TEMPS

VICTORIA KORNICK

In every office building there is someone stuffing envelopes,
me, for instance, in this conference room, telling the other temp a story:

once, a village found a sailor who’d drowned, his body so huge they thought he was a god.
A farmer dropped his pitchfork and someone mistook it for a scepter.

Last night there was a fountain in the park, and my friend said it’s less a fountain
than a body covered in water.

In my dream, someone had taken my name and was writing good books with it.
I didn’t know if I should be angry, and decided, at last, to wake up.

My friend and I walked past the train that shuttles north and south on one track.
One machine to do a task you understand, like a scooter or a metal filter that holds tea leaves
above the cup. Doesn’t it make you think of childhood? he asked.

When I was eight, a man and a woman drove to the end of my street and took off their clothes
every night for a week, though never together. Her nipples like hands cupped
over the ends of her breasts to keep them from falling further to the ground.

Some of your memories are a dream, my mother says.

In the beginning, people recognized each other by their hands:
a man held his up, found someone whose hand was smaller, and asked them to dance.

A few tasks remain, the radio economist says, that are not worth automating.
Folding towels takes a robot several years to learn;
any more complex laundry would be impossible.

But a machine can shake apples from a tree—the human task, now, is to pick them up.

After the beginning, people worked and their hands grew knobby, hard, unrecognizable.
We started knowing each other by our faces, the part of the body least touched.

The other temp rolls her eyes.
It is possible to have a theory for everything, according to physics.
Somewhere, I’m still watching a stranger’s body disappear as the light fades inside her car.

In the myth, a girl leaves her mother every year for Hades,
which, my mother told me, is what they used to call hell,
what I pictured as the dark interior of a sedan.

Each day passing until it becomes a memory, or a dream. Each day temporary
and then it is spring, and I think I will never have to go back.

VICTORIA KORNICK is a writer and teacher living in Brooklyn. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee and the recipient of a Rona Jaffe graduate fellowship. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Books, At Length Magazine, No Tokens Journal, and Print Oriented Bastards.