The Holy Mouth Men of the Nacirema

Speaking of crazy, some academic on Facebook suggested that the central theme of Bishop's "In the Waiting Room" is dentistry. Granted, Bishop comments upon cross-cultural approaches to feminine beauty and its painful consequences--but a central trope? Then, last night I was reading some of the Harriet blogposts and it was like pulling teeth. And then I thought, wait a minute, the dentist tries to make your teeth Whiter and Straighter. Gasp: the dentist promotes White Heteronormative Hegemony! The dentist is complicit with the Imperial Project just as much as Neoliberalism, Anthropology, and Jane Austen!

As you know, Hoagland defended his poem by saying that he writes "for his tribe." Most assumed that he meant White People. Since I posted last, I was able to purchase a strand of his vanishing hair on Ebay and I did a genealogical DNA test on it. I discovered that Hoagland actually descends from a little known North American tribe called the "Nacirema." 

In his authoritative ethnography, Horace Minor described the shrines dedicated to body ritual in a Nacireman household. Fortunately for us, Minor was able to establish sufficient rapport with the natives to gain access to their cultural secrets. Excerpts from Minor's ethnography:

The focal point of the shrine is a box or chest which is built into the wall. In this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live. These preparations are secured from a variety of specialized practitioners. The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts.  However, the medicine men do not provide the curative potions for their clients, but decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language. This writing is understood only by the medicine men and by the herbalists who, for another gift, provide the required charm...

Beneath the charm-box is a small font. Each day every member of the family, in succession, enters the shrine room, bows his head before the charm-box, mingles different sorts of holy water in the font, and proceeds with a brief rite of ablution. The holy waters are secured from the Water Temple of the community, where the priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to  make the liquid ritually pure...

The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. Despite the fact that these people are so punctilious about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures...

The Nacirema have an almost pathological horror of and fascination with the mouth, the condition of which is believed to have a supernatural influence on all social relationships...They also believe that a strong relationship exists between oral and moral characteristics. For example, there is a ritual ablution of the mouth for children which is supposed to improve their moral fiber...

Recall Bishop's questions: Why should you be one, too? Why should I be me or anyone? What similarities hold us all together or makee us all just one? How--I didn't know any word for it--how unlikely? 

Minor also notes that the Nacirema had "Holy-Mouth-Men," who  "[exorcised] the evils of the mouth" through "ritual torture." A gruesome description of this ritual follows (don't read if you have a faint constitution):

The holy-mouth-man open the clients mouth and, using the above mentioned tools, enlarges any holes which decay may have created in the teeth. Magical materials are put into these holes. If there age no naturally occurring holes in the teeth, large sections of one or more teeth are gouged out so that the supernatural substance can be applied...The extremely sacred and traditional character of the rite is evident in the fact that the natives return to the holy--mouth-men year after year, despite the fact  that their teeth continue to decay.

Is it possible? Can it be? Is Tony Hoagland a Contemporary Nacireman Holy-Mouth Man? Were these Holy-Mouth Men  like poets who exorcise the evils of whiteness through the mouth of the poem, through the ritual torture that is reading a Hoagland poem?

There it is, citizens, sitting there, for use. 

[source: Horace Miner, "Body Ritual among the Nacirema." The American Anthropologist, vol. 58 (1956), pp. 503-507.]