Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Victoria Chang, The Boss


The boss is not poetic writing about the boss is not poetic
            a corporate pencil doesn’t gallop
    dactyls one foot two feet six feet seven the boss
                only has two feet the rain taps its

trimeters all over my roof the boss can only jump up and
            down in one spot the boss cannot do the
    splits the rain splits into pieces the rain slants into
                my face into my eyes that are not really

slanted the boss only rhymes with cross and loss
            poem rhymes with palindrome and loam a desk is
    not poetic either it has four sides hard and stiff a
                Herman Miller chair loses question marks

through its holes as it holds a Herman or a Miller one day
            I watch a shrill pelican dive straight down into
    the water a waiter brings us fish on a plate a pelican
                swallows a fish whole a pelican is the boss

with its endless office of sky I could stand on the pier
            the whole day and peer at the pelicans that fall
    from the sky with their briefcases of fish in their
                oily grey suits and shined black shoes

I’m quite taken with the poems in California poet Victoria Chang’s third trade poetry collection, The Boss (San Francisco CA: McSweeney’s, 2013), the first of her work I’ve read. Her poems move like a rush of water, hardly a break or a pause, and must be fantastic to hear read aloud for the lyric flow. Chang’s cadence balances one of near-assault against a soft flow, playing with repetition and intoxicating rhythm, and seems to favour the staggered four-line stanza, in poems ranging in size from three to eight stanzas long. In a book of less than fifty pages, who exactly, one might ask, is the boss? Throughout the collection, the perspective of the poems shift, ranging from the obvious suggestion of the boss as an employer, to a new infant and the narrator’s own father, and even the father of the boss as the boss himself. Writing around subservience, notions of personal, professional, sexual and gendered power, and who truly might be in charge, Chang’s poems are nearly liquid, and include a number of pieces for and from the works of Edward Hopper, slipping his images between that of “the boss.” As she writes to open the poem “EDWARD HOPPER’S OFFICE AT NIGHT,” “Maybe the woman in the blue dress is the boss [.]”


The boss is back from the hospital is hospitable then
            hostile the boss gave birth the boss
    lay still on a bed to rest to bedrest to rest
                the baby girl on the bed

each morning I lay my cast to rest but there’s no jury no
            fury I lay my baby on the bed I sponge
    her I wonder whether the boss feels what I feel
                for my baby a heel on a cheek

doesn’t always mean love the boss kicks up her heels
            her eyes empty and eerie like a fish’s eyes
    we are weary we are wary of the boss we
                sleep standing up but so

does the boss miles and miles under the sea even the fish
            don’t sleep they can hear the helicopters
    carrying soldiers going back and forth
                and back and forth

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