Let’s be honest—if you love your job, truly love it, you’re in the minority. Some workers like their jobs, others merely tolerate them, and still others, unfortunately, hate them. For any of those three groups, then, it’s the small things at work that matter—a new, delicious espresso maker, an attractive (albeit married) co-worker situated two cubicles over, perhaps an inexpensive Thai restaurant or karaoke bar four blocks from your building that’s perfect for both lunch and after-hours drinks and carousing. A window office is what many 9-to-5, white-collar American workers dream about with a passion that’s strangely dispassionate—work’s work, no matter where you’re sitting—and yet simultaneously emphatic, driven, monomaniacal.
It’s this dispassionate passion that informs Maged Zaher’s third collection of poetry, Thank You for the Window Office. The speaker of the poems is a cog in the machine, as it were; throughout the volume a point hammered home again and again is that “The things we took for granted…Didn’t cause much disappointment / It was hope that really screwed us.” At the same time, however, Zaher’s speaker is someone that takes direction less from his business superiors and more from his own idiosyncratic sense of self. The world is absurd and, by virtue of that belief, life (both in and out of the office) is imminently worth living. Sex is important, as is desire, as is loneliness, angst, ambition, poetry, social class and a veritable slew of other human emotions and conceptions. In its entirety, the untitled poem on page 48 of Thank You for the Window Office reads:
People eventually stop sending you party reminders
And schedules empty out
With few poems to rescue
No one cares about the flag
But some anarchists are also patriotic
I am asking to be kindly left out
They have lots of rugs downtown
They are on perpetual sale
But they help us fight back the communists
This is not a poem about working in an office; it’s a poem about what happens at said office when one allows the mind to wander, allows a gaze to make its way out the window and through the trees. It’s didactic in the same way that the Monday-Friday, 9-to-5 work week is didactic, and yet it also hints at something greater, something that, once upon a time, might have actually been worth doing. The notion of the Protestant work ethic—that we work because God wants us to work, that we toil because God rewards those who toil, that we endure strife because God blesses those who endure strife–-is never overtly mentioned or discussed in Zaher’s book; the closest it comes to making such an identification is very early on, when in the second poem of the collection the speaker fleetingly asserts, “We will integrate our business strategy / With God’s will.”
But the spirit of the Protestant work ethic seeps through the entirety of the volume. As millions of American workers do, the speaker in Thank You for the Window Office does not care for his job, but also doesn’t want to lose or quit it. His apathetic hatred of it gives him faith, and he plans to milk that faith—and the money he earns via it—for as long as he can. “Do you understand how most machines work? / Typically you feed them humans” the speaker explains late in the collection. The speaker’s job, the one he despises, won’t be around for much longer and so he strives for capitalistic getting while that getting is still good.
Thank You for the Window Office is serial in nature—all of the 74 poems in the volume are untitled and each is contained on a single page. Thus, progressing through Zaher’s book is, again, akin to watching a workday clock. Moments of real poetic “work”—“The data is categorized / And squeezed into the brains / Of a few lucky employees / We call this management”—are often followed by some decidedly less productive moments—“In Paris I heard / They have umbrellas / And they have croissants.” Just like the American office worker, Zaher’s speaker can’t be on all the time and a balance must be kept between revelation and monotony, the epiphanic and the ho-hum. This balance spans the volume, and if, progressing through sequentially, the reader finds some poems lacking, the next page over or the next page back is sure to make up for said lack. Like most, if not all, worthwhile collections of poetry, Thank You for the Window Office is an immersive reading experience, but one that occasionally has poetic gaps. Nonetheless, it’s an essential volume of contemporary poetry in the sense that it encapsulates what, day in, day out, many of us think and feel, hope and wish. In Thank You for the Window Office, a window office is not just a window office; it’s a means of creative escape. Maged Zaher is a poet to be read and studied for his ability to turn boredom into art.