(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 incomparable. The great
Wordsmith displays a tableau that, from start
To end, unfurls a pageant of the state,
With warriors both mythic and historical,
And women who are plainly 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 be forced to leave the stage!
If nothing else, conning this entr’acte
Gives you a chance to prove you’ve got the 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, we know, 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 glint of 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
As 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; his stovepipe tattered and torn;
The passion in his piercing eyes now id elled;
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 stood among a shining sea
Of people of all colors, straight and gay,
Befitting what it means to be the Free,
Of this 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—
Ask as as guide for such a composition?
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 up the sprite that’s 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 rube as you
Would have the chutzpah, 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 receive a vision; a charade
That I shall place before him that will school
Him in lampoon and farce; a cavalcade
Of failings and defects. For ridicule
Must scatter the grotesque harlequinade
Of ogres that goosestep within the pate
Of that man who is now the 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 conjure a cabal of such disgrace
As these atrocious phantoms. There they cluster:
A murderers’ 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 by all 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 chum.
So filled with fat lies is this incubus,
He floats free of the real. This pond scum
Is so infected and befouled with puss
That he makes all who know him sick and numb:
For there is yet no foolproof antidote
To remedy ventripotence and bloat.
Third in this wretched chain is Victimhood,
Sullen and mewling, whining, pouting, glum.
“Why can’t I get 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.
Then twin sisters, Bullying and Suspicion:
Mean girls who hate all those they most 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 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 vile mess.
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 gluttons and con-artists, a great crowd
Of tics that swarm the Vices. A huge turd
From Egomania expels a cloud
Of vast windbaggery and the absurd.
It’s all too much. I shout, “Spirit of Dowd!
How might I, humble drudge, in these sad times,
Defeat such turpitude with my poor rhymes?”
“You think I’ve got the answer?” laughs the Muse.
“I’m just a columnist. We like to think
We hold some clout, but really we just schmooze
And write down third-hand gossip. All that ink
Is spilled for nothing. Yes, we point j’accuse;
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.
“This guy is big box-office. He’s appalling
It’s true, but equally compelling viewing.
He’s always known that showing off’s his calling
Especially when he is scenery-chewing.
What does he care if he’s accused of balling
Or doing what he just should not be doing?
It’s all part of his big plan to convey a
Strong message that he’ll always be a player.
“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.
“I’m not denying race, misogyny,
Or white fragility don’t play a role;
The right dissembled, and ‘identity’
Works both ways. But, what’s new? Sure, digging coal
And building walls aren’t real policy,
But class must count for something, and your goal
Of holding the Obama coalition
Failed in the face of working-class sedition.
“You think that Sanders would have won the poll?
A Jewish socialist who looks a mess?
Each anti-Semite, John Birch manqué troll
Would have attacked him, and with great success.
In days, they would have swallowed him up whole
And fed his body to the right-wing press.
The young ones may have thought him a new Caesar.
But in the end he was the same old geezer.
“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 heel
The nonsense from the left-wing that’s bulldozed
Its way through academe. 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 scornful tone,
Preposterous conceits, and every pious
Assumption that each working-class Luddite,
Would, if he listened to you, see the light.
“You know the story of the quid pro quo
Between the Feds and Wall Street: heavyweights
In both blew right through our hard-earned dough
And said, “You pay: that’s how it operates.”
If you’d been lent a pitchfork and flambeau
You would have been the first to storm the gates.
Meanwhile, Joe Blow, Jane Doe—to their great grief—
Lost everything: car, cash, jobs, house, belief.
“You said it: Uncle Sam and Liberty
Were homeless. Look around you at the losses
To opioids, hopelessness, 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 ass. An Amazon,
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.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I’ll be leaving
I really don’t belong here with the dead:
I’m still alive (though looks may be deceiving).
And while it’s true I have a heavy tread
Like Orpheus, I’m not concerned with grieving
The failure of a female figurehead.
The Clintons always have done very well
Each time they put their followers through hell.”
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 cast a hero who could lead a story.