THE HEMINGWAY TOOTHBRUSH
The Hemingway short stories:
such simple sentences, but unlike
anything else he had read.
He closed the book; it was time for bed.
He placed the electric toothbrush on its stand,
and flicked the switch. It immediately began
to flash its green light, as it charged up.
He watched the green light flashing
on and off, in its steady, repetitive rhythm,
for a few moments. Then he went to bed.
Five hours later, he got up, reluctantly,
to relieve his ageing bladder. All was quiet
and still, in the darkness of the early hours.
He came out from the bathroom, and saw
the toothbrush’s green light, still flashing,
in its steady rhythm. There was something
imperturbable, reassuring, about it.
He stood, in the darkness of the kitchen,
watching the green light. It was like
Morse Code, he thought. What message
could the toothbrush be sending out to the world?
I am pulsing out this message for you, Nick;
only for you. I care only for you, and your teeth.
You might think you are alone in the world;
that no-one gives a two penny damn about you,
that you are a cold, selfish bastard,
that your life, such as it was, is behind you,
that only dementia and death lie ahead,
that you had too much to drink again, last night.
But none of that matters to me. I want you to know
I am here for you, Nick; only for you.
He smiled. This is what his world had come to:
a man and his electric toothbrush. He went back to bed.
The toothbrush continued to flash its green light,
sending its message, throughout the night.
Electric toothbrushes have been on my mind quite a lot, lately. I was having problems with my old toothbrush, just before Christmas, and I finally bought myself a new one just after Christmas. At the same time, I was reading a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories. I hadn’t read any Hemingway for many years, and I found myself impressed by the sheer literary art, compressed into simple, declarative sentences. I was particularly impressed by the earlier short stories, featuring Hemingway’s altar ego Nick Adams.
In short, it was the conjunction of these two occurrences – my concerns about my electric toothbrush and my reading of the Hemingway stories – that led to the above poem.