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Two More Poems by Lauren Oertel

The Patriarchy is Ruining My Teeth

The relentless pressure to smile 
has become so expected 
that the dentist found potholes in my teeth. 
Small round dents in the lowers 
caused by the points of the uppers, 
but mainly caused by my constantly clenched jaw. 

From the old man passing on the street 
instructing my teenage self to smile!, 
to the murmurs of ‘resting bitch face’ 
about any woman who lets her mouth fall 
into anything short of a blissfully ignorant grin. 

I live under a consistent fear of a slight drop in my chin, 
making my face look too long, which I believe is the cause 
for comparisons of women to horses. 
And of course, there’s the dreaded double chin 
that could rear its shameful head 
if I don’t hold it all in the exact angle 
that seems to be the only acceptable way to present my face.
The result is unnatural wear and tear on my molars. 

I grimace and grind through the jokes, insults,
and insistence that “it’s not that bad.” 

My lips are tired from the decades 
of demonstrating my worth through my mouth, 
which should stay closed 
and always form a gentle upward curve. 
I want to release it all. Roar, hiss, and scream 
at anyone who might listen. Scream about how I wish 
this bruxism were the only consequence of it all. 
Lauren Oertel

Lauren Oertel is a community organizer covering Texas and New Mexico for a nationwide nonprofit. Her work has been published in The Ravens Perch, Evening Street Review, Noyo Review, MONO.Fiction, and The Sun Magazine. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her partner Orlando and their tuxedo cat Apollonia.

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