NOTE: My friend Willard Smith taught with me from the late 1970s till his retirement in the mid-1980s. He was a memorable teacher for many students, has been a memorable friend ever since, and he just turned a relatively healthy 93 on June 15th. Will called me late one afternoon when he was waiting for treatment at the local hospital's emergency room. I don't even remember why he was there. I went to keep him company for a couple of hours and, though I had spent many unhappy and frantic hours in emergency rooms with my mother in her waning days, Will's calm attitude and bonhomie allowed me to take in the experience a little more dispassionately, which led to this poem. For more poems of true adventure and hanging out in brightly lit places, see alanwalowitz.com.
Don’t Get Sick in America
Despite not being a doctor, I give him my best advice:
AARP, I tell him. Always, At all costs, Remain Perpendicular.
My old pal Willard would laugh if his hearing aid hadn’t come loose
and we’d been sitting at the diner,
shooting the breeze over coffee, him telling me the same story
the third or fourth time. I love the guy.
But now he’s lying on a gurney in the E.R. corridor for the 4th straight hour,
getting edgy, and who can blame him after all this time,
and against my best advice, he’s parallel to the floor
along with all the others, quiet on their table-tops
or writhing gently in pain,
most of the pain-energy already wrested out of them?
Each has or doesn’t have insurance—
they’re black and brown and grey and young
and the doctor--who hurries by from time to time
gives me a look that signifies, I know, I know, it’s crazy—
she’s a beautiful yellow-beige, with a face shaped like a heart
and I think I’m in love. The ER, this is America,
the great equalizer, no one’s special here,
no one gets to see the doctor first because he’s middle class or white,
or he used to be a Protestant from Rochester back in the day
and he was famous for clicking his heels and saying,
In Germany they stand up when I enter the room!
And everyone would tell him, Sit down and shut up, Willard!
Though I’m not next of kin,
a nurse figures I must be close, so she stops by and tells me,
he’ll have a stress test first thing in the morning,
after spending the night in the hall
cause the treadmill’s booked the rest of today.
And just in case you needed a reminder,
Don’t get sick in America,
you gotta have patience or dignity to burn,
and one way or another,
you’re gonna have to pay.
originally appeared in The New Verse News
© 2018 Alan Walowitz
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