Walls, once milk-white, now scalded from the flame
of years, a broken black line from folding chairs
leaned back, scuffing paint. You can tell
full-timers—propped-up feet, the way they sit
on brocade cushions brought from home,
while temps eat erect, not knowing how
to spot employees from Loss Prevention.
Half a vending machine sandwich is drying out
in a plastic triangle—someone called back to the sales floor.
Lettuce too green to be real droops over
stale crusts like clocks in a Dali painting.
On the big screen, Ken and Barbie
read the news from a teleprompter, eyes
scanning our tired faces. A winter storm
in Midwestern cities everyone is happy
they don’t live in. Volume too low to make out
words, but no one cares. Except for the iPhones,
you might think this a meditation class,
the way everyone seems mindful
of only the present moment. Each act a ritual
counting of minutes before clocking back in.
Someone lifts a Styrofoam cup, drains the last
caffeinated drop, another flips back a shirt cuff,
checks a watch. Without acknowledgment,
the room registers the gathering of scraps,
snaps of Tupperware lids, the open-fridge
chill, the final disposition of trash. Then the moaning
hinge of the break room door, the sigh
of pneumatic stopper—the latch bolt’s click.