He had been there for days
although he’d stopped counting
since it didn’t ultimately matter.
He would leave when
the time was right although
he had no idea how he would know
when that moment arrived.
Some things you do on faith
he assumed, and this
had to be one of those things.
He wasn’t sure why he came
but he knew he had to be there,
And he knew that the cave
provided him shelter and there
was an allegory hiding deeper in.
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They are arranged like so much
ill-stacked cordwood, pressed against
walls that are indifferent to their presence.
They watch the double doors leading
to the examining rooms with trepidation,
wanting to be next, wanting more
not to be here at all, knowing that
the options are none or fewer.
He isn’t bothered by it all, this is
old hat to him, he knows them
and several of them know him by name.
He will no doubt be here again
and that does not worry him, for here
he knows he will walk in and walk out,
and too many of the alternatives are
far less pleasant, some he is certain
involve simple pine boxes or ceramic urns
suitable for a mantle, but none
of his family have fireplaces, and he
would hate to get lost for eternity amid
the toys and tchotchkes that so
utterly define their lives and homes.
While others continue to stare
at the doors, he hears his long
dead grandmother whispering to him,
“remember, pain is God’s gentle way
of reminding you you’re still alive.
It hardly seems all that long ago
when we were immortal, when
we measured our days by the number
of dares we undertook, each
with its own level of stupidity
which we took, mistakenly, for courage.
We are older now, we would like
to think far wiser as well, but the line
between truth and illusion is thin
and almost impossible to discern.
We now measure our days in open rooms
with small clusters of neatly arrayed chairs
and the odd table piled with magazines
that have faded with time and disuse,
occasionally a fish tank where it
is hard to tell who is less interested
we or the fish, but they, at least,
aren’t waiting for the nurse to call us,
take our vitals and say in a shocking display
of honesty, “the doctor will be with you
They stand impatiently in line
chattering, giggling, tittering
like so many schoolgirls with secrets
they promised to keep to their deaths
and have to immediately tell a friend.
“Did you hear about Letitia?” one says,
and goes on to say she shared her journal
with several other girls in the eighth grade.
It goes on like this incessantly
as the barista, working alone as always,
gathers their order, places it in trays
so they can carry it back to school.
We wait patiently, trying to decide
What grade Shirley might be in,
whether shall be suspended again
for mouthing off to the hall monitor,
and how impatient the other teachers
in the lounge must be getting
waiting for their counterparts
to bring back the morning coffee.
He waited patiently in the queue
until, after two and one half hours
he approached the battered metal counter.
The young, bored woman, chewing at her gum
asked the usual question, have you
looked hard for work this last week?
I stood in many lines, for hours on end
in my battered old shoes, that is
more work than you can imagine.
Each night I would soak my feet
for hours in the small sink
hoping the swelling would go down.
Each morning I would find another line
or two, if they moved quickly, but
at the end of each they would ask
the same question, what skills do you have
and I would tell them there are
few better than I at standing in lines,
and they would sheepishly smile
and thank me for my patience
and that is why, again this week,
I ask that you stamp my book
so I can stand in the other line
and wait patiently for my check
which I can take to the small bodega
waiting calmly in line to cash it
to buy what canned goods are on sale.
Then I will take my cans
and carefully line them up
on the kitchen counter, and marvel
at how patiently they stand in the queue.
First published in Pearl, Vol. 31, 2002
He cannot be certain when he lost it. He isn’t even sure where he lost it. He knew he had it, had it for years, and then, once when he looked for it, it was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t all that upset at the loss. It was more that it was familiar, that he was accustomed to it, not that it had in intrinsic or extrinsic value. In fact, he had already replaced it the moment he noticed it was missing. Still he couldn’t help but wonder where it had gone, and why he hadn’t noticed its loss at the moment it occurred. Or had he? But ego could be like that, and it was comforting to know the replacements were stacked up and waiting.
On the radio this morning
the DJ played the classic
“In the Midnight Hour,” and I
pause to reflect on the fact
that midnight is a moment
and cannot be an hour,
by definition, since the halfway
is only a point, not a range,
and you cannot put
a home on an hour, for time
waits for no man, and waiting
is what a home
is all about, and around.