“How Are We Doing?” by Nancy Miller Gomez

Nancy Miller Gomez


The man working window eleven 
at the DMV wears his name around his neck 
like a medal won in a war
he never signed up for. Even from here, 

three people back, I can see 
Frank is having a bad day. 
He keeps tapping the same key, hoping
the computer will do something different. 

Poor Frank tapping harder and harder, 
pausing sometimes to stare owl-eyed 
at a young woman waving her paperwork 
as if she’s trying to reignite 

a dying fire. Her pretty face has grown ugly
in her anger. She smacks the counter, demanding 
to know the problem. Roused from a desk,
a grenade-shaped woman drifts over 

to hover above Frank and watch him struggle. 
She gives directions in a tight, managerial voice 
(so unmusical you’d call it noise) while Frank 
continues to tap and tap until finally, 

she commandeers his keyboard, fixes the issue 
and walks off, leaving the stamping 
and stapling to Frank, who hustles 
with a deference that hurts to watch. Meanwhile, 

the man waiting in front of me has fallen 
victim to time and huffed out of the building. 
But Frank, I want to lean over the counter 
into your small, personal space and straighten 

your reading glasses that have gone askew. 
Their broken frames hang cockeyed 
off the thin bridge of your nose like pipe cleaners 
in a preschool project. I want to batten down 

that piece of your hair sticking up. Except 
I’m still in a line that isn’t moving, 
and I fear the office will close
before I’ve had a chance to tell you

how sorry I am that life has brought you here 
to this place where all these people 
unwind like a frayed rope
into the unhappy well of your work days.

But finally, it’s my turn, Frank, 
to look you in the eyes and ask you
to process my papers. How hard is it, really, 
to notice the way you bunch 

one corner of your mouth 
into a half-smile, or blink 
at the mention of your name, 
a name I have carried in my heart 

for all of these twenty minutes.
So when you hand me back 
my temporary license, along with a form 
that asks, How are we doing? 

I want to believe there is someone 
watching over us to whom I can respond, 
Please, we’re not doing well here. 
We have so little

time for kindness. We are lonely 
and hurting. The doors to the building
have been locked. The office is empty.
And night has just begun.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021


Nancy Miller Gomez: “What happens when a poet walks into the DMV? There is no punch line. ‘How Are We Doing?’ reflects my ongoing effort to pay attention to the world and my longing to try and make it a more compassionate place.” (web)

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