They play rock-a-bye baby
on the loudspeakers everytime
a newborn arrives
but yesterday I know that
two old women died in the ICU
and I didn't hear anything,
not even "Taps."
Maybe they're afraid of looking bad;
if the outgoing exceeds the incoming.
And I love the way
they assign pretty young nurses
to the charge of old men,
knowing that breasts motivate:
In earlier times, they'd stir anything
from bar scraps to college enrollment
but now they inspire walking caneless
and proper toiletry.
The basic cast doesn't change:
a brood of college-loan starved doctors,
the handsome physical therapist
the nurses pretend not to notice,
the never-married pharmacist who smiles
out of habit,
and the cleaning crew waiting for quitting time
and malt liquor.
But the character I notice is the old man in the waiting room.
He's there everyday, dressed in a black canvas jacket even in July.
He's never without the paper and I've haven't seen him speak to anyone.
Without knowing better, I assign him a story: the retired hospital administrator
widowed for 20 years.
He's seen the most cruel neglect there is: that of death.
I'd like to have lunch with him
to hear stories about train hopping
in the Depression
or missionary trips to Uganda.
But his sort of luck is contagious
and I want to die on time.
12/8/08 - Petal,MS