SUSAN ELMSLIE: A POEM
In Praise of Hospital Cafeterias
Water, is taught by thirst. — Emily Dickinson
Not exactly an oasis in the desert,
but as you bide time before the biopsy
or loosen your watch to let the news
sink in, good to avail yourself
of the $2.22 coffee & muffin combo
or Fairlee pulp-free OJ and bagel,
benign beige plastic chair,
dusty plant languishing on a ledge:
a single bloom, reaching
toward the window’s frosted glass.
On another day this plant
would be giving God the finger.
The food service worker’s skirt
argues with her butt. Luck
sounds like a word a baby might say,
trying out her tongue. So what
if you have forgotten the common names
of trees, the taste of a carrot with the dirt
just rubbed off, which bird
says, youcheeseburger, cheeseburger,
There is ordinary comfort in wrapped straws.
A lady is scraping a muffin paper
with her teeth, so
beautiful. For now
there is no bloom of blood in the syringe—
magenta, a magician’s scarf.
Here you are:
a hiatus before climbing an endless flight
of unpainted stairs or sitting at home, suffering
the Muzak of the incontinent faucet.
"In Praise of Hospital Cafeterias" first appeared in Prism 52:4. Reproduced here by permission of the author.