Poem by Sholeh Wolpé
You pull the tooth behind the incisor first.
Victors smile with dead men’s teeth
from the Crimean and American Civil Wars
or from the battles that ended Napoleon.
Tonight, I read a soldier’s account
of Americans pulling dead Iraqi men’s
teeth, throwing them into burlap
sacks to be flown back home for dentures.
Like this. See? Doesn’t have to be done clean.
Not that I don’t know about “Waterloo teeth,”
meaning: pulled teeth of dead young men,
51 Thousand of them to be exact.
Just get it out. That’ll give you some wiggle room
for working the rest of them out of the bone.
Today, who wears what belongs to young Iraqi boys
whose mouths we pry open to take— as if
the taking of their lives was not enough.
Quotes from My Life As A Foreign Country, by Brian Turner (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014)
Sholeh Wolpé is an Iranian-born poet, writer. A recipient of the 2014 PEN/Heim, 2013 Midwest Book Award and 2010 Lois Roth Persian Translation prize, among others, Wolpé ’s literary work include four collections of poetry, two plays, three books of translations, and three anthologies. Wolpé’s modern translation of The Conference of the Birds (W.W. Norton) by 12th century Iranian mystic poet, Attar, has been hailed by Reza Aslan as a translation that “is sure to be as timeless as the masterpiece itself.” She has lived in the UK and Trinidad and is presently based in Los Angeles.