Zack Haber is a poet and a writer who lives in West Oakland, California. He works for the Oakland Unified School District and writes newspaper articles for The Oakland Post. His recent poetry can be found at The Elephants, Armed Cell, The Sierra Nevada Review and Sara / A Journal. His recent essays can be found on his website, noopposite.com. He's the author of the short book, if you want to be one of them playing in the streets... (Tiny Splendor/Quiet Lightning 2014).
"These poems are from a book I'm working on called Horrible Places. To write this book, I go to places that I think are horrible, take notes about the places, then edit those notes into a poem. These horrible places don't have to be the worst places in that world. They're often horrible in a mundane way. I think, especially in the United States, we live in a world that discourages us to be present and aware of what's happening and how we feel about it, particularly in unpleasant situations. I think being aware of how horrible a place is is the first step in working to change it."
Starbucks, 1200 Clay st. #58, Oakland, Ca 94612
Neck pain, long long strained strained neck pain. Neck pain. Neck pain. Strained strained neck pain. Long long long long strained strained neck pain. Neck pain. Neck pain. Strained strained neck pain. Smooth non-stop movement like cogs in a machine, but made of people! Fizzes over and over and beeps. And beeps. And beeps. And beeps. Neck pain! I count 49 different lights in this room—two security cameras and squeaky hard loud tall steel stool chairs. People keep almost walking into each other. No one's running—almost everyone walks quick, stares, doesn’t blink much but then head and eyes quick jerking tilting up awake again again. So TURN THIS COFFEE INTO A LIVELIHOOD. By purchasing this coffee, you help strengthen a farming community for years to come.
Gentle metal bounce against the sink over breathy sexy music. Mine was already ready when I came in so I’m not sure why they didn't just make yours at the same time. I don’t understand why this has to be like this. I’m Anthony. I order the same thing every day. Ok. What do you want in your espresso cup then?
What do you want? What size? Awesome. Thank you. Are you doing your usual? Are you having anything to eat? Awesome. Thank you. My back feels like it has a stomach ache in it. Sir, what we getting for ya? Guys, what are we getting for ya? Gentlemen, what are we getting for ya? Miss, what are we getting for ya? My back feels sick. Person eats a cream cheese egg tortilla thing slowly like he spites it—thinks he’s better than it—slowly tearing it apart like a bird. He stares off like he spites what’s off but also with a practical wonder like if he looks off enough something will be found but then suddenly pushes his chair in and leaves like no actually that is not true.
Apple Store, 300 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94108
There’s a tyranny of symmetry. There’s a tyranny of uniformity. There’s twelve tables here in rows of three; they’re evenly spaced from each other and the wall. There’s silver doors at least ten feet tall that only people wearing green t-shirts walk through. I only count sixty two workers here (they’re the ones wearing green colored Apple t-shirts (is that because they want to go green?)) but there’s many more folks walking round and shopping who look like they can’t quite fit inside their bodies. They’re almost there but they can’t quite make it. They look like they’re holding their breath.
Then there’s a whole another crew of people who seem unsettled like they got rocks in their shoes and even though they’re breathing they’re breathing quite shallow. These folks, unsettled, just stand there and look at partners, or siblings, or friends, or parents, or someone else doing their Apple stuff.
What we need to do is to get them ice cream. But are they allowed to eat it in here? No, no they can’t eat it in here. Ok. Let’s go.
There’s a pale blond kid with an NYC t-shirt and a backpack with pictures of postcards of California all over it. We need to get them ice cream. There’s a woman here sitting with an SF shirt with the Golden Gate Bridge on it just looking at everyone with her arms crossed, not moving. It’s been a long time and she hasn't uncrossed them.
A short woman is showing a tall man a watch that costs three hundred dollars. His face looks tight as he looks at the watch like he’s trying and trying and failing to thread a needle. But a little bit later I see aguy upstairs who looks dirty and pale and who has twenty three different metal tops of lighters embedded into one of his dreadlocks. He’s wearing a Detroit Pistons baseball cap that’s flipped slightly to the right. He’s on a computer using facebook and he seems pretty serious about it.
McDonald’s, 1330 Jackson St, Oakland, CA 94612
A crumpled up coffee cup, a crumpled up fry. None of the workers smile but they all look kind. Customer walking around with his face tight scrunched up like he’s always questioning. He’s got writing all over his hands. Different types of beeps—loud beeps—medium beeps—long sustained beeps and little bullet beeps in succession interrupting each other with the hum of the air condition—fridge and occasionally the coffee maker. Workers taking only four or five steps at most before putting fries in grease or in bags or taking burgers and putting them in between buns and again and again walking those four or five steps. Do ya’ll still sell oatmeal? Can I get one of those with chicken nuggets?
A man surrounded by a suitcase and a backpack, wears two jackets, sifts through his teeth with his fingernails. There’s a faint hum of mariachi music. A woman with grey black hair and a purple jacket eats a chicken sandwich, chews slowly, reading her sprawled out newspaper. I think it’s in Mandarin but I don’t know because I don’t know Mandarin and she’s writing all over it. Treat yourself. No loitering 20 minute limit while consuming food says the sign but it looks like the workers don’t enforce that. I’m loving it. Two men at the tables look stone terrified, wise, stock still. They have looks on their faces like they disagree with themselves. I feel crumpled like a crumpled up bag left out in the rain.
The menu and advertisements are displayed on five large screens so it’s like watching TV. One screen shows ice cream flowing down out of a tube into itself and it looks like an unpleasant loose shit that just keeps flowing and flowing and won’t stop. It’s a perfect creamy treat. The man in the fluorescent vest chews ponderously. The entire store is like a fish bowl, made of windows. He coughs like a bag full of nails as he carries his tray. Cover your mouth!
Well I can’t cover my mouth and hold the tray at the same time. I can’t do everything! I’ve got no sleep.