from LABORby Jill Magi
The archaeologist with tenure places a medical waste box at the edge of the brackish water. The self-appointed inspector drops each grievance tied up with string and marked with an “X” into the box until the box is full. The teacher who is also an artist slips a complaint under the inspector’s door. The inspector uses her old keys to enter the building and an office at night that is the archaeologist’s office by day. The teaching artist writes notes and lists in her sketchbook. She conducts research in the archive and discovers her own grievance. She takes the paper that bears her name and eats it. Her vision will blur. She builds a catapult and draws women in flight. The archaeologist leaves a copy of her autobiography on the corner of the desk knowing that at night the inspector cannot resist reading the manuscript entitled My Seneca Village.
Identifying marks: There are none because the cinderblock walls do not give way under the artist’s fingers. Because the archaeologist positions the sonar above the remains of the school above the remains of the town over which the park was built. Because no soil is disturbed. Because the library’s marble floor is too hard for the inspector’s body. Because before each interview I sew my bank statement under the skin of my hand and shake.
The inspector named Sadie turns the key and enters then presses the soft numbers of the alarm. Once she worked during the day until they wrote “due to” “not able to renew your” “we regret.” Formerly an historian now self-appointed inspector she says “I will sidle right up to their stink and let it be known” without a trace of youthful sibilance. “I will not turn fifty with grace.”
This is not quite a hospital not exactly a museum almost a prison and nearly a school. Sadie after stepping through inhales. The glass doors close behind her and reflect her own body that she mistakes for another each time. Thin and pale she is a hallway she is a blank form a potential grievance eating up her own outline and always arriving.
1st Verbal Step, 2nd Verbal Step, 1st Written Step, 2nd Written Step, Outcome, Arbitration, Signed and Dated, Standard Grievance, Filed.
What would I say to her? “Here is my list.” And what would she say in response? “I have a form for these” or “you naïve young thing.” But Sadie is always across the lobby down the hall out the door. Or I look up and see her on the library’s upper floor. Or I walk in and she is on her way out.
Finally we cross at the elevator’s threshold. A button pinned to her blouse reads “Women: Don’t Agonize, Organize!” I notice a hole around the metal pin and the button has flopped down from its own weight. I hand her my list quickly. She unfolds the paper and the doors close between us.
Sadie collects stacks of papers to fold to mark to deposit. There are three designations to affix to each document: “R” “A” or “N” for “Reciprocal” “Antagonistic” “Neutral” to describe the relationship of workplace and worker and boss. Then each grievance is folded then tied and marked on the outside with an “X” for “finished.”
A strip of unglued veneer hangs from the edge of her desk. Sadie’s sweater catches on this bit of damage often until one night she grabs it and pulls it off. “Cheap shit nothing but cheap shit.” Her tiny room and its papers throb. There is one name on the door but two women inside who will meet only twice and the second time will be the end.
The archeologist with tenure named J. shares her office secretly with Sadie the inspector. J. collects as many of the old card catalogue cabinets as she can hauling them back to her basement office one by one. Her manuscript grows an unbound stack on the corner of their desk.
My Seneca Village Chapter 1
My story begins when the Parks Department removed the sign.
Begins with sonar. Begins with no soil disturbed.
My story begins with their new logo affixed to signs that I commence to remove with my trowel, un-branding.
What was Seneca Village and who are you?
My Seneca Village Chapter 2
Purchased farmland. Purchased three lots. Purchased six lots. Purchased twelve lots. Three churches. Several Cemeteries. Homes. A School.
Begin by introducing students to the use of manuscripts and other hand-written documents as a way of discovering the past. Underneath the logo. Underneath “Wasteland.” “Shanties.” “Bloodsuckers.” “Insects.”
If you know where to look it is possible to touch Manhattan’s first significant community of African-American property owners.
Rationale: to explore the personal side of history.
I told the students to bend down like kneeling and touch the cornerstone of the only visible remains: a school.
Miranda the teaching artist blurs her vision nearly closing her eyes in the corridors upon entering the institution. She runs her fingers over the cinderblocks that lead to the wall panel that frames the metal elevator button. As she waits for the sound of doors opening she presses against the feeling that her clothes may be out of place her posture failing.
Notes for drawings entitled
“Not Everyone Will be Taken into the Future”:
1. Those who are the takers.
2. Those who are taken.
3. Those who will not be taken.
1. Incident at the Revolving Door
2. Hello, Morning of My Full Employment!
3. Altar of W-2s Destroyed by B-52s Destroyed by …
Miranda senses another body to her right. The smell of perfume then the click of the elevator button pressed in quick succession three times three times again. J. presses the button three times. Her finger bends back from the force of her pressure. She presses again in three pulses this time using her thumb to brace her hand. “This place is fucked up fucked up.” Waiting she puts her hand in her right pocket and stirs her keys remembering her father. How many times he did things he did not want to do. “Sometimes you just got to you just got to.” Sadie takes the stairs. “Won’t catch me getting in there.” She pulls at a hangnail nearly bleeding on the edge of her thumb.
I walked into the hallway through the glass doors on the first warm day of the year. I reached out my hand to place the tip of my finger on the cool metal but I did not press. A veil between the elevator and my body came down in a rush of white light. I smelled another woman’s conspicuous perfume. I walked away and never returned.
I stayed. But entered the classrooms surrounded by this light an altered vision making my movements slow inserting time between receiving their emails and hitting “reply.” I did not agree with everything. I also did not disagree. They could no longer tell.
Into her open mouth Miranda stuffs the paper she no longer reads. Needs. The grievance the gag order the settlement her file her notes on the destruction of the institution. Her catapult. Miranda’s name begins with “to see.” Her name falls out of a mouth starting with the sound for “mother” and ending with “ah.”
I reach over the table to pull the papers out of her mouth. “Come on open up give them to me.” She agrees opens and I reach in. I take her documents peel the wet pages apart and place them to dry in the sun.
Notes for Catapult:
Strung up with four rubbery bands,
4 metal coils, a leather harness,
broken sheetrock, blue sky above,
political posters on the wall,
sheetrock crumbles on the floor,
shoes left behind, slats in the wall
to look in on the scene.
Has the artist left from her studio?
Is this a classroom catapult?
The library? The faculty lounge?
A childhood house?
Miranda is still hungry. I don’t know how to solve this. I look at my eyes in the mirror as I wash her spit from my hands. “I quit you.” Sadie would shout the slogan “There’s So Few of Him and So Many of Us!” J. would say “Thank god I’m not you.” Miranda would swallow. I want to make her speak.
The boss confesses how badly he would like to lick the envelope that holds a copy of the latest grievance. Sadie explains “there’s nothing to lick.” “Put your finger here.” Four floors above her he felt lonely and knew that if he came looking she would let him in. He wanted to come down to express his good politics his sorry.
Inside her nighttime office sitting in an extra chair whose back is broken he puts his finger down on top of a grievance that rests on top of a manuscript entitled My Seneca Village and Sadie loops the string quickly catching the tip of his finger until he pulls away and the knot is tight. About the manuscript he asks “Is this yours?”
My Seneca Village Chapter 4
For the opening and laying out of a public place.
(How can you bloom so fresh. How? Your womb is coming out of your head. Put it back.)
An act to alter the map. To authorize the taking.
(How can you so discredited so bloom? Do you still want to know how to heal others? Thank you, but I can no longer speak.)
Is bounded southerly, northerly, easterly, and west.
(Is this an improvement is this my stupid archeology? He is afraid to talk to me to touch me to return me to the university.)
(Our office your complaint my security. My security can not look at her or her even though I see .)
(I, no longer school. Their glances from across the room, from across the conference table, in the elevator. Who invited them? Their stupid too-much blood, my tightening silence, their messy sacrifice, my pay stub.)
(I, the right one, no longer know how to write.)
Sadie is white. More than Miranda and not like J. Theory may be below ground or worn on the skin for example: students request extra time for their assignments to which J. says “no absolutely no not allowed” resulting in a complaint and a meeting. But she is not interested in nurturing or finding a home place at work.
J. speaks confidently with credentials. She wears her ID around her neck always and a suit so as not to be stopped at the threshold of the mailbox room. “Are you faculty?”
An undergraduate slouches and stretches his legs out from the first row toward her so that if she wanted to circulate around the room she would have to step over him or beg his pardon.
The carpet is ripped in spots and there is a layer of condensation working its way down from the top of the windows that look out into a courtyard made of concrete slabs. This courtyard does not drain properly.
J. begins with the story of Seneca Village. The student flips his pencil around the fingers of his right hand. She turns away she touches her laptop to get to the next slide. When she turns again to face the class his mouth is slightly open and he is looking at her body. J. turns back to face her computer. She teaches from the textbook called Invisible America.
When she turns to face the class again she says “we’ll break early today that’s fine.” J. turns her computer off unscrews the cable packs up her briefcase and leaves the projector on ignoring the sign “please turn all equipment off.”
There are different versions of Sadie’s transgression. In one she stops showing up to teach. The class is called “Radical America.” In another version she slams his door so hard that the famous painting falls off the wall its frame cracks.
Now she walks down to the edge of the brackish water to place a bundle of documents into a metal box with a small slot on top. “Hazardous Medical Waste.” But after one year of this ritual near the empty pit where the World Trade Center used to be and working conditions that are in no way improving Sadie stops making her trips to the water. Her clothes sag. “Let that fucking box rot.”
Pressed into more action Sadie takes the documents and inserts them into the folders of the labor archive. She locates the right place according to alphabetical order and calls up the file on either side and places the new one between. Her alien files devoid of call numbers a corruption a surprise.
At the sound of another red folder sliding under the door Sadie quickly opens to find J. the archaeologist facing her saying “thank you for your work.”
“Do you know about the drop box?” “Yes I put it there. Did you read my autobiography?” “I do.”
I inventory the range of narrative problems: What does J. get from Sadie and what does Miranda get from J.? How does J. know to place the dropbox at the water’s edge? How will Miranda find her grievance in the archive? Why should I stop Miranda from eating her file?
Where do they learn to slip red folders under Sadie’s door? How does Miranda know that Sadie is J.’s double, their office the same? How does Sadie find the dropbox and why does J. turn to poetry? Why won’t the boss take away Sadie’s keys?
Because an autobiography is a guidebook disintegrating and Sadie reads everything between the lines. Miranda will not. Because Miranda will never see J. but knows she is there. Because I can no longer unbraid Reciprocal, Antagonistic, and Neutral. Because trucks took piece of the ruin to the pier at the edge of the brackish water and everyone saw. Because after the attack Sadie watched the boss receive treatments along with everyone else.
I want J. to step across the threshold to their office and tell Sadie to pack up and leave to insist that her project is over. But before J. can say anything more Sadie takes a step back and shuts the door and J. will never knock again though the boss will come down and Sadie will let him in. I want Miranda to enter to help them all but she refuses to linger inside this architecture.
JILL MAGI works in text, image, and textiles. LABOR will be out in September 2013 from Nightboat Books, and her other books are Threads (Futurepoem), SLOT (Ugly Duckling Presse), Cadastral Map (Shearsman), and Torchwood (Shearsman). She was a 2012-13 visiting writer in the MFA poetry program at Columbia College Chicago and an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.