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   means, in Japanese, "death at your desk,"
   as when a thirty-year-old salesman--
   frantic to please his Boss and family--
   pulls his fifth straight all-nighter, only
   to slump over his computer, where he's found
   early next morning by the maid.

   Karoshi does not fit the film star
   who, having ravished his assistant
   atop the bed-sized mahogany desk
   his wife gave him for their twenty-fifth--
   wife who waits, with sushi and sake,
   for him to come home and celebrate--

   grabs his chest, and falls. Nor
   does karoshi apply to someone sitting
   at a desk when Fat Man hit, or to the dock
   worker crushed by a desk
   which, fish-like, slips from its high hook
   and, of all possible victims, picks him.

   The word has no connection with the Boss
   who made the salesman pull
   those all-nighters to contain the damage
   from certain cars' tendency to surge
   ahead when braked--this Big Boss
   at his Big Desk, not contemplating

   seppuku--unnecessary with his wealth,
   lawyers, plausible deniability--but
   kicking back in his Big Chair, picturing
   his next golf game, or choosing
   who'll paint his next portrait, when in walks
   the salesman's wife or son

   or brother or best friend, who bows,
   announces, "This is for __,"
   and blasts Boss-san between his startled
   (there's no word for this behavior:
   so bang-bang-Western-cowboy, so un-Japanese)

Charles Harper Webb's latest book, Brain Camp, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2015. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.

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Author:Webb, Charles Harper
Publication:River Styx
Article Type:Poem
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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