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Four Poems from The Boss

her boss multiplies into millions of circles the boss / multiplies her zeroes


During her years working in investment banking and management consulting, poet Victoria Chang no doubt encountered plenty of difficult and challenging bosses. In her third book of poems, published by McSweeney’s Poetry Series this year, she returns to the figure of the boss to reflect on the nature of hierarchy and the loss of control and power, both in the workplace and in personal life. The poems from The Boss published here use no punctuation—with each line, the velocity of the poems increases. “Most were written and propelled forward by word play and associations,” Chang explained. “In many ways, I wanted the poems to mirror that feeling of loss of control so the poems could control the writer versus the other way around.”

Edward Hopper’s Automat

The woman in the automat must work must
have a boss must walk
to work two legs red with heat two legs
pressed into each other as if one

depended on the other the woman in the automat
takes one glove off to hold
the cup to shake the hand of a boss one hand
free she looks down at the circle

on the table looks down at the round reflection
of circular lights her boss circulates
memos her boss is the circle the circumference
circles her each day like a minnow

her boss multiplies into millions of circles the boss
multiplies her zeroes the boss bonuses
pro bonos her views her views collect
in the air ascend to space collide

with stars lie to the moon for anyone to listen
punching anything in sight on some nights
the moon speaks up because it knows it will still
have a job on some nights the moon

shines its white mane on everything
I’ve ever done wrong I can’t bear
to look at the light the blank doe eye
like a shadow I can’t shake

Automat, Edward Hopper, 1927.
Automat, Edward Hopper, 1927.

The boss has a daughter the boss changes a diaper

The boss has a daughter the boss changes a diaper
the boss tells us she is a successful woman
the boss successes the boss confesses
nothing the boss messes up if the boss

is a successful woman then what are we
are we in trouble unable to reach treble
unable to soar we are sore from bench pressing
papers from leg pressing staples sour from

head-messes the boss has a daughter someone
to care for the bus is powered by fuel the boss
is powered by fools who are powered
by the sun we have sons but they

are not old enough to save us they have no teeth yet
we are powered by something like the son the
corporation who is powered by the boss before
the plane went down into the field someone

turned on all the storms in the sky before
they stormed the cockpit the bosses
saw the cars on the freeway driving to their offices they
waved to the bosses in the cars but no one

saw them trapped behind the window once I taped up a hole
of bees thousands in the dark dressed in their best
black and yellow jackets I cried uncontrollably at
night and wore stripes for the MRI

(Courtesy Storrao)
(Courtesy Storrao/Flickr)

My father used to be selfish

My father used to be selfish he used to like fish
now he can’t identify fish I wish
I were selfish I used to be selfish on some days
I think how easy to sell fish on a boat

in another ocean shucking cussing some days
I think how easy to finish what I started
what I started to be the boss to write letters to let her
let him work for me to promote him to

demote her to protect him to eject her to read
of developmental needs of opportunities
to be important portable skills from company to
company portable like a lunch box

my four-year-old wants a Scooby-Doo lunch box
maybe she can solve the mystery of the missing
mother missing woman missing boss the mystery
of the missing father

(Andrew Griffith)
(Courtesy Andrew Griffith/Flickr)

There is only one

There is only one I am not the one
who won being the one means you
can power more than one more than two
three ten one guard can power

a white field of naked prisoners without
anything but a gun the prisoners stand
in a line they have a choice but they have
no choice when the plane is

hijacked Jack in 14D is still delighting that he
is above the clouds better than
the clouds he has spent his life looking up
but when the man in 13E says

to put their hands on their heads he will stop
watching Oprah his body will tense
up he will hear opera in his ears he will
suddenly forget he is one

of hundreds and there is only one hijacker
his future tense will listen to
13E even as he falls and his face is pressed
on the plane’s plain carpet