Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Poem for the Workday: The Last Hours (perhaps best read on Friday afternoon)

There's some innocence left,
and these are the last hours of an empty afternoon
at the office, and there's the clock
on the wall, and my friend Frank
in the adjacent cubicle selling himelf on the phone

I'm twenty-five, on the shaky
ladder up, my father's son, corporate,
clean-shaven, and I know only what I don't want,
which is almost everything I have.

A meeting ends.
Men in serious suits, intelligent men
who've been thinking hard about marketing snacks
move back to their window offices, worried
or proud. The big boss, Horace,
had called them in to approve this, reject that---
the big boss, a first-name, how's your family
kind of assassin, who likes me.

It's 1964
The sixties haven't begun yet. Cuba is a larger name
than Vietnam. The Soviets are behind
everything that could be wrong. Where I sit
it's exactly nineteen minutes to five. My phone rings.
Horace would like me to stop in
before I leave. Stop in. Code words,
leisurely words, that mean now.

Would I be willing
to take on this? Would X's office, who by the way
is no longer with us, be satisfactory?
About money, will this be enough?
I smile, I say yes and yes and yes,
but---I don't know from what calm place this comes---I'm translating his beneficience into a lifetime, a life
of selling snacks, talking snack strategy,
thinking snack thoughts.

On the elevator down
it's a small knot, I'd like to say, of joy.
That's how I tell it now, here in the future,
the fear long gone
By the time I reach the subway it's grown
it's outsized, an attitude finally come round,
and I say it quietly to myself, I quit,
and keep saying it, knowing I will say it, sure
of nothing else but.

-Stephen Dunn (from Different Hours for which he won the Pulitzer Prize)