Curtains


Grandpa took me along to the hospital
To help him hang new curtains in room after room
Where sick people in bed were going to be
Much better before long. He had to measure

How high and wide the windows were with a tape.
I got to climb a ladder and hold one end
And tell him the right numbers and sometimes
I was the one who wrote them down on a pad.

Some of the people wanted to know my name
And would ask how old I was and say Oh my!
Or Imagine that! or Aren't you proud of him?
To Grandpa, who said nothing but numbers

Because we still had so many rooms to go.
He was tall and gray and bent. His eyes, between eyelids
And eyelashes through his horn-rimmed spectacles
From under his dark eyebrows, measured me.

He was in dry goods. His Ideal Company
Was three floors high with little cars on wires
That ran through floors and ceilings from registers
Toward Grandpa behind glass. I tried to smile

At all the sick people, even the ones who said
They didn't want new curtains or anything else
But peace and quiet. And one man didn't want Grandpa
Covering his windows. He wanted to go on

Seeing God's Outdoors. And he didn't want me
Touching his magazines and looking at him.
Grandpa said he was going to put up curtains
Like it or not because it was his job

And the man should keep a civil tongue in his head
And us it to mind his manners with God indoors
And I should act my age and wait outside
In the corridor where somebody passed by

Under a sheet, who wasn't going to get better.
He was lying on a narrow table with wheels
Behind a blue-and-white nurse who smiled my way
And asked if I wanted to come along for a ride.


David Wagoner, Good Morning and Good Night, University of Illinois Press, 2005.