The Friday Poem ‘Superior’ by Deborah Garrison

Nineteen years after her first book of poetry was published, Deborah Garrison remains the voice of women@work. I’m waiting for her to find the words to capture this moment in the workplace, but until then, the Friday Poem is ‘Superior’.

Superior

She came to dread the way he would wander
into her office, his eyes flicking over the papers
on her desk as though it offended him
to have to interrupt tasks that were being done
for him, as though the details she was mistress of
would needlessly clutter his manager’s mind.
As he talked of the Big Picture, of who was soon
to die and who to win a prize, the pencil
she held poised a few inches above the text
she’d been correcting when he breezed in
was her only protest. Did it irk him –
the way she kept her shoulders slightly rounded
over the page, the way the graphite stub in her smudged
fingers accused him?

Probably not, as he warmed to his speech;
he was a thinker-aloud, couldn’t have a thought
unless he spoke it out before an obedient listener.
She saw the air thronged with his conceptual
offspring; if she didn’t keep her slack mouth shut
(now he paused, mid-phrase, touching the air
with an index figure just where he saw
his point appear), she might actually swallow
one of his soap bubbles, like a cartoon character
sucking her whole 2-D world
back down. He talked on.

She agreed, she agreed, she seconded his thesis,
and with each murmured yes her certainty mounted:
she would never be one of them – A Director, a Manager,
an Executive Thingy. She didn’t have the ambition.
She was simply a pencil, scratching, pausing,
picking her way down an obscure page.
She liked her fate.
But would she be left alone to enjoy it?
He hovered there – couldn’t bear to release her –
now about to turn and go – but no.
He was settling in her single chair and leaning near
to confide more fully in her.

Deborah Garrison
‘A Working Girl Can’t Win’ Random House, NY 1998

‘Worked Late on a Tuesday Night’ a poem by Deborah Garrison

Have you ever read a poem and realized that the poet has somehow snatched your body and experience, and transcribed both into a lyrical expression of your reality? There was a time, in the late 90s, working in New York, when the poetry of Deborah Garrison gave voice to those who believed you could have it all.

The Friday poem this week is ‘Worked Late on a Tuesday Night’, with Garrison’s words still relevant, even if Uber robs us of the experience of standing in the freezing rain trying to hail a cab.

Worked Late on a Tuesday Night

Again.
Midtown is blasted out and silent,
drained of the crowd and its doggy day.
I trample the scraps of deli lunches
some ate outdoors as they stared dumbly
or hooted at us career girls—the haggard
beauties, the vivid can-dos, open raincoats aflap
in the March wind as we crossed to and fro
in front of the Public Library.

Never thought you’d be one of them,
did you, little Lady?
Little Miss Phi Beta Kappa,
with your closetful of pleated
skirts, twenty-nine till death do us
part! Don’t you see?
The good schoolgirl turns thirty,
forty, singing the song of time management
all day long, lugging the briefcase

home. So at 10:00 PM
you’re standing here
with your hand in the air,
cold but too stubborn to reach
into your pocket for a glove, cursing
the freezing rain as though it were
your difficulty. It’s pathetic,
and nobody’s fault but
your own. Now

the tears,
down into the collar.
Cabs, cabs, but none for hire.
I haven’t had dinner; I’m not half
of what I meant to be.
Among other things, the mother
of three. Too tired, tonight,
to seduce the father.

Deborah Garrison   ‘A Working Girl Can’t Win: and other poems’ 1998