I am dressed in my big shoes and wrinkled socks
And one of the light blue, much-laundered smocks
The men and women of this country wear.
All of us miss our own underwear
And the old days. These new, plain, mean
Days of pain and care, this routine
Misery has made us into cases, the one case
The one doctor cures forever…. The face
The patients have in common hopes without hope
For something from outside the machine—its wife,
Its husband—to burst in and hand it life;
But when the door opens, it’s another smock.
It looks at us, we look at it. Our little flock
Of blue-smocked sufferers, in naked equality,
Longs for each nurse and doctor who goes by
Well and dressed, to make friends with, single out, the I
That used to be, but we are indistinguishable.
It is better to lie flat upon a table,
A dye in my spine. The roentgenologist
Introduces me to a kind man, a specialist
In spines like mines the lights go out, he rotates me.
My myelogram is negative. This elates me,
The good-humored specialist congratulates me,
And I take off my smock in joy, put on
My own pajamas, my own dressing-gown,
And ride back to my own room, 601.


Prokofiev’s sick prince can’t laugh.
The big baby sits there and cries
Oh-h! Oh-h! The crying satisfies
The big babies in the audience, who laugh.

But a few of them look perplexed.
The Oh-h! Oh-h! reminds them of—
Of the fool in Boris Godunov
Crying Gore, gore, Rusi—weep, weep, Russians—

To the same tune. They have laughed at one,
Cried at the other; but the one’s the other.
The prince and the fool cry Mother! Mother!
And the big babies in the audience all cry.

This Issue

September 26, 1963