Sunday, July 29, 2007

Corporate Meeting

Not an oblong, as one would envision,
nor deep grooves in the oak
where long ago sons of fierce families
carved names in heraldic
script or whittled the day down
to dusk, but rectilinear
and smooth like everyday streets
that repeat and repeat and are numbered
neatly so even the dumb can finger
their ways down tar and arrive
groomed and smiling on the burst of nine.
There is no tradition here,
and none asked, for bobbing at
twin ends of the economy
executives and the "team," as they like
to address us, see
eye to eye only on
the waxed surface of the wood,
and down below, among the struts
and wedges, among the miter
joints and the mortises, the truth shuffles
like Jim Crow in the back
of a bus. That we eat rare beef
together and chitchat
in the holes between figures, that
we accept commonality
to a variable level, seems almost
to attest to a kind of humanness,
as if the mothers in us were bent
deep together in an autumn
harvest, or the cock crowing in the mist
predicted a sort of hope.

Yet there is nothing sacred here—
not a hammer or word, not a clerk
ascending a tree—but a structure and order
that are neither theories nor laws
nor syllogism of a playful inventor
but compel obedience by
their lack of insistence. It is something we know—
that behavior replaces ritual—
that the bowels remain silent—that
the weather in the seats
of our pants is tempered by protocol.
Outside are the leaves
beckoning and a pink terrace
is lit up like coral
in the autumn sun. Here there is nothing
living but accommodation—
no mystery, no intent, no
derivations—but the bald,
unfathomable hours that seem
to glide from coffee to coffee.

(This poem appeared in Prairie Schooner
and was reprinted in the anthology
For a Living—The Poetry of Work,
University of Illinois Press.)