by Paul Hostovsky
My hygienist likes to include me
in the decision-making.
“Shall we use the hand scaler
or the ultrasonic today?” she asks me.
I like the way she says “we,”
like we’re doing something intimate
like building a snowman,
or more like dismantling one
after an ice storm, flake
by frozen flake. “The calculus
is caused by precipitation
of minerals from your saliva,” she explains.
“You can’t remove it with your toothbrush.
Only a professional can do that.” She’s very
professional. She doesn’t dumb it down.
“Pay more attention to the lingual side
of your mandibular anteriors,” she says.
I love it when she talks like that.
I love the names of teeth: incisor, third molar, bicuspid,
eyetooth. Her own teeth are
virtuosic. “Calculus comes from the Greek
for stone,” she says. “In mathematics
it’s counting with stones. In medicine,
it’s the mineral buildup in the body: kidney stones,
tartar on teeth.” She teaches me all this
as I sit there with my mouth open,
“The Calculus” by Paul Hostovsky from Is That What That Is. © Future Cycle Press, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
From Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, August 9, 2017