And there I was holding someone’s teeth…

Stephen Kuusisto, Letters to Borges

One fine day when I was in a fine day mood and therefore had the illusion nature was my friend I bent low to the sidewalk and discovered a set of false teeth. Now I must add it was springtime and the first bees were taking flight and the world smelled like damp hay as it does in the snowy north when finally the melting is through. It was warm in the sun and cool in the shadows. And there I was holding someone’s teeth.

This happened in downtown Ithaca, New York. There’s a pedestrian mall where once there were streets. And shops selling New Age jewelry and sneaker stores and mystifying boutiques no one ever visits.

Now holding a stranger’s lost teeth is not like anything else. It’s one of the many things in this life for which there’s no analogy. You can attempt it but you’ll fail. It’s a bit like stepping barefoot on a worm but not quite because holding someone’s dentures radiates sorrow–someone has lost their choppers and the loss invites the obvious “how” and then “why” wouldn’t you notice and was there a crime involved?

The teeth were dry.

What to do? I put them in my pocket and walked to the police station.

Of course you know what’s next. The cops didn’t care about the teeth. The desk sergeant said: “yeah, well, stuff happens.”

I thought he was going to hand them back but he agreed to keep them in their lost and found bin alongside umbrellas and lost mittens.

No one loses his or her teeth without knowing. Perhaps the teeth were in a purse or pocket? Maybe? Why would you take your teeth out in the middle of town? Was a crime involved?

I left the police and walked about for a time. I remembered James Brown saying: “Hair and teeth. (You) got those two things (you) got it all.”

It was spring. Unseasonably warm for April and someone was either dead or at the dentist.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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