Rita Dove – Elevator Man, 1949


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Not a cage but an organ:
if he thought about it, he'd go insane.
Yes, if he thought about it
he was a bubble of bad air
in a closed system.

He sleeps on his feet
until the bosses enter from the paths
of Research and Administration-
the same white classmates
he had helped through Organic Chemistry.

A year ago they got him a transfer
from assembly line to Corporate Headquarters,
a "kindness" he repaid

by letting out all the stops,
jostling them up and down
the scale of his bitterness

until they emerge, queasy, rubbing
the backs of their necks,
feeling absolved and somehow
in need of a drink. The secret

he thinks to himself, is not
in the pipe but
the slender breath of the piper.

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