The Tooth Fairy

Jan 3, 2020

Today’s poem is "The Tooth Fairy" by Dorianne Laux, who was born in Augusta, Maine. She is the co-author of the celebrated text The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. Laux teaches poetry in the Program in Creative Writing at North Carolina State University and is a founding faculty member of Pacific University's Low Residency MFA Program. Her most recent book, Only As the Day is Long: New and Selected, was published in 2019. 

She writes, “My inspiration was imagining my parents before their lives made a bad turn. I couldn't imagine any couple contemplating having children with the intention of harming them. It just happens. So I tried to enact the psychological moment of that awareness.”

The Tooth Fairy
by Dorianne Laux

They brushed a quarter with glue
and glitter, slipped in on bare
feet, and without waking me
painted rows of delicate gold
footprints on my sheets with a love
so quiet, I still can't hear it.

My mother must have been
a beauty then, sitting
at the kitchen table with him,
a warm breeze lifting her
embroidered curtains, waiting
for me to fall asleep.

It's harder to believe
the years that followed, the palms
curled into fists, a floor
of broken dishes, her chain-smoking
through long silences, him
punching holes in his walls.

I can still remember her print
dresses, his checkered taxi, the day
I found her in the closet
with a paring knife, the night
he kicked my sister in the ribs.

He lives alone in Oregon now, dying
of a rare bone disease.
His face stippled gray, his ankles
clotted beneath wool socks.

She's a nurse on the graveyard shift,
Comes home mornings and calls me.
Drinks her dark beer and goes to bed.

And I still wonder how they did it, slipped
that quarter under my pillow, made those
perfect footprints...

Whenever I visit her, I ask again.
"I don't know," she says, rocking, closing
her eyes. "We were as surprised as you."

“The Tooth Fairy”. Copyright © 1990 by Dorianne Laux. From Only As the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems by Dorianne Laux. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.