Giving Away the Dental Hygienist’s Idea for a Patent [2019 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize Winner]


Look, I said, I’d love a revolver, love to bother the silence
with my aim: hole a target. It’s like bowling but with 

a more fearful invention. It’s fun, haven’t you ever
shot one? This, my dental hygienist, on the AR-15.

She was holding something sharp in my mouth so I made no reply.
I knew what I was getting into, moving to Georgia. That was a lie

I ’d told her re: the revolver. I ’d rather the silence be left alone,
prone as it is to destruction. In each classroom I’m assigned,

I inspect the glass door, what filing drawers I might fort-up
to survive. My dental hygienist has a million-dollar idea

for Kevlar-covered desks. They’d sell, I say, like hot cakes
or like those Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits the kids are forever

eating before school. Really, like ammo, post-shooting.
She scrapes my teeth clean and confesses she wonders

if, faced with the need, she ’d be able to muster what it takes
to pull the trigger. Look, I say, I’m no stranger

to guns, know firsthand what they make of a tin can.
I’ve seen the constellatory evidence in the road signs.

I’ve read the studies which say they go to your head.
Every time—and this is what I might’ve said had I given up

on finding common ground—I see the eighth grade crowd
walking to lunch, the girls’ hair, luminously clean, the boys

I feel for, still skinny and small, I assess each to see if I think
I could carry one, if I could lift the child and run away,

and how many, hurt, would fit in my filing drawer stronghold.
How many times do I wonder this, thinking I couldn’t,

would likely be paralyzed by fear or worse—no blood
when she flosses my teeth, so she praises my habits.

They save her the work of warning me what happens
with neglect, how if I let them, they’ll rot to pieces.


Rosalie Moffett, winner of the 2019 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize, is the author of Nervous System (Ecco, 2019), which was chosen by Monica Youn for the National Poetry Series Prize and listed by the New York Times as a New and Notable book. She is also the author of June in Eden (Ohio State University Press, 2016). She has been awarded the “Discovery”/Boston Review prize, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in creative writing from Stanford University, and scholarships from the Tin House and Bread Loaf writing workshops. Her poems and essays have appeared in Tin House, The Believer, New England Review, Narrative, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Southern Indiana.