Playing Word Games at Saint Boniface

By Amelia L. Williams

“How did we get from hobo and tramp to homeless? Those old-fashioned words had a positive spin, like in that song, King of the Road.” She hums. Why is his daughter talking about the homeless? Was there something on the radio? I’m coming apart here in the surgical waiting room—at the seams people say, but this is worse — at the rivets, maybe.

Nothing but ice chips for three days while they probed, ran tests; moaning began at 5, they wheeled him in at 6. Is he your?? the nurse asked. Husband I said. Not strictly true, but I’ve shown the right papers.

“They try to clamp down on vagrants at malls & the ritzy parts of town. At the Hospital Drive intersection they’re always out with signs: ‘will work for food.’ I never know what to do. Do you give them money?” I don’t usually let her nervous chatter bug me. My irritation shows I’m frayed. He and I watched a movie together about the happy people on the taiga. There were so many mosquitos. Is the film also playing in his head? The people didn’t look happy. The filmmaker wanted us to believe; like a Slinky looping fast-slow-slow-fast down the stairs, adaptation is not the same as happiness.

He said we’d go canoeing in the Adirondacks, brave the mosquitos together. If he pulls through, I’ll start planning. His daughter suggests a word game. We play ghost for a long time and then jaddo—guessing words to see which letters fall in the right position. My word is prawn, hers is igloo. In May, as dawn pearls the sky, I paddle. His binoculars point to something I can’t see.

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Amelia L. Williams, PhD, is a medical writer and poet whose book Walking Wildwood Trail: Poems and Photographs, features a #NoPipelines  eco-art-poetry trail. Her poems are forthcoming in Nimrod International Journal and The Hollins Critic, and appear in 3Elements, AJN, Journal of Wild Culture, Origins, and elsewhere.

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