The waiting room is congested, stuffy,
warm, a low-grade fever,
tired, something not right,
though it has a hard time saying what.
So they call it malaise.
The friendly nurse opens the solid door of mystery,
calls a first name. The room coughs up an elderly man
who holds his walker like his wife,
his partner of fifty-three years he remembers
unlike the four numbers he is asked to repeat in five minutes.
The mystery door opens again. Friendly nurse,
another cough. A bedraggled young mother, three in tow,
corrals, threatens, cajoles each child. She tosses
a frantic, “Good God!” smile as she wrestles
the last screamer in for his shots.
The old man and his walker-wife clump out,
replaced by a large couple who look older than their age
whatever it is. They know they’re in for a lecture.
They approach the exam room like a confessional:
“hear me, doctor, it has been eight weeks since my last visit…”
During the day the waiting room never quite purges itself.
People wait here, most do it poorly.
They read with distracted eyes, wonder what diseases
slump next to them, what Latin word pathology
they are absorbing from a recycled magazine. The room groans.
A man comes in with blood-soaked bandages covering a rigid arm
he holds stiffly beneath a face that trembles with fear.
The nurse opens the door. Her smile runs away. She hurries him in.
The room coughs up blood.
At night, when the room finally empties, there is a break in the coughing.
Yet the quiet is only transient relief.
The room will fill itself again in the morning.
For now the trashy magazines gloss and whisper to each other:
“you wouldn’t believe the stories I heard today!”