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Haiku in the Workplace: Elevator Awkwardness

“Hell is . . . other people,” Jean-Paul Sartre opined in his 1944 drama Huis Clos (No Exit), and of course he was right. Those of us who work in close proximity with other members of the species know how maddening they can be to be with — unlike ourselves. Sartre didn’t do it, but he could have set his play in an elevator, though the overtness of the metaphor might have worked against his intention. Nevertheless, an elevator is one of a very few places where nearly anyone can step into our space and befoul us with their styles and conversations and aromas and so on, without our having some recourse. All we can do is bear it until we arrive at his floor, or ours. So it came as no surprise to me that one of you wrote

a lift ascends
to heaven but first the hell —
of other people
	[David Dayson]

Isn’t it true that we wouldn’t appreciate the sweet things of life without their contrasting opposites also being possible?

Most of this week’s submissions fall into this same general pattern, but in more specific detail. It’s apparent no one likes the lift, but only a few can avoid it:

over the lift’s limit —
the slimmest leave 
to climb stairs 
	[David Dayson]

This seems to me an excellent example of natural selection.

By far the number one complaint is the one you thought it would be:

wind passed —
on so many levels 
wrong in a lift
	[David Dayson]

There were many iterations of this poem, with not so subtle variation, in this week’s submissions. This one, with its punning and faux finger-wagging, was the most fun. The second most common complaint is probably also to be expected:

lift origami —
folding inwards to remain
	[David Dayson]

Though I find this metaphor a bit stretched in making its point, it nevertheless does so, and is worth our noticing.

The author of my third choice for this week faces a different sort of crisis, one more personal and challenging:

so far to go —
in a glass-fronted lift
with vertigo
	[David Dayson]

The “so far to go” may be a single floor, but facing even a modest ascent with such an affliction can be completely paralyzing, so this small poem is outsized in personal success for its overcoming that which might disable us.

Second place goes to this poem:

the last person 
barging into a lift —
touches us all
	[David Dayson]

I can’t be certain that the poet intends a second reading here, but it doesn’t matter, the words permit it. We are often irritated by someone arriving late and having the door held for him, slowing us all down, and such feelings are escalated (sorry) if that person proves to be loud or obstreperous or inconsiderate or smelly or some combination of these things. And the last minute clambering in certainly shifts us all, which makes the poet’s point — even if the latecomer doesn’t physically barge into us, the Brownian motion caused by his arrival is certain to jostle us all. But it’s also possible to read the poem in the light of fellow-feeling — perhaps this last arrival is late, out of breath, disheveled from his dash. We can find common ground with him, and identify with his consternation.

Well, it’s possible . . .

My top winner this week neatly captures one of the most common situations we encounter in our elevator lives:

lift doors open —
a conversation ends
in mid-sentence
	[David Dayson]

Much of social life is made up of “ins” and “outs” and few things make it more certain that we are among the “outs” than the cessation of a conversation. The unspoken words hang palpably in the air, and we know we have caused this interruption. For most of us, this piques our interest — were they speaking of something I should know about in my office? Were they talking about me? But of course pursuing it is out of the question. We all crave access, but if you have to ask . . .

Of course not every trip on the elevator needs be so paralyzing or distasteful. We can always discuss the weather . . .

New Poems

elevator rules
I fail to follow 
with giggles
     — Alan Summers
elevator —
My boss and his mistress
flushed cheeks
     — Doris Pascolo
walking in,
pressing the button —
selfie time?
     — Ernesto P Santiago
four corners
we forget
the middle ground
     — Betty Shropshire
third world symptom
navigating my wheelchair
up all those flights
     — Celestine Nudanu
express elevator
the boss and i exchange
     — Roberta Beary
elevator silence 
trapped between floors 
with the boss
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
the rhythm of
passing floors — higher and higher
     — Maria Laura Valente
patrons aboard
riding maximum capacity 
there she blows
     — Katherine Stella
a full-packed elevator
his silent fart
     — Willie Bongcaron
elevator tutorials —
learning to embrace
fart and fragrance
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
secret love . . .
I watch him on the elevator
with lowered eyes
     — Eufemia Griffo
keep to the right 
or left of the corridor . . .
foreign conference
     — Karen Harvey
small talk the contents of his cycling shorts
     — Mark Gilbert
full elevator
the cell phone calls
no one takes
     — Pat Davis
claustrophobia     trapped in a lift with the couple in Kamasutra mode
     — Angelee Deodhar
holding my breath
in a crowded metal cube
mixed smells
     — Marta Chocilowska
embarrassed, packed
tight in the elevator —
we all look elsewhere
Forte imbarazzo
ristretti in ascensore
Ognuno guarda altrove
     — Angela Giordano
beads of sweat
waiting to get unstuck
in the college elevator
     — Carmen Sterba
doors sliding shut
the wonderful world
of lift music
     — Olivier Schopfer
the lift emptying
at everyone’s wrong floor
her spritz of Poison!
     — Marietta McGregor
sudden chill
doors open
to a stranger
     — Tiffany Shaw-Diaz
crowded elevator
going up
we all look down
     — Andy McLellan
some  have already
gone up
     — S. Radhamani
the weight limit alarms
as I step in
     — Enrique Garrovillo
asthma attack —
perfumes and aftershave
fill the lift
     — Martha Magenta
new-hire jitters . . .
in a stuck elevator
with the CEO
     — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams
rising office elevator 
she excuses her way
to the open door
     — Gail Oare
going down
sandwiched . . .
a rumble in my tummy
     — Madhuri Pillai
team meeting . . .
my boss and I in the lift
testing side walls
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi
crowded elevator
I imagine watching the sea
from the window
     — Elisa Allo
reality bites
he had between ground and nine
to catch my eye
     — Lee Nash
a couple takes a selfie
in the elevator — I try to be
out of sight
     — Tomislav Maretic
elevator peep show
doors open on me
and the run up my tights
     — Jennifer Hambrick
alone with my ex
an awkward silence
in the elevator
     — Arvinder Kaur
elevator ride
my boss’s wife ask me
to push the button
     — Cezar Ciobika
The comfort zone
somewhere among the shoes
crowded elevator
     — Stefano Riondato
lips almost touching
the elevator door
     — Anthony Rabang
my eyes in yours —
nowhere else to go
but downstairs
     — Ana Drobot

Next Week’s Theme: Summer Vacation Plans

Send your poem using “workplace haiku” as the subject by Sunday midnight to our Contact Form. Good luck!

kacian_jimFrom October 2014 through April 2016 Haiku Foundation president Jim Kacian offered a column on haiku for the London Financial Times centered on the theme of work. Each week we share these columns with the haiku community at large, along with an invitation to join in the fun. Submit a poem by Sunday midnight on the theme of the week, from the classical Japanese tradition, or contempor

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. I am new here and guess this lift/elevator prompt is rather remote to me since I am in a suburb of So cal but do go up 3 floors to several med appointments and union bldg.- rarely at schools where I may teach …
    I could write one about not going into the elevator w 3 men already in it
    and the e. not stopping at certain executive floors,
    who is at the button pushing board,
    And then getting in an up eleeee when I needed to go down.
    Hmmm passing gas…
    Thank God isn’t in my cosmos since I don’t eat peppers…hahahaas :-) Janis
    Ps I was glad to find the glass eleee and vertigo haiku, elevator music and looking at the sea…. Thanks!

  2. going up
    in the elevator
    with my boss
    until I reach
    the glass ceiling

    Thanks Andy McLellan

    1. Hmmm.
      Is there an eleeeee w an actual glass ceiling some where?
      SoCalHaikuStudyGroup :-) 7-23-17

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