Corporate Culture

by Robin Pond

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In an office dingy dreary, stand two workers battle weary,
In the grip of righteous anger, feeling a need to intervene.
Pouring coffee into mugs with apologetic shrugs,
Grinding up their poisonous drugs, planning action most obscene.
Heartless, psychopathic, deadly, and clearly most of all obscene,
Brewing murder yet unseen.

Raven Corp. is now de-hiring. Faced with almost certain firing,
Which they find quite inspiring, they are led to stage this scene.
Taking action out of fear to save their pitiful career
Neither even sheds a tear for Jim, the man they now demean,
Knowing well his usual habits, his desire to imbibe caffeine,
Brewing murder yet unseen.

“Our friend Jim is always working, while the threat of change is lurking,
Never for a moment shirking,” smirks Stan, the man, who’s tall and lean.
“Always here by eight or nine, making sure the books are fine,
Carefully crafted bottom line, he knows what the numbers mean. 
Upright, neat and clean, work and life are both pristine. 
Hardest worker ever seen.

“He attacks his every duty like it were a thing of beauty,
Keenly performing every duty, dealing with well-worn routine,
And his life he is arranging while the world around keeps changing,
Oblivious to looks we’re exchanging, corporate intrigue unforeseen.”
Stan observes contemptuously and with considerable spleen,
“Hardest worker ever seen.

“How the time relentlessly passes. Love’s the opiate of the masses. 
Never wondering if the glass is empty, full, or in-between.
Always feeling the need to share even though we clearly don’t care,
Every vacation, when and where, with his kid and his wife, Kathleen,
Boring us with numerous pictures of his kid and his wife, Kathleen,
Even pictures of their cuisine.

“He may have the best intent, but it’s hard not to resent
How the man remains so content with his castle and his queen. 
Lacking in imagination, crying out for exploitation,
Given all this provocation, we’ll just have to intervene.”
Carrie adds while scrubbing the counter, bringing it to a glistening sheen.
“At the risk of seeming mean.”

Ready now to hatch their plot with the poison they have brought,
They have polished off the pot, thoroughly rinsing ‘til it’s clean.
Sour-faced Carrie snorts and sits, having ground the cherry pits,
Eager to see them give Jim fits and seeming just a bit too keen.
“We can certainly always count on Jim’s predictable routine.
He will come for his caffeine.”

Stan then takes another sip as the brew begins to drip.
Smiling Carrie licks her lip while looking terribly serene.
“When it’s either him or you, it is clear what you must do.
Murder might be quite taboo, but this is neither evil nor mean.”
Stan says, waiting for Jim’s arrival, “Regular as he’s always been,
He will come for his caffeine.”

Carrie sighs and drains her drink, putting her mug down in the sink,
Trying hard to not overthink, her attitude quite sanguine.
“Though the task at hand might chafe, it’s the way to keep us safe.
Knowing we will only be safe when no choice exists between
Both of us and our friend Jim, when he’s no longer to be seen,
Gone and never to be seen.”

They’re not able to say more. Jim’s now standing at the door,
Standing just inside the door of the Raven Corp. canteen.
“Come right in, our good friend,” says Carrie, sensing the planned-for end,
Unseen attack he can’t defend. “We acknowledge you’ve always been
Hardest working member of our team, motivated and madly keen,
Best damn worker ever seen.”

Stan says, “We’ve just brewed a pot. Drink it quickly while it’s hot.”
But replies Jim, “I think not. I was here earlier, at two-fifteen.
I arrived a bit before, knowing what you had in store
Having hacked your monitor. I slipped in here without being seen.
What you’re drinking I brewed then, a mixture of coffee with ground codeine,
Fifty tablets of codeine.

“From the emails I’ve been scanning it’s been clear what you’ve been planning,
With the flames of doubt you’re fanning, fanning and pouring on gasoline.
Frankly you both make me sick with your actions politic,
Your self-serving rhetoric, I know what you really mean.
Dog eats dog here on this team since Raven Corp. must now be lean.
Corporate intrigue unforeseen.”

Carrie proclaims with a struggling gasp, her voice reduced to a scratchy rasp,
“I’m not sure I fully grasp what it is you actually mean.”
Then though she vomits in the sink, remnants of coffee she’s had to drink,
Too confused to even think, muttering words and retching between,
Retching as if to expel her stomach, intestine and spleen,
Feeling like she’s turning green.

Jim replies, “I’m deep in debt, burdened by things we had to get:
House, two cars, the internet, my line of credit’s obscene.”
Trying not to appear too smug as he watches the effects of the drug,
Adding with an apologetic shrug, “I discussed it with Kathleen,
Beautiful wife, soulmate and queen, my lovely lifetime partner Kathleen,
Love of my life and truly my queen.

“Since we have a gorgeous daughter, while the years flowed on like water,
We’ve been doting on our daughter, me and my lovely wife, Kathleen. 
Checking debts and cash flow nightly, still I’ve borne my burdens lightly,
Greeting each new day quite brightly, showing up to work so keen,
Slavishly toiling, buried in debt, with mortgages and multiple liens,
Hardest worker ever seen.”

Stan attempts to clear his head, fighting back the nausea and dread,
Fearing he will soon be dead yet angrier than he’s ever been.
Breathing so laboured he can’t talk and so confused he can barely walk,
He remains in total shock, feeling Jim’s actions are overly mean,
Hoping there might be someone somewhere, someone who could intervene,
Some new savior yet unseen.

Stan refrains from taking more sips as the new coffee rhythmically drips,
Staring at Carrie’s bluish lips, sensing the blade of the guillotine.
Feeling overwhelming fatigue, he regards his murderous colleague,
Fully admiring this new intrigue he had not at all foreseen,
Wondering if an after-life might actually be more serene,
Hoping for a savior yet unseen.

But there comes no passerby, no witness to watch these workers die,
Feeling the symptoms intensify they succumb, overdosed on codeine.
Stan and Carrie slowly fall, collapsing by the lunchroom wall,
Far too weak to even crawl, no savior coming to intervene.
Wondering what they could’ve done, wondering what they might have been,
Saddest workers ever seen.

“I am absolutely sure with you both gone my job’s secure.
See my motives are actually pure; it’s nothing personal or mean.”
Solemnly Jim watches them die without the hint of a tear in his eye
Saying as one not given to lie, “At least you’ve made the room quite clean.
Hoping to conceal nefarious misdeeds you’ve completely scoured the canteen,
Rendering the room totally pristine.

“I remember there was a time when we’d consider murder a crime,
When the biggest struggle was overtime and employment was much more routine.
Now our values have really changed, morality’s been rearranged,
One-time friends are now estranged, and survival’s begun to contravene
Human decency,” says Jim, “and now that work’s a different scene
Keeping a job’s become a tontine.”

©️ 2021 by Robin Pond

“Corporate Culture,” by Robin Pond, was first published on April 1, 2021 in Love Letters to Poe and can be found in Love Letters to Poe, Volume I: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe.

Interview with Robin Pond, Author of “Corporate Culture”

What’s your favorite gothic story or poem and why? What inspired your poem?

I have always admired Poe’s “The Raven.” I am fascinated by the way he achieves such an ominous mood in this poem, both through the structure—the use of the trochaic rhythm, the heavy repetition both of words and of sounds—as well through the imagery.

This fascination led me in “Corporate Culture” to attempt to wed Poe’s menacing tone with an updated modern theme, replacing the gothic ‘death of an idealized young lover’ trope with a group of much less heroic characters willing to do anything to hang on to their jobs. This reimagining of Poe is admittedly a bit tongue-in-cheek but I find the contrast between The Raven’s supernatural despair and Corporate Culture’s more existential despair to be quite interesting. In the world of Poe, the ominous threat of evil is something existing outside of the characters. In the modern world, the evil is more something of the characters’ own making.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?

There is an Andrew Marvell poem which begins,

“Luxurious man, to put his art to use, did after him the world seduce.”

This line is forever echoing in my mind. I find one of the most intriguing things about humans is our capacity to continuously invent and reinvent the worlds in which we live.

Do you have a theme you return to time and again?

In general terms, the theme I continuously return to is ‘person against person’, stories driven by the motivations of the characters and the conflicts which inevitably arise between these motives. Most of what I write has ironic or comedic elements and I think people struggling against their peers to achieve greater success or a more elevated status can be inherently amusing. I have recently completed a novel in which, on a Monday morning, the protagonist loses everything—job, wife, family—and then struggles haplessly over the subsequent years to reclaim all these lost pieces of self-definition.

I also have a small experimental novel, “Becoming,” which examines, through a series of glimpses spanning a woman’s entire life, how the drive to achieve more paradoxically results in continuing loss.

How long have you been writing?

About fifty years ago I wrote a couple of short skits which were produced at my local high school. This got me hooked. The wonderful thing about playwriting is that you get immediate feedback when you hear the audience reacting to the play.

But I was busy with life—earning a living, raising a family—so I didn’t do much creative writing until about twenty years ago when I began writing short plays and submitting them to festivals.

I started focusing more on prose fiction when I became a full-time writer about six years ago. I’ve managed to get a mystery novel and numerous short stories published. On the playwriting side, one of my full length plays has been optioned to be made into a movie. “Corporate Culture” is the first poem I’ve published in about twenty years.

What are you working on now?

I have just started a fictional non-fiction piece provisionally called, “A Guide to Creation (Part 1),” which examines the nature of storytelling structurally as well as philosophically. I have no idea if this will ever see the light of day, but I’m enjoying writing it. The first draft, when you temporarily suspend the editing function and just try to get the content out, is always the most fun.