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

The Friday Poem: ‘The Boss’ by Deborah Garrison

One of the most important workplace relationships is the one between you and your direct supervisor. A good ‘boss’ will quickly sense your potential and connect your talents with work that challenges and enables professional growth. He/she employs personal experience to communicate the value of failure along with success. A good boss has a high EQ and a healthy dose of empathy for all.

For this week’s Friday Poem, a meditation on ‘The Boss’ through the eyes of poet Deborah Garrison.

The Boss

A firecracker, even after middle age

set in, a prince of repression

in his coat and tie, with cynical words

 

for everything dear to him.

Once I saw a snapshot of the house

he lives in, its fence painted

 

white, the flowers a wife

had planted leaning into the frame

on skinny stalks, shaking little pom-poms

 

of color, the dazzle all

accidental, and I felt

a hot, corrective

 

sting: our lives would never

intersect. At some point

he got older, trimmer, became

 

the formidable man around the office.

His bearing upright, what hair he has

silver and smooth, he shadows my doorway,

 

jostling the change in his pocket –

milder now, and mildly vexed.

The other day he asked what on earth

 

was wrong with me, and sat me down

on his big couch, where I cried

for twenty minutes straight,

 

snuffling, my eyeliner

betraying itself in the stained

tears. Impossible to say I was crying

 

because he had asked. He passed

tissues, at ease with the fearsome

womanly squall that made me alien

 

even to myself. No, it didn’t make him

squirm. Across his seventy years,

over his glasses, he eyed me kindly,

 

and I thought what countless scenes

of tears, of love revealed

he must have known.

 

Deborah Garrison   ‘A Working Girl Can’t Win’ 1998

a working girl can't win

Click on this link to hear the author read the poem as part of a 1999 interview with Bill Moyers.

“In this episode of Sounds of Poetry, Garrison tells Bill that poetry is about “trying to find a way to understand and describe the world that lifts you a little bit out of it, instead of just being in it and being lost.”

‘Into the Lincoln Tunnel’ a poem by Deborah Garrison

The Friday Poem this week is for all the commuters who leave New Jersey every day and enter Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel. The poet, Deborah Garrison gives voice to the thoughts we sometimes entertain as passengers on a bus, in uncertain times, inhaling the fumes, the indigenous scent of New York Hudson crossings. “…please smile upon these good people who want to enter the city and work. Because work is good…”

Into the Lincoln Tunnel

The bus rolled into the Lincoln Tunnel,
and I was whispering a prayer
that it not be today, not today, please
no shenanigans, no blasts, no terrors,
just please the rocking, slightly nauseating
gray ride, stop and start, chug-a
in the dim fellowship of smaller cars,
bumper lights flickering hello and warning.
Yes, please smile upon these good
people who want to enter the city and work.
Because work is good, actually, and life is good,
despite everything, and I don’t mean to sound
spoiled, but please don’t think I don’t know
how grateful I should be
for what I do have —

I wonder whom I’m praying to.
Maybe Honest Abe himself,
craggy and splendid in his tall chair,
better than God to a kid;
Lincoln whose birthday I shared,
in whom I took secret pride: born, thus I was,
to be truthful, and love freedom.

Now with a silent collective sigh
steaming out into the broken winter sun,
up the ramp to greet buildings, blue brick
and brown stone and steel, candy-corn pylons
and curving guardrails massively bolted and men
in hard hats leaning on resting machines
with paper cups of coffee —

a cup of coffee, a modest thing to ask
Abe for,
dark, bitter, fresh
as an ordinary morning.

Deborah Garrison   ‘The Second Child’   Random House, 2008

‘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