papertrail.jpgPhoto by Lanulop
When I go I will not remember how it was. The way a woman might not recall the pain of child birth. It has to fall away.
Countdown: Equals 206 days. Actual working. Days to go. Tomorrow 205 .
When I go I will not look back. No pillars of salt.
This is about time.
Even now counting down.
Ticking off each day.
And this work, which is only for the fittest, which in me is only partial. Parts of me unbelieved. Unbelieving. The price of being partial: where to belong, where fit. Final year like this. Making like Im fit. Fitting in. Fitful. Fistsful. In the bank. Houses on the ground. Safe as. As though.
I strap on my watch before I leave the house each morning.
The way a cowboy straps on a pistol. A diver oxygen. Tools of. Time is what I trade.
I sign myself in. Unready to trade in. That timemoney equation. They pay me too well.
Time slinking off one by one. Day after tomorrow, 204.
I sign myself in. Complicit. Set my own alarm clock. Load my own gun. Pack my own briefcase. Its called free will.
At sixty-two he had his first heart attack. I wasnt there.
My sister saw his face go grey. Sat with him in the Chrysler on the way to the hospital in Lachine. Twenty minutes. My mother driving.
He lost weight. Didn’t shave. Stopped smoking. Stopped working. To hold back death.
For years he sold sanitation supplies. Worked overtime, evenings, weekends. Industrial floor polisher demonstrations, in his light grey suit, jacket unbuttoned. Face serious as he showed off his product to a handful of building maintenance men. Never see one of those highshine commercial building floors without thinking of him. Got home some nights after eight. Ate supper with me and my sister for predatory company. S’more Daddy? He piles his fork with mashed turnip. I lean in, open wide. My mother at the sink. The four of us in the kitchen under the overhead fluorescent panel. Window over the sink letting in a square of black shiny night.
Worked for Avmor. You can still see their hand-dryers on the B.C. ferries. Worked hard. Believed in his products. In making money. Selling. Himself. Every sale an applause. Went in Saturday mornings. Wore a grey fedora. Black slip-on rubbers like second skins over leather shoes in the winter, the kind that got lost in thick-cold puddles on Dorchester Street. You’d come across them at the curb, drowning in the slush.
Drove the 2 & 20 to his work in the middle of the business district. Office in a crumbling Old Montreal building. The way he talked about his places. Made them sound important. And beautiful. Black and soft brown sepia.
Bought a new car every other year. Partial to Dodges, later Chryslers. Just how life was supposed to be.
I drive my fifteen-year-old Japanese import down the ramp to the underground parking. Slide my personal access card into the grim black mouth of the card reader in the concrete wall. I edge very close so I can insert my card all the way in. Its right eye blinks green. The steel garage door clanks up slowly in a medieval sort of way. Ease down the ramp. Into dark of underground. Swing hard right into number 19, snug beside the concrete pillar.
On time. Early. Never late any more. Managers cant be late. Never late and don’t leave early. Take work home. Don’t take breaks. Have lunchtime meetings. Hours and hours and days. Briefcase an albatross.
My father didn’t carry a briefcase.
Walked with his head down. Fast. Hands in his pockets.
waking at night
to dark edge of duvet
beginning (again) to calculate
amount of my
two percent per number
of years worked
by average of best five
years salary beat
of rain at bedroom window
with fifteen percent penalty
for collecting early but
then roll in my CPP
calculation getting harder
rain spilling purposeful
from the eaves outside
tax and benefits
are they deducted?
start again: two percent per year
(one year not worked)
rain a tattoo
is dental not included?
duvet dark horizon
At the age of seven I played House with my sister in the bedroom that we shared. Moving furniture around to shape walls and doors. Names at make-believe doorsides in black crayon: The Browns. The Greys. The Blacks.
Make-believe. Make and believe. Believe. Then make. Futures.
Houses formed by night tables in a room that was a street, a world.
How are you today Mrs. Brown?
Fine thank-you and you Mrs. Grey?
What of Mr. Brown? Mr. Grey? The question should be asked.
No Mr. Brown, no Mr. Grey. Not in this game. This is daytime, they’d be at the office.
We played House, School, Store, Queen of the Fairies. We did not play Office.
No one we knew ever played Office.
Who would play Office?
watch me walk
your office door
see how fasssst
in my black suit earrings silver flashing
I move my mouth my feet
heading out the door
knowing the countenance of speed
moving thinking like lightning
able to change mid-sentence mid-step
deciding speaking signing
contracts reports letters
money like water
propose promote conclude
ideas projects year round
making money counting money building programs
building buildings housing
before the moneys gone again
watch how fast
Late morning. Mid-meeting. Twenty of us, no seventeen, sit at this polished mahogany table. Twenty feet long, curved at both ends though you could hardly call it oval. S. sits across from me. He’s writing too. With a yellow pencil. He sits back looking through wire-rimmed glasses at the woman speaking. Her office is on the top floor. She has something important to say. We are beginning to look at a number of strategic policy changes for the corporation. She scans the faces around the table, assuring herself that we are with her. You’ve received a series of email documents spelling out new executive directions that will maintain our leadership position. We intend to support strategic, evidence-based service changes that will move us forward in our pursuit of excellence. S. purses his lips. Like they’re on drawstrings. Furrows his brow crookedly, crossing his arms over his pale green shirt and dark green tie. He has the kind of bald head that makes him look like he’s wearing a pink rubber clown cap. His eyes move from speaker to window. I wonder whether he thinks I’m writing about him. He picks up his pencil again. He could be writing about me. I look back to the presenter hoping she will not suddenly interrupt her presentation to single me out: What are you writing Ms. P.? Bring it to the front of the class. Now! As though sensing I’m more interested in the extraneous details around the table than in what she has to say. One of my heresies.
A woman in a black turtleneck and black suit with large silver pin smiles as the next presenter jokes about his lack of technical ability. Wearing grey shirt, grey pants. The walls in the meeting room are grey. Im wearing a grey sweater. Then he explains: We are not allowed to go into a deficit situation. Five of us writing. As you know, he continues, we introduced a mixed financial system with some trepidation. The woman in the black suit drapes her arm over the back of her chair. Her eyes are heavy-lidded and her hand droops in a graceful curve from her black and silver wrist. Her eyes steady on the speaker. I keep writing.
Then early in the year we had a shock, a $300,000 deficit. Tells another joke. Giggles sound like horns and bells around the room. This presenter is well liked. On top of that they began to play another game. A long story that pivots on words like deficit and calculation. He distributes information sheets, which are as current as they can be and which establish his credibility. He jokes, reveals that others are at fault, but that changes are inevitable.
A man in a white shirt sits four along from me. He has a heart condition and has been away recently because of heart surgery. His face is bright pink. He sits with his head down, reading the sheets that have been circulated. Three more start writing. Two whisper. No one likes change. No one likes being told it is inevitable.
The presenter clicks on an overhead chart with columns of numbers. It lights up the whole screen, pulled down from the wall, spilling light upward onto the grey ceiling. All this is being minuted by the secretary in a silk blouse with a frilled collar. She types the words onto her laptop.
S. has turned around ninety degrees in his seat. Faces front now, chewing along the thumb side of his hand. Gently. Is known as a gentle man. Chews his index finger, pulling on the dark hairs that grow on the back of the finger. Abstracted. Behind the presenters words, the clicking of the laptop, the droning of the overhead projector. My legs ache. Stretching them, I curl my left foot upward, trying not to disturb any of the other legs under the table. People are becoming agitated. They furrow their brows, rub their hands, whisper. The presenter, it turns out, is asking them to take on more work. Big nuisance factor. . . . says the languorous black and silver woman. S. nods and picks up his pencil. Change means more work. Always.
My head is half asleep. But only half. So far. The meeting is only half over.
my father brought home:
soap bars & bars of industrial soap
floor wax cleansers an industrial strength floor polisher
a heart condition
my mother brought home:
tinned vegetables cube steak
Simplicity sewing patterns
bridge club recipes cheap socks anything on sale
sores that wouldn’t heal
I bring home:
pens yellow highlighters recycled paper
strategic corporate plans
extended health care a pension plan
high blood pressure
You’re writing a book? they inquire.
Yes, I admit.
Work, I tell them, feeling more nervous.
Work? they laugh, like how could anyone in their right mind.
An exposé? Laughing harder.
No, experimental lyric prose, I tell them. Disappointing perhaps, it not being an exposé and all, but they don’t let on.
Am I in it? asks the secretary with the yellow beads.
Am I? asks one of the supervisors.
What about us?
Well, I hedge, beginning to explain that it’s not quite like that either.
Hey, make me thinner will you, suggests the one with the beads.
The one with high heels laughs: Yeah, and make me smarter. I could use some help.
I want red hair, says the one with grey.
Taller, much taller.
Anything else? I ask the group, who are getting excited about the possibilities.
Yeah, make me rich.
Me too. Me too. The corridor filling up with giggles.
Cant wait to read it, says the shortest, especially the part where I’m five eleven. Hey, why not six one.
After that always: how’s the novel? Finished yet? Don’t forget the red hair, with a sweep of her hand curving back from her forehead, demonstrating the luxurious length and volume of her colourful request.
Me, always a little nervous, a little proud.
stock market versus kitchen
fat pig versus porridge
office versus poem
years versus minutes
home again home again
bread & butter versus everything
don’t get enough jiggity jig
The surprise is: I get through each day. This surprise is a surprise every day. Five o’clock comes. It arrives. Then it is 5:15. That’s the surprise. Then 5:45. I’m still at my desk. I breathe out.
I used to come home from work breathless. Run around the house. Tear open the mail. Read the first line. Open the fridge door. Bite into a radish. Another. Crunch sounds inside my middle ear. Turn on the radio. Upstairs. Take off my bra. Change into something without belts. Circle. Circle. Race downstairs. Like a dog who has never been allowed inside the house. Circling. Pacing. Who wants it all before they notice. Make it leave.
Lately sometimes I just fall down. I’m that tired. Almost giving up. Almost without longing.
how make a poem from this
fast-paced mess of a so-called long-gone 9 to 5
& up at 6 or 10 to 6
a regimen rigid routine of back-to-back-to-back
each arrangement tightly timed
don’t forget to breathe fast
fast-framed life of workaday into night
awake at 3 a.m. all in a state
remembering should make that call
tell her remind her start the service
where is that memo anyhow
then fast get back to sleep
that six o’clock comes soon enough
blasting news that’s hardly new
where’s the story here
how rise above get out of bed again
keep mind intact while standing in the shower
waking up against the will trying to remember
what it was important to recall
and all there is to see for days and weeks and months ahead
all meted out stretched in scraps of disappearing time
is rocketing along this freaked-out streak of space
legs rotating like some kid cartoon
heart knocking knock knocking at a wall in there
trying to make a traffic light phone ringing coffee drip dripping
how find how shape a sense from that
by noon a humming starts
along the shoulder ridge down arms
so loud it makes a ringing in my ears
by 3 p.m. my feet don’t touch the wall-to-wall
& wings speed-beat around my eyes
by 6 by 6 p.m. how
smooth soothe fragments
of whatever’s left
how make a poem from
all that racing stuff
mercurial roiling slick on surface
how see feel shape
one day you know you are good at your job, better maybe than anyone else could be, the regular practice of anything improving anything. a certain buoyancy resulting (along with, and not dispersing, the regular and incremental layering of stress, murmurous as tissue paper). makes it all a part of you. you have a certain power, control the work of others, accomplishments belong to you. your decisions are important, serious. your activities are of consequence. you live here most days of the year, your name on the door. you are recognized. they smile when they see you coming, laugh at your jokes. all this is genuine. and pleasing.
but still you want to leave.
still you think
you want to