Thursday, February 10, 2011

Break the Glass

I read old magazines and wait
thirty minutes for my name to be called
by a receptionist who tells me I’ll have to wait
another ten minutes for the doctor who finally appears
from behind the locked door.

The doctor scribbles on colored paper,
while I answer questions she asks:

What medications have you used in the past?
How long did the crisis last?
Have you ever attempted suicide?

Whether or not I tried to die
depends upon your definition.

Does refusing to bend
and taking it on the chin
amount to a death wish?

Does staying alive
when I should have died
count as a health risk?

The doctor prescribes Wellbutrin and Seroquel.

How many crazy people can fit
in the waiting room, waiting
for our names to be called?

Sitting there, I counted twenty six, plus
twelve junkies trying to quit
killing themselves.

Only one guy was actually trippin’.
Talking to everyone in the crowded room
and no one in particular, he said, Raise your hand
if you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord
and Saviour.

No one raised a hand,
but one woman yelled,
Brother, hush.We’re praying.

And we were praying,
heads bowed to the ceiling,
eyes shut to the walls.

I scribble my last name first
and my first name last,
mark my initials in the corners,
check the boxes that apply, pretend
I comprehend the questions
they’re asking.

What is your name?
Where are you from?
Why are you here?

I half-fear they’re trying to trick me
with simple questions,
so I fill in the blanks
with short, concise answers.

Sufficiently measured,
correctly ordered,
the words on these papers
might grant me
government-assisted healthcare.

Otherwise, I’m in Babylon,
and language is useless.

Do you have medical insurance?
The guy at the pharmacy window asks.

No, I answer.

He passes a piece of paper through the cut-glass slot,
holds up a printed sign that reads:

If you do NOT have insurance, you NEED
a signature from your case manager.

He repeats the sentence,
slowly, loudly, emphasizing
the important words.

I’m uncertain:
Does he think I’m dumb and deaf
or just foreign?

Okay, I say, slowly, loudly,
pointing to the paper.

I’ll get a SIGNATURE

No one appreciates sarcasm
on these occasions. If you’re the only one
who gets the joke, it’s not funny
how the receptionist ignores the woman,
standing in front of the closed, glass window.

All of us lined up behind her,
the woman stares at the ceiling,
glances at the wall, focuses
on no particular object, and says nothing
to the receptionist, talking on the phone
to her mother or her sister or maybe her best friend,
about nothing
in particular.

You can’t blame me for thinking:
The woman in front of me
 is delayed in a mental way.

You can’t blame me
for judging the receptionist for pretending
the woman isn’t there.

You can’t judge me,
hating the closed, glass windows,
the white walls, the locked door.

You can’t hate me,
hating myself
for being here.

No one can save me
from my stubborn refusal
to be a victim
or a patient
or a client
or a case number.

My failure to eat,
my inability to sleep for days on end,
the way I wear this dark shroud,
even on sunny days, I know
this is mad grief.

But I defy you to name a sane response
to the disconnect and neglect,
to the closed, glass rooms
where we’ve been placed
and abandoned.

Me? I smash the glass,
pull the small red lever, yell:

It’s an emergency!
It’s an emergency!

When they come running,
it’s just me,
reciting poetry.

Are you crazy? They ask.

No, I say. 
Not at all.

© Ami Mattison

Flickr photo courtesy of Nesster


  1. ha this is fabulous...great performance....had a good chuckle along with the otherwise thoughts...

  2. Thanks, Brian! That reference to language slips by some audiences. I'm glad I could make you chuckle this morning. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. This is strong, brilliant, and powerful. I too am vulnerable to criticism and malignment of my motives, ami. xxJenne'

  4. Thanks, Jenne'! I appreciate your kind words!

  5. sMichelle! So you dropped by. Thanks!