Our Fingers Crossed
The nurse brings you to the room,
says the doctor will be right with you.
It seems much smaller since the last time,
you sit with your elbows near your knees,
your hands surround your chin, thinking
you’d start praying if you only knew how.
Three months ago in this same place
the doctor scrolled through his laptop
for a few minutes, then turned to you
and said there were tumors on your lung.
You stared at him as if he were speaking
a language you had never heard before
as he explained that they were too big,
too close to some artery to operate right away.
We’ll have try chemotherapy first, he said,
try to shrink them so you can have surgery.
We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed.
Any minute, the doctor will come in.
You’ll stand, shake hands, say hello.
He’ll sit at the desk, unfold his laptop,
look at that scan you had last week,
and turn toward you again. You sit up
straight, take off your cap, rub your hand
over your bald head that no longer feels strange.
You listen for footsteps coming down
the hall that might be his, but all you hear
are faceless voices from the nurses’ station.
Well, what are we doing for lunch today?
NOT Wendy’s again . . . We could do Chinese.
I’ll go pick it up . . . We haven’t had pizza
in a while. I have some coupons . . .
You slide down in your chair, extend your leg
as far as you can, and push the door closed gently
with your foot. It’s quiet again, but somehow
the room now seems even more cramped,
with still nothing for you to do but wait.
Looking for something to read
before bed, I find Hesse’s Siddhartha
on the shelf in my friends’ guest room.
I pull it down, stare at the cover
still familiar forty years later. It was
my favorite book in 10th grade,
back when, I remember, all I did
was play basketball, think about
making out with Sharon Miller,
the new girl with the shiny blonde hair
who was always chewing gum,
and listen to Dylan’s Nashville Skyline
until I wore it out. I sit down on the edge
of the bed, turn the book over, read
the blurb on the back. I try to recall
what is was like back then to want
to get older, how urgent to hurry
toward a driver’s license, then
to turn eighteen to buy booze legally,
hang out in bars, and get away to college.
Now it’s just the opposite, you dread
getting even older, your parents long gone,
friends your age now with cancer or dementia.
It’s all sped past, heading quickly toward
what you can’t even force yourself to consider.
You drop the book on the floor, shake your head
at all that Hesse spiritual odyssey bullshit,
turn out the light, and climb under the covers.
For a moment you wonder what it was even like
to fantasize about hitting a game-winning shot,
or bubble gum kisses while Bob Dylan sings
a scratchy Lay Lady Lay in the background,
then you close your eyes to another day
about to slip by as quickly and silently
as teenage dreams that never came true.
The Dullness of Such Protection
Back then, when I was in high school,
we called them rubbers, never heard
the word condom until years later.
I knew my dad used the classic Trojans
from seeing the little wrappers when I took
out the garbage every Tuesday night.
The Health class lecture on birth control
made me curious, so when my parents left
me home alone on Saturday I went through
my dad’s sock drawer till I found a little box
of them, took one for myself figuring
he wouldn’t notice, then grabbed the Playboy
I kept hidden behind my album collection.
It took a few tries to stretch it out the right way,
but I figured it out pretty quick, then made sweet love
to the Playmate of the Month, barely noticing
the dullness of such protection. When I finished
in a few minutes, I flushed twice to make sure
all the evidence was gone. I grabbed a bag
of cookies and a glass of milk from the kitchen,
then went downstairs to watch Mary Tyler Moore,
satisfied for once that Miss April wouldn’t be
calling the house for me again crying about
how her period was late like she did once
last summer and got my parents all angry
at me for jerking off so much. I finished
all the Oreos before Bob Newhart even started.