Three Poems

by Paul Hlava

ELLEN

We’re losing time
like drunk pirates who 
wake in a rowboat
in the Empire’s naval port
we move with force
against the currents
that carried us there
all the jobs
have been taken
by people too
good for them
masters degrees
trade school
certifications paddling
against that one 
giant crest
for eternity
we have been here among 
the hum and thrall
of the fluorescent
lightbulbs
we know how 
every Friday we open
the envelope
to find
a dead moth inside
it flies out
to dead moth heaven
where it has
healthcare
and vacation days
to lose and gain
which are the same
movement 
of the hands
ticking off seconds

in the hallway
we are told
not to ask 
any more questions
of the 64th floor
by the no reply to our emails
and don’t get me started
about what happened
to Maria
to this day her
little flat slippers
are still under
the third desk
from the window it’s
a beautiful
day outside
the white birch
with its hair in a bun
the sun turned on 
medium/medium-strong
the pony
of the sky
tosses
his golden pony-mane
and trots into evening
it seems 
almost ok
that I haven’t been able to
visit a doctor
in over three years


 
                                                           Employee code: 1384. I flashed my ID to the camera,
                                                           x-ray scanner whirring around me like a microwave.
                                                           I never looked at the needle when the security nurse
                                                           took my blood. His breath was soft on my shoulder as
                                                           I peed in his cup. An armed guard watched me type till
                                                           my levels cleared. Spreadsheets flapped and swarmed
                                                           around my head. I reached up to catch them. Today’s
                                                           helicopter 
                                                               was pure silver. Execs exited. Even their drones
                                                           wore suits. Their flyers began Did you know? and then
                                                           were blank. Olivia’s whispers collected hot in my ear,
                                                           dogs barking at the ends of their chains. Mike-stands
                                                           cast shadows on the digital projections. Communist
                                                           marches, starving babies, bamboo that grows six feet
                                                           a day. In my first month of work Myles had asked if he
                                                           could log my hours in a different week to avoid over-
                                                           time pay. I hadn’t known it was the beginning of an
                                                           enduring surrender. Olivia tightened the straps to my
                                                           forehead and wrists.
    
    
    
OLIVIA

Will this improve your 
working conditions
no
there is a balance
we must strike
between competitive rates
and pay
must come from somewhere
you
have never been
the palace of ice
for example
or a massive 
floating
eye that parts the clouds
to reveal
the colonnade of ancient 
leather-bound books
that stretches endless in dark aisles 
a feathery hush
where golden
breasts of angels
dip from the sky
in other words
you have nothing
to offer
the competitive market continues
to sharpen its blade
and we are all here 
together

we have offered you certain benefits
like the hour-
long training sessions
and what of
the pizza party last July
you had seconds
extra cheese and breadsticks
a ribbon of steam
also we demoted
the winter
to autumn
the leaves fell orange and crisp 
into your open
hands we would fill
with gifts
for you
if we could
but we have to be fair
to those people
who live in cities
more expensive than this
milk in Vancouver costs 10% more
and produce
you wouldn’t believe how much
that’s why you’re here
and why we feed
so many workers
into the gates of the loading dock
where everyone is free
to lift

the new shipment of files
off the trucks from Portland
for minimum wage
all of this we do
for your benefit 
the cost of living is so high
for so many 
and there is one who works
and there is one who owns 
the spirit of a diamond
and he must take
his most prized possession
up to the mountain
where a father stands
with a knife
over his son
to prove you are loved

 

—Paul Hlava teaches English at Kaplan International Colleges in New York. He is a recipient of the Poets House Fellowship and has been nominated for the Pushcart. His poems can be found on the Wave Books tumblr, in the Los Angeles Times, and Narrative. These poems are part of the series “Negotiations.”

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Employment
BOMB 126
Winter 2014
The cover of BOMB 126
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