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Brushing My Mother’s Teeth Words by Christina Lovin


Not what you might think. Not those I remember only from photos of a gap-toothed young woman.


Solid, these are held in my hand: soiled— yellow and caked with starch from nursing home food. The brush sends out specks that stick


to the faucet, spot the break-proof mirror in the tiny shared toilet. Another woman mumbles incoherently on the other side


of the cheap laminate door while water runs clear now around the precise shape of my mother’s shrunken gums, sloughing


the smooth channel, rinsing clean each tooth, perfect save for the chip hewn from the left front incisor; and I remember her foot—


wet, dripping warm, scented water back into an enamel basin, then gently rubbed, lovingly patted


dry to be followed by the other. The foot washer rising, untying the long linen towel kept just for this


sacred observance. I see my mother accept the cloth, winding it around her waist, then kneel before the next woman in the circle.


Takes her foot, lifts it by a callused heel into the washbowl between them. I watch bored, too young to participate,


not understanding then those offices of humility one will stoop to out of duty or tradition, and on occasion, some reverent love.


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