Institutional still life
(a non-homage to bureaucracy)
 

They've seen it all, these walls, these floors,
these ceiling tiles with the little holes
like the upper atmosphere of the
schools of thirty years ago,
breathing in the heat and the sweat
and the tight frustration of
I-know-this-game-like-the-back-of-my-hand
and the stale smoke wafting upward
in the institutional draft.

The walls are bland and beige
and the people who lean against them wear
scruffy hair and poor grammar and the
bottoms of their pants are frayed,
or they're decked out in their best 
acid-washed jeans and attitudes
and their children behave themselves and play
restless-quietly, like in church,
while the parents fill out the 
white sheets and the yellow sheets and play
hurry-up-and-wait.

The people who work here stride by smiling and
peppy like recreation directors on some cruise ship, or
peer down on the hurry-up-and-waiters
as if through Aunt Martha's judgmental glasses
when she sees that little scamp Johnny-
who-everybody-knows-will-never-amount-to-
anything-but-trouble.
They've seen it all before, the workers and these walls;
they've seen all the people and they've 
heard every story and they're
all the same--always the same--and they know
they'll never amount to anything
but trouble.

The floor is beige under the high tops and
the work boots and the patent leather sandals
and the old worn nondescript shoes with
the little holes starting, streaked
in shades of tedium. Tiles like
the inlaid tiles of bureaucracy with the
wide mortar borders where everything of significance
slips through the cracks.
The benches are hard glossy wood, straight pieces
put together in a basic design,
no art, no curves, no accommodation, but hey,
they weren't built for comfort--
they were built to be benches.

And the plain and the scruffy and 
the painted and worn and different people
sit on the benches and fill out forms and
sit waiting and waiting and 
they talk quietly and respect the space
of the ones they don't know.
But the benches know it all.
They know the restless worry of every body that 
shifts on them in prolonged discomfort, every
story traded about friends in common who
spend time here, every cigarette
that tries to stave off the hidden edginess, 
every hard glare, every fuck-you, every
furious grip on the bench's edge
that are launched from their moorings
deadly and silent and almost undetectable.

The halls are cleaned at night, the benches
are cleaned and the floors are stripped
and waxed and polished but it never 
removes the buildup; it only grows and grows,
narrowing the hallway, making the passage more precarious,
until one day someone gets stuck solid
in the narrowness of it
and the people who never come here
look at it and marvel: that person 
jam-stuck in the middle of a big vacant hallway.
And they shake their heads in amazement
and wonder how it happened.

   © 1990, bardsmaid

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