“Hell is . . . other people,” Jean-Paul Sartre opined in his 1944 drama Huis Clos (No Exit), and of course he was right. Those of us who work in close proximity with other members of the species know how maddening they can be to be with — unlike ourselves. Sartre didn’t do it, but he could have set his play in an elevator, though the overtness of the metaphor might have worked against his intention. Nevertheless, an elevator is one of a very few places where nearly anyone can step into our space and befoul us with their styles and conversations and aromas and so on, without our having some recourse. All we can do is bear it until we arrive at his floor, or ours. So it came as no surprise to me that one of you wrote
a lift ascends to heaven but first the hell — of other people [David Dayson]
Isn’t it true that we wouldn’t appreciate the sweet things of life without their contrasting opposites also being possible?
Most of this week’s submissions fall into this same general pattern, but in more specific detail. It’s apparent no one likes the lift, but only a few can avoid it:
over the lift’s limit — the slimmest leave to climb stairs [David Dayson]
This seems to me an excellent example of natural selection.
By far the number one complaint is the one you thought it would be:
wind passed — on so many levels wrong in a lift [David Dayson]
There were many iterations of this poem, with not so subtle variation, in this week’s submissions. This one, with its punning and faux finger-wagging, was the most fun. The second most common complaint is probably also to be expected:
lift origami — folding inwards to remain untouched [David Dayson]
Though I find this metaphor a bit stretched in making its point, it nevertheless does so, and is worth our noticing.
The author of my third choice for this week faces a different sort of crisis, one more personal and challenging:
so far to go — in a glass-fronted lift with vertigo [David Dayson]
The “so far to go” may be a single floor, but facing even a modest ascent with such an affliction can be completely paralyzing, so this small poem is outsized in personal success for its overcoming that which might disable us.
Second place goes to this poem:
the last person barging into a lift — touches us all [David Dayson]
I can’t be certain that the poet intends a second reading here, but it doesn’t matter, the words permit it. We are often irritated by someone arriving late and having the door held for him, slowing us all down, and such feelings are escalated (sorry) if that person proves to be loud or obstreperous or inconsiderate or smelly or some combination of these things. And the last minute clambering in certainly shifts us all, which makes the poet’s point — even if the latecomer doesn’t physically barge into us, the Brownian motion caused by his arrival is certain to jostle us all. But it’s also possible to read the poem in the light of fellow-feeling — perhaps this last arrival is late, out of breath, disheveled from his dash. We can find common ground with him, and identify with his consternation.
Well, it’s possible . . .
My top winner this week neatly captures one of the most common situations we encounter in our elevator lives:
lift doors open — a conversation ends in mid-sentence [David Dayson]
Much of social life is made up of “ins” and “outs” and few things make it more certain that we are among the “outs” than the cessation of a conversation. The unspoken words hang palpably in the air, and we know we have caused this interruption. For most of us, this piques our interest — were they speaking of something I should know about in my office? Were they talking about me? But of course pursuing it is out of the question. We all crave access, but if you have to ask . . .
Of course not every trip on the elevator needs be so paralyzing or distasteful. We can always discuss the weather . . .
elevator rules I fail to follow with giggles — Alan Summers * elevator — My boss and his mistress flushed cheeks — Doris Pascolo * walking in, pressing the button — selfie time? — Ernesto P Santiago * four corners we forget the middle ground — Betty Shropshire * third world symptom navigating my wheelchair up all those flights — Celestine Nudanu * express elevator the boss and i exchange nongreetings — Roberta Beary * elevator silence trapped between floors with the boss — Rachel Sutcliffe * the rhythm of passing floors — higher and higher embarrassment — Maria Laura Valente * patrons aboard riding maximum capacity there she blows — Katherine Stella * inside a full-packed elevator his silent fart — Willie Bongcaron * elevator tutorials — learning to embrace fart and fragrance — Adjei Agyei-Baah * secret love . . . I watch him on the elevator with lowered eyes — Eufemia Griffo * keep to the right or left of the corridor . . . foreign conference — Karen Harvey * small talk the contents of his cycling shorts — Mark Gilbert * full elevator the cell phone calls no one takes — Pat Davis * claustrophobia trapped in a lift with the couple in Kamasutra mode — Angelee Deodhar * holding my breath in a crowded metal cube mixed smells — Marta Chocilowska * embarrassed, packed tight in the elevator — we all look elsewhere Forte imbarazzo ristretti in ascensore Ognuno guarda altrove — Angela Giordano * beads of sweat waiting to get unstuck in the college elevator — Carmen Sterba * doors sliding shut the wonderful world of lift music — Olivier Schopfer * the lift emptying at everyone’s wrong floor her spritz of Poison! — Marietta McGregor * sudden chill doors open to a stranger — Tiffany Shaw-Diaz * crowded elevator going up we all look down — Andy McLellan * suffocation some have already gone up — S. Radhamani * glaring the weight limit alarms as I step in — Enrique Garrovillo * asthma attack — perfumes and aftershave fill the lift — Martha Magenta * new-hire jitters . . . in a stuck elevator with the CEO — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams * rising office elevator she excuses her way to the open door — Gail Oare * going down sandwiched . . . a rumble in my tummy — Madhuri Pillai * team meeting . . . my boss and I in the lift testing side walls — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi * crowded elevator I imagine watching the sea from the window — Elisa Allo * reality bites he had between ground and nine to catch my eye — Lee Nash * a couple takes a selfie in the elevator — I try to be out of sight — Tomislav Maretic * elevator peep show doors open on me and the run up my tights — Jennifer Hambrick * alone with my ex an awkward silence in the elevator — Arvinder Kaur * elevator ride my boss’s wife ask me to push the button — Cezar Ciobika * The comfort zone somewhere among the shoes crowded elevator — Stefano Riondato * lips almost touching the elevator door opens — Anthony Rabang * my eyes in yours — nowhere else to go but downstairs — Ana Drobot *
Next Week’s Theme: Summer Vacation Plans
Send your poem using “workplace haiku” as the subject by Sunday midnight to our Contact Form. Good luck!
From October 2014 through April 2016 Haiku Foundation president Jim Kacian offered a column on haiku for the London Financial Times centered on the theme of work. Each week we share these columns with the haiku community at large, along with an invitation to join in the fun. Submit a poem by Sunday midnight on the theme of the week, from the classical Japanese tradition, or contempor