Here I am—the annual physical, these days
euphemized as a “well-check,” a ruse
of language I like in some happy way,
much better than “get on board” for “obey.”
Still, in settings like this one, I confess
I sometimes find myself thinking of Larkin,
almost wanting to make conversation
with the Larkin-id I try to hold at bay.
To be honest, I’d prefer my inner
Bishop. I like to believe I have one,
but she comes at lonelier times than Larkin.
Today his vexed misanthropy’s the winner,
though this waiting room’s surely pleasanter
than his—no coughs, no odor of medicines,
mostly young college women (this is Larkin) here for pills.
Other ailments, mysterious or invisible.
There’s a photograph of a Bishopian moose;
a months-old New York Review of Books;
magazines about hunting deer and ducks—
all the usual ones for the homey goose
and the common self-important white gander.
Four of my wait-mates are older than I,
the rest magnificently young. I wonder why
no forty-ish, middle-aged working folks?
It would have been better had that one
young woman not begun to cry.
Of them all, she seems to have come alone.
Or perhaps not, since one of the other ones
approaches, takes her hand, sits at her side.
I smile at the comfort-giver, whose head
laid upon the weeper’s turns her smile a frown.
Or so it looks. Not to me, but to Larkin.
Back and forth the two women rock, quietly.
A door opens. The weeper is called in.
Larkin might have imagined a story
at this point; Bishop would have lived through hers.
I’m doing both at the same time really.
Like daydream sampling, poetically.
Nevertheless I wait with the others,
and how that is, is the real mystery.
For men and women of our era, young or
old, in our era it is likely just time
until some disaffected gander bursts
through a waiting room door, rifle on rapid fire.
You know it’s true. Let today not be my time,
I think to myself. Although as I do,
I think it for you and you and you too,
lovely as you are, my fellow waiters.
I am one of you, you of me, a while.
But tell me, do you wonder, as I do,
if she cries because she’s pregnant, despite pills?
Of all mysterious and invisible ills,
is it I who thinks of this now, or Larkin?
Somehow, despite daily terror, we go on.
Nothing stranger could ever happen.
To them, the others. To me, or to you.
Bishop wrote “the War was on.” The Great War,
1918. Our war’s waiting. How unlikely.
Then so is Larkin, peacefully dead for years.
Here it’s the seventh day of November,
2017. I’ll be seventy
in twelve hundred days, give or take a few.
Unless I won’t be. It’s good to remember
the waiting we do, in this, our normal war.
There is music, then bullets from above.
How have we come to be here? It’s anyone’s fate:
here’s your shooter, here’s your spot, here’s your grave;
bleed and die, be tallied—premature, permanent, late.
Whatever place we’re in, what we do is wait.
So God, Mr. Shooter, let the weeper be safe.
Call this almost a prayer. Let almost be enough.
What might survive of us? Luck more than love.