The technician called the balding guy
with the slightly bleeding
shunt in the crook of his arm,
with whom I had compared notes
about the insipid iodine solution
we were both drinking:
he departed the tiny room,
one hand holding together
the back of his hospital gown.
I started hoping they had some
three-armed gowns so I wouldn’t have
to hold the back together as I departed
when it was my turn for the CT scan.
I was still fully dressed,
now the only patient sitting there
calmly reading an intergalactic novel,
with another two beakers
of iodine to come. I knew the drill.
Soon I was joined by a pair of women
who soon revealed
one was a patient whose husband
died twenty-seven years ago
and the other was a friend
who had driven her to the appointment,
whose husband had died last year.
I listened as they compared
notes on living alone
and the feasibility of dogs
given by anxious relatives
who did not want them to be alone.
Soon the elder woman’s beverage arrived,
and I engaged her in an effort
to find a suitable description
for the insipid, slightly metallic fluid:
we could not. Her companion,
the younger widow, was amused
jauntily suggested we should all suck
on lemons and salt and pretend it was tequila.
We were joined singly by two men
who each in turn rummaged through
the selection of religious, lifestyle,
and health community pamphlets
for something to do,
and then subsided into meditation
as one does in waiting rooms.
The nurse handed me
a folded pale green hospital gown:
Take off everything
but your shoes, socks, and underpants.
Do you know how to put on
a three-armed gown?
When I emerged from the cubicle
the older widow looked at the layers
of shirt, pants, undershirt
shelved on my forearms—
Your wife has you well-trained:
I could never get my husband to fold
she shuddered as if something cold
I sat facing her in my three-armed gown
trying to keep my hairy knees together.
The flat pile of clothes became a table
for my fists. They felt disconnected
from me, as if they should be male and
holding burgers or beer.
I wanted to see her
fifty years ago, across a noisy bar,
her index finger tracing her full red lips
instead of worrying the rim of the empty
paper cup. I went back further:
I was eating lunch at Jimmy’s place
and had finished my peas but Jimmy’s mother
looking at her ration books noticed that
Jimmy hadn’t touched his.
And she was going to open her mouth
and the words were going to come out
and drive a wedge right down the table.
I don’t know, I just folded them
and her husband hadn’t finished his
and the damn three-armed gown
was making me keep my knees together.