Exit 9 (I Think I'm Dying)
I think I’m dying.
But I’m afraid to say I don’t feel well.
Because often that comment is made by someone
in perpetual motion
who, in mid-mundane task,
simply lays down and dies
like a middle-aged woman flapping her arms
flesh-stained and flowered,
sheets on a creaky bed
she’s outta there.
I never say those words.
I say, “I’m fine.”
Or “It’ll pass.”
“Wow, did you see the sky out there today?
Crystal clear. That summer shit-fog is gone.”
How much fear is in everyone
that is unacceptable to express
in tight, airless, bright rooms?
It’s no one’s problem but yours.
Keep it to yourself.
It’s just your imagination.
Don’t be dramatic.
Suck it up.
I’m sure it’s nothing.
Be a professional.
It’s probably just gas.
Conference room glances caught in visual skim
from one end of the table to the other
provide the only glimpse you’ll see of the
abject terror sporadic among the
tailored supercilious certainty
that is barely discernible for the
click click click fucking click of
that one’s pen cap clicking
and the distraction of
Beige Suit Number One’s
gagging florid stench.
I want to drag that foul-smelling
woman out of the room
by the lapel of
polyester suit jacket
with the puckered stitching,
straining buttons beneath her rarely
But I like her.
She’s kind and smart.
She makes great coffee cake.
She always asks me how I am.
She means it.
Maybe guilt is the pain in my gut.
This room is barren,
like many of the women in it
who have come here to die.
White, windowless walls are made of
Banks of lights that punctuate the ceiling are
interrogatory and torturous.
These women sit along a long, long table,
a kind of turnpike that runs between
the seats of power at either end.
We are Exit 9.
We crowd along the far right
north and southbound lanes of the table,
bumper to bumper,
breathing each other’s exhaust.
That leaves lots of space at the heads to
comfort the adrenalized super-entities
rocking and turning at will at
Terminus A and Terminus B,
New York, Philadelphia.
Occasionally leaning forward,
the VPs for the Department of Whatever
their eyes aspark with magnitude:
Something big is going to happen.
But that’s what they always say.
The chairs are Ergonomic,
so says HR,
but they bump and grind and hold us
like straightjackets to
twist our heads back and forth at
like watching a prizefight at the dinner table or,
a tennis match,
the kind that might be had
on a glorious morning like this
if we weren’t obligated
by health insurance
to shift our automatic transmissions into
D for Dying
on this hermetically contained
stretch of cratered life
Emotion is in enemy territory.
There’s a moment when the chick
in Beige Suit Number Two
throws Beige Suit Number One
under this goddam proverbial bus we’re all on.
Smackdown in Conference Room 2.”
All it took was a wry tone
and an eye-contact letter of rejection.
Dear Beige Suit Number One
Close but no cigar.
Thanks for making me look smart.
Beige Suit Number Two
The soul in the eyes of
Beige Suit Number One
beats a hasty retreat.
But politesse wins the day as
the light in her eye shuts off:
It’s outta there.
She smiles a tweaked smile that squeaks,
I’m sure it’s nothing.
It’s probably just gas.
The glass that tops the wood
of this turnpike-table
the slick, impenetrable, chilly surface that
shields from damage
the other natural element in the room
that’s been shaped into something it’s not
(but the table is already dead) --
is dotted with the rings of various
beverage bottles and mugs.
The scent of chicken broth
and Walgreen perfume
combine and define
The gravy of something that once lived
mingles with the forced rose odor.
and together mask a decaying smell,
that of we, the dying.
Adrenalized power notices little
about the living that’s alive.
What am I doing with my life?
He died six months after retiring.
Got off this bus and
he was gone
he was outta there.
Listen up team:
It’s been an hour and a half.
We had this discussion three years ago.
Two years ago.
One year ago.
In your fucking office this morning
before we entered this tomb.
Will somebody fucking do something already?
Make a goddam decision for fuck’s sake?
I gotta get outta here.
Run for it.
Make a break.
Oh thank Jesus Christ the Lord Almighty,
someone has knocked on the door.
All Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
now we can all go and pee.
Our local office bastard,
the one who steals everyone’s ideas,
claims them as his own,
and gets promoted while we
suspend in perpetuity,
stands in the open doorway,
tall, thin, pale, and straight as a paperwhite.
He looks as though someone has died.
He looks as though he’s about to cry.
Who stole his candy, I wonder?
He shakes like a wounded puppy.
Our attention is rapt.
He’s freaking me out.
What? Says Beige Suit Number Two.
They’re gone, he says
voice high bar in tremolo.
Beige Suit Number Two commands, What is gone?
The World Trade Center, he says.
What? asks the adrenalized power at Terminus B.