A poem by Souvankham Thammavongsa
Last Day at the Office
It was the potted plants that were
the first to go. Someone had been assigned
the task of watering them, and whoever
that was didn’t come around to do it,
and if there had been a replacement
it wasn’t listed as part of the job.
Then, it was the pens in the office
and the envelopes and metal-ringed notepads.
Someone was put in charge of buying
the supplies and stocking the drawer.
There are paperclips and staples at
least. Next, it was the window. You
could see across an alleyway to the side
of a Hilton Hotel. When it rained, the cement
got darker. And when the desks
were all moved to the fourth floor, where
there was no window at all, we were glad
for a door on a broken hinge. We
opened the door to keep our spirits up. The
cheques they gave us didn’t clear.
A stamp with “Insufficient funds” angled
across the amount it was made out for.
Finally, the last day there arrived. It was
obvious. There was a man sitting in
the lunchroom, belching. He didn’t bother
to apologize or excuse himself as if
all these years made us family now. In the
washroom stall, the ceiling was about to collapse.
There was a brown stain there, growing wide.
A broken pipe, a busted toilet. Someone
hadn’t seen to it by now. There had been
a custodian. He wore a grey uniform and smoked
near the front entrance during his breaks. He
was there when a woman got run over.
He took off his jacket and folded it neatly
under the woman’s head. He kneeled down
beside her to get her last word. Something
was said, but what that was between the two
of them I couldn’t know. We were all removed.
Souvankham Thammavongsa is appearing at the Vancouver Writers Festival October 2019.
“Last Day at the Office” from CLUSTER by Souvankham Thammavongsa, Copyright c 2019 Souvankham Thammavongsa. Reprinted by permissions of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. All rights reserved.