The History of Your Mouth by Nathan Alling Long

Every time I kiss you I think about the history of your mouth, your first kiss, the way your lips must have felt, and what other lips felt like to you. Then I think of all the people you have kissed, the lovers, romances, mistakes. I imagine them all kissing you while I am kissing you – it is almost too much to stand, all those mouths fighting for your lips. I think of all the other places your mouth has touched, all the bodies and their shapes. I think of this while we kiss, but still, I keep kissing.

When I kiss you, I feel your clean straight teeth and think about those years you endured braces, the way you must have changed your smile to hide the scaffolding that covered your teeth, the way your tongue must have explored the railroad of metal over and over, even in your sleep. I think of the pain you must have suffered, trying to chew your dinner or lying alone at night in bed, after the orthodontist wrenched up the wire. My own teeth itch imagining the pain. I think then of the relief you must have felt when the wires finally came off, when your tongue ran over the smooth surface of your enamel and you could unpack your old toothy grin again. But you were a teenager then and probably didn’t smile at anything.

I think back to when your cavities first formed, how your mouth felt stretched open and prodded while your body stuck to the vinyl cover of the dental chair. How it felt to be the first to drill into the perfect well of your mouth and fill the hole with the silvery grey metal, as though introducing the first dark thought into your head.

I think of the food you have eaten, of all the food you have tasted, the long banquet hall table of dishes flowing through the corridor of your mouth.

I think of all the words you have said, imagine them pouring out of your mouth at one moment, a cacophony of language, the sum of everything you have said and meant, indecipherably complex, like a message from god. I think back to the very first words you uttered, that you attempted to utter, to the sounds that gurgled from your mouth.

I imagine your mouth full of baby teeth, which dropped from the soft red flesh of your gums like overripe pears, beneath them new white sprouts already pushing forth.

As I kiss you, I think back to when your mouth was like your eyes, not averse to anything — grass, pencil, hat, shoe — a place you drew everything into, like a black hole at the center, so you could touch and taste and understand.

Nathan Alling Long
IMG_closeupNathan_opt (2)Nathan Alling Long is an Associate Professor of creative writing at Stockton University in NJ. His stories and essays appear in over a hundred publications, include Tin House, Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly, and Crab Orchard Review. He is currently seeking publication for his story collection, Everything Merges with the Night, as well as a collection of flash fiction, Fifty-Fifty.