At sixteen my brother ripped out his own braces.
With a rusty set of pliers he unwound
each silver lock until his teeth were freed.
I was long gone by then, wore my boyfriend’s
leather jacket on the way out, my father following
close behind hissing he’d call the police.
“Call them,” I shouted back, my hands too shaky
to steady the oversized zipper. I used to sit
on the collapsing porch steps of that house staring
at the mountains that encircled our small town.
The pine forest slope— protective one day
and like an inescapable fortress the next. Years later
I witnessed the mountains from the air.
The sharp peaks and needles resembled the mouth
of a shark. I was hovering above the bite and not in it.
I worry too much about my own cavities and rot
then I remember the crack smoke curled inside
the ridges of my baby brother’s molars, how it ruined them,
how many times they’ve been replaced, how drawn
he looked the first time I saw him shrunken jawed; his once
rockabilly growl swapped for the whistle-speech of a geezer.
How is it our mother could see my sins before I committed
them and yet he can stand before her; tobacco specks on
his tongue, Mountain Dew can rising to his lips, shaking,
drug sick, and she hands him the keys to another car,
tells her he’s not feeling well, maybe he should move in
with her mother. I grit and clench, know there isn’t room
on my grandmother’s pill and pigskin-cluttered
counter for another set of lies and petty thefts,
another water glass of soaking of teeth. But
this is how she keeps him alive. My mother can’t imagine
approving dental records to claim a child. She’d give her eye
tooth to save him, cut loose anyone who says he’ll never change.