Everyone called him Poet. She assumed that’s what he was, or what he used to be, back before he came here. She never even bothered to question that assumption because he spoke only in poems, which at first she took to be a brilliant affectation for someone who was supposedly senile. It was only after days of working there and paying attention to what he said, that she realized he wasn’t trying to be endearing, he was simply stuck in a loop of poems.
She wasn’t assigned to any particular patients, she went where she was needed, so her exposer to Poet was minimal at first. An occasional moment where he dropped something and she was walking by and could pick it up for him, or when bringing out the food trays and he’d yet to be served. That was the first time she realized his poems were situational and not completely random. She’d slid the tray in front of him with a smile and was turning to the person on his left, Mildred, a woman who insisted on wearing lipstick every day despite her exclusive wardrobe of gunked up slippers and a terry cloth pullover that left her looking for all the world like a bathmat.
“Women whose lives are food, breaking eggs with care.”
She was brought short by the words for a moment, repeating them softly to herself and later typing them into her phone and discovering they were the words of Joyce Carol Oates. She made a point later that day to swing near Poet and say, “Men whose lives are money, time-and-a-half Saturdays,” hoping to get a response, a smile even. But there was nothing. Not even a flicker in Poet’s eyes.
The next time she heard Poet speak was when she nearly slipped and fell coming rapidly down the hallway, the hallway that had just been polished before lunch and about which she had been warned, the warning quickly forgotten.
“How many times these low feet staggered, only the soldered mouth can tell.”
Dickinson, she discovered later with the help of her phone.
“Fearless – the cobwebs swing from the ceiling, Indolent Housewife – in Daisies – lain!” she whispered in his ear later that day while tidying his room.
Again there was no response.
There existed then several weeks where she had no interaction with Poet, the comings and goings of the place far exceeding the time a single volunteer could devote. The turnover from the latest flu was horrific, and it wasn’t until she was called in to the supervisors office that she even had a moment to think of Poet. Perhaps she could ask the supervisor about him.
“I want to thank you, personally, for all your hours here, miss Lin. We don’t often get volunteers and when we do they don’t often stick around past their nursing hours or community service requirements. I sincerely appreciate all you’ve done here. You’re a real asset, and if you ever decide you want to work here fulltime as an employee, I’d be happy to hire you.”
Frankly, this was not what she’d expected at all, she was stunned and her eyes were a bit misty as she replied, “thank you, sir. I enjoy it.”
“Yes, well, thank you again,” he said before turning to the papers on his desk and raking a hand through his hair. He was clearly overwhelmed by what lay before him and had assumed their meeting was over, his goal accomplished. She considered going back to the few tasks she wanted to complete before leaving for the day, but hazarded a question.
“Sir? If you could, I’d like a bit more info on the man they call Poet?”
He looked up at her a puzzled furrow of his brows, “Poet?”
“Yes, sir, I don’t know his real name, it’s not on his door and no one seems to know it. He speaks in poetry? The staff call him Poet?”
It took a moment, and then she saw the realization in his eyes, “ah, yes, Marcus. He’s an interesting man. Used to teach, I believe, I’d have to look it up. I’m afraid he’s been gone for quite awhile now, came to us with no responses to his name or questions, music or other stimuli. He’s one that simply exists here.”
“Yes, sir, only it seems he may be a bit more there? His poems seem to be about whatever’s going on around him at the time.”
His eyes widened at this, “are you sure? We put him through several tests when he arrived. As you know we like to be sure to keep our clients as sharp as possible for as long as we can. He failed, well, he failed everything. There was no response to anything, not even electrical waves. Has he spoken to you or given any indication he understands what you say?”
“No, sir, not exactly. It’s that his poetry is…situational, for lack of a better word,” and she proceeded to explain noting all the while that his expression slowly went from excited to bored. “I just think, sir, that he knows more than we give him credit for,” she ended weakly.
“Yes, well, I’d like then for you to be assigned to him. I realize there are a lot of things you’re currently tasked with, but those things can go to someone…Jordan. Give them to Jordan, and let her know your time here is to be spent exclusively in aiding…Poet?”
“Yes, sir, Poet.”
“Right. Off you go. And please check in with me at the end of one week with any updates.”