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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

changing the  

flesh-stained and flowered,


sheets on a creaky bed

and kaboom,

it’s over

she’s done,

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?


Soldier on.

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 

her beige, 

polyester suit jacket 

with the puckered stitching, 

straining buttons beneath her rarely 

if ever 

used breasts.


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 

something unnatural.

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
convey expectancy, 

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

each announcement,

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

going nowhere.


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. 


“Attention! Attention! 

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 over.

It’s done.

It’s outta there. 


She smiles a tweaked smile that squeaks,

It’s fine.
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 atmosphere:


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? 


Remember Joe?

He died six months after retiring. 

Got off this bus and 


    like that

    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.

Last week. 

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 says, 

They’re gone.


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.

    The Towers.


What? asks the adrenalized power at Terminus B.


They’re dying.

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