My Poetic Life Insurance Exam

“Do you think you have enough life insurance?” my wife asked with concern after watching another half hour’s worth of depressing news about the coronavirus.


“All those Star Wars tchotchkes!”

“Why do you ask?” I asked, and not unreasonably I thought.

“Well–you’re 71.  You’re at high risk.”

“I’m in good health.”

“Yes–but if you traipse mud on the new white carpet again, I might be tempted to kill you.”

We shared a laugh, but I wasn’t going to let her off easy.

“Life insurance isn’t for me, it’s for you.  If I die I won’t care how much insurance I had, and I’m leaving everything I have to you.”

“Everything?”

“Yep.  The Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson CDs, the boxing books, the Star Wars collectible plastic drink cups, the Betty Boop DVDs.”

“Thanks, but I’m going to need some liquid assets when you die.”

“Why?”

“To pay somebody to haul all that stuff away.”

I looked in her eyes and saw tiny little tears forming at the corners.  We’ve always had some common interests–ballet, wine, our children–but each of us also had other enthusiasms that lay outside the intersection of the Venn Diagram of our marriage.  I respected her space, and she had no interest in mine.

“Okay–I get it.  I’ll call the insurance agent today and get a quote.”

It was the work of just a few minutes to learn that, even at my advanced age, I might qualify for plenty of additional term insurance, at very affordable rates.  All I had to do was pass a physical–and they’d do it in my home!

I set up an appointment and the next day a pert nurse arrived with her black bag of medical equipment to check me out–I mean my vital signs.  Without even studying the night before, I passed all her tests–cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, the works.

“You’re in great shape,” she said as she took off her stethoscope.  “I just have to ask you a few questions about hazardous pastimes you may indulge in.”

“Like what?”

“Let me read the list.”

“Okay.”

“Skydiving?”

“Nope.”

“Scuba diving?”

“I used to love Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges when I was a kid, but I’ve never done it myself.”

“Okay.  Flying or parasailing?”

“Nope.”

“Poetry?”

I gulped involuntarily.  I had no idea that my ham-handed attempts at versification might stand in the way of my wife’s desire to maintain her standard of living after I croaked.

“What does poetry have to do with life insurance?”

“We don’t have to write a policy to cover someone who engages in risky activities.”

“What’s risky about poetry–besides paper cuts?”

“Here are the stats,” she said, pulling a pamphlet out of her bag, the kind you see in racks in doctors’ offices about the causes and cures of psoriasis and Osgood Schlatter’s Disease.

You could have knocked me over with a feather duster, if not a feather, but the facts were as plain as a pig on a sofa, to mix my metaphors.  The text referred to a classic study by James C. Kaufman and John Baer that found poets to have the highest risk of suicide of any type of artist.

“So your answer is?” she continued with an eyebrow arched upwards now that I’d tipped my hand, so to speak.

“Uh, yes, I write poetry.  At least think I do, even if the editors of both general circulation and literary magazines often–almost always–disagree.”

She check a box on her form in a perfunctory manner.  “What kind of poetry–dramatic, narrative, or lyrical?”

“A little of all three,” I said nervously.

“Okay–hit me,” she said as she pushed up one sleeve, as if she was really getting down to work.

“Well, uh, in the dramatic mode, I wrote a full-length verse play about St. Thomas a Becket that will probably never see the light of day.”

“Okay.  Narrative?”

I hesitated, a little embarrassed to continue.  “I’ve, uh, done a series of blank verse poems about . . .”

“Yes?”

“St. Louis Cardinals players of the 1960s.”

I thought I saw just a flicker of a snicker form on her lips.  “English major?” I asked, taking the offensive.

“Minor.  Now comes the hard part.  Any lyrical poetry in your little moleskin leather notebooks?”

I swallowed, hard, and turned my head to avoid her gimlet gaze.  Nothing I hate worse than having the full force of a woman’s gimlet–whatever that is–trained on me.

“Well?–I’m waiting.”

“YES!” I said, and I put some starch into my reply.  “I’ve written the typical moonstruck love poems any boy of 16 would produce.  Only I waited until I was middle-aged to do it–so I could get them right.  Is that so wrong?”

I could tell my words had had an effect on her.  She looked me up and down with a clinical attitude, as if to say she was only doing her part in the world-wide effort to stop the spread of bad poetry being produced right now, by otherwise well-meaning people who think that anybody else gives a shit.

“No, no, there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said as she returned her gaze to the form and made two little “x’s” at the bottom.  “But it’s going to cost you an extra $3.95 per month for every $100,000 worth of coverage.”

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