In the Waiting Room

by Greta Bolger
The Waters
First Place, July 2011
Judged by Tyehimba Jess


My daughter says I want to hold a baby
as though she senses the ache in my own body
to feel a featherweight, feather-haired being
resting with all trustingness in my scarred arms.

Holding onto life can seem as certain as the sun,
even as the chill world presents hard evidence
to the contrary. Up above, the ornate ceiling tiles
provide a silent dialogue of X’s and O’s —

O like a baby’s hungry mouth, X like a mother’s
cradling arms; O like the endless passageway of long life,
X like the iron gate that abruptly slams shut,
the shock like a gunshot, heart like a target.


I like the way this poet is interested in such an intimate moment, a time in a hospital after some tragedy. I think the best decision was the move into the space of the ceiling, where they bring us the image of the tiles we have all seen before, the religious reverberation of O, each refrain recounting a story of loss that hammers home in the last line. --Tyehimba Jess

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