12 December 2011

Kevin in the elevator

Dear Kevin-in-the-elevator,

Yes, I am using your real name. As told to me. Assuming you are real. Assuming I did not walk around 14 floors – as directed by the guards, this is a very secure building, with my large box of office supplies and binders with information on buprenorphine – and down, around, past more guards (how secure if I don’t have a badge yet?) – to end up on a not-real elevator in a not-real building.

But really, Kevin, imagine my surprise when the elevator door opened – me and my not heavy but awkward box, my colleague M with the dolly that refused to take corners well; we took turns with that and the box – and there you were. I’ve called it a folding chair when I tell this in person, but I don’t know what to say the chair was – nicer than a lawn chair, not folding, but the kind with spindly legs and textured plastic seat. I think. Did you even have a cushion? It was the Metro paper folded underneath – the free one. There’s very little light in the elevator.

We mentioned our surprise upon seeing you, me and M. And you responded, “Oh, I’m new, I’ve only been here since Tuesday.” It was Friday. Kevin, M and I had never taken the freight elevator, alone or together; you seemed to assume we’d known your predecessor. Or it was just another bad or awkward joke. She asked your hours. We were shocked at the – constancy of them. Eight to six, you said. Hour lunch break I assume. And every day. Who gets weekends? Or is there no health department freight on weekends?(the buttons, after all, are the pretty normal push-‘em kind, you know).

When we got back on the elevator, I remembered your name – M was impressed. How many men living in boxes does she know?
Name, man, elevator.

Market, N'djamena, Tchad


I could turn Kevin into a metaphor for Americans, or really for many populations or groups of people or myself in (formerly) microcosmic med school .  I will endeavor to not be that ridiculous. Or not.

So, to Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s Metropole.  Geoffrey G. O’Brien was, at the recent Berkeley police-against-peaceful-community riots, beat up. Unceremoniously, per the article, was recovering from broken ribs the same weekend we were assigned to read his book. And discuss it. That was the same Monday I went to my first protest since the anti-war ones.  (There’s a poem in there, somewhere, about all the places I’ve marched and demonstrated and protested. Somewhere). This isn’t a place for explication – suffice it to say – the title poem, “Metropole”, moves through politics and protests in America. Writing about politics without polemic. (There would be more to say about the poetry, but, not now, and I’m not the one to say).
The following seemed almost eerily prescient – I don’t know if this had happened to him before. But as I was reading it, it was happening:

“Outside the bedroom buses stuffed with passengers pose family unawares.
Pedestrians, commuters, worries pleased they’re happening, equivalent
designs. The square completely filled then drained, a battle neither can
afford to win. And banners, nightsticks, chanting, things with arms – from
over either shoulder daylight knows the march as angry signs but crowds at
night are demonstrations minus signs (portfolios). A struggle: fighting with an
absent force. The rally’s unknown number when divided by itself”

This contrasts with Mark McMorris’s Entrepôt, apparently. Which I read in a Politically Irresponsible Manner. I did not read the lines, abruptly shifting between end-stopped and enjambed, as explicating the ambivalence of relationship to archive and colonial trauma. I’m not saying the former isn’t in the intent of the poet and isn’t in the explication and close reading. But.
I didn’t know I was a Politically Irresponsible Reader until that workshop, after which, incidentally, I wrote the previous post . Do I hate being a poet when I feel like I’m not good at it or not getting it? More when – yes, I don’t understand and maybe it’s over my head and maybe it’s too much and maybe it’s over everyone’s heads – I’m not sure I see the point.
I like the political poems. It’s damn hard to do well. Like painting in color or writing in rhyme.


Dear Kevin-in-the-elevator,

The second time, on the return trip, M was impressed I remembered your name. She was impressed when I mentioned your name to A, our supervisor, too. Who else do I know who lives in an elevator? 

When we got on that time, a group of people with food got on. Some meeting somewhere. And they got off – two different floors maybe, with ours being the third ones. The elevator doors opened, the silver (jaws, to you, or quicksand) doors slid open – reminiscent of my cousin’s Delorean, perhaps – and there was a flash of another floor, beyond another set of doors. Whatever might have been there? Elysian fields, Madison Square Garden, Point Reyes, a sandcastle competition, the set of CSI (one of), hot air balloons in New Mexico, another group of cubicles and some with flowers, a very large kitchen making nothing but pâté…

Whatever makes your day more interesting. There is a finite number of floors – have you assigned attributes to each? Are they mutable? And what about the people who pass through – what are they doing with whatever large box or tray of sandwiches? Where have they come from?

Waza, Cameroun


There’s a story about Robert Duncan, in the H.D. book. He’s sitting on the grass at Berkeley, reading poems with some women. The bell rings for him to go to ROTC (mandatory in those days, whatever those days were, exactly). The women impugn (per his account) “You don’t have to go, “Stay with Joyce, “Rejoice with Joyce.”

And he stays.

Separating that moment from what ROTC was for, in those days, what going/being a conscientious objector might have meant…the point, more, as written, is about turning to the authority of a poem. Away from not just military but university and everything else. About poem as higher order. And how poets (in some views) cannot engage in politics and be both. That when trying to make poems do something in the world (can they?) they are defamed, somehow. That that’s not poetry. About this I don’t know enough. Yet – what I love about literature is its power to transform, transcend. But maybe that’s just it – if you focus on transcendence, then everything else is mundane. In a word.

And Kevin? The surreality, perhaps. That him being there seemed like it must be symbolic of something. The imagination in an elevator. More – you can imagine what’s outside the doors, without every actually seeing it. If you can sustain that. Less – well, no stimulation. Little.

I worry about poetry being inside the elevator. There are the conversations that take place there – whomever is passing by, whomever notices. And takes the moment to see it from that perspective – the elevator stops on someone else’s floor, and for a second, you imagine what might be there. Anything. A world that doesn’t have to conform to yours, and it could be an image, something whirling-dervish like (that’s a paraphrase of Ezra Pound – for another day) (and I have just thrown entirely too many poets into few pages). An engagement – or, an almost engagement – or, the infinite potential of engagement every time the door opens. Or not.


Dear NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,

Kevin is in the elevator. I work on the Mental Hygiene floor. I don’t believe the elevator is very hygienic for his mental health, or for anyone’s. If you need a person to sit in the freight elevator – and again, I’m really not sure where you’re going with that – have them switch off. Like, every hour or two. And then do a job that involves running around the building. Or at least guarding something that is not the interior of a box. Let’s not be hypocritical, shall we? (Much like our syringe-return drop boxes (here – kiosks). You know we’re having trouble placing them in various places in the city, due to property lines, landlords, etc…is there a reason we can’t have them outside, here? It’s the right neighborhood. And there are certainly a lot of diabetics in the building – 24 floors? Yes. (…et al).

Maybe you’re worried because there is that big movie studio place (I’m assuming there are sets there) nearby? I mean, it’s easy to see, and I could definitely walk there during a quick break. I wonder what their security’s like. Or if they have anyone sitting in the elevator. If they do – okay, I’m picturing a fancy hotel – it should be made of glass and riding up and down in the middle of a lovely courtyard. There is a situation in which one can Sit in an Elevator. Much like subways, right? I imagine there’s a different in mental health and job retention between those on more above-ground lines and those on purely below-ground lines, right? I know several do go above ground, at one point. Take the Q. Those drivers are probably doing a little better than, say, the 2/3/4/5. You see the Brooklyn Bridge, downtown, etc. That’s pretty. And the Q – again – and the 7, etc, the ones that go over the Queensboro bridge. Okay. And I guess the A train drivers sortof see the ocean (do they?) on the way to the Rockaways.

You are concerned with my mental hygiene, perhaps. From my floor – the Mental Hygiene floor (only one of, I hope! but am not certain) – we have a panoramic view of four boroughs; with binoculars and imagination, we can likely see Staten Island, too. Across from my desk, I see midtown, the Citicorp building, and, craning a little to the left, the UN. If I go to the printer, I can see La Guardia, with fewer planes ascending/descending (visibly) than I would expect. I can see a lot of the Bronx, which is good, as we have many projects there. And, these days, I’m there when the sun sets.



Dear Kevin-in-the-elevator,

Perhaps, next time, I will bring you poems. If you’re still there…


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