HOW ARE WE DOING?
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)