M. A. Schaffner: “Passing Through En Route to Nowhere Better”

Passing Through En Route to Nowhere Better

How much ginseng should one expect
in a bottle from a vending machine,
or luxury in a discount motel,
or France from its continental breakfast?

I don’t mind — this is my habitat when not at home,
comfortably generic, the staff furtive
if not helpful — we’re all assholes to our backs
and in that sense equal before the raw
anxiety of underpaid labor.

Any other citizenship remains
an elusive memory from an age
before we ground the seed corn and set fire
to the last of the unsold furniture.

My mind’s still clenched like my toes
from a four hour flight to the same damned place
spread over the Potemkin boulevards
that pass for public squares — each kiosk
a variant of the same six warehouses.

Each worker sweats through a store-bought smile
as a few blocks away the roads break up
to dwindle into nests of invasive weeds,
the double-wides aping the pressboard mansions.

Ambition’s an artifact of reality shows,
an absence of despair, but in its place
faith in the ill intentions of the Other,
and here a visitor, bringing the same
conceit of normality, believing

somehow in restoration, as if
we could just find a world we agreed on.

M. A. Schaffner lives with spouse and pugs in a house built cheaply 110 years ago in Arlington, Virginia. Their work has recently appeared in The MacGuffinIlluminationsThe Writing Disorder, and the anthology Written in Arlington. Earlier appearances included Poetry WalesPoetry Ireland, and The Tulane Review. When not avoiding home repairs through poetry, M. A. wades through the archival records of the Second United States Colored Infantry (1863-66) with a view toward compiling a regimental history.

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