Report to Work at the Usual Hour
One morning, the archways are festooned
with crabapple boughs. One morning,
black paint covers them like shellacked
thunderclouds. What is a surprise?
One morning, all the men wear
sweater vests and extol the virtues
of abstinence. One morning, the women
don color-blocked jumpers and cardigans.
The fresh polish on their toenails
shimmers under fluorescent lights.
Lunch features overcooked beef patties
and a slideshow about the ponies
of Assateague. Their beards congeal
and drip salt water as they ford
the Chincoteague Bay. A stray tabby
preens in an oak outside the presentation
room, where staff watch a power point
that outlines Standard Productivity Outcomes.
The tabby turns away and licks her left dewclaw.
Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is required
reading for May, but it is widely
misunderstood, and Dimmesdale becomes
slang for someone who can’t properly
load a toner cartridge. When hammocks
are strung from the rafters for aerial napping,
women stop wearing skirts. No one talks
about after work activities, but rest
assured they involve a television,
a bucket of old nails, and a hunting rifle.
The time for inter-cubicle flirtation,
like all things, must end. One cannot estimate
the value of increased productivity,
of pink noise pumped through the air ducts,
of a desk near a window, the highway
traffic speeding and slowing in time
to the chews and swallows of one’s
afternoon liverwurst sandwich, the colors
of the traffic a blurred rainbow, hurrying away.
Forget about my sport-utility heart,
its swerve and sway, the shy blush
of its beat, the bleat of red cells pushed
through clapping valves. I slumber
under polyester. That is wrong.
I told you I had the $$$$$$. Well,
forget about my little pitter-pat,
my little this and that, my twenty blue
horizon lines, my acrylic on canvas.
Forget about gestation, the question point,
the knocking horse, the rocking bird,
the barred owl’s sharpened claws.
Some mystic’s vision, and five nickels
on a hardwood floor in Tallahassee.
The summer the carpet bred fleas,
and I forgot about flowers, or the smell
of a stone fence, or the smell of well
water, or the smell of my mother’s
empty perfume spritser, or the smell
of matted leaves in a stray cat’s fur.
The floorboards of the new house sung in the sunshine, polished—the wood hard as a frozen river. You wanted to walk across the Mississippi where we stopped in Minnesota in January, but I held your arm and said, No—in the middle of the river, the ice is like a magician’s trap door. Still, the pull of the sublime. But because the oil on my fingertips left a special series of whorls, I kept you at my side. The text from a friend asked what the point of narrative was. I couldn’t answer. However, consider this: I stole our landlord’s money and then wrote a lyric vignette about his failing dental practice. In the summer drought, even the corn had dried on the stalk by the time the grasshoppers began their kamikaze assaults on our legs. Then a lamb at the edge of a field—a sheep’s skin in the making—gamboled playfully in the August heat. Like that, the change, the shift in seasons, the forgotten bunch of daisies left in the overgrown grass by a fencepost. And the pumpkin plants died too. Nary the shade of an ash tree could have saved them.
We loaded up a moving truck for the third time in a year and prayed for safe passage across the fly-over states. Somewhere, on the bank of a different river, high plains give themselves over to wind to form a dust storm. Beyond the plains, a wildfire sucks up Oklahoma brush. The National Guard drains several towns and ex-urbs of their denizens. There are rivers in the north, and rivers in the south. Here is a river that’s been dammed to look like a lake. Its waves are the suggestion of water, its center the locus of algae bloom and leech. There is the fire-starter, lighting wads of newspaper and tossing them from the half-opened window of his dually pick-up truck. Upon arrival, we found cockroach droppings on the kitchen floor. Not even the knotted pine walls could keep the vermin at bay. There, the secret passage for the scorpion. Here, here is where we placed our bed. The bamboo blinds rocked just so in the breeze.
ABOUT THE POET
Rebecca Lehmann is the author of the poetry collection Between the Crackups (Salt, 2011), which won the Crashaw Prize. Her poems have been published in journals including Tin House, Ploughshares and The Antioch Review. She currently lives in Texas, USA, where she teaches creative writing and literature. For more information, visit www.rebecca-lehmann.com