“The Waiting Room at the End of the World” by James Ellenberger

When everyone you know is dead
or in love or pacing between the two,
all the world’s a waiting room

and the soul, like a sick child,
vomits into your cupped hands.
Nurses huddle in doorways, gaunt

as strip mines, lips yellowed
with nicotine and fluorescent light,
like “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”

Their husbands peruse obituaries
fantasizing widows wrapped
in black, their green eyes dark

as newsprint. Everyone you know
is here, and sicker than they’ll admit.
Sometimes there’s only waiting

and the doctor leaps through
the sidewalk into eternity.

Men smoke blue cigars in the lobby
while their wives, sloshing
like primordial seas, give birth

to convex self-portraits
they’ll name after dead mothers
whose hearts were cleaned out

like pantries after World War II.

Always, the women in magazines
are flawless, their tight skin
pulled up around their throats

like stockings. But after this, what?
Those with faith insist the meek
will inherit a run-down farmhouse

in Mammoth, Arizona
where the only practiced theology
is blackberries and their endlessness.

The doomsters, walking
Rorschachs whose smocks are
irreparably spattered,

consult x-rays that hang in
austere offices, divining that the sparse
projections are both art

and windows, beyond which
ice-frail boughs of slight bone
serve as nests for fat black owls.

If anyone, trust the old timers.
They show their age unevenly
like molding artisanal bread

and swear that the loudspeaker is
a god whose voice
is a broken pull-string doll

crooning its own name. They say
sit and sit, asking for you to wait
for its name to sound like yours.


(Fall 2012)