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Edward Hopper’s Office in a Small City

Maybe the man isn’t looking out but he is
            looking down even his desk looks
      down on him his desk lies his desk tries to make
                  him look busy but there are no stacks

of papers to make him sick the man
            and the desk have nothing they have a
      view with no people the man has no computer
                  no keyboard to shoot words onto a

screen no keyboard that competes with the tap-tap
            of his heart the man has no spreadsheets
      with little rectangles filled with numbers the
                  man is numb the man is

sitting in a building staring out of a rectangle
            from the front the building looks
      like a giant spreadsheet there would be
                  thousands of rectangles

thousands of workers staring out like
            little numbers waiting to be shifted up
      shifted down summed up averaged


Are we wrong yes we are wrong or yes

Are we wrong yes we are wrong or yes
            we are wrong about being
      wrong does it really take two to tango or
                  can a person tango by herself leg

twirling even a lift can be copied by jumping
            into the air but an abuser needs an
      obtuse one a victimizer needs a victim
                  we are wrong the boss is

wrong the boss is right is height is higher
            than us on the ladder our fingers
      hurt our fingers are stepped on can someone
                  be all right or all wrong

a tree is just a tree an ocean has salt a lake
            does not my father used to believe
      in black and white now he calls black
                  white and white heart


I only knew dictators I loved the unilateral directions

I only knew dictators I loved the unilateral directions
            the high diction my father sat
      in his office dictating his thoughts about
                  meetings with bosses my father dictated

to me to eat tomatoes my father was dictated to
            by his boss the bush blooms flowers
      each spring pink ones open then the blooms fall
                  the bush resumes being a bush

a boss changes seasonally too a boss can turn into
            a dictator and back again the boss sees
      everything we play hide and seek with
                  the boss but she always finds

us we always hide in the same place
            my office faces the boss’s office but our
      doors don’t align some days when I can no longer
                  lie I shut my door and cry the rain

always gives me away when I play hide and seek
            with my two-year-old she lies
      on the ground and covers her face she thinks
                  I can’t see her


I once had a good boss a National Guard kind of boss

I once had a good boss a National Guard kind of boss
            soft as a flag tough as a pole I once had a
      good boss a god boss who played me like
                  a good bass plucked all my strings now

my good boss is gone is a goner boss is a no-longer-
            mine boss he is someone else’s boss I once
      had a good boss but didn’t know he was a good boss
                  until I met my new boss my

good boss called me V the letter looks like a check mark
            he checked me off each day with a soft
      charcoal pencil he said V with such kindness the way
                  a cement sidewalk lifts itself up slowly year

after year for ficus roots if only I could hug
            my once-good boss bug him each day once again
      exceed his expectations set my objectives around his
                  goals be his shoal but it is too late I am

old now the land is cold now the owl on some nights opens
            my window and waits for me to wake
      in a wet sweat its gold eyes staring at me like
                  two ticking clocks


[I don’t want to be a boss I do want]

I don’t want to be a boss I do want
            to be a boss I want to be
      a mother I don’t want to be a mother sometimes
                  I think the lash in my eye is

my daughter running away when I look
            to see the image shifts she runs
      away faster what does she know what do I
                  know the boss knows how to say no I know

how to build a Lego office building how to
            cut grapes into four slices how to be nice
      twice in a week no one is nice to me this week
                  no one nices me twice even

a school bus driver honks at me
            twice gets the principal to come out
      to boss me to boss my car to move
                  who does the principal

believe who does the world believe when
            the man says he didn’t pour
      the acid on the wife’s face her skin patterned
                  like a piece of lace  


Victoria Chang’s third book of poems, The Boss, is forthcoming this fall from McSweeney's as part of the McSweeney’s Poetry Series.  Her other books are Salvinia Molesta (University of Georgia Press, 2008) and Circle (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005).  She lives in Southern California.