Categories Poetry
Location This poem first appeared in Haute Dish: The Arts & Literature Magazine of Metropolitan State University
Date Fall Issue 2010
URL Launch Project

WORK
by James C. Henderson

Seated with the other department heads
around a large walnut conference table
I wonder once again:
What am I doing here?
I know little about product turn.
or profit & loss statements.
Pie charts and graphs say nothing to me.
I care more how each
of my fellow workers feels
how they are coping with their problems:
the delinquent daughter, the sick mother
a pending divorce
or their joys: the new lover, the new baby
a vacation to the south of France.
Their emotions rise and fall within me
like waves around the table.
The light in the room is white
brilliant on the walls, stark as linen.
Outside, brick buildings are lined up
shoulder to shoulder along the sidewalk—
an Edward Hopper kind of street
in an Edward Hopper kind of light.
I think of my wife, of lying in her embrace
naked in bed, rising and falling
on a sea of love
and Lake Superior emerges
from the wall of the conference room
dark blue with a beach of rust-colored stones
timbered headlands stretching to the horizon.
Light penetrates the water in wavering shades
of azure and green, dancing rays on the back
of something dark and gray rising to engulf me.
Then the boss is asking, “How is the weather
out there?” and the disembodied voice of a woman
says from the black telephone at the center
of the table that it is cloudy
and I have the opportunity to explain
to her, this client, how much I can help her.
I hear her listening. I see her
in a navy suit and white, ruffled blouse.
She sounds about 45-years-old.
She either has kids or she has given
them up for her career.
My voice is calm and steady.
Even a little of the white light
has found its way into my tone—
it betrays nothing.
I ask, “Are you happy?”