My Mother Drove Us Into Tijuana for Dentistry
because we didn’t have
american health insurance.
past otay mesa check point
were billboards in spanish
& narrow rutted streets.
on our left were rows of cars
waiting to enter the u.s.—
our dentist, ignacio, was a friend
from my mother’s childhood & often
they’d reminisce about their small town.
folks they knew, folks that had passed—
how the town looked so different now—
how their lives led them here,
with my mother leaving the country.
i sat in a dental chair & ignaico mixed putty
until it was pink. he needed an impression
of my top teeth for retainers. i tasted
a cold metal tray that kept the mold
in place. after a minute he unwedged it
& my mouth smacked of chalk. before leaving
my mother asked ignaico about
a new denture—the one she had was old.
until that moment i never knew
my mother had false teeth.
in our car, in the middle
of an expanse of cars
waiting to get back into the u.s.
my mother said i lost a lot
of my teeth when i was young.
she removed her top denture—
smiled at me, revealed a dark gap
between rows of ivory.
she tried to say something &
it came out jumbled. she laughed
not covering the gap
then i laughed with all my teeth
& she pushed hers back into her mouth—
i’ve worn these for a long time.
i don’t want that for you.
from the window
i watched older men
push carts between
stopped cars. they sold balloons,
bright popsicles, aguas, dulces.
a currency exchange booth
announced all i could buy
with just one american dollar.
i looked at my mother—
noticed her denture
yellowing at its edges
& saw her without it.
my mother left—
came to america—
had crossed for this.