Tuesday, 15 November 2022 21:10

Sisyphus at Royal Mail

Written by
in Poetry
Sisyphus at Royal Mail

Sisyphus at Royal Mail

by John Freeman

I’ve never seen Bernard so indignant.
It’s the day after the strike. There’s a backlog.
I like my job, he told his manager,
I want to do it properly. I hate
leaving first-class letters at the depot.
I can take some out today and some tomorrow.
And if it takes me into overtime
you needn’t pay me for the odd half hour.
But the manager tells him like a broken record,
sorry, that’s how it is. Bernard isn’t even
allowed to keep the mail in pigeon-holes
where it will be easier and quicker
to collect, ready for him in the morning.
But no, he’s got to leave it in the trough
below, and as we talk we wonder whether
Royal Mail want to photograph it there
to show the volume of letters and packets
piling up and not being delivered,
turning the public against postal workers.

When I joined, Bernard told this – manager,
not to use a ruder word about him,
although that’s coming to sound obscene itself –
I was asked to talk to customers,
take care of them, show them they were valued.
That’s the way I’ve always done my job
and I’m not going to change now Royal Mail
doesn’t care about anything or anyone
except the profits and the shareholders.
You ask people to pay ninety-five pence
for a first-class stamp and it drives me crazy
to know I could deliver all these letters
and you say I can’t, but the broken record,
Mr Jobsworth Manager, just says sorry,
that’s the way it is.

Bernard laughs. We know
he could have retired three or four years ago.
He didn’t want to, but he’s getting angry.
Here's a line I could repeat talking about
so many jobs in whichever sector,
public, private, that increasing swamp
in between, privatised services:
the satisfaction I got from my work’s gone.
Bernard tells us other villagers beg him
‘Don’t retire!’ He knows we don’t want that
either, but today we can’t repeat it
in the context of retirement getting
increasingly attractive, even though
it will break his heart, and ours, and reduce life
to something meaner and greyer, shrunken.

We can’t delay Bernard any longer.
They are very slowly working through it,
he tells us, but by the time we get there
we’ll be at the next strike day – quite right too,
since Royal Mail won’t play ball with us –
and we’ll be back again to where we started.

God, look down, and say why somebody
who lives such a good and useful life as his
should be made increasingly desperate
by a world of profits and of managers.
We need a revolution. We need people
like Bernard to flourish and feel valued.
How can I start it? Just by bearing witness.

Read 1733 times Last modified on Tuesday, 15 November 2022 22:32
John Freeman

John Freeman’s poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies and in twelve collections, of which the latest is Plato’s Peach (Worple Press, 2021). He lives in south Wales.

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