The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Ronald Wallace


When my friend Marty calls up
in the middle of a busy day
as he is wont, sometimes, to do,
and I put him off, if briefly,
with the excuse that I’ve got
my hands full at the moment
(as I do) but I’ll call him back
later, when things are more convenient,
and he says, sure, he’ll await my call,
and I think he’s probably planning
just to shoot the breeze or touch
base, and right now I don’t
have the time of day for him,
though later I look forward to
an uneventful conversation
about volleyball perhaps, or work,
or what movies he has seen of late,
and we are hanging up and I am going on
about my so important business, whatever
it is, and time rolls on as it is wont to do
and later, I almost forget to call him
back, but when I do, he’s un-
characteristically somber, though never-
the-less matter-of-fact when he says
he’s been to the doctor and he has
bladder cancer, an operation
scheduled soon, probably to remove
the bladder, maybe the prostate, he’s
not sure, maybe it’s in the lymph
nodes, maybe the bones, and everything
changes, the business of the day,
the year, the life, the small or
large distractions, the vicissitudes
of dailiness pale, or splay themselves
full frontal on the stage of my expectations
the naked truth dancing there like some
stripper in her awkward first performance.
And what in God’s name are we doing here,
I wonder, two old men tethered to
our phones, holding on for dear life
as if we could keep the music going,
the colorful lights, the raunchy
bump and grind of life’s seductions.
And I don’t want to put down the phone.
And I want to remain on the line.
And I want to stay after everything’s
said and done, and everyone’s gone
from the shabby and gaudy theater.




RONALD WALLACE's twenty books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and criticism include, most recently,  For Dear Life: Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) and You Can't Be Serious: Poems (Parallel Press, 2015).  Felix Pollak Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is married with two daughters and four grandchildren, and divides his time between Madison and a forty-acre farm in Bear Valley, Wisconsin.



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