December 6, 2008

J. Stiles Askew

MOMENTS

I. Edward Hopper’s “Office at Night, 1940”

Each person and object in the room stands out
starkly alone. One window is closed, the other
open and filled by Hopper’s inevitable

breathing shade. The light lies, an odd
intruder, another character in this scene
of barrier, inhibition, restraint—or is it

anticipation? The woman in her very tight
blue dress turns from the open file drawer
with a tiny smile as she looks toward

a paper on the floor. Or is she peeking at the man
behind the desk holding a report unnaturally upright?
Will they collide awkwardly, both springing

at once to pick up the paper, warm hands
touching, his tie so straight,
her stockings and heels shaping her legs just so?

II. The MAC Group, 1990

By this time offices are frenzied:
stacked papers pile on every surface, men
answer their own phones, windows clamp

tightly shut. Once, down into my 17th floor
view, a window washer silently glided,
feet dangling, then knees, then the scaffold

where he sat sweeping his arms like a snow angel,
clearing swaths of sparkling glass through his soapy
scrim. I jumped up, pretended to trace

hello on my side of the glass, greeting him
as he slid by, his airborne seat and skyward ways
rigidly controlled by distant machinery.

He didn’t even smile. He, his bucket, squeegee
and sponge disappeared as suddenly as they appeared,
like a song from a passing car window.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008

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