Marianna Boncek’s “On Reading Poetry in the Waiting Room”

During one of my periodic frustrations over my inability to sell my poetry books, I read Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale, a heartening and persuasive guide by a man who had a hell of a lot of fun selling cookware and now the art of selling itself. Zig is the anti-huckster. If you haven’t yet bought the product yourself, he scolds, don’t try to sell it to others, for you don’t believe in it strongly enough, not with your own money. If you’re not telling the truth, get out of the business. And understand: the purpose of selling is not to load up people with flashy crap, but to provide them with what they really need. All well and good. But why does anybody need my poetry? Zig was no idiot to be selling top quality frying pans.

The best answer I’ve come up with is that my poems reintroduce people to their own lives. Time and again, I’ve connected with strangers who approach me after readings to share a memory triggered by one of my poems. It might be their own childhood tale of sticking wires into an electrical socket at elementary school. Or the beaver they saw after their father died. Hearing my poem has recalled a treasured experience otherwise buried under the busy day to day. They’re filled with gratitude for this unexpected gift. At the recent Goat Hills Poets performance at the Woodstock Fringe, Marianna Boncek surprised me in the audience by reading the following poem, a perfect example of this phenomenon and the highest compliment.

On Reading Poetry in the Waiting Room

I read Will Nixon’s poem Passions of the Desert
while my doctors banter about the “c” word and
“surgery“. Nixon takes me to Arizona where suddenly
I am standing on the desert floor with you.
Then, I was a sun blonde, out of decade, flower
child with hair I’d put up in red rubber bands
and chops sticks from take-out orders.
You had shaggy hair and baggy pants before
they were the style. Metal rimmed glasses
slid to the end of your nose. I used to tell
you that you looked like John Denver and
begged you to sing me Annie’s Song
as I made a line of kisses down your breast bone.
We slept on rest area picnic tables. In the morning
when the Native American family wound down
out of the red rock in their ‘50s pick up truck to clean the
rest rooms we’d bum cigarettes off them.
Our blue Vega, with no air conditioner, rattled
us across the desert, my hair matting in the wind.
Some nights, we’d zip our sleeping bags together,
lie on the desert floor, you’d rename all the
constellations after us and we became gods.
In Phoenix, out late one night walking
in a neighborhood we shouldn’t be in
after drinking too much cheap wine, I find a baby
bird, still alive, fallen from his nest. Baby bird
nestled in my gauze dress pocket, I climb the chain
link fence around the junkyard to return to the
infant to his cradle. Lifting up, straddling the fence
top, I reach skyward. Three rottweilers, like Cerberus,
explode from their inky cave. They chaw the fence
violently just below my left foot. Two gun shots come
between us in the dark. You fall flat against the dusty
desert sidewalk while I yell toward the gunshots,
“Hey, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
Losing balance, I grab for the fence top, accidentally
dropping the chick. On the ground, the drooling monster
swallows him in one gulp.
In the waiting room, I tuck Mr. Nixon’s poems and Arizona
safe into my backpack. I get up from my chair. My brown
faced doctor is still arguing with the boy-faced surgeon. I
wander out of the office into the sun light of the street.
There is no part of Arizona I will let them cut out.
This time, the chick stays safe in his nest.

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