Like a round grey stone lodged
in the fork of a tree
the tooth sits intractably
at the far back of the mouth
between the ear and the jaw.

The mouth can’t close fully,
like a freezer door;
can’t crank itself open
more than a few gear-teeth’s width,
enough for water through a straw.

At night it wakes up
like an eyeball, lolls sourly on the tongue
rolls against the drum
tampers with the hinge
and rubs it raw.

Nothing to do, between the shift-
change of the painkillers
but listen to my bedmate
breathing asleep and the foghorns
in the hot harbour.

All the world’s cameras
are on this clamorous point:
this knot, this bole, this clot,
this breaking news, this fire,
this prisoner of war,

a sealed world seething
like a black egg
incorruptible by amoxicillin
and saline wash.
I want it out.

I go down to the dockside,
oily between the cruise ships
and Maersk containers,
to gargle palmfuls of the sea
against the hard bezoar

and its faulty magic.
I idle towards
the half-bottle of whiskey,
the red-handled relief
in the kitchen drawer,

but Ed shifts and turns against me,
skin like cotton, outside the pain,
and says through sleep –
his clean sound mouth –
Honey, are you still sore?

I can’t answer
round the cobblestone,
the ship, the choke, the pliers,
the acorn cracked
and pushing through the floor.

From Citadel. Shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection 2020. Reproduced with kind permission from Pavilion Poetry.

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