Exit Interview

Not because of the hours or the pay, which could be worse.
          Not because of my commute into this office park,
                    or that no one else appreciates that phrase as much as I do.

Not the dim unholy hum of energy-efficient lights,
          recycled air with hints of garlic and scorched wool,
                    the break room fridge with its mysterious stains, open bottle

of rosé no one will drink or claim. Not the thousand
          bloodless paper cuts, copier that jams in high humidity,
                    the legion e-mails labeled Urgent, their emoticons

and useless FYIs. Not the spreadsheets and reports
          that are assigned, written, revised and never spoken of.
                    Not the tedium of meetings at which nothing is discussed,

managers who barely learned my name before
          they disappeared. Not because of everything that doesn’t
                    function—water fountains, window blinds, the entire

marketing department. Not even because of office politics,
          the gossip and jockeying, spats over power we don’t have.
                    Because the work I love is what I spend the least time

doing. Because I jerk awake at 4:00 am, my fists
          already clenched, have stopped feeling concern for coworkers
                    upset by bad reviews, sick pets or family cancer.

Because every shift in policy makes my life slightly
          worse, and I can’t find the line between caring too much
                    and total apathy. Because ever since I started here

I’ve been assured things will improve, but I’m afraid
          that staying means becoming bitter and entrenched,
                    unhappy but unable to move on.

More by Carrie Shipers

Report on the Most Recent Survey of Morale

We noticed participation has decreased,
though whether due to layoffs or malaise
we can’t be sure. While the survey

is anonymous, if you filled the comment boxes
with These questions suck or Stop wasting
my time, we probably know who you are,

especially if you mentioned your division,
duties and job description, and even more so
if you signed your name. We’re sorry

you’re suffering, but we doubt work
caused your divorce. We’re also dismayed
by demands for better leadership.

While you’re welcome to select Somewhat
or Not at all in response to Do you find
management effective?, we’d like you

to imagine how that makes us feel.
Perhaps it was insensitive to ask
which of your coworkers are seeking

other jobs, but we really need an estimate.
If you left that question blank, it’s not
too late to pass some names along.

The news isn’t all bad. Even with
increased co-pays and deductibles,
our health plan is a hit, especially for those

with anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Although we can’t eliminate long waits
when contacting HR, you can now turn off

the music while on hold. Widespread raises
are impossible, but we’ve found funds
for better toilet paper, ice cream once a month.

In the coming weeks, a new task force
will form to brainstorm future questionnaires
as well as cost-effective ways to ease—

if not eradicate—your pain. (Though
we’re aware of some survey fatigue,
this instrument was too expensive

not to use.) The next window for feedback
opens soon. We’ll keep asking
what you think until your answers change.

Prayer to Our Lady of Waiting Rooms

Let the seats be plentiful and padded.  
Let the magazines be recent or let the book 
I’ve brought last until we can leave.
Let the TV on its bolted stand be off, 
muted, or showing something I can ignore—
weather, gameshows, CNN.  Let the room 
be mostly empty—no one shouting, sobbing, 
asking about my husband’s health.  
Let everyone be strangers except 
the staff.  Let the walls be freshly painted, 
soothing to behold.  Let my husband 
be there for a physical or routine checkup.  
Let no one comment on my clothes
or unwashed hair, how I can sit 
so calmly while he has staples 
or a catheter removed, his lungs or heart 
or kidneys tested, an infected wound 
debrided.  Under no circumstances 
let me be called into the back by a nurse 
who touches my arm, says I’m sorry but—  
Let my husband walk out whistling 
before I’ve finished my book, looked 
at my watch too many times.  Let the news
be good or benign, his next appointment 
not for months.  When the waiting is over, 
let us walk outside feeling better,
or at least no worse, than we did before.

Self-Portrait as Aerialist

I’ve always been afraid to fall—the rough 
embrace of the net, the crowd’s shocked gasp, 
my mother’s disapproval.  She loves me best

when I can fly, when I trust the bar, the leap,
the air and all my training.  From far away, 
every catch, release and tumble looks as effortless 

as breath.  Up close, we grunt and cry, hands 
sweat and slip, wires creak and nearly tangle.  
I’d rather be the girl the magician disappears, 

the lovely target spinning for the knives, 
assistant who holds the hoops the cats 
jump through—anything to avoid the long climb 

and quick launch into space where only light 
will catch me every time.  Every landing
comes as a relief, the platform trembling 

beneath my feet, ache in my chest easing.  
If I crash into the net I have to wave and smile, 
pretend it doesn’t hurt to fall so far.