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Minnemingo Review

Another Waiting Room: in conversation with                                                       Amanda Struble

Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room”

In Asheville, North Carolina,
I went with Timothy
to keep his dentist’s appointment
and sat and waited for him
in the dentist’s waiting room.
I chose the chair facing
the door instead of the clock.
There is a smothering
ordinariness to waiting rooms,
the glaring grins of People
glossy on knee-high tables.
Overwhelming boredom
unites the practiced smiles
of women behind the desk
to the rest
sleeping slack-jawed
in straight-backed seats,
and one boy buzzing
in and out of the dust motes.
He hasn’t learned yet
about waiting.

“No more than an hour--”
my sentence of confinement,
We all--the clutter of impatients--
know it’s a lie.
The lady with the list is lying
to us; we will be waiting
as long as we live.
Walking in I thought:
For this hour I will be
brilliant, not like them.
Not like the drab woman
with the bangs and brown
lipstick, or the man
telling his papery hands
what he had for breakfast.
Whitman would have filled
anthology pages with “O!”’s.
Whitman would have written lines
railroad-long sharing loneliness and the intimate sameness of
But not me.
I sit in my door-facing corner
forgetting to love them because
I want to be brilliant.

Cavities aren’t contagious.
At a doctor’s office
I might have excused my
corner-sitting distance by
their coughs, their tissue-muffled sneezes.
But I am at the dentist’s
(and germs don’t scare me anyway).
What scares me is stuckness.
I don’t know yet if inertia is
catching; still, watching their
(can they be comfortable?)
I’d rather not lean too close.
My gaze bumps briefly
into the eyes of the person
diagonally across from me.
She is watching Dust Mote Boy too.
Somehow it is ok to look
at him, but not at each other
so we hide.
That’s what the magazines
are for anyway.

The Sailor and the Nurse
kissing famously, furiously,
in Time’s Square
in black and white
on the cover of LIFE
(75th anniversary edition,
boasting its all-time favorite frozen frame)--
they know about waiting.
I stare. He is knocking her over
and holding her up
all at once,
just as the memory and the hope
of him must have done
while he was gone.
I wonder how long she waited.
Weeks? Months? Years of war?
I wonder how much waiting
was left for her,
how she could endure
to sit silent
in a dentist’s office
while more metal made him bleed.
How long could I endure?
Snap. Crackle. Pop.
My neck protests as I turn
to see the clock.
If the lady had not lied
I would not be breathing
airborne fluoride anymore.
I ask at the desk
“How much longer?”
Lying again.
That lie lived in my mouth
when I kept the waiting
list at the Veranda Café.
Lists must make you lie like that.

Then, LIFE
(the pages in my hands,
not the pavement past the door, yet)
happened to me.
I don’t have better words for it.
LIFE happened to me like
National Geographic happened
to Elizabeth Bishop:
there was nothing to do
in the world,
in the waiting room,
except to see LIFE.
“To see shadows in the jungle and on the moon,”
(the mission statement trumpeted),
to see the ketchup on Dust Mote Boy’s shirt;
“to see strange things, things dangerous to come to,”
to see the wedding ring on the young mother’s hand;
“to see the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud,”
to see the first-day receptionist twirling her desk chair;
“to see and to take pleasure in seeing.”
And nothing stranger had ever
happened, nothing stranger ever
could happen.