poetry quarterly

10th anniversary


M.A. Schaffner



He recycled by printing directives
on the backs of others, since superseded,
as if anyone could tell which side to read.
Call it confidence misplaced or madness
not of an everyday kind. He’s gone now,
dead or retired or both, or reassigned,
taking his obsolescent procedures along
to spare at least one tree, such as the one
scrawny and leafless outside my window
this season as the sky darkens early
and my colleagues and I gather to sip
insipid punch spiked surreptitiously,
holding our fragile memories as that tree
clings to a pair of pale blue shopping bags
shredded past use, except for reminding
that they once swelled with wants and needs as do
all of us still, we hope, while the wind plays
with our coats as we hurry to our homes.




Organizations live or die on days
like this when the weekend morning paper
tells of massive bankruptcies, the assets
pitifully inadequate for the debts
to suppliers and workers’ pension funds.
So a scattering of officials in their homes
look up from their slow-sipped coffees and sigh
for the lost walk in the park or drive
to the vineyard they meant to show their spouse
seven months ago, in early spring. Then,
there had been another such bankruptcy,
and several score thousand participants
vested in pensions with obscure yet real
rights to government help needed it, just
as more do this morning. Civil Servants
have been known to lower the bar and then
trip on it anyway. Often their work
is sadly the best that they can manage,
and the pay and benefits outrageous
compared to the workers in bankrupt plans
if not to the bosses to whom both are losers.
An Oklahoma City bomber had
a year before filed for crop insurance,
and got it, as he expected. Today,
workers within and outside the Beltway
are quietly calling in or logging on,
setting up meetings, reserving tickets,
exchanging acronyms, canceling leave.
Pensioners used to know the job was done
when the next month’s check bore a green eagle.
Now numbers appear in monthly statements,
mostly unchanged from what they were before.




M.A. Schaffner retired in January 2010 after 32 years as a federal civil servant, beginning as a clerk-typist in the Secret Service and ending in a management role of ambiguous authority within the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, with stops along the way in Engraving and Printing, Public Debt, Navy, and GSA. His most recent publications include poems in The Hollins Critic, Magma, Decanto, The Monarch Review, and Prime Number. Other work includes the poetry collection The Good Opinion of Squirrels, the novel War Boys, and the memoir Good-Bye To All This, which he e-mailed to all his colleagues on his last day of service.


Published in Volume 13, Number 3, Summer 2012.


To read more by this author:
M.A. Schaffner
M.A. Schaffner: Whitman Issue
M.A. Schaffner: Wartime Issue
Schaffner on Ambrose Bierce: Forebears Issue
M.A. Schaffner: Museum Issue