Back in her 20s, my friend Sherry was a paralegal
in Salt Lake City. She and her boyfriend decided
to take up a new life in San Francisco, and the plan
was that she’d leave the law firm at lunch
without a word to anyone. There he’d be
at the curb, with all they had in the world packed in the car.
There she’d be moving towards him, shedding
her office garb on the way to becoming
a desert-streaked creature. They’d drive with
the windows rolled down and the radio on,
bank robbers who had stolen their own futures.
The clock turned 11:50. Then noon.
Sherry headed for the door, and
a coworker asked, “Can you pick me up
a can of chicken and stars soup?”
The woman held out a ten-dollar bill.
Sherry demurred; from behind her IBM Selectric,
the woman insisted, with the gentle reproach
of someone who isn’t even going to take a lunch,
can’t you simply get her a can of soup
while you’re out? Her ten dollars burned in Sherry’s purse
through the desert, like an igneous rock glowing.
I think of this story often
in my cubicle at an office downtown
where every day I hear my coworkers eat their lunches as
they hear me eat mine. Tuna forked from a plastic container;
the crunch of carrot sticks and chips;
the chomping of a microwaved block of last night’s dinner;
the slurp of sodas and water and bad coffee.
At night I cross the parking lot and see the sky,
throttled with the purple that follows sunset.
It’s a turbulence I want to answer
in some astonishing way and fear I never will.