Poem of the Week | November 02, 2015

This week we feature another poem from our new Out of This World issue, 38.3. Regina DiPerna received her MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North, Gulf Coast Online, Boston Review, Cincinnati Review, Meridian, and Redivider. In 2014 she was a poet in residence at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Residency. She currently lives and works in New York City.
Author’s note:

I was spending last autumn in Taos, New Mexico on a three-month fellowship at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and had devised a system: read in the morning over coffee, write all afternoon, watch films and drink wine in the evening. One night I ended up watching a South Korean film called Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. Among the many striking images in the movie when the Young Monk, now grown, revisits the temple knowing that the Old Monk has died there some years ago by self-immolation, and knowing exactly where in the frozen lake to find his teeth. It was around this image that the poem began to form. I began writing short vignettes exploring and deconstructing teeth – as a survival tool, as a marker of earthly pleasures, as a record of the dead. The poem speaks to the cyclical nature of human experience, using teeth to map the journey from our shared origins into an allusive future. My hope is that although the poem is not a straightforward narrative (and the speaker offers up only one personal detail), the sequencing of the images allows for a longer, more sumptuous view of death and rebirth.




Whalebone, pebble,
ivory, chalk.
Glyph meaning hunger,


mouthful, watch me
use my jaw as a knife.


Wine turns each one into
a red pagoda wet
with drink. The stain


an earthly stain: porcelain
full of scarlet pinholes
without pins.


In winter, a temple
frozen in the center
of a lake. A man takes


a crowbar, chips
the Old Monk’s teeth
from the ice. He knows


where to find them,
how an incisor
masquerades as air.


Fish scale, cotton,
hailstorm, stone.
Our ancestor’s molars


are buried in shale.
My brother’s baby teeth
rattle in a pill box.


And somewhere, lips
close around a cigarette,
part, close again.