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Sunday, March 03, 2024


by Jennifer M Phillips

Confess—you'd prefer the other partner, death.
Even, perhaps, the dentist, than to have joy creamed off
the top of your good or mediocre year. Stealing breath
from your lungs, so it feels, though reason scoffs
about social good and duty and infrastructure.
A hundred to one, poets prefer death as their topic—
the old adversary, its weapons known and sure;
grief well honed; mourning, politic.
 But taxes! What's to say? It's impolite,
like defecation. We may complain with a wink
and shake of the head when processes back up tight—
everyone knows what that's like. But I think
the tragedian may find good meat for musing
on the rectitude of civic debt and the virtue
of paying one's dues and sorting out the confusing
archival tangle of what wealth did and didn't do.
Unlike religion, it is no use to protest
agnosticism. Tax gives no fig for belief
or its lack, just the ignoble quest
for loopholes, exemptions and write-offs for relief.
Each Spring, it is the other "little death”—a ration
of dispassionate accountancy, facing the music
of peccadillos, waste, or procrastination.
We make amends with our checkbook's antiseptic.
A touch self-righteous, I find I'm glad to say
to myself, watching firefighters fight
a blaze, or a town hall be built, I helped to pay
for that with my puny widow's mite.
So of the old pairing, I think I prefer
taxes, which come with certain resolution. I admit
it's annoying the way they increase and recur,
and possibly, after all, both come with an audit,
and after both, our wallet may end up thinner;
but after death, we miss our own reception
while our guests enjoy a character-dissection.
After taxes, the refund could take us out to dinner.
Both invite us to a reckoning self-examination
but death puts paid to our chance for amelioration.
A sage once said, by inspecting your checkbook stubs
I can see at a glance what you have valued and loved.

Jennifer M Phillips is a  bi-national immigrant, painter, Bonsai-grower. Two chapbooks are Sitting Safe In the Theatre of Electricity (, 2020) and A Song of Ascents (Orchard Street Press, 2022, Phillips' work appeared in over 100 journals, and is currently twice-nominated for a Pushcart Poetry Prize.