Lunch Poem of a Hospital Chaplain
It's my lunch hour, so I go
hear a doctor read O'Hara's Lunch Poems
during our weekly ethics lecture
when we have kabobs and hummus
or fruit and half sandwiches.
I don't have the poem, so I shut
my eyes to see the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches,
unlike the sharp sticks of squash sponge
we shove in our mandibles. Then I
hear a chainsaw, or maybe a weedeater,
behind me. It drowns everything.
It idles. The hum is fast,
so I decide it's a chainsaw. There
is a girl sitting three seats to my right. Her
legs are something. She wears only skirts, and
each time she crosses under the table, I look
for the impossible chance I’ll catch it.
Later, I turn around and remember
I don't know if the noise comes from a chainsaw.
I see a boy delivering sandwiches on a bicycle instead.
What an old-fashioned thing to do,
but he's straddling carbon,
which is not oldfangled like delivering lunch on wheels,
like the sandwich carted to the old man two nights ago.
He said it was the first thing he had eaten in three days.
He said it was dry. He said he wanted to end it all,
but it was hard to do in a hospital.
He died last night, and my mind isn't
on lunch or poems or Lunch Poems.
What a thing to will the end of this life
and not be able to will a good sandwich
or a chainsaw silent to hear a poem.
Letting the Air Out
But then, the dead woman's mouth—
open, her lips curl around her teeth
as if she’s calling an Indian like a child
who doesn’t know better.
Veering away from the hole,
I ask her son to give me the elevator speech
about his mother. He’s too morose to care
that I asked him to pitch his mom’s worth.
He tells me she loved her neighborhood.
She beautified, organized, celebrated it
and swam every day.
She taught all of her grandchildren how to swim.
I pray for the soul at the bottom of that hole.
I'll let you have your privacy, I say.
That I can’t look away from her mouth has gotten awkward, I mean.
I walk down a windowed hallway hours later when the light comes
and stop to watch concrete pour from a rotating drum.
When the wet rocks reach the top of the pit, men smooth it with rakes.
Win Bassett is a writer and attorney whose poetry has been published or is forthcoming in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Image, PANK, and Town Creek Poetry. A recent essay was featured at the Poetry Foundation. He’s a former assistant district attorney and serves on the PEN Prison Writing Program Fiction Committee. Win is the Legal Advisor for Asymptote and The Field Office, Managing Editor of Yale’s Letters journal, and Community Manager for Bull City Press. He was a Literature Scholar at the 2014 Virginia Quarterly Review Writers’ Conference. Win is from southwestern Virginia.