The nurse is a princehe laughs at my jokes,
and I like anyone who laughs at my jokes
plus I’ve been here a lot and know the drill
and don’t bitch to him about waiting forever
for the doctor to appear like The Blessed Savior
of pitiful petrified plaintive patients
desperate to hear what can be done for them
so they can have their old lives back
and never have to come here again.
The doctor is God but the nurses are trained
to be relaxed, practical, and humane,
and my nurse is a natural, a big rumpled guy
in scrubs, a teddy bear, a sidekick, a schlub,
and, when he laughs, his laughter takes him over,
he “breaks up,” and for these transcendent seconds
nothing exists but the joy of the joke
not pain, not fear, not grief, and especially not this place.
“You still teaching?” he asksthat’s his joke,
he knows I’m sixty-eight“My daughter’s twelve,” I say.
“My retirement plan is to go out of the classroom in a box.”
And so we’re both transported to delight
him with the joke, me with his pleasure in it.
Then I’m alone in the examining room,
unable as usual to distract me from myself,
my nurse with other duties than yukking it up.
But this is a private clinic in Newport Beach,
for Christ’s sake, not an ER in the Bronx.
The room is relentlessly pleasant,
soothing earth tones and gentle pastels,
the patient’s armchair could be in a boutique hotel,
no scary medical instruments imported from hell,
no scary medical instruments visible at all.
A blond rack of upscale travel magazines
features five-star resorts and private islands
where couples play beachball under waterfalls
and lounge by the serenity pool with cocktails
before dining on world-class nine-course meals
that make them ever more svelte and beautiful.
The sleek wall-mounted flatscreen monitor
that will display my MRI from a central computer
now shows a soundless screensaver
of floating transparent multi-colored bubbles
that touch and bounce, touch and bounce
against one another and against the frame,
never gathering momentum, never forming a pattern
I can discern on the unmoving and immovable
blank blue screen.
Michael Ryan is the director of the MFA program in poetry at UC Irvine. His most recent book is This Morning.