Seated in the waiting room at the doctor’s office,

I am filling out a questionnaire.

I come to a question I am not sure how to answer.

Do they really need to know that?

I put the pencil into my mouth and bite down.

The feeling of the smooth paint crunching

and then giving way to the wood underneath

brings me back in time to another question

I didn’t know how to answer.


A blank sheet sat in front of me

at the kitchen table.

I couldn’t concentrate with my mom

looking over my shoulder.

“You’ve got to put something down,

everyone wants to be something when they grow up.”

Cursing the stupid yellow no. 2 pencil

for leaving my paper blank,

I put it in my mouth and clamped down.

“Don’t chew on your pencil,” my mother said,

“you’ll get lead poisoning.”

I chomped on the pencil even harder.


Maybe I would get lead poisoning.

The doctors would know that’s what it was

because my molars would have lead stuck in them, like fillings.

And there would be yellow splinters between my teeth.

“How could this happen?” my mother would demand.

The doctor would answer,

“Normally kids her age masticate pencils

because they have overbearing mothers.”


I tried to give my mother a look

that resembled Dirty Harry

when he asked the punk if he felt lucky.

But she knew I was out of bullets

because she stayed there,

hovering like a vulture

waiting for its dinner to keel over.

I failed the assignment.


In the waiting room, the pencil bows

under the pressure of my teeth.

I can feel my mom looking over my shoulder,

waiting to see what words will fill the blank lines.

The answers are supposed to be confidential –

the nurse said so.

But she doesn’t know my mother.


Kathy Carr

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