The Welcome Chamber

In the welcome chamber
somebody is always waiting to help you
with your hat or your coat. Somebody is always
handing you a cold drink, if it’s warm outside,
or a warm drink, if it’s cold.

Somebody offers to shine your shoes.
Somebody else offers to babysit the kids
for free, if you want to go out sometime, at night.

There are beds in the welcome chamber,
but you never see anybody sleeping in them.
If you spill something on the furniture,
nobody minds. “We’ll get it later,” they say.

Each time you go to the welcome chamber,
you feel a little guilty. Like maybe this
is something you shouldn’t be doing, or should
be doing for yourself.

You offer to help the women
with their cooking, their sewing,
their legal briefs and Gaussian equations.
“We’re fine,” they insist.
Instead, you make small talk
about commodity prices and the weather.
Everybody agrees with you.

“Sit anywhere you like,” everyone says.
You’re so terribly afraid
somebody is about to disappoint
somebody else,
and that everybody will be nice about it.

You try saying “Hi.” Everybody
in the welcome chamber says “Hi,” back.
It shouldn’t be so easy, you tell yourself.
There should be money involved.
There should be sirens, the almost surgical glare
of TV cameras. Somebody should be crying.

There should be dark shapes in the snow.

– G. C. Waldrep

First published in Antioch Review. Reproduced here with permission from the poet.

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