Sunday, May 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.3 (Robert Creeley)


Presences
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
& Marisol
Presences:
A Text For Marisol


From the time I was two until the time I was seven, my family lived in Los Gatos, California. We moved there because my father, who at the time worked for Ford Motor Company's leasing division, had been transferred from Detroit, where I was born. Both of my younger brothers were born there. I have lovely memories of Los Gatos. I remember there being lots of trees and lots of parks and lots of other children my age.

I went to a pre-school in Los Gatos, which I don't recall very clearly except for a photo I have of myself sleeping in a bean bag that was apparently taken at the school, and a hand-written report card from a teacher describing my personality in much the same words a person might describe it today.

After that I went to Casa Maria Montessori School for kindergarten and first grade. The school was run by some nuns who lived on a spectacular piece of property attached to a vineyard. Someone in the shipping industry had donated a lot of cargo nets and thick rope and wooden posts in order to create what in my memory still stands as the greatest school playground in the history of the world.

The cargo nets had been fastened into a great octopoid jungle gym. A long thick tie rope that hung from a tree served as a rope-swing. Our launch pad for the swing was an old tree stump several feet wide. There was kind of kid-ecstasy we got to experience day in and day out during recess as we climbed those ropes and swung on that swing and chased each other up and down the slides and climbing towers.

In school we painted and sang and danced and listened to stories being told and had visits from all sorts of interesting people for show and tell. I remember once a man who collected and cared for tarantulas brought one to class and allowed us to observe it and to touch it.

I tried to look up the school on the internet a few years ago. Apparently the nun who ran the place, Sister Josetta, had moved on to do a lot of social justice work in the Bay Area and had eventually passed away. The school is now closed and serves as a retirement community for the order of nuns that once ran it. Sigh.

All of which is a bit of a detour, as I meant to talk about an incident that occurred in Los Gatos that resurfaced during the reading of Presences, and which was quite traumatic for little Mikey, especially regarding the professional care and maintenance of his teeth as he grew into adulthood.

One day -- I think I was around 4 or 5 years old -- I was playing on a large metal slide at one of those lovely Los Gatos parks (not the one at the school). Each time I slid down the slide I could not wait to do it again and so tried to climb the ladder to the top as quickly as I could. I was not one to pause to admire the scenery or to catch my breath or to even think about what I was doing. I dashed toward the ladder at full speed, took a running leap to the second or third step, then tried to skip steps all along the way until I reached the top and slid down again.

During one of these ascents, I fell. I must hav had my mouth open, perhaps involuntarily, or perhaps to scream for help. The effect of this was that I came down front teeth first on one of the metal steps, which pushed one of my two front teeth almost all the way back up into my gums. It hurt. A lot. And bled. And I cried really, really hard.

And then I had emergency dental surgery. That also hurt a lot, and also made me cry really, really hard. I was also several years from having all of my adult teeth come in, so I had no front tooth for a long time. I don't think that part ever bothered me too much, as I wasn't yet very self conscious. I remember my father used to get a big kick at the holidays out of singing, "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth."

But the trauma lives on...

There is a section in Presences (purchased for its 1976 cover price of 7.95 at Talking Leaves books -- they still have them available at that price, for all you book geeks out there!) in which Creeley spends two or three pages free associating about teeth. My memory of reading it the first time was that he spent considerable time talking about teeth breaking and being knocked out and so on and did so in graphic detail. I remember experiencing physical pain while reading these several pages from the book. However, I reread it this morning only to discover it is not quite as graphic as I remembered, but still -- ouch!

from Presences

Raise the roof, he said, biting his teeth in anger. He ground his teeth in his sleep. He had frequently a toothache. Dentists take care of teeth for payment and spend much of their time looking into mouths. They wait for the door to open without apparent interest, knowing it will only be more teeth. Sometimes they are committed to pulling out teeth, no doubt feeling relief in getting rid of them. Young boys are often told that the vagina contains teeth, The tooth mother (mater dentata) is one of the significant guises of the great mother herself. Teeth are frequently hung around the neck in the form of a necklace. Dark spots on the teeth may signify cavities in the tooth itself. People frequently make an inordinate sound chewing celery, a noise attributable to the action of the teeth. One may have buck teeth, a term possibly having to do with rabbits. Others have broken teeth, where some blow has caused the specific tooth to loosen and fall out. "Ill knock your teeth down your throat," is a phrase used to intimidate opponents in some muscular struggle.

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