Rita Dove

Variation on Guilt

Count it anyway he wants —
by the waiting room clock,
by a lengthening hangnail,
by his buttons, the cigars crackling
in cellophane —

no explosion. No latch clangs
home. Perfect bystander, high
and dry with a scream caught
in his throat, he looks down

the row of faces coddled
in anxious pride. Wretched
little difference, he thinks,
between enduring pain and 
waiting for pain
to work on others.

The doors fly apart — no,
he wouldn’t run away!
It’s a girl, he can tell
by that smirk, that strut of a mountebank!

But he doesn’t feel a thing.
Weak with rage
Thomas deals the cigars,
spits out the bitter tip in tears.