(Inspired in part by Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column of February 18, 2017.)
In epics, usually at their very heart,
The plot stops and the hero, marked by fate,
Encounters a Parnassian whose art
The poet thinks a nonpareil. The great
Wordsmith displays a tableau that, from start
To finish, shows a pageant of the state,
With warriors both mythic and historical,
And women who are frankly allegorical.
This interlude’s intended to attest
To those who thought you just a Grub Street hack,
That you’ve a right to be among the best,
And that you don’t care if they’re talking smack
About you—you know you’re not like the rest,
For Destiny’s fair winds are at your back.
You are the voice and conscience of the age:
Pretenders will just have to leave the stage!
If nothing else, conning this entr’acte
Gives you a chance to show you’ve got some chops:
Skewering enemies, displaying tact
With those who may go either way, and props
To those who are your friends—for now. Thus, packed
With figures (in both senses), such name-drops
With any luck might last for centuries,
Although, of course, there are no guarantees.
That time has come, dear reader: let’s descend
Into the depths of Hades, where the Styx
Meanders through the Tartaran gloom. Attend!
The lost ones wailing at our politics;
The anguish of the Founders at the end
Of the Republic. Even dreary Nyx
Pleads for a little lightness to set free
The souls of Uncle Sam and Liberty.
These two were last seen at the Inauguration.
They’d come from sleeping in a cardboard shack
Near the Potomac, to cheer on the nation
At it changed leaders. But their jaws fell slack
At the new president’s disinformation.
With shattered hearts they wandered slowly back
And that night gave their country up for lost.
They sought out Charon, paid their dues, and crossed.
How sad they seem! How gaunt, how wan, how worn!
The flaming torch that she had once upheld
Extinguished; and his hat tattered and torn;
The passion in his piercing eyes now quelled;
And all their facial muscles limp, forlorn,
As if from Eden they had been expelled.
Alone, on seeing them, so frail and weak,
I gather all my wits and start to speak.
I call to them, “O Lady Liberty
And Uncle Sam, had you waited a day,
You would have been among a shining sea
Of people of all colors, straight and gay,
Embodying all the diversity,
Of our fair land.” But they wander away,
Not hearing what I cry. I shake my head:
It’s not that easy comforting the dead.
My eyes search for the Sybil for this mission:
Who might I—poetaster, versifier—
Guide me in such a weighty proposition?
Nor Virgil, Hermes, Homer, nor the lyre
Of Orpheus are in my range; my edition
Needs a cut-price Calliope to inspire.
Without blinking an eye (for I’m not proud),
I summon forth the soul of Maureen Dowd.
Behold she manifests herself! Her retinue
Are twin putti, Irreverence and Snark,
And the weird sisters, Smirk and Snide and Rue.
All five give me the side eye, and remark
How strange it is that such a parvenu
As I would have the gumption or the spark
To call forth such as one as She, whose irony
Is wasted on a putz who thinks he’s Byron-y.
“Silence,” commands La Dowd, “for this poor fool
Must needs be shown a vision; a charade
That I shall place before him that will school
Him in lampoon and farce; a masquerade
Of failings and defects. For ridicule
Must scatter the dumb show and crass parade
Of horrors that goosestep within the pate
Of that man who is now our head of state.”
She lifts her arms, and all at once a cloud
Descends. I blink and stare: before my face
Deplorables effuse from the black shroud
Of deepest darkness and take up their place.
I cannot but admire how Maureen Dowd
Can summon a cabal of such disgrace
As these atrocious humours. There they cluster:
A murderer’s row of perfidy and bluster.
First, Insecurity: twitching and wincing,
Ranting about his ratings and fake news;
His arms flap as he tries to be convincing
At how much he’s adored and loves the Jews.
Yet all the while, between the camp and mincing,
He’s scared someone will say that this king’s trews
Are non-existent, and the only clothing
He shrouds himself with are terror and loathing.
Next, Insincerity: homunculus,
A fawning, two-faced fraud, fair-weather friend.
So filled with fat lies is this incubus,
He floats free of the real. His pretend
World is so teeming and befouled with puss
That it makes all who live in it distend:
For there is yet no foolproof antidote
To remedy ventripotence and bloat.
Third in this wretched chain is Victimhood,
Farouche and mewling, whining, pouting, glum.
“Why can’t I have my own way? I’ll be good,
I promise,” is the falsehood that this bum
Whimpers and snivels. “I’m misunderstood.”
Yet Victimhood’s sly grin shows he’s not dumb.
If you cross him he’ll really put the boot in,
Either with goons or with his great pal Putin.
Twin sisters are Bullying and Suspicion:
Mean girls who love to hate those they admire;
Their shoulders cold, they seek total submission
From those they think might have their measure; fire
The talented and worthy. A condition
Of being a cool kid is that you conspire
Against all comers: for it’s very clear
That if they can’t love you, at least they fear.
That shade rubbing his hands is Calculation:
His task to uproot Kindness and Largesse;
To work without respite to spike inflation
And expand Insincerity’s excess.
There’s Self-delusion (way above his station)
And clinging on despite lack of success.
And leading them in chants, replete with bile,
Is Gall, his mien sprayed with an unctuous smile.
The rest of them are lost within the herd
Of appetites and impulses, a crowd
Of tics that swarm the Vices. A huge turd
From Paranoia puffs a noxious cloud
Of vast windbaggery and the absurd.
It’s all too much. I shout out, “Soul of Dowd!
How might I, humble drudge, in these sad times,
Defeat such turpitude with my poor rhymes?”
“You think I have the answer?” laughs my Muse.
“I’m just a columnist. We like to think
We have some clout, but really we just schmooze
And write down third-hand gossip. All that ink
Is spilled for nothing. Yes, we can amuse;
Occasionally, we may kick up a stink
That might cause blushes; but that’s very rare.
Most of the time we simply blow hot air.
“The president’s an idiot, but folly
Has been the stuff of politics forever.
He’s not the first commander off his trolley
And will not be the last. We might say ‘Never
Again,’ and yet we find ourselves, by golly,
Once more with reprobates, pulling the lever
For someone who is chock-a-block with flaws
Yet whom we know will push our favorite cause.
“In all your agony, where is the blame
For Hillary, the Democrats, the press?
Obama was too cool; the Blue team’s game
Was hoping trumpery would more or less
Hand Hillary the White House; or her name
Was all she really needed to progress.
You never win because it is your turn
That’s what nomenklaturas never learn.
“So cut your blather, wise up, and get real.
This man’s a threat, yes; he must be opposed.
But your task is not simply to appeal
To your own kind. You must be more hard-nosed,
And take down cant wherever, bring to heal
The nonsense from the left that’s presupposed
To be ‘correct.’ Know that your form of group Id
Is just as dangerous and just as stupid.
“You’re going to have to leave your comfort zone,
And find out why your sort of liberal bias
Makes others squirm. You may employ high-flown
Language to demonstrate why they’re all liars,
But that does not excuse your haughty tone,
Preposterous conceits, and every pious
Assumption that the rest are just naifs,
Who’d, if they listened, welcome your beliefs.
“You said it: Uncle Sam and Liberty
Were homeless. Look around you at the losses
To opioids, hopelessness, and penury;
The casual destruction of the bosses
Who ship their jobs abroad. Sure, you and me,
We’ve got some money stowed away, our tosses
Are such that we can count on luck most days,
But if you have no cash, it’s layaways
“And loan sharks, scams, and debt up to your ears.
Do Chuck Schumer and others speak to this?
Do your soy latte–, smoothie-drinking peers
Have any clue of what it’s like to miss
Your payments and find yourself in arrears?
Do you? In such a case, who cares for ‘cis’
Or ‘trans’ or BLM? They’re games to you
If your food doesn’t last the whole day through.
“What you need is a story,” she went on.
“You can’t keep simply spouting derogation
Month after month. The Obama days are gone,
And now we need a hero for the nation
To countermand this schmo. A paragon,
Who’ll be a legendary demonstration
Of what we could be. It may be pretend,
But at least we’ll have fun before the end.”
At that, she leaves (yes, in a puff of smoke),
And all the Vices with her, while her train
Throws me a glance, complaining what a joke
It is I should have summoned her in vain,
Before they sidle off the stage. I croak
A brief farewell, then try to ascertain
Why she believed that it was mandatory:
To have a hero who could lead a story.
Perhaps she wants a hunk who’s lithe and lusty,
To fight against our leader’s callous vanity,
A little dim perhaps, but brave and trusty,
Whose steadfastness will shame its cruel inanity,
And all that is passé, shopworn, or rusty
About the opposition. His humanity
Will shine through in his dash and derring-do
And strike a marked contrast with You Know Who.
When called upon, he’ll lift the nearest blade
And rush to fight with little preparation.
He’ll down the enemy and won’t be stayed
Though one might wish for some deliberation.
And while as subtle as a hand-grenade
Our hero will provide some compensation
In that before he’s righted every wrong,
He’ll be unclothed but for a well-placed thong.
Of course the danger with the martial sort
Is that he can’t take domesticity.
Once war is over, he returns to court;
And after he has kissed Penelope,
And she’s told him to cut the hedge and sort
The garage out and switch off the TV,
He starts to think it would be quite a wheeze
To sail to the Pillars of Hercules
And westward to the sunset. I prefer,
Someone who’s blessed with brains and guile and cunning,
Who’ll give each pencil-pusher and poseur
A withering bon mot to send them running,
Whose wit will cut to ribbons each frotteur
Who rubs him the wrong way artlessly punning,
And leave their orifices raw and tender.
No let’s leave him alone, and change the gender.
Let us imagine a fearsome warrior queen
Who’ll grapple with the grabber and his clan;
With gimlet eye and steady gaze she’ll clean
The clocks of every spineless congressman
Who tells her that gals like her should be seen
And not heard. While reciting Thich Nhat Hanh,
She’ll grip his scrotum in an iron fist
And should he not be truly mindful, twist.