September 27th, 2010 / 5:51 pm
I Like __ A Lot


I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplicaton of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.

Certainly, Roethke was speaking of the monotony of office life, of life in general, but on grey days like today, the egoist in me tells me he wrote this poem about me. I am the duplicate grey standard face. I am endless duplication.

I have spent too much time in my office today, that much is true. Then, I went for a walk in the rain, which I thought would help lift the dolor out and away. But it didn’t.

I am reminded of Kafka, working in the office.

I am reminded of countless movies.

I am reminded of pages in books, standardized and uniform. Days like today, I wish I could erase all those words and start over. Or, I wish those words would animate themselves and invite me out to play.



  1. Theodore Roethke’s Dolor / HTMLGIANT « word pond

      […] Dolor | HTMLGIANT. […]

  2. deadgod

      If one wonders whether bureaucrats can write beautiful poems – poetry catalyzed into existence at least partly by the social technology, the practice, of office work – , think: Cavafy.

  3. lily hoang

      hi deadgod: i can think of loads of bureaucrats who write beautiful words. it may be the fluorescent lights or the LED screens (delete LED screens, insert typewriter if you’re feeling nostalgic) or the white walls or submission to authority. but something in that mixture stirs profound and stunning poetry and prose.

  4. Guest

      Reminded of “Book of Disquiet” by F. Pessoa, a must in the ‘office lit.’ canon.

  5. alexisorgera

      I love this poem, Lily. What a great first line.

  6. lily hoang

      yes, absolutely, Pessoa’s Book of Disquietude. i’d put Shane’s Light Boxes on there too. anything by Kafka. Eliot, obviously. audre lorde’s poetry from when she worked in a factory. this is fun. we should make a list. i like lists.

  7. deadgod

      i can think of loads of bureaucrats who write beautiful words […] something in [the office environment] stirs profound and stunning poetry and prose

      Cavafy’s historical and erotic poems, with their beautifully deft “indissoluble mixture of feeling, learning and thinking” (Seferis), are, in my view, characterized by that attention to exactly the telling detail and by a release into sexual love, respectively, that can vivify the otherwise-drudging working life of an office functionary (which Cavafy was).

      For those with an interest in going beyond checklists of robotic reference, Cavafy’s poems will beggar any temptation to sneer at the possibility of poetry and illumination in even the dreary precincts of the Third Circle of Irrigation at the Ministry of Public Works.

  8. Brennen Wysong

      Funny, just read this poem last week. …

  9. Gkayewaters

      It is a great poem I love it, and I’m an old dude who is still stuck in the sixties.

  10. christopher.

      Oh goodness, thanks for this post, Lily. This office cube has been terrorizing me lately.