Coleridge said that nitrous oxide—laughing gas—
provided “the most unmingled pleasure” he ever knew.
—Edward Rothstein, The New York Times
Is it only the memory of being
ten and being driven to Manhattan
to see the “dintist,” as the elevator man
called him—the only time I can recall being
in a building with an elevator—that invokes you?
Or is it the pain I feared then or the pain I flee from now—
tooth pain, the whirring drill, or the agonizing ache of hearing
my husband just having had a housewarming party with another
woman in another apartment—the one I don’t have the keys to?
Is it about laughing over the pain or about “Gonna take you higher,”
as Sly said in the Sixties when I thought I was too young to smoke
yet there I was snorting that sweet stuff up in the dentist’s chair
on what must have been the Upper East Side—this Brooklyn girl
from East Flatbush—and loving it. It felt like soft rubber wrapping
around my face around as the dentist drilled around & around drilled
wiggled his nose & whiskers like a human bunny rabbit. bunny rabbit.
Here I am now,
forty years later, asking for it in another East Side building where my name
is announced. Asking to be put out of my pain—to feel the numbness flower
down my arms into my pelvis. Isn’t it funny how good numb can feel? Is that
the experience? Or is it waking up after—lucid but no longer asking (or caring)
where it throbs—or when—or why—or because of whom.
Sharon Dolin’s fourth poetry book, Burn and Dodge, which won the AWP 2007 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, is just out from the University of Pittsburgh Press. She currently teaches at the Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y and directs The Center for Book Arts Annual Letterpress Poetry Chapbook Competition.