"My uncle clutched his heart"
He was late picking me up,
My uncle lived with us for years,
Leaving in the morning to sear food in woks
On his feet
Returning after the late-night hosts had begun their monologues
Bearing pints of my ambrosia:
Hot and sour soup.
But in all those years, we never talked.
I replied yes to offers of crab rangoons.
When asked for my heart’s desire,
I requested kung pao chicken, shyly.
And more soup, of course.
I praised the Szechuan pickles.
The finest I’ve ever had.
But in all those years he lived
In the bedroom between my brother’s and mine,
We never talked.
When he finally pulled up,
He looked sheepish.
He said he‘d had chest pains and pulled over for a while
To wait it out.
It was very painful, he said.
It was not the first time,
But this one was very painful.
My eyes opened wide in horror and
I started lecturing:
See a doctor!
You have to take care of this!
Don’t put it off!
And then I remembered
That long days over hot woks did not entitle one to health insurance.
Did not entitle
THIS American citizen
To health insurance.
Nor time off.
And I shut up.
There was silence as we drove the darkened road.
Quietly, he said,
That if he ever felt like he might die,
He would go to the ER.
And if they couldn’t save him,
Well. That was just how life went.
And I realized
That for some people,
Working hard every day
To survive, every day
Makes it easier to leave this life
than to get basic medical care.