Reviews

Paper Trail

ARLEEN PARÉ

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 26 days. Actual working. Days to go. Tomorrow 25 .

When I go I will not look back. No pillars of salt.

This is about time.

And money.

And counting.

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, 24.

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 & 2 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

(approaching) pension:

two percent per number

of years worked

multiplied

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?

full awake

start again:

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

past

your office door

see how fasssst

in my black suit earrings silver flashing

I move my mouth my feet

eyes forward

heading out the door

briefcase swinging

knowing the countenance of speed

moving thinking like lightning

able to change mid-sentence mid-step

deciding speaking signing

contracts reports letters

faster faster

money like water

propose promote conclude

ideas projects year round

year end

making money counting money building programs

building buildings housing

people

importance of

housing people

better faster

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 $3, 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

rage

my mother brought home:

tinned vegetables cube steak

Simplicity sewing patterns

bridge club recipes cheap socks anything on sale

sores that wouldn’t heal

caution

I bring home:

pens yellow highlighters recycled paper

strategic corporate plans

extended health care a pension plan

high blood pressure

dread

You’re writing a book? they inquire.

Yes, I admit.

About?

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 1 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

how

how make

anything

from that

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

leave.

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ARLEEN PARÉ

Arleen Paré has published five collections of poetry. She is a winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. She grew up in Montreal and now lives in Victoria.


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