My Mother’s Teeth – A. K. S. Shaw

My Mother’s Teeth
Are they false?  Yes, of course,
                 fitted while she was still young.
You don’t have to look; she’s not a horse.
                 Left and right, gleaming white.
friendly, divisive, bottom and top,
                  up and down they never stop.
As full of chatter as twittering birds,
          mum’s very seldom lost for words;
red in the face and short of breath,
         she’s often said they’ll be her death.
It’s hard to tell at the end of each day
                      who has had the better say.

But now decked out in flannel nightie,
             flat on her back and slack of jaw,
whistling to some listening owl,
    she’s one long-winded toothless snore;
while they on the table by her bed,
      like some old snapper from the deep,
still open wide and full of bite,
            are in mid-flow for want of sleep.
In their glass of fizzy water,
                     still awash with idle chatter,
agitated, nervous, they rattle about,
          long after the midnight hour is out.
A. K. S. Shaw (1941 -

This is a very personal poem about a very personal item coming to life and expressing itself, whether clearly and continually is another matter!

In the first stanza we have a bit of a competition between the inanimate object itself and the mouthing of a mother trying to control her mouth insert. It’s hard to tell which has the better say!

In the second stanza the false teeth have been placed in a glass while mother sleeps. And the toothless sounds of snoring are delightfully compared with the poetic fancy of the ‘still chattering teeth’. The comparison with a ‘snapper’ is so appropriate as the teeth are in water. I can’t think of a better fish name for the metaphor. The solution fizzes as the chemical protecting and cleaning the teeth take effect and they may move around ‘chattering’ as the chemical reaction fades.

The two 12-line stanzas have plenty of end line and internal line rhyming (in S1 – a, b, a, c, d, d, e, e, f, f, g, g). Presumably you can tell a lot about a horse by looking at its teeth. And the poem has a nice chattering rhythm – left and right, gleaming white.

This shows how a very personal object can be used by a poet to great effect. My hearing aids talk to me and nowadays there are plenty of electronic chattering to deal with independent of poetic creation.

Note – this is a personal poem for another reason, A. K. S. Shaw happens to be my brother and the poem clearly describes my mother’s false teeth. I remember them well and can recall them being in a glass in the bathroom at night-time more than by her bedside. I think the compound she used fizzed for a while before settling down. Form my vague memory some type of ‘Pepsodent’ solution. But my brother clearly has better memories. On the side I can clearly remember going to the dentist as a child. And in those days having to endure gas treatment.

A. K. S. Shaw has had poems published in many different publications in the UK and has been the recipient of quite a few prizes.

2 thoughts on “My Mother’s Teeth – A. K. S. Shaw

  1. Love this one Rich, and it is more enjoyable with having such a personal connection to you. I have a memory, which I think is real, that adults often had all of their teeth removed as a 21st birthday right of passage.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case … the with and without was certainly part of our childhood view of Mother. And of course we were fascinated that she could remove her teeth at leisure.

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