In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

For the RecordSimon Armitage
Close
Close

Ever since the very brutal extraction
of all four of my wisdom teeth,
I’ve found myself talking
with another man’s mouth, so to speak,
and my tongue has become a mollusc
such as an oyster or clam,
broken and entered, licking
its wounds in its shell.

I was tricked into sleep by a man with a smile,
who slipped me the dose
like a great-uncle slipping his favourite nephew
a ten-pound note, like
so, back-handed, then tipped me a wink.
I was out with the stars,
and woke up later, crying,
and wanting to hold the hand of the nurse.

Prior to that, my only experience
under the knife was when I was five,
when my tonsils were hanging
like two bats at the back of a cave
and had to be snipped. But that
was a piece of piss compared with this,
which involved, amongst other things,
three grown men, a monkey-wrench

and the dislocation of my jaw. I wonder,
is this a case of excessive force,
like the powers that be, evicting
a family of four, dragging them
kicking and screaming, clinging to furniture,
out through their own front door.
Like drawing all four corners of the earth
through the Arc de Triomphe.

You might think that with all the advances
in medical science
that teeth like these could be taken out
through the ears or the anus,
or be shattered like kidney stones
by lasers from a safe distance.
But it seems that the art
hasn’t staggered too far since the days

when a dentist might set up his stall
at a country fair
or travelling circus.
I’m also reminded of John Henry Small
of Devizes, who put his fist in his mouth
but couldn’t spit it out,
and the hand was removed, forthwith,
along with his canines and incisors.

Returning to myself, the consultant says
I should wait at least another week
before saying something in haste
which at leisure I might come to repent.
But my mouth still feels
like a car with its wheels stolen, propped up
on bricks, and I’m unhappy about the way
they stitched the tip of my tongue

to my cheek.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences