Poor Room

By Frederick Pollack

Posted on

The woman is dying. The doctor
periodically steps from a corner
with morphine. He regrets
the absence of nurses, other treatment,
more interesting cases,
and perhaps mortality itself;
his regret presents as annoyance.
The man in a wheelchair
wants to protect the woman,
in the moments she opens her eyes,
from the room and its many sad or scary
faces. And so he
sits close to her and holds her hand and keeps
his gaze on her, though he isn’t
(as the doctor has established) a close relative.
Light comes from a range
of throwaway lamps. At least there are no buzzing,
sepulchral fluorescents. At least there’s power.
After trying all vacant chairs,
a boy sits on a stool

beside a possible or former window.
He’d like to escape but can’t.
Would like even more to connect
with social media, which allow flight
without the chore of moving, but can’t.
The dying woman opens her eyes
on him. Her guardian decides
he’s safe for her to see, and shifts. The youth,
transformed to long-dead lover, brother, son,
waves hesitantly; refuses
to reflect, because he long since sensed
that his most interesting perceptions
are those he does not pursue.
In this respect he resembles
the man, his back of course against a wall,
who has a holstered pistol at his side,
as is his right. The question whether
he likes the others need never arise,
because they don’t like him. Though the dying
woman – who is taking a long time,

he thinks – might have just smiled.
The doctor covertly observes him
and finds himself anticipating triage.
A pipe gurgles in anguish
somewhere in the walls. The writer keeps
her head down. She’s young,
attractive, and wondering if
she could get the gun away from the fool,
or is she perversely drawn to it
and his obvious weakness? She could wish
(it’s too late) to have comforted
the woman on the bed, without herself
wanting comfort. A faint idea
of lateral prayer – directed only
at people, seeing only people –
plays out in her mind, but leads
as always back to what she rebukes
as vanity. Time will resume,
someone will ask why she writes,
and she’ll reply, Because there’s nothing to say.

– Frederick Pollack