Monday, July 07, 2003

I tried writing some postcard poems while in the waiting room before a doctor's appointment today. It was an interesting experiment in writing in a place with negligible sensory input--a contrast to my usual instinct to write in locations of sensory overload, which I find have a kind of white-noise effect on my concentration while providing an unlimited field of material that I grab and paste at will, perfect for a postcard.

But the waiting room, as Elizabeth Bishop will tell you, is an existentially weird space, designed to calm its inhabitants and render them docile--usually dark, painted in neutral colors, chairs arranged so that you don't have to face anyone or sit near them. (The first time I rode the tube in London this was what shocked me the most--the long benches facing each other across a very narrow aisle on the Piccadilly line, so that it is nearly impossible not to stare at the person across from you, however hard you try to stare at the window behind them.) And always magazines of the most esoteric or dull kind (National Geographic must give a deal to doctors), obvious castoffs or year-old leftovers.

Of course the dominant sensation in a waiting room is really ambient anxiety (the term "patient" seems like one of the oddest exercises in wishful thinking ever)--your own seeping out of you and mixing up with everybody else's and becoming something transpersonal that then boomerangs back at you--so that even if you're in there for a cold it's like a echo chamber that convinces you it must be something much, much worse.

Since I was a kid I've always brought a book with me anytime I know I have to wait even a few minutes somewhere--the desperate fear of simply having to sit somewhere with nothing to read or do and having to stare at the wall or listen to the inside of my own head. I was always slightly terrified and awed by those people who I would see in waiting rooms simply doing nothing--hands limply in laps, eyes not even straying to the magazine racks. Bored. I can't explain my own terror of it.

The waiting rooms at the new student health clinic here are perfectly pleasant--well-lit, new chairs, old magazines, and usually no one else there or only one other person there. The room I was in today was empty, though I could see the receptionist on the other side behind frosted glass. I had brought postcards with me and started to write but what on earth about? There was nothing. There were literally two magazines--some kind of science magazine on one side and, of course, National Geographic on the other. No wonder Bishop was thrown back on herself, National Geographic and scary adult pant legs and the realization that "you are an I, / you are an Elizabeth, / you are one of them."

Waiting Room

A natural history of
the face-off: buzz
like water or grass.
The necessary titration
of fallacy: truth.
A bronze-age
mating game severs
top from bottom.
This lab's balanced
on a tipping point.

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