Thursday, June 7, 2007

At the Office

You cannot find yourself in this calm.
Nothing vibrates, and the blue-
tinted plate glass you occasionally
stare through when the quartz
seconds relax is really the flat
side of the building. You speak
casually about casual things,
and if yesterday's sediment
is still stuck in your teeth, you excuse
yourself mildly and spit. By ten
the flavor is gone. The raw umber
morning from which you ascended,
irritable as air, your two feet
two slippery eels
you've pinched into submission,
your breath reeking of insolence,
neither blusters nor whispers but hangs
inaudibly like a English
oil. The clouds lighten and darken
and you are suspended between
the two points of departure and arrival,
and you can insist on neither.
You say phrases that are not yours,
you hear phrases that are not
theirs—not quite a victim but
a shareholder in a kind
of confinement that, like a scab, hurts
when it is rubbed. You squirm
in and out of sensations, but each
week there are things that you must
say. You know yourself by the echoes,
but here, where the flat meadows
are well cropped and boxed in
by hedgerows, valleys
are in bad taste. The lead ends
of your legs are planted deeply
in the assigned turf under your shoes
and you live vigorously
and with great effort in that small space.
Neither neutral nor
committed, you bide time, either
by work or at noon when consuming
becomes your sole means of expression.
You are an insult to
yourself because you request that
which you are unable to bare.
But you are forgiving, for what use
is a great emotion? There
are times when the seedlings in you can smell
the sun and you are sprouting
in four directions. And at moments in
the afternoon, the dark
winter clouds incongruously
stir you and your walkup
thoughts are like freckles that have never
quite disappeared. You chuckle—
almost involuntarily—and the minutes
are not tender or hard but
slide conclusively to an end.
You have misplaced your
coordinates, but there is no
reason for you to anguish—
the walls are padded and you are held
together by your clothes.

(This poem appeared in North Dakota Quarterly
and was reprinted in the anthology
For a Living—The poetry of Work,
University of Illinois Press)