Thursday, July 1, 2010

Coffee Machine

forty-five cents
for a bad cup
of vending machine coffee.

the vending machine man
didn’t stock lids

i think about him
and about the janitor
wiping down the sinks and
hauling trash
and the men who tromp around
on the roof,
banging on the air conditioners
every month
to get them humming again.

they didn’t get
the email from corporate
with the link
to the newsletter
with the article
about how we are poised
to “boost efficiency”
through “consolidation”

“it was a very tough decision"
said the boss
who has been in our building
in four years,
“knowing it will
affect people’s lives”

listen, not having lids
affects people’s lives.

not having jobs
alters them.
suspends them.
holds them hostage
in paper cups
while all the heat

i drink bad coffee
in front of
rows of chips
and candy bars,
burritos and pre-packaged sandwiches
neatly stacked
behind the glass.

so here we are;

forty-five cents
a line of machines

and lids
that just don’t fit
our cost structure


Julie said...

Two thumbs way up. Five star poem. No, make that ten stars...and they're all gold. That's really all that needs to be said. But I can't help myself. I've gotta say more.

Joaquin, I have read this poem at least a dozen times. It's another one of my all-time favorite Joaquin hits. The voice is fantastic, and the lines rival Winans in authenticity. And I love Winans, so that's not something I say often. But this is such a powerful portrayal of the little people who always get screwed, the human beings whose lives end up on the corporate e-mail (yet they don't know it until they get the axe). The guys tromping on the roof to get the air conditioner "humming again" is such a fitting detail.

The matter of fact voice makes it even more powerful. The boss who has only been in the building once in four years is SO TRUE! And this is right on:

"listen, not having lids
affects people’s lives.

not having jobs
alters them.
suspends them.
holds them hostage
in paper cups
while all the heat

The items neatly stacked behind the glass is another ten star detail. But what really punched me in the heart is the ending, those lids that just don't fit anymore.

Sorry to ramble on and on. I love this poem a million times. This is a poem that the entire world (especially the corporate world) should read.

Karen said...

I hate following Julie! :-)
I'm resolved not to read her comment until I've written mine. That way, if I say the same thing, that's okay.

The first thing that strikes me about this is the affinity the speaker feels with the janitor, the air conditioner guys, and all of those "little" people who don't get the "email from corporate." The affinity is belied by his voice, matter of factly complaining about the coffee lids and the downsizing at the same time. Even though his tone is neutral, his choice quotes from the corporate letter clue us in that he doesn't believe a word he's saying (about his annoyance). This comes plain in the final stanzas:

listen, not having lids
affects people’s lives.

not having jobs
alters them.
suspends them.
holds them hostage
in paper cups
while all the heat

"Alters"..."suspends"..."holds them hostage," all words that arrest the reader and make us feel how devastating these decisions are.

You champion those who have none, joaquin. You do it with finesse and compassion that soaks through the entire piece.

Bravo, again and again.

Now I can go read what Jules has to say. :-)

signed...bkm said...

Excellent Joaquin - I have stood in front of those machines, whispers and words flying back and forth about emails, memos and did a wonderful job on capturing the moments and the a coffee cup lacking a lid.....bkm

Kits said...

I loved that last line - packed a punch in my estimation. The words are perfect esp the bit about alters, suspends and holds them hostage. The words held me hostage Joaquin :)

Aniket said...

I guess anyone who has been working with the giants for the last couple of years would relate to this.

Karen has already picked up my fav. lines. Julie has already said all I wanted to.

Now, I'm missing all the friends that got laid off during recession.

Nevine said...

What a brutal reminder of the misfortune of these times. The reality is that we're all janitors, even the big shots... they have to answer to somebody else, too. Out of context, but thinking of McCrystal. The sight of him made the lowly soldiers tremble in their boots. But it didn't take much to make him tremble in his, too.

I love the metaphor of the cups with no lids... the imperfection... the missing pieces that seem to define who we are. I love the choppiness of the narrative... it reads a bit like poetry... a bit like prose. And an interesting title, too. Isn't that a first stop for many people as they begin their work day?

I loved the solemn desperation in every line!


Sarah Hina said...


This poem (with its slow drip coffee, I guess, and vertical focus) makes me think of trickle-down economics, and its hobbled legacy. Everything's very linear and vaguely Orwellian with all those crisp banalities, covering for a chaos and turmoil that can't be verbalized, lest it become too...human.

I get the sense that the narrator is enormously frustrated, and terrible sorry, yet also feeling utterly powerless to change a structure in which he also fills a nook.

so here we are;

That line, so deceptively simple, packed a wallop.

God, and I don't know exactly why, but this piece also made me think of Dr. Strangelove. I suppose it's the facade vs. reality dichotomy again. So absurd it's almost funny. But not really.

Brilliant, in the way that heartbreaking truths always are. I won't forget this one.

martine said...

followed you from a Poetry Bus comment. Love this poem, subtle and understated and powerful.
thanks for sharing

joaquin carvel said...

julie - i'd have been way happy with ten stars - but "rival winans in authenticity" just blew me away. he's one of the best-kept secrets in american poetry - though i don't know why - he should be read a lot more than i think he is. thank you. this probably hits closer to home for some - i think we've both been there - but it's one of those ones where authenticity is kinda everything. otherwise it's just whining and self-pity. i guess i'm trying to say that while i appreciate all of your comments, the ones here mean an awful lot. thank you, again.

karen - me too - but you gotta be fast to beat julie! thank you - though it's easy to focus one's own problems, one doesn't have to look very far (especially these days) to see how good one really has it. too many factors beyond our control making too many good people hurt in very real ways. and it just keeps rippling through so many lives.

bkm - thank you. that grapevine is a weird and horrible thing, isn't it?

kits - holds you hostage in a good way, right? kidding - thank you.

aniket - yes - just wish it was over. but it doesn't seem to be. thank you - i'm missing people too.

nevine - i hadn't thought of it that way, but you're right. no one is indispensable. so great to have the benifit of your sharp eye and insight - thank you - and yes, i think we often first see the end coming in the little things, where we often begin.

sarah - see, this is the best part of posting poems as opposed to just writing them and sticking them in a drawer somewhere. drip coffee & trickle down economics - yes - which is far more apparant when a crippled economy is trickling hardship and struggle. it is frustrating, largely because we do feel so powerless. probably why consumer spending is down but lottery ticket sales are spiking. desperate times and all that.

martine - thank you - glad you dropped in. :)

Julie said...

P.S. - I have no business telling you this, because I'm the world's slowest submitter.

But I had to come back to this one to say I hope you sent it out, too. It will get published, if it hasn't already. It is excellent. Many people will love it like I do.

Have a good weekend!