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Fox Point Health Clinic, 1974

ISSUE:  Winter 1989
In the waiting room this black woman maybe fifty sits
right beside me. Whisky breath; pocked face.
She looks over my shoulder at my notebook
where I’ve been writing about Bjorn Borg in a poem
whose point is that I should never cease
striving in life.
“That’s beautiful.”
A minute later: “I don’t see too good.”
A minute later: “I think I’m dying.”
So I have to really look at her.
The Portuguese women waiting for the doctor don’t seem
 to notice,
they murmur placidly.
My woman’s eyes are round and dark.
I say “I certainly hope not.”
She says “I’m all gone inside. Nothing but bones and ribs.
I’ve got three children.
My older son lives in Gardenia, California.
My other son I don’t know.
My daughter she’ll be eighteen she goes to Saint
Her eyes ask me to figure what this all adds up to—
as if it’s a technical puzzle and I’m the expert.
I just nod, and look down.
She leans on me. “Every night I pray to God.”
She clutches my hand and keeps it: “I’m gonna
tell you something. Love is beautiful.”
I nod. “Black is beautiful too” she says.
I nod. She says, “I’m not black, I’m only teasing brown.”
I make my eyes look into her eyes—best I can do;
if it’s teasing it’s a dark shade of teasing.

“I won’t bug you anymore.” She rises slowly
and soberly walks out. The Portuguese women shake their
as if they’ve seen my black woman do all this before.
I have a sore throat, I wish they would vanish, simply
vanish. But they don’t; and gradually I work back toward
Bjorn Borg whose clarity and dedication have seemed so
fine, so pure, so white.


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