Unless You’re Dying

shoe on a wire

I had a boss once who, when I knocked on her door to wish her well on her vacation, looked up, and said, “Anne Marie, unless you are dying, I do not have time for you.”

Well, what else could I do after that but write a poem? So I did.

Unless You’re Dying*

for Betsy

Cold and darker, tendons bare
no eyelashes or brows or hair
imagining smells that are not there
remembering sounds and bells and care
landscapes seem so far away
my boss bit off my head today

I miss the shade my chin provides
the frowns and grins I miss the smiles
my once long neck is now a stub
scar tissue forms around the hub
the pedestal used to hold my face
now a memory not a trace
I guess I’ll put my words away
my boss bit off my head today

it lays there at her office door
sadly rolling back and forth
eyes are open crystal blue
seems to ask “what the hell’d I do?”
earrings dangle lipstick’s gone
back and forth a tuneless song
in a hurry she’s headed out
to Hawaii again no doubt
she simply shoved it out of the way
my boss bit off my head today

weightlessness is simple enough
no fear of choking or a cough
a pretty door stop kind of unique
think I’ll leave it through the week
when she returns it will just stare
as she reigns the kingdom from that chair
important, worldly, full of self
today I’ll watch her from the shelf
then the day she opens that file
I’ll look right at her with a smile
oh no today she needs a pen
opens the drawer, there I am again
I’ll just follow her around this way
my boss bit off my head today

(Written with an attempt to approximate the rhythm of Joni Mitchell’s “Tin Angel”).

It was a few years ago that this happened, but it changed my life. Not that I didn’t know people could be so mean, that a boss could be heartless and aloof, not that I haven’t worked all my life to find the strength to turn the other cheek, learn and move on, be bigger, tougher, take the high road, etc. But even after a lifetime of trying to do so, her words cut deeply.

Perhaps it is because in the course of my employment, and her being my boss, her dad died of alcoholism, both my parents died, my mom died after being very ill for a long time. This boss, herself, suffers awful migraines, and I, at the time, had a bad hip. We both knew pain, suffering, dying, and granted, we are healthy middle aged American women, so such suffering is relative, but it was a topic of our infrequent, and usually awkward, conversation. So for her to take the idea of pain and suffering, and throw it at me to show her power, and make me feel bad, well, it made me feel bad.

Power. Ha. Authority? Responsibility? Mostly power. I have known few people in my life so uncomfortable in their own shoes. (What was it that Steve Martin said about bologna?) Anyway, so uncomfortable in her own skin, life. Yet, in a powerful position. It always seemed as if she was going to fall off. Fall off her chair, her feet, the earth. Yet, she had salary and position and power. So out of place. Like a shoe hanging on a telephone wire. You look up and wonder, how’d that get up there?

And I learned, again, but it is a lesson I guess we need to repeat, or I do, that kindness is the best first choice, last choice, default choice. (And not kindness as defined by some wacko terrorist who thinks they are doing kind acts by ridding the world of people they don’t like, no). Just kind.

Sometimes it takes a moment of stepping back, away and out of our narcissism, our self importance, our stress over this vital moment that,  in reality, is not. Vital. At all. Step back. Be quiet.Be kind. Or simply zip it up.

My daughter Riana said the greatest thing the other day. In talking about someone who can be gruff and talkative and overbearing when it comes to social conversation, especially those conversations that wane political, and with him, they almost always do, and she said, ‘Yes, but he is kind. He is a kind man.’

And if felt good knowing she knows this. She gets this. Kindness, ultimately, reigns, and when you are faced with someone unkind, take the high road and walk away. Far, if you can. Fast as you can. Find beauty. Find calm. Let it go.


(Shoe image at top of blog from shutterstock. This one from me.).




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