DS Maolalai, 7/9/2018

Current Occupation: Facility Maintenance Dispatch
Former Occupation: Hospital Control Room
Contact Information: DS Maolalai recently returned to Ireland after four years away, now spending his days working maintenance dispatch for a bank and his nights looking out the window and wishing he had a view. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 by the Encircle Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

 

#

The window

where I work now 
– yes, it's one of those ones –
it's an office.
and I have a window.

I remember 
years
sitting in mildew-ridden basements
sending out calls to bikers who refused to take them.
I remember other basements,
and begging carpenters
to do one more job please before going home.
I remember making calls to old ladies
and explaining 
that if they signed up for a free quotation
(no obligation)
our technicians would also look at their fascias and soffits
and could even advise
on the placement of new window-panes. 

never
was my complaint
against the bikers
or the carpenters. they worked
the same shifts as us – sometimes for more money,
sure, but always
harder than we did. they were the ones 
in the rain and snow
or dealing face to face with patients
asking why they'd taken so long on a broken windowpane.
we were just in chairs,
leaning back,
taking calls,
arguing over the coffee runs.

my complaint was always
and is always
violently against management;
who were perched up there
in their nice offices,
bathed in vitamin D from morning to night
and with windows. a window
seemed like nothing but luxury.
a window
was grapes dropped in your mouth.

and now 
I have a window of my own.
and I still don't enjoy it;
all I can see outside
is a burned out caravan
and a road 
packed with traffic like piano keys.
I still spend my day
arguing with drivers
and trying my best
to stop things falling too far behind.
all they have given me
for the money
is nothing else to complain about. 

#

300 alarm clocks

I work at 
this. the poems. you may not see it
but I do. I don't want to be
sitting in a rolling armchair
still answering phones for people
as I edge into my 30s. this woman
works with me – she has a degree
in physical therapy 
and her wife has a masters in law
and now they both take phone calls
and arrange quotations for people
looking to order 300 alarm clocks
for the insane ward
in a new hospital
opening next summer. the conversation
at their dinner table
must be stunning. all this 
for a quiet room in a boarding house
where I can come home to wine and music of a night
and no money left over 
when you take away the rent. god 
is an object lesson
in defeat. we are all trapped in fates
comfortable enough to bear. I 
am still interested in getting out. 
squirrels run straight up trees
and disappear. I scratch
at the belly of the cave
in the hope of being discovered.

#

People from abroad and an artist and a lady who wanted to be left alone

this was a few years ago
before I'd left ireland and then come back again
when I was picking up some money in the evenings
by working as a census collector 
in the slums on the northside
around mountjoy sq.
it was early enough in the year
that you had to wear a jacket
and cold
and the rain would land on the ground in blankets and stay there
and shine like a mirror as the sun was going down until
the whole world looked silver and white.
I'd go door to door in these big victorian buildings –
mountjoy sq has these big victorian buildings
that you wouldn't know were holding slums from outside –
and I'd knock on the plywood doors of these subdivided oneroom deadwater flats 
with two or three people seating there
and a toilet at the end of each hallway filled spilled piss, wet dirt and detergents
and hand out these forms people had to fill in and sometimes
help them fill them if they were roma gypsies 
or eastern european or spanish 
and had trouble with 
english words like "residence" or "continuing".

it was easy work all over and I liked seeing how these people
would manage to live in spaces small enough for a woodlouse to get noticed,
small enough that you'd never lose your cigarettes.
there was this woman who's whole room smelled deliciously of coffee and apple perfume
and she invited me in to sit down because she said I looked tired
and then kissed me and said that if nobody lived in the apartment
she'd let me do whatever I wanted 
and she sat on my lap and unbuttoned her blouse
and I didn't say I wanted anything 
but I guess the room was empty an hour later
and her mouth tasted like fruit because she must have been eating fruit when I knocked
and her hair was light brown
hearing into red in some places.
and there was this old guy down in the basement who looked like he could barely walk at all
but somehow he must have made his way up these metal steps covered in rainwater every day
and he had all these paintings
and he let me have a coffee and talked to me for a long time about how nobody in the whole goddamn                                                         country
liked art anymore
and I used to bring a little whiskey with me sometimes to feel exciting and I offered him some
and he put it in his coffee and said
"this is really good whiskey
thank you
this is going to be the fuel for a really good painting"
but I filled out the form with him and never went back
and never found out how the painting turned out.
sometimes people wouldnt want to answer the door either
they would say that I was a garda
or somebody's old boyfriend
and I would have to slide the papers under the door
and sometimes they would slide them back filled over with "fuck you"s and "cunt"s and sometimes 
                                    they wouldn't slide them back at all.

one of the other guys said he'd just staked out the liquor store all day on a Friday and
handed out papers to anyone who went past 
and he said he got all of his forms filled out in two days of that.
the rain that came was very light usually but it stayed for a long time on the ground
and then sometimes you would walk rain into the hallway of a building and come back the next day
and you could still pick out your footprints it was so cold.
a lady from mauritius gave me a handful of bread she had just baked 
and it was delicious full of spice and fruit pieces and aroma and nuts
or maybe I was just hungry.
the people were poor and mostly not very happy
but they all talked a lot to me.
I was only once threatened with violence in four weeks of going around
and that was from an irish guy who thought I was trying to count out how many people lived there
so I could have the building condemned and then turned into condos.
mounjoy sq. seems like a place with good people 
like you dont really get anymore
like Orwell's Paris in Down and Out
or like somewhere Charles Bukowski might have lived if he wasnt such a sour auld fucker
and thought he might learn how to like people.

I sometimes walk through it now on my way home from work and
I guess there was a fire in one of the buildings or something and a bunch of people must have been
                                                     killed 
or died later from emphysema 
and now they're planning on tearing it down anyway
this place I got laid and met a guy who could paint well well into his seventies
and there was a dog that barked at me every day and then once when I got close it licked my hand    
and they're going to make it into student housing for kids up from the country that want to go to dcu    
and there's a pretty hip bar now down near there on a corner
and someone said they're paving the park.
the whole neighbourhood is really going to be coming up 
into somewhere you could visit
really very soon.

#

I'm scared, coach

he works a step above me
in facility management
which means basically
that he's the one
who decides the when the lights should stay on
and I go off and do it.

he's one of those
lilybalding white men
that you can't quite examine – 
could be springwater 60
or well-worried at 40,
coaches football
in his spare time
and sometimes comes in
bruised and tore up
or with a cut 
on top of his bald 
limping head. 

I stay home at night
listening to music,
drinking wine 
and eating apples by the basket
and come in every morning
fresh as a salmon
but he is always
still there,
a little more worried
a little more lined. 

I call in contractors
while he speaks to management
and frets 
like a 10 year old caffeine addict. he wasn't born 
for anything 
more taxing
than teaching
those skinny 16 year olds
the right part
of a ball to kick
and if any of our lives were just and ordered
that is all 
he'd have to do.

#
Humber River Hospital

when I worked
at Toronto's 
Humber River Hospital
it was
(they said)
the most technically advanced hospital
in the world outside Dubai,
with robots running rails
to deliver pills, blankets and syringes,
messages 
and samples
sent by pneumatic tube,
and a special panic system that could track the location
of anyone in the building
right down
to the very portion
of whatever room they were standing in.

when I worked at 
the Humber River Hospital 
I witnessed:
2 deaths of children caused by errors with the intercom,
1 attempt by a guy in the ER to steal a policeman's gun,
1 woman 
collapsed in blood on the floor
and forgotten for 30 minutes by the orderlies
and 8 escapes from the insane ward, 
of which 3 ended in assaults
and 2 
in attempted suicides.

I used to walk there
in the afternoon
if I was going in for a night-shift
and the sun would summer overhead
and drain sweat
until my mouth was dry
and my shirtsleeves
were soaking. the hospital
was located
outside the city
and I lived down the middle of downtown
but there were parts of the walk
which were not unpleasant. once
I saw a hawk bring down a pigeon
right into the highway
and cars swerved
but nobody was killed
as it stood on it's capture
blinking 
with chicken-eyed stupidity. 

the control-room office I worked from
was on the basement level
right next to the main cafe
and we spent a lot of time in there talking,
drinking coffee
and watching tv. it was in there that the intercom went out from
and I knew both the guys pretty well
that made the mistakes mentioned earlier. one of them was me. 
but we'd both worked there almost two years by then
and anyone
who works somewhere for that long
in a mindless job where the biggest problem most days
is resetting a robot that failed to detect a door 
can be forgiven 
for making one
fumbling 
panicked mistake
in an emergency,
right?
 

 

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