Strangers In Peoria - Poem by Donal Mahoney
I met a proper woman in a proper pub
on a Monday in Peoria. I was taken by how much
she looked like Jackie after Dallas
but without the pillbox hat.
She was from New York and I was from Chicago
and we were in Peoria for interviews
for jobs we thought we'd get.
But living in Peoria, we thought,
might not be a fit.
The lady was a surgeon recruited by a hospital.
It took a little prompting but finally she said:
'I repair pelvic floors in women.'
She paused to see if I'd react
and when I didn't, she continued.
'If a bladder drops, or a rectum tumbles
or if a womb is full of fibroids,
I'm the surgeon that lady needs to see.
These are ailments most men never
hear about unless they've had a wife
who's had them.'
She sipped her Coke,
dabbed the corner of her mouth,
and then assured me:
'When I get done, the lady's free
of all protrusions. She can urinate,
defecate and have sex again, all
Now I've met my share of women,
but I had never met a woman,
drunk or sober, quite like her.
I had no idea what to say and so
I sat and listened.
'Actually, my patients have a choice.
They can let me do the surgery or buy
a pessary, a device few women know about
until I pull one from the cabinet
and explain its ins and outs.
The pessary makes surgery seem simple
and so we pick a day for me to tuck
the organs back where they belong.
'Now, if the womb is full of fibroids,
I'll suggest that we remove the uterus as well.
I tell her we'll take out her crib
and leave her playpen intact.
Often that's the best solution.'
She sipped her Coke again and said,
'Somewhere in Peoria, as we speak,
a bladder's dropping, a rectum's quivering
and a fibroid's growing. Believe me,
if the salary is right, I'll take this job
because a fibroid in Peoria's no different
than a fibroid in New York.'
Then she put me on the spot:
'Well, that's my story. What's yours?
What do you do for a living? '
I took a breath and said:
'I repair sentences in documents
written by intelligent people
expert in arcane fields.
Some of them can't spell
or punctuate or if they can,
they dangle participles,
split infinitives or run
their sentences together
like mountain rams
in rutting season.'
For emphasis I added,
'I put muscle in their verbs,
amputate their adjectives,
assassinate their adverbs.
I give my clients final copy
they can claim is theirs.
The reader never knows
a ferret like me has dashed
between the lines,
nibbling at this
and chomping on that.'
Then I added a remark I hoped
would prompt a get-together later
for dinner and drinks,
another chat and a little laughter,
who knows what else,
before we'd have to take
different planes back home:
'I believe our work is similar, ' I said.
'I too put things back where they belong
and cut away anything protruding.'
About an hour later, we paid our tabs,
said long good-byes and headed off
in different directions. By day's end,
we'd both be flying home;
and although we'd still be strangers,
we'd be strangers who had had
an interesting conversation.
Not interesting enough, however,
for either of us to ask
the other for a name or number.
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