On The Mouth

David Grandouiller


Mouth, noun:    

  1. The center of life and death. It communes indiscriminately with the smoke of cheap cigarettes, a dark chocolate breath, the soft salt of a cheekbone, the numb of lidocaine. It spits gum, sucks straw, chews meat, snaps shut.
  2. They say it's better for you to breathe through the nose. But I find that it's like drinking from a straw. I want a fire hose. I want to gulp the oxygen, guzzle it, fill my lungs until they stretch like a balloon and it feels like they might pop and spray latex fragments across my ribcage.
  3. Memory – the mouth marks time, steady as a clock. No, steadier, blowing birthday candles year by year, pushing through white teeth like white grains in an hourglass, filling the mouth and letting it empty, leaving invisible (and sometimes visible) marks on every person it encounters as you would mark trees in a forest to find your way back or to be cut down for fire.
  4. Once I went ice-skating. Once was enough. I lost my balance and broke the fall with my front tooth. It didn't break or fall out, but turned gray – it seems that teeth age in the reverse order from hair, white to gray and so on, they darken. Maybe they are reincarnated, recycled like little rechargeable batteries, sinking into the mouth under the weight of many generations, carrying the scars and traces from long ages of breath and bite, epilepsy and love and the breaking of skin.
  5. For mouth, foaming at the, see seizure, noun: “[during a seizure,] all of our smooth and skeletal muscles go into tonic state, which leads to hyper excretion of saliva from glands,” “there was so much noise from my father's boots kicking the floor and kicking the legs of the table...there was blood all over my father's face and in his mouth, which was my blood,”1 see hydrophobia, noun: commonly refers to the infection “rabies,” carried by bats and racoons and Old Yeller and figuratively by the entire town of Maycomb, Alabama in Harper Lee's first novel.
  6. The human mouth has four canine teeth, named for their relation to dog fangs, a calciate reminder of the animal in me, crouching at my door. The Roman playwright Plautus once wrote, “Homo homini lupus est.” Man is a wolf to man.
  7. A dozen molars – machinery of the mouth, triturate and grate and crush, levers worked by the hands of mental friction. From the Latin, millstone – that ancient symbol of livelihood, of industry, that we tie around our necks. With mechanical routine, we grind our days to a heavy halt, our teeth to nothing.
  8. History – as far back as you care to go. From the mouth of God came the words, “Let there be” and the snaked tongue formed the phrase “Did God really say” and the teeth of Eve sunk deep into a fateful fruit as the mouth of Adam watered for the same. The loamy mouth of the earth gurgled and choked on the blood of Abel and on the sons of every generation since – Socrates sipped hemlock, Cleopatra put her life in the mouth of an asp, Jimmi Hendrix overdosed on sleeping pills and wine and choked on his own vomit, Pennsylvania Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer put a Smith & Wesson 27 in his mouth and pulled the trigger in front of a room full of reporters, my great-grandfather tasted hot lead at Verdun, as it went through one cheek and out the other, and lived to tell of it, to tongue the scar tissue on the insides of his mouth.
  9. My father used to say at the dinner table when I was a young child and rambunctious, “La bouche qui parle ne mange pas.” The mouth that speaks doesn't eat.
  10. One West African proverb says that two spoons don't fit in one mouth. I haven't heard it in context, but it seems to have something to say on gluttony. The mouth is never fully satisfied.
  11. “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Jesus said that. As only Jesus could, foreknowing the tremble of Judas' lips on his cheek in Gethsemane. It was the mouth of Jesus that cried, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Sometimes the mouth speaks nothing at all, whether out of the heart's emptiness or the body's failure.
  12. A musical instrument: a closed tube resonator. The mouth is the delivery man for a sound factory – churning, wailing, bulbing, grunting. “Breboac! Karrak!” Shushing, always shushing. Sometimes music isn't music to the ears.
  13. A painting by a contemporary French artist, Thomas Saliot, called “Mouth” - the fleshy, papery texture, deep reds and reflected whites, parted just so. And her teeth are there, half in the shadow of the upper lip. He has another called “Smoking Face,” her black mouth loose around a hanging cigarette, shrouded in dirty white fumes.
  14. A sexual symbol, sometimes crassly so, as when Shakespeare's characters make reference to the “other mouth” – we know what he means. But there is depth, too, in the way my mouth lies comfortably on yours.  Remember, for the first time with tight lips, under the living room lights of a silent house – that's where it whispers, too, brushing against your hair, your ear, words that are only ever said in low voices. It laughs quietly, sharp exhale, opens wide to reveal rows of teeth, thirty-two white hanging obelisks. They disappear again, and then, a kiss. Remember?
  15. For mouth, heart in, see barren cul-de-sac at midnight, houses in construction, you and I naïve, sitting in the back of my car with nothing but good intentions and police floodlights blinding our dilating eyes and my twisting gut when officer asks how old you are and my mind goes blank even though under normal circumstances I could tell him your birthday, your parents' first names, describe the flecks of color in your irises, the shape of your mouth when you smile.
  16. Wisdom teeth are so named because they come in late, too late, producing pressure and throbbing pain. 

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David Grandouiller is an undergraduate English student at Cedarville University, with a minor in creative writing.