later, one of my teeth is still loose.
- Tiny patterned marks ring the outer edges of my paddle plant’s leaves. One day, I discover my toddler biting them, just enough to leave a mark but not enough to deeply wound the succulent. If teeth often symbolize wisdom, his belie a newness to the world, an innocence in understanding what it means to be alive and here in the soup with the rest of us. Biting succulents is a pastime. His baby teeth are perfect.
LIZ BLOOD is a writer, editor, arts worker, and lifelong Oklahoman. Her work focuses on place, memory, and contemporary art. She has been published in Cimarron Review, Columbia Journal, Hunger Mountain, Art Focus, Oklahoma Today, and elsewhere. She is a multi-year recipient of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she lives with her husband and son.