If I Had a Poem
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How It Used To Be
If you know anything, you know what waiting is. It's not about you. This is about illness and hospitals and life and death. This is about the smell of the disinfectant that hits you in the head. In the bathroom you look in the mirror. What do you see?
Your father's sad face? Your mother's eyes? You catch the water cupped in your thickened hands, splash it on your face, and hope against hope you can wash it away— the aging brown spots, the bags, the swelling truth of waiting— So you go back to that bench. Maybe your mother is there or your wife who is waiting for your father who is waiting for the news from the surgeon or the morphine for the pain or the nurse who cleans bedpans who is waiting for her shift to change while another man's hand clamps white as a claw to a clutch of bed sheets, and you wait.
So you hear the news, and you take the long trip back from LA or Detroit— wherever you're from— and you see the faces of the drivers as they approach you out of the fog, and you see this one: a woman hunched over the wheel like your mother, and you think, It is my mother. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see your father's face in the driver's seat of a '49 powder blue Pontiac sedan.
The thin sliver of his moonlit profile's smiling, but the nose is too long and it's not really him, and besides he'd never understand anyway— this impatience, this anger, this rage, this love, this fog on the windshield, this never even knowing if it's inside or out— because his whole life was waiting, and what does a fish know of the water or a bird of the air? So you push the leaden accelerator down and act like you're headed to some small emergency, and you don't give a damn about the cop waiting behind the billboard or death over your left shoulder, and you think you might want to pray, and you do pray, but you don't know what for, and, anyway, you're driving, so you go back to the endless lines of headlights and traffic and exit signs until you get home to see the light flash on your answering machine, but you don't pick it up.
Instead, you go to the bathroom, take a shower, take a piss, pull out a carton of leftover food—anything— but you can't swallow it. So you push the button, and it's your sister's voice, but it's choked, and she can't speak. That's how I learned that the waiting was over, that my life changed forever, that this end was a beginning, but I didn't know for what.