KAROSHI 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) eyes.
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.