Diastema

In my mouth, my two center teeth hang forever estranged 

Dying to meet one another  

(But it will never happen because  

The time it will take my two teeth  

To meet is infinite)  

This is the lapse in between my teeth  

It is called a diastema  

One possible cause says that it can result  

When a person’s teeth are too small for their  

Jaw bone  

Some say this is genetic  

As in my grandmother didn’t want to be confined  

In the slightest  

She has one a bit thicker than mine  

My mother had one  

Slightly larger than both the spaces between  

My grandma’s and mine combined  

Like my mom, her lapse was the real rebellious kind  

But for health reasons, she closed it with braces  

Yet still I hold this legacy in my mouth  

My gap is remembrance  

A muscle memory of sorts  

A spatial reminder that I carry my grandma and mom in me always 

No matter the distance  

My gap is diasporic  

Complicated and separate  

Yet still so connected despite the immense space and time in between 

The teeth on either side of my gap look at each other and say  “I feel

like I’ve known you my whole life”  

It took me an intermittent series of seventeen years  

To smile with my mouth opened  

If you looked, you could find countless photos of my lips 

Pressed together, attempting to smile, holding back a secret  

The secret? That I was too insecure  

And uncomfortable to hold space for myself  

So instead I suppressed my teeth behind my lips 

In hopes that I would appear good-looking  

In turn the suppression only made me look  

More uncomfortable within myself  

My gap does the thing that makes me nervous  

She brings attention to me  

Any sliver of laughter and there she is  

Front row and center  

Chuckling at anything she can make out  

From silly puns to clever roasts  

I can’t hide her no matter how hard I try  

I speak and she gives me away  

I say words that end in a -th  

And the force of the -th starts on the inside of my mouth 

And ends up pushing air through her  

Tickling her body playfully on the way out 

Sometimes, as in all the time  

I stick my tongue in between her just because I can  I drink

liquids and suck sharply to fill her if only for a second  This

lets her know I have not forgotten about her  I call this

apology  

Forgive me hollow gap  

For my shallowness  

I kept my mouth shut  

Leaving you lonely and trapped in the dark  

With no room to be yourself  

It did not make sense to me how  

Something so small could have made herself so immense and vast 

How something so narrow could have made herself so open 

Hollow gap, you are willing entryway  

In the cave of my mouth  

You are perpetually delayed lapse in time  

You welcome the pushing and exiting that happen through you 

You put me to shame 

Continuously  

Boundless lapse, you understand what it means to be vulnerable 

And to know that eventually everything will come and go  If you

give it the space to


Stephanie Dinsae is a poet and Black Classicist from the Bronx. She is a 2019 Smith College graduate and has received an MFA degree in Poetry with a Joint Concentration in Literary Translation from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Stephanie often writes poetry about shame, Greco-Roman myth as it relates to Blackness and her own life, video games, and the flexibility/fallibility of memory. 

Artist Statement:

I am fascinated by shame and the ways it transforms into pride and confidence, if you give it a chance to. 

I inherited a lot of shame through my differences — feeling as if I were unwanted because of my skin color 

or my hair texture or the gap in my mouth. “Diastema” is a love letter, an apology to my heritage, an

apology to my deliberate features that make me who I am. I write to a younger self, who would be floored

by how far we have come in our confidence and acceptance. At the time of writing this piece, I had yet to meet my 

grandmother in person. After having met her, however, I know that even with all the distance, I can just look in the 

mirror, smile widely, and watch her appear. Writing about my gap reminded me that I am so deeply tied

to a lineage of women with unmatched passion and beautiful, bright grins. 

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