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September/October 2003


Blame is all the rage in corporate life.
It's all a matter of profit and loss.
Early in my career I had a boss
who wielded blame as skillfully as a knife

in the deft hands of a butcher, indeed
that's what we called the man behind his back --
"The Butcher." Sometimes "asshole." His lack
of competence had spurred him to succeed

beyond his wildest dreams, making an art
of hanging his mistakes on a hapless staff,
and while his ineptitude made us laugh,
we had to admit he sure looked the part

of a corporate hotshot: tall, well-dressed,
everything about him was straight and square,
his sex life, his teeth, the back of his chair.
Never was there a man more impressed

with power and position and his place
in the thick of it. He understood
how to fire a man for the corporate good
and put himself in a state of grace

with the CEO. He was slick as they came.
He kept everything "under control."
The minute profits dipped, a head would roll.
It didn't matter whose. Someone to blame

was always needed, and was always there.
He hid behind his Ivy League MBA
(A Gentleman's C no doubt) until the day
his world caved in. Allow me to share

the story. We had lost a client.
Mellon was the low man on the team.
A young single guy. A hatchet man's dream:
eager to please, faceless, compliant

to a fault. No one would miss him.
He was just a salary, a statistic
(Except to me and my fatalisic
heart. How I wanted to kiss him

when he'd pass by my desk in the morning.
I had no idea if he was gay
and I was so closeted anyway
what did it matter?) Without warning

he was summoned by the butcher and fired
justlikethat. His eye caught mine as he left
the monster's office, shaken but not bereft
of dignity. I am inspired

to this day by the smile he threw me
as he left for the day for the last time.
It was a radiant smile, sublime
and wise as if to say he knew me

and my secrets, and he'd be alright.
Who knew he'd be dead in an hour --
killed instantly by a lethal shower
of falling glass from a construction site.

A freak accident. Grief gripped our hearts
the following day. No one could speak
or work. We went through the week
in a daze, playing our corporate parts

from a script seemingly written in hell.
It seemed to easy to blame the boss
for this incomprehensible loss.
On Friday, the VP of personnel

summoned our hero. The ax was swift:
morale was down. It was a shame,
but someone had to take the blame.
Did he protest? Did he try to shift

the blame one final, triumphant time?
Who knows? He left that very afternoon.
That night, I looked up at the moon
convinced that corporate life is a crime.

Note from the author: "Blame" is a deeply personal and very meaningful poem for me. It illustrates my sea change in values and world-view since leaving corporate life in the aftermath of HIV diagnosis. I imagine that I am one of those many people whom HIV brought up short -- one who re-examined goals, values, and "purpose"; honestly, I cannot regret that HIV intervened in my life: so much self-induced good came out of it, so much growth and positive change. So much poetry!

In any case, "Blame" is a narrative poem. No one who is truly sensitive and who has ever worked for a large corporation, will fail to see the core truth in it.

Dennis Rhodes is the Literary Editor of Body Positive magazine.

This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
See Also
More HIV/AIDS-Related Poetry