At the end of our story, we roll along
with the prince’s procession,
or wake up to a castle filled with friends,
their eyes, too, were puckering at the light.
It never occurs to us to flee our fates.
After all, we cannot sleep forever,
it’s not our role; we merely rest until we're touched—
or jostled—awake by the right man or moment.
How can we lament what we've missed,
asleep in glass coffins and briar-thorned prisons?
We've noticed no change, not the way
the citizens seem to glare at us as we pass
or the price of apples. The guns the men carry
now under their coats. Even the carts
seem sleeker, prepared to bustle us into the future.
And so we stumble into new fates,
on feet not familiar with solid ground,
still waiting for pillow marks to fade from our faces.
Groggily, we turn to the narrator for direction:
after all, all our lives we've been posing
for someone or other. Curtain called, we bow out
and try to make our exits graceful. It’s what our mothers
would have wanted, their voices echo:
Try not to expect too much magic.
Things I Learned in Waiting Rooms
That we are like animals: we like to sit alone
with our illness, we will seek out the chair
in the corner, or the bench by the door.
The sick have this in common.
That our animal parts can change for no reason—
one woman’s ankles swell out of tennis shoes,
one man’s arm bursts with red veins.
Hearts and spleens will be thumped for size
like little rotten melons.
That we put ourselves in the hands
of other animals, not angels,
that occasionally someone in a wheelchair
is forgotten, unconscious, in a back hallway.
That some wards are lit with paintings
of forests, and that birdsong piped in
sounds almost cheerful. Lollipops in gift shops, ceramic kittens.
That women can be careful
with their needles on the arms
of thin children and the elderly.
That we are finite—that even the young
grow religious when facing the dimmed light,
drawing pictures of Jesus, haloes of yellow crayon.
That we are not gods,
though we may sail ahead of our bodies,
smiling, as if we were.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, a Seattle 2013 Jack Straw Writer, is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of three books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and Unexplained Fevers (forthcoming). contact