Nice Teeth

To hear an audio version of me reading poem below, click this link (or paste into your address window) 

Nice Teeth

By Jonathan Clarke

I now know

What mama meant

When she said,

“He has nice teeth.”

I was so Amazed, Bemused, Confused

Flatly surprised to see

That for once this woman

Who never would see

What I would see

Would agree with me


Eye to eye with me

Signify with me

On anything – especially this thing –

That I rushed to arrest her words

Suspend them in time and space

Mistake her admiration of his face

For approval of the man

Attached to the face

The visage, the mirage

He would come to be

Something I couldn’t see

That mama could see

But wouldn’t share with me.


Imagine that.


This woman who I trusted

For guidance and direction

The original sistah girl protection

Spoke in a still small voice

At a time when I needed

Her most boisterous voice

A time when I was making

A life long choice

I needed to hear

Her clarion bell

Not the jingle jangle of oh well

He’s sort of swell.


She knew all along

Or so it now seems

That the man of my dreams

Would dash my dreams

Leave them

Shattered and scattered in tatters

Along a roadside of promise

And purpose

And potential

At a roadstop restroom

Tossed on a trash heap of

Disappointment, Deceit, Dishonesty

Defeat and Disbelief.



Is what I felt

When for the first time that I remember

She didn’t pull apart or dismember

Dissect, dissemble, rip

From the front end

To the tail end

A male friend

Of mine

And find him Guilty

Before proven Innocent.


Any other time

She would adjudicate

Based on evidence

That at best was circumstantial

Rule in favor of the prosecution

Without benefit of defense

Summarily rest cases

In her high court

She’d cut them Down

She’d cut them Short

She’d cut them Out

Of my life

Sentence them

To a life

Without me

Because somehow each had fallen short

Of the glory of me.


According to her standards.


There was The One

Whose outer pants

Sagged beneath his underpants

And sank to the floor

He never made it

Past the front door

And for good reason

I suppose.


There was The One

Whose bank account

Didn’t count

For much

Certainly not enough to pay a mortgage

And a couple of car notes, and diapers and groceries

While I stayed home and mingled with Sorority Sistahs

Trading stories about our mistahs

Sharing our common Links

Holding my pinky up

Sipping from a delicate cup

Planning outings for

Our Jacks and Jills.


“You can be broke on your own,” She’d say.


Crime didn’t pay

The bills

So that ruled out the brotha

With the rap sheet

And the rapper with a music sheet

She said

Reminded her of a criminal and

He needed to get a job

Even though music was his job

At the record shop

It was just a pit stop

A place to chill

And responsibly pay a bill

‘Til his single dropped.


She sang a different tune

Last June

When she saw

His mansion

In Ebony.


Her obsession seemed plainly to be

With pedigree


Family name

Tribe of descent


To royalty

Her loyalty

To the Joneses

With whom we never quite

Could keep up.



When she said

This one was different

Sitting there with his

Frat tatt

Cascading along the sinew

Of his rippling arms

Flashing his pearly white charms –

A smile of  a hundred watts –

I thought


I’ve hit the

Jackpot of Jackpots!


I thought we were in Sync.



What I heard

And what she said

Were as different as

Pig Latin is to Latin

Patois is to Geechee

Spanglish is to Spanish

Aramaic is to Arabic

Ga is to Yoruba

South African is to Rwandan

Is to Ethiopian, Is to Egyptian

Is to French


Is to a peck on the cheek

A different tongue

A different speak

A weak

Translation of her words

At best was all I got

When she complimented

The brotha’s Smile.


I focused on dentifrice –

Would he use

Colgate and floss

While she focused on artifice

Were his lies chronic

Would he abuse and boss.


Mama said,

“His smile reminded her of Daddy’s”

Which I couldn’t recall


I haven’t seen him

Since I was eight

Or was it nine?

He too was aesthetically glorious

He was fine

I know from pictures

I’ve seen of him

Bouncing me on his lap

Letting me play with his cap

Letting me stroke

His beard

Then one day

He disappeared.




That was the first time

In a long time

I thought about

That man

Who my mother said resembled

This man

Sitting on the couch

In the living room

Of the house

That daddy

Left us.


It’s only in retrospect

That I respect


What my mother

Truly was saying

Hinting at that day.


Nice Teeth

Nice Car

Nice House

Didn’t make him better than the others

The brothers

With their pants dropped low

Or finances running low

Or heads hung low –

It made him worse

On the

Down low

Not in sexual terms

Exposing me

To germs

But exposing

My soul

To an imperfect storm of heartache

I could never have forecast.


If only I’d listened closely to my mom

Watched her body language

Read between the lines

Of experience, of disillusionment

Etched into her wise face

I would’ve heeded

Her storm warning

Her tornado watch

Her siren at midnight.


I should’ve taken cover

Sought shelter

Hid in the basement

Far away from this

Emotional Son of Sam

Serial killer

Of Affections, of Expectations, of Aspirations

My mother’s predilection

Is what is missed, ignored

In the foggy haze of

Love, lust and romance.


The pretense of ignorance.


At my own risk

I swam

Floating on a wave of beguile

A sham

A toothy fantasy that evaporated

In the grinning mist.

The twist?

Trying to not be like mama

I almost drowned in a pool of drama

Just beyond reach of

My life’s guard.


I know now what Mama meant

Understand her subtle rumor

She didn’t mean

His smile was Heaven sent

Or angelically cast

But that even

The Devil has

A sense of humor.

-J. Clarke

July, 2011

© Copyright 2011, Jonathan Clarke All Rights Reserved


4 thoughts on “Nice Teeth

    1. Marilyn, thank you so much for enjoying this piece. I appreciate you for following and sharing my work. Be blessed!


  1. So Jonathan… as I am sitting thinking over a conversation I had with a sista friend this weekend..I decided to read & re-read Nice Teeth… I shared it with her today because we were talking about relationships and it amazed me and still does that you captured this experience like you were watching my life unfold or at least that part of it. I shared it with her because I think it will speak to her right were she is but also to share the talents the many talents of you… I am so proud of you.. I cannot wait for the day when the speak of you like e.e. cummings or Robert Frost or Luther Vandross, or Adams or better yet Sandro… Get ready get ready get ready!


    1. Mara, you are so very kind to me. You are such an awesome cheerleader! And I appreciate you dearly. Thank you so very much. Get ready!


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