David Harris Ebenbach, 4/17/2011
Current Occupation: Teacher
Former Occupation: Temp Worker of all Trades
Contact Information: David Harris Ebenbach’s poetry has appeared in, among other places, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Artful Dodge, and Mudfish. His first book of short stories, Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press), won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and the GLCA New Writer’s Award, and he wrote the chapter, “Plot: A Question of Focus,” for Gotham Writers Workshops’ book Writing Fiction (Bloomsbury, USA). Recently awarded an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, a MacDowell Colony fellowship, and a nomination for a Pushcart Prize, Ebenbach has a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, and teaches Creative Writing at Earlham College. Find out more at www.davidebenbach.com.
Poem for a Job that No Longer Exists
It was down in the meatpacking district,
this art gallery owned by a rich guy,
all baldness and tasteful suits, and run by
a lean woman, not his wife, whose manic
energy—part temper, part her frantic
and clearly doomed passion for the rich guy—
redounded, clamored, shattered off the high
white walls. For sure no one ever thanked her.
Me, I manned the phones, and one day got a
series of prank calls: silence on the line.
“It’s his wife,” my boss said, chewing her thumb
before she fled. Ringing echoed off the
white walls until my plea into the phone
for some mercy: “I’m just the freaking temp.”
At boring jobs I used to calculate
how much I made per minute, keeping track
of the day, twelve cents by twelve cents, as it
deposited its small worth in the bank.
Once, doing temp work, I passed this along
to my equally bored supervisor,
who did her own math, compared it to mine,
and stomped off to the office manager.
She came back with a raise, and somehow I
wasn’t fired. We got back to the work of
ordering envelopes by zip code, by
a labor of something other than love.
A labor of minutes, and here’s the thing
about minutes: they just keep on passing.
hired me to help her write an article—
she had designed a mishkan to be raised
next to Lincoln Center, the tent a full
block of cover or housing for our prayers,
whichever, until it was dismantled
again at the end of the Holy Days—
the idea was to sanctify time
instead of space. Though she was still waiting
for someone to build it; no one had time
for the logistics. It was summer and
I had been lost in Manhattan with my
wife, who was less lost, for a year by then.
Why was I there? Out the window, the street,
small cars at the foot of the apartment,
while she paced and ignored all my writing
advice, wondering if what she’d designed
would yet be built. Who could say? Outside, night
lofted its own low tent, impermanent
as the rest of us. I wanted to go
to my wife, to call our apartment home
or leave it. To not fight. To build. To go.