Poetry Sunday:
“Discussing Useful Life at the Tax Depreciation Seminar I Remember a Line by David Baker,”
by Jeanne Wagner


Discussing Useful Life at the Tax Depreciation Seminar I Remember a Line by David Baker


The depreciable life of a parking garage is fifteen,
unless its roof is the floor of the building above it,

in which case it’s thirty-nine. Office furniture is seven,
the stove five and the fax machine five. But if a machine

has its wires embedded in the wall behind it, so they ease
through the wall like veins, it can make that wall part

of the machine, thus five, as if there’s a contagion there,
a life-changing symbiosis, one function conspiring with

the other, because they’re too close to be segregated, like
the heart feeding its blue canals, or the way the lungs

recycle breath, the breath intangible, and therefore amortized,
whereas eyes, attached by a nerve, can be pulled out from

the skull like a stove from the wall, though vision seems
to take place outside the body, as if eyes are really windows

of the soul—windows, thirty-nine, but twenty-seven and
a half if residential. Which makes sense because some days

we’re an office, some days a home, but this moment
I’m looking out the window, distracted by a bee working

a cherry blossom as it wobbles in the March wind. Ah,
working—that tree is an office—thirty-nine, and those bees

Descartes would have called soulless machines are five
years, like all soulless machines—but look at the way

the bee moves her body, synchronizing with the tremble
of the blossom as it shakes from a wind that soon will tear

each pink bud away from its branch, just as I will leave
from a garage whose roof is both roof and floor. There

is nothing that does not connect and so sustain. I feel
my hand raising up. How many years, I ask, is the wind?


First published in Catamaran Literary Reader and reprinted from The Genesis Machine (Sow’s Ear Press 2016). Published here with permission of the press.


Jeanne Wagner is a retired tax accountant. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in German and has an MA in Humanities from San Francisco State University. She is the author of four chapbooks and two full-length collections: The Zen Piano Mover (NFSPS Press 2004), winner of the Stevens Manuscript Award, and In the Body of Our Lives (Sixteen Rivers Press 2010). She is the recipient of several awards including the Ann Stanford Prize, the Inkwell Magazine Award, the Saranac Review Prize, The Thomas Merton Poetry of the Spiritual Award, the Arts & Letters Award, and both the Sow’s Ear Award for an individual poem and The Sow’s Ear 2016 Chapbook Award. Her work has appeared in Alaska Review, Cincinnati Review, Hayden’s Ferry, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, and American Life in Poetry.



Poet’s Note

This poem was conceived during my last year working as an accountant. The partners had flown in an expert from New York who was presenting very sketchy strategies for shortening the useful life of assets, thereby increasing the deductions. We were on the second floor, looking out at the branches of a blossoming plum tree being worked by bees. He was making a point about the interconnectedness of things, fiscally, and I had fun going back to my desk and taking that thought to a more existential level. This is one of the few poems I’ve written that follows very closely what really occurred. Okay, I made up the last line.

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  • Ann Buttenwieser April 15, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Having recently learned about the shenanagins a state insurance office went through to set a price on the level of insurance I needed for a not-for-profit project that I was trying to open for the public, I love this poem!!!
    AB aka The Floating Pool Lady