To My Father’s Business
by Kenneth Koch
Leo bends over his desk
Gazing at a memorandum
While Stuart stands beside him
With a smile, saying,
“Leo, the order for those desks
Came in today
From Youngstown Needle and Thread!”
C. Loth Inc., there you are
Like Balboa the conqueror
Of those who want to buy office furniture
Or bar fixtures
In nineteen forty in Cincinnati, Ohio!
Secretaries pound out
Invoices on antique typewriters—
And fingernail biters.
I am sitting on a desk
Looking at my daddy
Who is proud of but feels unsure about
Some aspects of his little laddie.
I will go on to explore
Deep and/or nonsensical themes
While my father’s on the dark hardwood floor
Hit by a couple of Ohio sunbeams.
Kenny, he says, some day you’ll work in the store.
But I felt “never more” or “never ever”
Harvard was far away
World War Two was distant
Psychoanalysis was extremely expensive
All of these saved me from you.
C. Loth you made my father happy
I saw his face shining
He laughed a lot, working in you
He said to Miss Ritter
“Ritt, this is my boy, Kenny!”
“Hello there Kenny,” she said
My heart in an uproar
I loved you but couldn’t think
Of staying with you
I can see the virtues now
That could come from being in you
A sense of balance
Compromise and acceptance—
Not isolated moments of brilliance
Like a girl without a shoe,
But someone that you
Care for every day—
Need for customers and the economy
Don’t go away.
There were little pamphlets
Distributed in you
About success in business
Each about eight to twelve pages long
One whole series of them
All ended with the words
“P.S. He got the job”
One a story about a boy who said,
“I swept up the street, Sir,
Before you got up.” Or
“There were five hundred extra catalogues
So I took them to people in the city who have a dog”—
P.S. He got the job.
I didn’t get the job
I didn’t think that I could do the job
I thought I might go crazy in the job
Staying in you
You whom I could love
But not be part of
The secretaries clicked
Their Smith Coronas closed at five p.m.
And took the streetcars to Kentucky then
And I left too.