It is alleged that in the age of the internet, the way we consume information has greatly changed along with our ability to focus and follow things through. In a quick scan of my Facebook newsfeed, I might see a friend linking to a petition against GMOs, followed by a picture of someone’s lunch, which is followed by a YouTube video of a cat, which is followed by an analysis of last night’s Golden State Warriors game, which is then followed by a link to a controversial article, which people have begun commenting on without actually having read the article. Maged Zaher’s Thank You for the Window Office is a perfect collection for the age of the internet, as it consists of one long poem that quickly jumps from topic to topic as it moves line to line, as if each thought were limited to 140 characters.
Throughout the poem, numerous themes reappear, with perhaps the most prominent being exile. One might presume that the speaker largely resembles Zaher himself, who was born in Cairo but now lives in Seattle. Despite the revolution that is happening in his hometown, he must continue to work on the menial tasks whose insignificance can only increase against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and the tumultuous and hopeful time that has followed: “I am still expected to solve important business problems / Cairo, I miss walking your streets before dawn.”
However, the exile that occurs in this poem is more than just that of someone living away from his or her homeland. It is multiple, as the speaker claims, “It is time to exchange one exile for another.” There is emotional and sexual exile too. Love, or rather lack thereof, is another prominent theme in this collection. It’s no surprise that a speaker who refers now and again to the Udhri poets sees himself walking the city streets “without the chance of sex.” With all of it’s disconnect and sense of isolation (“I attached my desires to this email”), Thank You for the Window Office reads like an updated “Wasteland,” except it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s plenty of humor here (“Hopefully you can see / This poem is struggling hard / To be on someone’s top ten list”), and hope and playfulness too:
Hello roller coaster
Hello soup du jour precious feelings
Here we do sales
There they do shopping
In the resurrection’s parade
I took a different name
Which was an inevitable twist to the plot
Yet someone in the organization had to ask:
“Is people management an essential skill?”
The bohemian is still alive
Marxist ideology also pervades the text: people are defined as means of production, and love collapses “[u]nder the mercy of production.” The reader is told, “One of us will get to be the boss / And feel the joys of the class system,” and the disenfranchised are everywhere, from the homeless person on the street who goes unnoticed, to the workers in the office who lack any real power.
The office, or office culture, plays a dominant role in the text. As someone who works in a cubicle, I know all too well the language of strategic plans (I once received a list of “useful verbs” for writing outcomes and objectives). As a poet, I recognize the fun in this language, and Zaher does too as he writes of Casual Fridays, IT departments, and computer viruses, and claims, “We will integrate our business strategy / With God’s will.” However, there is also a dark edge here, as the speaker is working under the threat of outsourced jobs and riffs on Ginsberg: “I saw the great minds of my generation working / For Microsoft and Boeing to be laid off later / Like dogs.” And later, he references O’Hara: “My lunch poems were composed over Chinese take out / While we decided whom to fire.”
The anxiety that exists within this poem, and likely within the modern worker too, is political. Zaher writes, “There is a heavy political component to all this twitching.” There is much bewildering about the time we live in, that we can go from worrying about a restaurant menu to thinking about corporate strategies and then consider the world at large. And there is much exasperation too, as children grow into adulthood and discover things aren’t quite what they expected. Thank You for the Window Office perfectly portrays this lack. Life is varied and wondrous and disappointing. Zaher writes, “Life better be a song / That is starting soon,” and we move through our day and consider our vulnerabilities while we scan a restaurant menu and hope that the song starts soon.