Mary Richardson Miller

The ruby ring of the desk clerk
winks as his fingers force-feed a machine
rapping out my life on long lines,
and the TV hums with General Hospital
and one woman talks to another about
needlepoint, the way women do, and
I sit waiting to be tested, surrounded
by sick people, some sleeping with x-rays
cradled in stick arms, while
I read the saga of a poet, and soaps
give way to Divorce Court, then
I pick up a pen in defense, scribbling my
own saga then stop to stare at the back
of a woman combing her rust-colored hair,
wavy like a corrugated roof, and I wonder
when she dies will her family clip a curl
or two, or torch it with the rest of her,
and I try not to feel, happy to be harping on
pen in hand—focus dammit!—bliss blown
as I bolt to another room
where more pale people wait
drinking apple juice to blast the taste
of fleet-phospho soda, and a woman walks
by wearing a navy wool cap, the kind
longshoremen wear in winter, not here
in the tropics at eighty degrees, and
exotic patients circle with maps,
and a pretty young doctor whirls by
visibly in need of a nap, and the woman
with rust hair arrives reading a prayer book,
and the sewing ladies arrive clutching
their needlepoint, all of us circling, revolving
in and out of waiting rooms, longing
for kindness, for comfort, a doctor, anyone,
and I return to the poet who urges me
to stand like a firm tower that never shakes
in the wind, and finally, we descend into
this comedy of errors in the cold corridors,
and now it’s so late people
are saying goodnight and I still haven’t seen
a doctor and we are all disoriented, disheveled,
and I know Dante would circle with us while
someone somewhere decides which door
we’ll enter and when.