In 2008 I wrote the poem below, the night before our annual Bankruptcy Committee lunch. I agreed to read something at the event, and I had writer’s block; I wanted to write a poen in the style of “T’was the Night before Christmas. . .” but nothing was working for me. So I started by writing about how hard it was to start. I then went into poetic flights about how it is easier drafting bankruptcy paperwork than drafting poems, ending on a serious note about what we (bankruptcy attorneys) are actually accomplishing for our clients. I will probably repost this each year:
T’was the night before luncheon and all through my head
Not a glimmer creative; I longed for my bed.
So what was I thinking? A poem satiric?
The ‘Night before Christmas’ with comical lyrics?
Silly boy! Think it over; the opening lines:
how will you twist them? How will you rhyme?
“T’was the Night Before Christmas” – OK that’s a start.
But now the next sentence, that’s the hard part.
“T’was the Night Before Christmas, and all through the” – what?
“And all through the office”? That lands like a thud
“And all through the law firm”; now that’s quite pathetic
“And all through the conference room” That’s crappy – forget it
“And all through the Court” now that sounds judicial.
Profoundly legalistic, properly official.
But have you attempted to rhyme the word “court”?
Wart? Thwart? Snort? Short? Abort, cavort, support, resort?
The task it was hopeless; Poetry – I hates it;
not like Petitions and Schedules and Statements.
And forms with weird numbers B-22? 23?
One is the ‘Means Test’, the other educationally
certifies the debtor has mastered the skill
of not spending money that’s not in the till.
What poem expresses the deathless bleak prose
of the Schedule of Income that existentially poses
the question of what debtors reasonably sees as
their future prosperity – anticipate increases?
Or is it a cloud without a bright lining?
(These government forms play such subliminal mind game.)
Like how bout the size of the good debtor’s family?
Now Harriet and Ozzie can answer quite handily.
But the alternatively lifestyled reach the conclusion:
this is a Congressionally-mandated privacy intrusion
Is a roommate just a roommate or POOSSLQ friendly?
A lover? A boarder? The permutations are many.
Or what if they’re two guys just back from Gay Boston
Their matrimonial bliss cut short when state-crossin’.
A wife in Alaska, a girl friend at home;
a step-son in boarding school, a child in the womb.
The ‘Means Test’s’ inquiring mind wants to know
exactly, precisely, your family size, so
it can measure you up and average you out
and tease you and squeeze you and throw you about.
Now while we are talking ’bout forms most Talmudic
Lets ponder exemptions for folks who have moved in-
-to Western New York from states far away,
and whether they keep the same assets we say
they could of held onto if they never left home.
The answer’s embedded in statutory tomes
which never considered that folks out-of-state
would use their exemptions to claim out a stake.
With logic impeccable the courts have decreed
that residents of places that opt-out ‘graph (d)
of 522, the section that itemizes
the goodies that federal law exemptizes:
If residents yonder can’t use those protections,
they’re magically available when they move to Cohocton.
And notices, and notices, and notices piled high
They all say the same thing – its not nice to lie
on your bankruptcy papers so why can’t they say this
in one or two pages, instead of a thesis?
Now six months of income, you think this is easy
to calculate precisely with debtors whose measly
collection of papers are bagged in a hunk
of unopened lawsuits and discarded junk?
“Pay stubs? What pay stubs” the disorganized cry
They earn not a penny and want to know why
they must try to recapture how much was their payoff
from night shift employment before they were laid off.
But Form 22 is unmercifully clear
All income, all sources, all entities, dear.
No matter your livelihood’s modesty defined
Specify, specify, six months of decline.
Which brings up the document most debtors detest:
It’s drafted at Rule 2-0-1-6’s behest
The money, the money the debtors must pay,
No matter their income, no matter their pain.
The mommy with three kids and more on the way,
who works sixty hours nurse-aiding the frail
Her take-home pay packet is hardly sufficient
to cover the rent, the car and provisions.
She turns to the lawyer, who’s very impressed
that her case is quite simple but, never the less,
for even the simplest of cases we do:
dear Mommy, your case will be costing you
a month’s worth of wages I’m sorry to report
Including the filing fee and counseling, of course.
Well, anyway, I don’t want to end on a downer
on this our holiday annual Downtowner.
So what was I thinking to entertain you folks?
Songs of the season? Dancing and jokes?
Now I remember — I was trying a riff
of the ‘Night Before’ childhood’s ultimate bliss.
So sorry for all that – I’ll try it again
and see if I’m better on the second refrain:
T’was the Night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
The parents were sleeping or trying to do so;
they’re tossing and turning, fitfully to-and-fro
The mortgage is past due, the car payment’s late.
The sheriff is seizing a tenth of their pay.
The kids dream of Santa, their parents of debt.
The job is in danger, they can’t get ahead
They worked all their life and all that they’ve saved is
a drawer full of threats from their creditors’ agents.
One person can possibly give them some hope
Not Fatso from the North Pole or some legionary folk.
But a lawyer who works with the distressed in society,
who can guide them to a new life of fiscal sobriety,
whose straightforward counsel reduces the fears,
and calming demeanor assuages the tears.
And so I say, Comrades, as we face a new year:
be proud of your work, and be of good cheer.
Our mission is noble, though the pay is mere bupkus
We honorably serve the most needy among us.