“. . . with a puling infant’s force
They swayed about upon a rocking horse
And thought it Pegasus . . .”
–Keats, “Sleep and Poetry”
(welcome to the work)
Yield to each a “piece of you”
(If only the crease of your Italian trousers,
Your goofy smile, an assistantless moment).
Allow the barbed, green scholars their dubious hue
And the weary gaze of campus groundskeepers following your golf cart.
Allow the coterie of dwarves plotting in the cornered office
Their next rationalization. And the one jumped by the past before his third sentence,
Who must live himself down—
Leave him the last scoop of glory, the kissed agenda.
One can be wet clay to his position. Allow your boss
As close as she dares. Don’t mention
The shave cream in your cohort’s ear. Be despised unjustly.
Think out of turn. The longed-for arts studio becomes
The Office of Career Services. The rival, arch,
Retains her curbside appeal. Don’t oppose
That prim program head (who doesn’t know you know
He favors anal-action flicks); his proposal for raising enrollments
Might just work; you need his vote next week for those long-revised guidelines.
Anything that lifts the chin to the horizon
When your molars pop in frustration.
The many No’s ground into a paste of Yes
Worked into ego cracks. There’s always that department business
Like cannon fire on the far side of a hill,
Some sparks and flares, and one or two ragged, bloody figures
Appearing on the crest then vanishing. Instead,
Hello! that senior fellow, who influenced several theories
Now discredited, trailing like a grand tomcat
His broken tail of farts.
Charm a laugh from the black burl in the throat.
You’d like to linger on that park bench with sandwich,
Construing lines by John Ashbery,
But your one o’clock is no doubt early
And ready with the most important complaint of the century.
Give to all, and recall the I Ching:
The finest clothes turn to rags.
Be careful all day long.
One asserts blessedly if the assertion is, first of all, a plaything. Patronize by listening—
(personnel report: confidential)
All night, in dream, they crawl to my office door
The fucked-over, the sly joiners, the replaced, the self-slaves . . .
Each plunges a small figure into still water at my feet
The resentful and thankless, favor-hunters and last-stabbers . . .
The water frees each object of its circles within
Firebrands, clarifiers, insisters, and gossip-holes . . .
The circles widen outward to the same moot vanishing
Mirror lickers, foisters, bright idea botchers, saints . . .
I wake yet drink from the same rusty pipe
I drink yet dream the lock twirling in my mouth
we’re judged, nearly always, by the unknowing. Who doesn’t study wounds cares little about
(take one step backward)
Don’t chase that nemesis beyond
The farthest gate of stated policy, don’t
Stray into thorny wilds surrounding
The bastion of “best practices.”
His ambush dreams await you there . . .
Or, worse, he contends as a dead man.
No matter how you’d savor seeing him
Like a pine bull-whipped of its bark,
Weeping for forgiveness, mercifully
There’s no stage for most in life
But the whispers of witness,
Years later, far away, or silent notice.
Don’t let him flay you with your private wrath,
Boring your spouse with midnight rants
In drink that only weakens you for dawn.
To gain advantage, make him teach you better.
Think of footfalls wearing down stone steps, and time
That cracks the child. Remember, the smaller soul
Devours worlds whole, in one sitting,
And shrinks with each. Stick him good
With measured prose, and beware:
The passive voice is never passive.
the future. If only money rotted—like fruit or bread—it might not spoil us instead. My ordeal,
(Q without A)
Is your leadership style
Three oafs in a rowboat, each swearing himself king,
Clubbing one another with a trophy?
Or a green log afire and gasping? Are you
Roused from sleep by falling blossoms clacking?
Or did your fruit arrive rotten last year
And you refused recompense and want us to know that,
Always? Will death make you beloved
For the span of evening pot luck? Are you
Beneath yourself? The black marbling of old bar soap,
The fat in the breath, the signed approval?
In the weekly meeting, are you
The bird in the bougainvillea, or the cat three feet away
Not trying for it? Or the thorns that decide this?
Are you the body tattooed with spooks? Do you
Feel the need to plan? Be positive—it’s no time for poetry.
You’re heading the task force on Wow Policy,
The Bye-bylaws. And your mouth bloody
From drawing the reins on yourself, is that your hand
Bloody, too? Days loyal beyond all cause,
And the derring-do in patience. Days held together by a necktie,
And the dulled edge honed by breaking.
your pettiness. Be rescued by the dreariest task. A paperweight speckled with trilobites: details,
(between you and me)
If a rumor like this came my way,
I’d be flattered someone hated me
Enough to put me in bed with X—
Not that I hadn’t thought already
She, or he, would be delectable,
Were I less repressed and sensitive
Of my position (public, not pubic)
Counting the years I need this post
If I’m to live well old,
Even as I suspect I’m wasting now.
You see, a rumor has no courage
Though stamina aplenty—
The deadliness of dumb youth—
And thinks it understands itself,
And will not be ignored,
Like any one of us pumping hands
At a downtown fundraiser,
Unaware his fly is open.
not tales. The obvious is a hiding place for the hiding place. Loyalists believe in table scraps. No
(case study A: your predecessor)
“I had confidence in black scuffs along my office baseboards,
From emergencies I’d galloped after. I counted on the thank-you’s.
Now I stare dully into spread sheets as into constellations. I wonder
How many times you can tell a recrimination to fuck itself?
The hypocrite outrages the hypocrite. The spider’s web is made
Of captured flies. So careful I was to avoid the possessive
When speaking of faculty! You didn’t disappear enough
Says my wife among her orchids, three times more disciplined than I.
Pride of ownership: tapeworm of the soul . . . . Until my successor arrives,
I must herd memos and hear petitioners (some competing blindly
For professional redemption . . . and so late in their careers!)
Betrayal, if not fatal, can introduce you to yourself.
My dreams once roared so I couldn’t hear the clock beside my pillow.
Yesterday, some department heads surprised the weekly meeting.
Wine was opened but none poured, waiting for me to do the honors.
The Good Luck card was signed by four of seven at the table.”
discovery is singular, but one’s curiosity must survive its onset. Say less—you may live to
(engraving for a twenty-year watch)
The intimate wound knows
When fear retreats
Anger marches in and grows
It fights with shadows
But swears it meets
Glory in the shade of real arrows
forget it. Praise and pity sleep back to back. Tenderness: an inspiration that has learned to
(a big ask)
Why the father dislikes the son-in-law
Pouring his wine, tending the bonfire
Ringed with weekend guests, why
The land drains south to the sinkhole
And not into his most forgotten wish, why
The daughter’s big voice has gone
Behind her like a treacherous sister,
And why you’re here . . .
(The foot bridge over Grandpa’s grave
And the cast iron pig beside the pond
Agree they’re owned as you are
Just now laughing somewhat hard
As the father lauds his dog’s “black ass”
And his third wife’s “gold tits”)—
O yes, the gift
Of a lab named after his mother,
He begging you all this while, Beg.
doubt itself. Flattery: a scare tactic in reverse. Don’t let the hours bully you with indolence. Self-
How many gifts, Weariness,
You offer ambition!
Your blue numerals
Drift in my evening migraine.
Though I’m now ‘the rich bastard,’
My shirt collars still brown.
I’m rumored. So I don’t even piss
In my office lavatory.
Boors I once damned
I flatter at dinner.
My wife craves quiet
Though quiet surrounds her.
I partition, a self-made of cross-outs,
Carved of simplicity.
Yes, bitterness is precious
To one through whom it grins.
But I’m glee in the worm’s apple.
I’m the gold-painted shovel
Leaned on at the groundbreaking.
It’s said the best cover story
Bends back all light,
Becomes thus invisible. I say,
Just before the battle,
One hand falls away.
possession: ownership of the damned. Regret: scar tissue of vanity. You’re never really
(to hold and to have)
Here’s a prediction: we’ll have sex again,
And soon. I’ll go further: it will be good sex;
And we’ll gloat there in the dark and wonder
Why we don’t do this more often, knowing.
We may even high-five as this questioning
Hides our plea—Sex, have us!—in resolution.
Too tired, too drunk, craving “down time”
(Those falling feathers weighing on the eyelashes)
We’re partners again, as when we quested after
Everything via protrusions and orifices.
Others were significant then, somewhat—
Now, again, laboring beneath our fresh ascent
To fat office and pretend modesty,
Like the first dice (carved from hooves).
Each coin splits the flesh. Each illusion
Lusts for breakage on its own terms.
in-between but seeing with one eye then the other. Insult: unequivocal sincerity. To be
Bad Judgment? Its daddy built (then lost) the works
It labors in now—so it believes—
Steady as a planet or a heart of bound-up scratches.
It cultivates you, its only future.
Earth’s own twinkling impedes seeing out far,
And money sanctifies much dreariness. Poor Bad Judgment—
Never listens for all like the underside of the dinner table,
Never moves its voice to the back of the throat . . . .
disillusioned by accomplishment is to meet a great foe. A waste of time is only a mistake
Praise your enemy in public,
So she must hate you in a silence
That bites her brain in two.
In her eye chanced against you
(Like a spool of razor wire)
Let her recall your friendship
Thrown away in fearful rivalry,
Inaccessible as apple blossoms
Swaying through your childhood.
Number her virtues
As though they stand intact.
The chin-snot of her envy
Should be visible to all.
Turn your back on her
In sweet humility. In truth,
Press the black knife on her
And bid her use it on her failure.
if the inspiration for it later seems an unlovable vice. One will slave to master what one imagines.
(some antique counsel)
“Your motive should a misty window be.
Your stillness, the dialogue of others
Twisting, twining as freshets to the sea.
Your glance—not lightning bolt but breeze.
Rage through procedure only, salient.
Mirror none and all. Exit strategy.
Claimed by power be, model more than thought.
And in each hold the compromising document.”
Pay out in kindness and let duplicity do the rest. Sooner or later someone appears to show you
(case study B, your predecessor)
“Shunted now from office, I keep
Only my predecessor’s memoranda—
Such proposals! . . . with the figures worked up,
Smarts didn’t help him,
He damned dull superiors. Jeanette left him
Broke in that big house at Greene Pointe.
Vodka stayed loyal . . . and finished him.
The day he was found, I had a root canal.
Cheek fat with anesthetic, I composed
A respectful, if brief, announcement.
(He’d been fired long before my appointment.)
In the live oak at my window, a hawk
Tore open its morning dove. A few feathers,
Too few, fall from one life to another.”
did not go far enough. Success usually amounts to belonging with the greatest vigor. All our
It‘s good there’s a time you’re shut
And can see it, can fear it, adhere to it,
The flirty dissuasion of it, the air odd
When you speak in your car to your soul.
Why pretend to hunger for other than being
Leveled by a morning of agendas,
The praise of superiors and devotion of staff,
Those further along in confused pleasures?
strengths must be discovered. We stand of this earth, but shame shortens the legs. The grave
He thanks me for my kind words—
The kind like weights in my pockets,
Placed there by an early mentor,
A committee chair who wanted me
To realize my longing, really,
To disappear now I’d been wronged,
To jump, really, from the high bridge
Of attention . . . who nudged me then.
dug to fool past enemies is yours alone. When you say position control number think
(items for a year-end report)
Forgiving a dead friend, I put the wrong wrongs
On a grackle swooping out the broken window.
Duty honor family country praised at the awards function—
And how many there have licked themselves?
His gesture tries to salve the wounded air between us.
(I watch and will not let that hand come close.)
The facilitator disappeared his boorish wisecracks—
(Clued in, at last?) He’s common now as scarred floor.
A boulder in the mind, growing, squeezing out the sky.
Once, I knew exactly where my dick should go and how.
Have you gotten rid of one who didn’t meet criteria?
Even as our bones miscopy—Teamwork! That’s the stuffing.
Perched on the mesh trap half-exposed by low tide,
The Great Blue Heron stares at crabs unattainable, ours.
She glances toward the open office door, the empty seat there
Occupied by one who must never overhear us.
In the dream I was showing off as someone else’s mate.
Now this moth drowned in corked wine. Here, debts.
At the Planning Retreat: the horse train at the rail,
Saddled, each with one rear hoof lifted.
Of course they died she said at lunch. We’ve died. We’re hanging on
A little now, in you . . . the point—to a point . . .
By being sighted for a time, dust wrecks the darkness.
I cross the day on platitudes, lily pads . . . what depths!
nearly every shadow begins and ends at the ground. Each thing is a teacher—if not, a
(adventures in self-assessment: episode 392)
This is your prime, your endangered animal
Reintroduced among plaques.
These are your falls
Gigantic, marching upstream
A meter a year—
Tailoring, the lyrical mind
Stuck between vendors at a grip and grin.
Oh the cleaning people!—
Crumbs from their midnight break
Star the carpets
Where you distance yourself.
Oh the crushed
Button on the starched shirt . . .
when you feel
You’re failing you’re
Complimented, so extolled.
The lozenge of schadenfreude
Melts under the tongue
Newly in charge
Less each day—
He paid off his house?
He loved the blue sunsets on Mars?
This is your moment. Allow
folded over heart
To go to sleep and wake you up.
captive or captor. If you cannot live, go as far as possible into peace. Give of yourself, so
Recognition that the bones
Will be strangers to themselves soon enough
Remains unachieved, as does self-mastery,
Though the appropriate offices continue to be excited
About the near-term prospects for cliché. Resistance to change
And the bereavements of vanity, especially
The need to conceal both,
Persist as a priority among those with souls,
Despite potential fluctuations in enlightenment
I’m sorry, I was wrong, I don’t know
Have again struggled rarely into the speech of senior colleagues.
But the widening part in the poorly-dyed hair of one rival
May account for intermittent tender impulses
Usually suppressed in another
For years unacknowledging her presence
Even at the copy machine. A task force has been formed
To consider the feasibility of improved confidences,
Beginning with those to one’s own loafers propped on a desk
After raising the institutional image from 1.8 to 2.4
On the Newton Survey. Handshake gauntlets and role conflict
Show no sign, anecdotally, of less-frequent convergence,
Nor does the cold ham of sympathy and the management of getting
Even. The greatest accusers stay silent. Innocence and guilt
Preserve cubicle contact, though Quality Assurance
Denies this still, as expected. It appears the future
Will bear crucial questions
Lacking the interest of all
Unaware they can become the lunch-table joke.
Though coordinated mitigation efforts will arise
Spontaneously, the new must still play
Its hand with the cards facing away from it. Of further implementation,
Consult the curator who slaps her intern,
The security officer on his knees
In a certain fourth floor office each Wednesday at noon.
Capacity is all, as is said in Development circles.
An ongoing breakdown of the data
Indicates no abeyance in learning
The ways of genteel larceny. Thus an expanded commitment
To preferred feelings is recommended,
With increased buy-in from saved faces.
that you must find more to give. In the investigation of wrong, the first thing cleared is the
Morning light across the conference table.
Don’t fall for it. Prepare to go, to be gone, always.
As the newbie chants, Every third thought should be of death.
Feeling like a clerk today? You are a clerk.
And every fourth thought should be, Forget that!
And every sixteenth thought? Assistants listen for it.
The forlorn solitudes of rooftops, facing only sky.
Which consultant wrote, Life is stronger than our love for it.
Your true voice reports to you behind your back.
investigator’s conscience. No one should speak to phantoms without a deadline for an answer.