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M.A. Schaffner

To The Last Voter


When the liberators entered the city

we didn't debate their credentials --

it had been so long since we could breathe.


And for a time we could sleep in as well,

confident in waking from any nightmares.


You can't know the history as we lived it:

bloody winters, autumns we thought were springs --

children grew old and stunted in shelters;

couples found the bridges that joined them

collapsing under accumulated fears.


Dogs fought for every corner as cats

starved behind smug observations.


Now we see dusty smiles over gun sights.

Whoever we trust can eat us alive.

Things Seen While Inhaling

 Anything done on vacation

is an appropriate use of time,

except this, which leaves so much undone.


It's as if an army had approached the city

where the walls had fallen to rubble

and the garrison sold its arms.


Walking through the park I turned to go

into the Raptor House, but found it locked,

quarantined against my admiration.


I peeked through the slatted wall and saw

a hawk glance back over its russet shoulder,

and owls nestled in corners like distant moons.


Children ran down the path unafraid.

A squad of white tails paused to watch them.

I come in peace, I wanted to tell all,


as we smiled from safe distances.

Then I realized I hadn't heard the squall

of a plane leaving National in hours.


Everywhere a sickly calm descends,

a silence in which one can hear spring trees

sing quietly as they green in the breeze


rising from the river.  Traffic ebbs to dread.

Helicopters check our charts from overhead.

mas spring22.jpg

M. A. Schaffner lives in Arlington, Virginia. Recent publications include poems in the anthology Written in Arlington and ArLiJo, and an OpEd in the Washington Post about reenacting and CRT. Past acceptances included Poetry Wales, Poetry Ireland, The Tulane Review, Boston Poetry and other journals.

A Virus By Any Other Name

 On the eve of the Ides I recalled

when everything's evil it's no one's fault.

I savored fall like a Sauterne,


now spring like a Sauvignon Blanc

arrives with a pollinated cough

erupting in an alarming context.


Each drink I take these days I think

of the dead I used to drink with

and wonder how quickly their numbers will rise.


Some wrote poems with wounds enough for all.

One boy was a hunter like Orion

though he found his scorpions in amber bottles.


Then came the studious secretary

who cared too much, and the mother we knew --

an artist drafted into matronhood.


It's funny how much normal is too much

and love like a lolling Tokay

in a smoky castle can only delay


but never deny that last dry day.

I tremble as I pour myself one more

for all of them, and lock the bedroom door.

The Siege of Cherrydale

 We patrol our streets with innocent dogs

and sometimes the wary eyes of soldiers

in an unfriendly city. Or we smile,

seemingly relieved that we still can.


My porch is an observation post

from which I inspect the strange parade:

young couples at combat-interval,

wasp-darting children on bikes and scooters,

helmeted but otherwise unarmored, as if

their parents had given up on formations,

much less keeping them confined to barracks.


I have never before constructed

an operational plan for buying wine,

but some campaigns demand a taste for danger.


Meanwhile, lucky to have a garden, I'm grateful

for how spring brings flowers and foliage to weave

a growing defensive perimeter,


with the Sarcococca suggesting

this garrison might hold until relieved.

Sowing Seeds Within The Walls

 Waiting for guests even as we set

the table with sunflowers and examine

the service berry for signs of budding.

After all of last year's flooding

the leaves withered, yet stay clinging

as tightly as the mahonia's thorns.


We're desperate for our company

but nature won't deliver on command.

We can amend the soil, mulch and plant,

coax the purple cone flower, and pretend

this has more of love than desperation,

though anything on endless Earth will end


It will take weeks before we know

whether anything will show, or bring

the rest of their party this pensive spring.


And it feels less like sorrow than vengeance

to add to our crop a novel fear

that when our work at last results

in a full blown outbreak of catbirds and jays

and a trove of goldfinches exults

to find everything to their satisfaction

their human hosts may have disappeared

due to unexpected competition.

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