between the teeth


what the correct vocabulary can do for us


The Calculus

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

and collaborative,

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,

looking astonished.
“The Calculus” by Paul Hostovsky from Is That What That Is. Future Cycle Press © 2017.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. davidlharrison
    Dec 19, 2019 @ 11:45:21

    Thank you, Jeanne. I enjoyed the poem a lot. Don’t you love the image of a person in the dentist’s chair with open mouth “looking astonished?”


  2. jeannepoland
    Dec 20, 2019 @ 10:13:28



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