–What can be expected of a man who’s spent
twenty years of life making heads for pins?
Alexis de Tocqueville

At Spaulding Rehab, I typed progress reports
of a man with chronic pain.  No cause
discernable, only nerves
flailing like severed power lines,

until the pain itself becomes
a kind of name.  Janice, the woman I worked for, only
half-listened to the radio, an oasis
of crooners from the forties, their voices sweeping
her tired, salted heart.  Days after arriving
I was gone, drawn

by some invisible hand
to the next crisis of envelopes and stamps.
How to sing this world?
Cubicle, tunnel, carpal, lunch time, time sheet,
Friday.  Copy, voice mail, copy Y.
Corporation, a fictional body residing at the X street

in my body.  How many bosses
I’ve already forgotten: the Freyburgers
and Krumpelstadts
slide into time’s sheath.

Like so many in Human Resources,
that passed the huge island of my desk
to their locked offices, I manned the door
to which everyone had an electronic key.
Mornings, they drifted through, half-
blind with fluorescence

and sleep.  Lunch at the aquarium, I’d watch fish
stare blankly into our dark habitat,
remoras slurring along the shark’s
fluent speech.  Afternoons I answered calls, stole
bites of a sub under the desk.  The aquaria

of offices I worked and slowly memorized
blurs again.  I close my eyes, transcribe
old Doctor Laffe’s prognotes—
Manic Neil, a Lowell without the poetry,
Timid Tim, head-injured so often

he ducks through doorways and avoids
crowds.  Laffe told me how, one summer,
he’d shipped remainders: academic texts
whose titles were impossible to pronounce,
and pornography, which if read,

would get you fired.  He’d drudged through,
counting minutes.  One Friday, his time card
disappeared.  “What, am I canned?” he’d joked
with the luggers.  Later, the boss called him in
to let him go.  He didn’t know why

he began to shake, and couldn’t stop
till he reached home, let the small loss
flood its way.  Outside, stripping the house, painters
on ladders halted, thought
they heard a wounded animal somewhere,
trapped, perhaps, in the basement.
But as the cellar door had been sealed for years,
there was no way to save it.