Mennonite Poetry Home | Robert Martens



the butt of the beast

statistics never lie.

dentists crown the list of suicides.

it is true, we must overlook
the statistically insignificant

poets, however, too few in number
to be accessed by probability,
by all accounts equal
dentists in the suicide ratio.

dentists, poets. guns, rope, words, mercury, poison.
a minor blip on a globe staggering
terminally, but one that
may well approach statistical significance
in the fullness of time.

and the reason? while we seat ourselves
in the waiting room and anticipate the drill,
let us page through a celebrity magazine,
thus freeing our thoughts
to consider this paradox.

at first glance, an obvious conclusion. the
man or woman, or especially child, who
sits in the waiting room and anticipates the drill,
will find no affection in the heart for the dentist.
the man or woman, or especially child, who
sits in a literary room and anticipates the
poem, will not summon sufficient energy
even to tolerate the poet.

the dentist and poet are unloved.

but second, consider this: the dentist
through the interminable day peers into
the diseased mouths of his patients. the
poet through the eternal night examines
the maw of the universe, which
he has mistaken for his own soul.

the dentist and poet require companionship
in the quest.

i phone my dentist. "no," i say, "i don't
need an appointment, i require companionship
in the quest, since i am a poet, though
a poor one, and you are a dentist, though
a sued one." "i have time," he replies,
"thursday morning."

on thursday morning we carpool
to the maw of the universe. the great beast
as always, sits on its haunches, jaws
open, fangs slavering guilt.
saliva roiling like a paranoid volcano.
rivers of mucus gushing from its nostrils. the
corpse of st george at its feet. we ought
to know better. we ought to go home and
watch tv. inscribed in inky plaque
on the beast's gums is the warning:
all hope abandon, ye who enter here.

we enter.

we slide stress and stumble across the earthquake
of its tongue. "oh great and monstrous," i
begin in iambic. "impacted wisdom tooth,"
notes the dentist. sloshes of slimy thunder.
rainsqualls of stale spittle. the beast
swallows. we hurtle down the gullet, splash
headfirst into a sea of stomach acid.

moment of truth.

the truth which all men and women, and
especially children, should avoid, according to
the millennial wisdom of
coffee, cream, and muffins.

daylight forever squandered. the
beast's great black gut
burping into our lungs. the
slow hurricane of respiration
in our hair. and through it all,
heartbeat hammering bone
and gristle. the old old
rhythm of a sick universe,
arteries clogged with
morals and intentions.

it is all strangely comforting.

and so, apparently, is suicide.

but not today. "come, brother," says the
dentist, and we join hands and dive down
the intestines, laughing all the way,
that long slide nearly squeezing us
out of breath and pretensions, but we
emerge, finally, naked and free,
from the butt of the beast.

and walk once more beneath the stars.

i return home, write this poem
on the nature of the beast. the dentist
returns to his office and mails the bill.
no one will read the poem. no
one will pay the bill. but we
call, and the beast slouches to us, grateful
for a little kindness, it
snuffles, it
shuffles, it will
guard us through the endless days and nights
from the salesmen of statistics.

© Robert Martens




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