Kevin Brown

Jack Does Not Play Games, Anymore

     
   

We played Office Bingo my first few
years, squares of administrators’ actions
and catchphrases—Simmons’ four sips

of coffee before presentations, Clark’s
Don’t-reinvent-the-wheel-laden memos.
In our cubicles, we made membership cards
for the Future Corpses of America.

I served two terms as Vice-President
of Disorganization.  No one knows how long
they lasted.  A new hire suggested Current
Corpses, was fired after three days.

We needed to pretend work was not
important, that our lives mattered more
than ten-hour days followed by cocktail
chasers, but we were nothing more than
boys and girls playing games like Hi Ho!

Cherry-O or Chutes and Ladders, let
adults tell us what time to wake up,
when to be in bed.  We complained

about weekends when we wanted
to fly kites, a key tied to the tail,
hoped life would strike like lightning.

     
         
 

Jack’s Every Day Life

     
   

Coffee comes on automatically, 5:48 a.m.
every day, even Saturdays when most sleep in,
a cup and a half to make it through the day.
Gym doors open at 6:30, up the walk

every day, even Saturday, when most sleep in;
workers check clocks if I miss by a minute,
as the gym doors open at 6:30, then walk
to work, past the same secretary for twenty years,

co-workers check clocks if I miss by a minute
while they push papers, one person to another,
pass them to the same secretary for twenty years,
muddle through meetings, pie-shaped prophecies

on papers I push from one person to another
around lunch at the desk, side of spreadsheets,
muddle through mundane pie-shaped prophecies.
End one day with a multiplex movie

and a deluxe frozen dinner, side of spreadsheets, or
an early evening, legs across an empty king bed,
doze through another rented movie, wake to
program the coffee, comes on automatically, 5:48 a.m.

     
         
 

Jack Wants a Mnemonic Device for Life

     
   

I try every trick to remember meetings
and projects, paper my desk with
the spectrum of post-its, enter dates

and deadlines in my laptop and phone,
even magnet calendars to the fridge,
as if an obsessive child wanted to show

off.  In seventh grade, I tried Roy G.
Biv—Crayola colors to know the rainbow—
and a filmstrip taught us planets

with a song about my very educated
mother who just served us nine pizza
pies.  Those pizzas are gone now

that we’ve entered a new century,
Pluto put out of our orbit, disappointing
those too-small twelve-year-olds
who believed in an over-achieving

asteroid.  I have convinced myself
the sheer number of notes will move
my neurons toward memory, spark my mind

to read that report on how consumers
cannot remember what they really want,
though they carry lists everywhere,
lay out their lives.

     
         
 

Grasping Hand

     
   

He never sought positions of power,
he says.  In sixth grade he became president,
never shaking hands or haranguing

classmates, watched the two most popular
people push each other aside, sat
smiling as Miss Collins counted
the votes. In college, by the time he took

his diploma in hand—gave the graduation
speech, one students still talk about,
a homily of humility—he had learned
to look like he was listening to

everyone.  But now, as he seems pulled
to the CEO’s office by someone
else’s strings—a puppet of power—I see
his look of lust as he notices

the nameplate that is not his, how he holds
the doorknob in his hand,
as if it already is.

     
         
 

Jack Watches a Co-Worker Keep It Together

     
   

We’re all professionals here:  men wear
collars stiff with starch; women wear suits
more often than men; others staple or collate
copies of our presentations; we don’t need
to know such capabilities.  So when
the twenty-two-year-old intern saves seats

for a row of friends, makes the Wednesday
meeting into a high school assembly, leaves
Jeff standing; or a budget committee officer
changes his incompetence into Jeff’s, shifts
blame as smoothly as his leased Lexus slides
from second to third; or a nameless middle
manager stands too close when questioning

his company commitment, his hand clinches
once, only once, as if trying to hold on to
that one second his sophomore year when he
buried a bully with one punch, when everyone
believed he was better than he was, that one
moment more than twenty years ago now,
long since slipped from his fist.

     
 
      return to poetry
 

Kevin Brown is a Professor at Lee University.  He has one book of poetry, Exit Lines, and two chapbooks: Abecedarium (Finishing Line Press, 2011) and Holy Days: Poems (winner of Split Oak Press Chapbook Contest, 2011).  He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories:  Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels.  He received his MFA from Murray State University.