Office at Night

The poem, [“Edward Hopper’s Office at Night”], is a part of a series of poems titled The Boss.  I, probably like many people in America, have had my fair share of horrible bosses, but one was so horrible that I started thinking about power and how it shapes or misshapes our relationships in the workplace.  The whole series became a query into the odd hierarchical relationships we form and how we struggle for power.  As an entryway into such poems, I returned to some of my favorite ekphrastic inspiration – Edward Hopper’s paintings.  Surprisingly he has several paintings that take place in offices and [Office at Night] is one of them.  Form, or lack of form is also something that helped mirror the sense of breathlessness, urgency, or spinning out of control that I felt necessary to convey so this whole series lacks any form of punctuation and is written in long lines.

Victoria Chang

Edward Hopper - Office at Night (1940)
Edward Hopper, „Office at Night“ (1940)

The boss is sitting at the desk the boss doesn’t look
at her the boss is waiting for the black telephone
to ring she also waits for a ring from the boss he is
waiting for the files from her

her blue dress like a reused file folder around
her body her hands tight around the files
the filing cabinet might eat her might take her hand off
the boss might eat her the boss

wants her but the boss wants money more just a little bit
more the boss always seems to want
the money a bit more the boss doesn’t hear
there are taxis outside waiting

for all the women down on the street across the street
a boss prepares for bed another boss above him
in apartment X rotates a Q-tip in his ear before sex
despite instructions on the box we took

my father out of the paper the living will the letters
with their little capes will leave the paper
who will take care of my children later who will take care
of my father the will will take care

of no one a piece of paper cannot take care of anyone I
cannot take care of everyone on some nights
I wake in a panic and can’t tell if I am dead or alive
this year I dye my hair so I won’t have to die

Victoria Chang

Automat

Wenn das, was das Fenster widerspiegelt, wahr ist, dann ereignet sich die Szene in einem Zwischenreich, in einer Art Schwebezustand, und die sitzende Frau ist eine Illusion. Das ist eine beunruhigende Vorstellung. Und wenn die Frau in einem solchen Kontext über sich nachdenkt, kann sie unmöglich glücklich sein…

Mark Strand, „Über Gemälde von Edwad Hopper“

Edward Hopper - Automat - 1927
Edward Hopper, „Automat“ (1927)

The woman in the automat must work must
have a boss must walk
to work two legs red with heat two legs
pressed into each other as if one
depended on the other the woman in the automat
takes one glove off to hold
the cup to shake the hand of a boss one hand
free she looks down at the circle
on the table looks down at the round reflection
of circular lights her boss circulates
memos her boss is the circle the circumference
circles her each day like a minno

Victoria Chang