Carmen Germain

Settled into it, families build
          a temporary life, three shades of gray
in these stuffed chairs, and on the faux oak
table, a dime-sized, pale rose stain with
irregular margins.  On the counters,
 
families and visitors, please answer these phones,
which they do, and She’s still in surgery.  The phone
just scared me to death, and
          That’s pretty serious.
 
On the intercom, a voice recites like
a poem vaguely remembered.
 
Five Northeast STAT.  Dr. So, Dr. Adrian So.
  Five Northeast STAT.
       Dr. So, Dr. So.
          Five Northeast STAT.
                   Dr. So, Dr. Adrian So.       
 
For a beat we’re silent, taking this in.  Someone
          mutters, Dr. So, Dr. Adrian So.  A woman
          with headphones sinks back
in her chair, chomping gum, awake too long.
 
Behind her, a painting, Public Art at the UMC,
and in it, a large, flat object,
which is a painting within the painting
packaged in plain, brown wrap, a strip of transparent
tape binding the seam.  It leans against a bare gray wall,
a closed four-panel door,
          a clear jar, like a bottle from a medicine show,
          empty in front of the parcel,
the glass covering the real painting reflecting June,
the green, free sky outside this room.
 
‘Cigarettes in ___,’ but it’s three letters,
 
and  Do you have that card?  I want to go see where I am,
 
and When I smelled it, I puked all over again.  A celebration
 
erupts near the reception desk where a doctor has hatched,
where three large men in t-shirts and jeans clap
each other on the back, strangling their cheers when
they remember where they are, two seats down from the family
 
with drained coffee cups and muffin wrappers,
where they’ve sat for three hours, where
a woman with an overnight case kissed a little boy
before she was led behind the double doors,
 
where they all stare, and the child has been remarkable
in his quiet playing.
 
Doctors emerge bright-sided with the quick step of the well.
 
Everything was fine, no problems, no surprises.
She keeps singing but won’t tell us the name of the song.
 
They’ve changed out of scrubs, no blood from the wars,
how a surgeon once stood in a different waiting room,
telling the news.
 
Cell phones sing, too, and the people who sit alone
talk back to them.  We’re still in surgery,
and The great brain strikes again,
and So it’s not cancer.  You know that culture they took?
 
Announcements bark, Family for Davis,
Family for Monahan, Family for Salazar.  On the wall
 
six panels mounted on plastic, each pale green, grown-up
versions of the ruled paper where we learned to print,
Chinese calligraphy mixed with symbols, “I, You,
She, It” in the space with bee, ear, bread, snake, pig,
cup, foot, and face.  Black outlines of objects,
comfort in things named.
 
A young girl laughs at something on her laptop,
          and she could be weeping,
          gasps and keening reeling the same,
 
and History’s so dumb.  Philosophy, I hate it.  A lot of gods
and stuff.  Ariphostolis?
 
and You know the white chairs in the family room?
and ‘Song written in the 30’s.’  By the double doors
a painting hangs, large as a bed sheet,
six irregular triangles, streaks
of house paint on a derelict fence, blue, yellow, pale green,
          sour orange, You could splatter anything
on a canvas and sell it for a high price.  It makes me angry.
It’s grade school work, and on cue,
 
school buses roll
in the late afternoon street, and those still
waiting quiet as damp laundry stare
          out the window at some kind of message,
                    Unlawful to pass when lights flash,
 
and Oh?  Oh.