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The Boss

Four Poems by Victoria Chang

By Victoria Chang


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 he used to like fish
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 I am not the 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