Break Room

Break Room | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

"Each act a ritual / counting of minutes before clocking back in." Courtesy of Alexander Muse/flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Walls, once milk-white, now scalded from the flame

of years, a broken black line from folding chairs

leaned back, scuffing paint. You can tell

full-timers—propped-up feet, the way they sit

on brocade cushions brought from home,

while temps eat erect, not knowing how

to spot employees from Loss Prevention.

Half a vending machine sandwich is drying out

in a plastic triangle—someone called back to the sales floor.

Lettuce too green to be real droops over

stale crusts like clocks in a Dali painting.

On the big screen, Ken and Barbie

read the news from a teleprompter, eyes

scanning our tired faces. A winter storm

in Midwestern cities everyone is happy

they don’t live in. Volume too low to make out

words, but no one cares. Except for the iPhones,

you might think this a meditation class,

the way everyone seems mindful

of only the present moment. Each act a ritual

counting of minutes before clocking back in.

Someone lifts a Styrofoam cup, drains the last

caffeinated drop, another flips back a shirt cuff,

checks a watch. Without acknowledgment,

the room registers the gathering of scraps,

snaps of Tupperware lids, the open fridge

chill, the final disposition of trash. Then the moaning

hinge of the break room door, the sigh

of pneumatic stopper—the latch bolt’s click.

Terry Lucas is Poet Laureate Emeritus of Marin County, California. His latest poetry collection is The Thing Itself, with photographs by Gary Topper.
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