The white-coated doctors and blue-smocked nurses

Gather at four-thirty for afternoon tea

Beyond the ceilings of peeling pipes

And wall grates rusted like tomato sauce.


The kettles are bestowed on white metal trays;

The colleagues sit on tangerine cushions,

Twiddle stethoscopes, check for marks on squarish shoes,

Amidst frowns and thoughts of far-off beaches.


Early spring unkindly drags on –

The skies outside are dampness-laden,

The river ebbs a tired gray,

And cars speed on the parallel drive.


The granite-bricked school on an opposite street

Is feeling the throes of daily dismissal;

The junior high students flee their Petri dish

And scurry like ants, in pairs or alone.


Nurses gaze outside a window, stir their cups,

Pluck at a tray of raisin scones; their ears

Are out of distance from Lunatics’ Row,

Left to the aides of ox-like strength.


A few cracked minds are left in solitude,

At all hours overturning their cot –

Straight-jacketed to frantic oblivion

While others manage on six tablets per day.


And all those procedures for keeping in line

The scared faces, the angry, the blank –

The haggard fellow who is afraid of breathing

The middle-aged widow who loves to swallow nails

The handsome devil who stands in one corner

Reasoning with people who aren’t there.


Afternoons set on the human zoo

Like thin omens, neither kind nor funny;

The shock-tub ripples its straggling current,

A punching bag vaguely sways on its chain.


In the grates’ shadows, far from the clacking china,

Faces twist into miserable smiles, awaiting

The next wave of minds lost – from the streets,

The offices, the factories, the schools.


The ward’s doors are shut and a guard

Sits in his booth, minding the entrance.

Medicine acts with cool indifference, as if

There won’t be an incoming class.


All cups have been emptied, the afternoon shift

Again winds down. Somewhere else, physicians claw

For doorknobs in the human hallway. Wind is heard

On an iron latch, pigeons soar above the water towers.

Photo Source: CSSplay