Three Memos

by Michael Martone

On Administrative Leave, the Postal Inspector Waits in Line at the
Sunrise, Maine, Post Office to Ask If He Has Any Mail Held General Delivery

Even here, the end of the earth, wanted posters are posted. Have you tracked me down? What word’s been sent? What, what do you want?


A Camoufleur at the Natick Soldier Systems Center Digests
Reports Finding Failure of the UCP Digitalized Pixilated Pattern in Afghanistan

Mychildrenlookrightthroughme,throughthescreendoorwhereIstandstill,foregroundflattenedintobackground,twenty-fivewords hiddeninthisoneword.


A Chemist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Dips a Finger in a Freshly Opened Paint Can

To get that loud color, that safety yellow? Lead chromate. It’s the only way. Its aftertaste is sweet like sponge cake. It stains the teeth.

Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has taught at several universities including Johns Hopkins, Iowa State, Harvard, Alabama, and Syracuse. He participated in the last major memo war fought with actual paper memoranda before the advent of electronic email. Staples were deployed. The paper generated in that war stacks several inches deep, thick enough to stop a bullet. Martone learned that the “cc:” is the most strategic field of the memo’s template, and he is sad to realize that fewer and fewer readers know what the “cc:” stands for let alone have ever held a piece of the delicate and duplicating artifact in their ink stained and smudge smudged fingers. It, like everything else, is history.

Tell us more, if you could, about your series about federal employees that these wonderful pieces are a part of. I started writing these pieces in response to the current political anger directed toward the “public” sector and “faceless” bureaucrats. As the rhetoric of cutting the federal government became more pronounced, I wanted to meditate on all the things it actual does, benign or not, efficient or not. I will miss the post office, Amtrak, even the page program in Congress. I thought micro fictions were the perfect way to get at the “vast” complexities of that “Washington.”

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