The Trumpiad: Book 1—Canto 3

March 2017

(Inspired in part by Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column of February 18, 2017.)

I

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.

II

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!

III

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, of course, there are no guarantees.

IV

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.

V

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.

VI

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. 

VII

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 our fair land.” But they wander away,
Not hearing what I cry. I shake my head:
It’s not that easy comforting the dead.

VIII

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.

IX

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.”

X

“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 horrors that goosestep within the pate
Of that man who is now the head of state.”

XI

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.

XII

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.

XIII

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.

XIV

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.

XV

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.

XVI

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.

XVII

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 unlooses 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?”

XVIII

“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.

XIX

“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.

XX

“This guy is big box-office. He’s appalling
Of course, 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.

XXI

“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.

XXII

“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. 

XXIII

“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.

XXIV

“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.

XXV

“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 each working-class luddite,
Would, if he listened to you, see the light.

XXVI

“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.

XXVII

“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

XXVIII

“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.

XXIX

“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. 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. 

XXX

“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.”

XXXI

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.

Posted in The Trumpiad, Works: Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Trumpiad: Book 1—Canto 2

February 2017

I

Where are the songs of Spring? (You might well ask.)
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.
The darling bud’s not ready for the task
The lark ascending but a darkling thrush.
The smell of fear’s cloaked by facial mask,
And hectic cheeks rosy with flu’s first blush:
We raise a cry, given our president,
“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

II

It’s only been two weeks, and madness brews!
The Constitution creeks and sighs and buckles.
The lawyers have descended! Talks of coups,
Secret cabals, and gangs may give you chuckles
But this seems all too true to me. A fuse
Is lit: I counsel, “Unpack your brass knuckles.”
For something quite explosive has begun
And there’ll be street-fighting before it’s done.

III

I know last canto’s tone was too threnodic.
But like so many, I was out of humor.
I sought for major strains, something melodic,
Yet all that sounded were the bells of doom; a
Long, plangent ululatory, spasmodic,
Dyspeptic groan at the malignant tumor
That’s formed within the body politic,
And hasn’t been excised yet. Sick, O sick!

IV

Therefore, instead of taking medication,
Let me recall a topos from the ages:
A listing of the heroes of the nation,
No longer here, but who now fill the pages
Of history books. They reached the highest station,
And by the lesson of their lives, these sages
Reveal to us it might not be as bad
As it might seem in this dark season. Sad!

V

Picture a man uneasy in his skin,
Of awkward twitches, blatant paranoia,
Without a friend, but enemies within,
Who craves respect from those he loathes; destroyer
Of an elite that will not let him in;
Whose fear is that a congressman or lawyer
Will strip from him the one thing he gets kicks in:
That’s power. I refer to Richard Nixon.

VI

Is Tricky Dick not the progenitor?
Think of it: subterfuge, plots, half-baked theories,
The all-consuming need to settle a score,
The exposés, the leaks, an endless series
Of depositions, cover-ups, and more,
Leaving the world astonished at the sheer ease
With which one man can macerate the nation
Unless allowed to freebase adulation.

VII

Recall all Hardings and their Teapot Domes,
And Wilson’s resurrection of the Klan;
The bought-and-paid-for Gilded Age’s gnomes
Who helped the rich grow richer; and the span
Van Buren to Buchanan. Thoughtful tomes
Indict their many frauds and failures. Can
We locate in the list an Anglo-Saxon
More cruel than the bloody Andrew Jackson?

VIII

I venture not. Yet mediocrities
(Like Major Major) need a sinecure.
They, too, seek graft and shun indemnities!
How else will cocky layabouts ensure
That others do the work so they can squeeze
Into their schedule one more victory tour?
It’s fun to spend one’s time before adoring
Crowds chanting your name. All the rest is boring!

IX

This man, therefore, is not an aberration.
He seems that way because we have forgot
How much our past reveals the separation
Of truth from how we dream we were: the rot
Of sharecropping and lynching, segregation,
Of Joe McCarthy, tenements, the lot
Of native peoples and the broken pacts:
These are not myths or misconstrued; they’re facts.

X

What if he’s ill, not merely solipsistic?
What if he cannot function without crisis?
You sense he’s desperate to go ballistic
And take thousands of troops to war with ISIS;
Inflate his chest and pose in a fascistic
Homage to Mussolini, which is why this
Scenario’s so weird. I ask again:
What if the U.S. president’s insane?

XI

It started at the Correspondents Dinner
When President Obama—who of late
This man had been asserting was a sinner
For not releasing his certificate
Of birth, and claiming he would soon begin a
Phishing trip to make sure he was innate—
Determined at the banquet with the accuser
To have a little fun with his abuser.

XII

It turned out that this “tough” investigator
Discovered that he didn’t like to see
The truth about himself. The fabricator
Resolved to run for office. History
Will demonstrate that this manipulator
Decided to hijack the GOP
Not out of care for ordinary folk
But just because he couldn’t take a joke.

XIII

The trouble is he’s not a merry pranker
Who yearns to punk and make his trifling plays.
He thrives on chaos, enmity, and rancor,
Thrills in deflection, falsehood, and malaise.
In English parlance, he’s a prick and wanker
Who kicks the sticks from old people, and preys
Upon the fragile. If he acts the thug,
He thinks, no one will see under the rug.

XIV

Talking of which, please tell me what’s that carpet
That sits atop his head? A dormant rat?
A shiny coprolite dug from a tar pit?
A grouchy and albino Maine Coon cat?
The decomposing body of a varmit,
Or golden guano from a loose-boweled bat?
It looks like someone piled on wet spaghetti
And dried it to resemble a small Yeti.

XV

Now I don’t like to dwell in negativity:
I’m mostly Mr. Sunshine, happy camper.
If leaning to the good is my proclivity
Then surely (without being a rubber stamper)
I should say something nice. For expressivity
That’s only doom and gloom can be a damper
And make us want to clasp our knees and rock.
So I’ll reframe these features that I mock.

XVI

O weave supreme, a glorious filagree
Of cultivated strands, metallic weft,
Frozen by gel, embalmed through chemistry,
Each follicle effulgent: right and left
Can marvel at the stylist’s topiary,
That threaded so few hairs into such heft.
Bald Opportunity is most dismayed
To see his single hair in that blond braid.

XVII

Upholstered fleece: an auric monument
To everything he’s hungered for since birth;
A cover for his failures (youth misspent,
Failed marriages, the bankruptcies). It’s worth
In sleek and contoured moldings that augment
His dome is much more to him than the mirth
That falls upon its lustrous sward like dew
And polishes his barefaced self anew.

XVIII

And what about those gestures so balletic?
The forefinger and thumb (perverted mudra)
Bespeaking . . . what? Precision? Truth emetic?
The prissy cynicism of his shudra,
That highlights how easily the bathetic
Can hide the fact that an almighty budra
Is going to be levied on your ass?
Don’t be confused by postures that look crass.

XIX

O brazen libertine, whose farouche moue
Puckers with such fastidious disdain.
Not even Blanche DuBois could swoon and stew
In such “melodramatic diva” vein.
Carnival barker, breathy ingénue,
Both Susan Alexander and Charles Kane:
Not to be rude or boorishly ungallant,
I must say, “Thumbs down; you have got no talent.”

XX

What honeyed words shall we say of Melania?
That she’s a sylph in bondage to Silenus?
Or like the accursed fairy queen Titania
Enamored of an ass? A marbled Venus
Carved by jealous Pygmalion? An ania
To a flame? The sheath that covers up his penis
And offers him the semblance of propriety
To make sure it’s not unmasked in society?

XXI

Observing her pinched features, fixed and strained,
You sense that something has gone wrong. As if
What, years ago, she bargained for has drained
The joy from her. And like a living GIF
She’s trapped in the same motions; every pained,
Thin smile; her slender body taut and stiff:
All seem to show she knows and fears her beau
Will one day say, “You’re fired,” and she’ll go.

XXII

Where is the joshing, where the amorous ease,
The warmth that comes from knowing that your guy
Has reached the top? I wonder, did he squeeze
Her hand that first night, look her in the eye,
And say that he was sorry for the sleaze,
But that man was no more? That he would try
To be someone of whom she could be proud,
With whom she could stand resolute, unbowed?

XXIII

Yet there she is, untouched and unadored,
Or walks behind him as he strides ahead;
Locked in her ornate cage, depressed and bored
Out of her skull; with each day filled with dread
At what he’ll say or do next. Her accord
For staying with him’s ultimately led
To being First Lady and the people’s house,
And yet she wakes still married to a louse.

XXIV

Unlike the elder children, with their shrewd
Accommodations to the Chief, their sire,
She and her son look haunted and subdued.
What does she know, what has she seen transpire
Within those marbled walls? Did she conclude
That it was best to shrink back and retire
Rather than be herself and thereby cross
The man she once loved, who is now her boss?

XXV

Has she awoken in the dark of night
And wandered to the living room to find
His jowly mien wan in the cellphone’s light
Or staring at the TV screens? Do kind
Hands settle on his shoulders: “It’s not right,”
She says, “they’re merely messing with your mind.
Let them alone and come to bed, my sweet.
It doesn’t matter. You’ve no need to tweet”?

XXVI

Does he reply, “You’ll never understand.
I cannot let them have the final word.
I’ve never lost. I always win. Command
And others act—that’s me. No little turd
With half a brain will beat me. I demand
Complete respect”? So, by reason unstirred,
(While she retreats, knowing she’s tried her best),
Do his two stubby fingers do the rest?

XXVII

So much for being nice! I must admit
I find it hard to separate the man
From that office in which he sits. The shit
Is flying but has not yet hit the fan,
And so we wade through ordure. Piles of it:
A vast lake from Orlando to Spokane.
And every movement, statement, and mishap
Bears undisputed vestiges of crap.

XXVIII

So, no, I won’t go high when they go low.
(Apologies, Michelle!) What sorts of scold
Would Swift or Joseph Heller or Thiong’o
Be if they meekly did as they were told
By those in power? When the ill winds blow
You open up your cheeks and blast, tenfold,
Ripostes both sobering and pedagogical,
Or, failing that, overtly scatological.

Posted in The Trumpiad, Works: Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Trumpiad: Book 1—Canto 1

January 2017

I

In olden days, a writer with pretension
To voice his people’s hopes in smooth hexameter,
Would make a case for poetic ascension
By laying down an ode or epigrammata,
Before composing something with dimension
For fear he’d be exposed as a rank amateur.
Why show you’re just another two-bit schemer
And what’s more do it in ottava rima?

II

But there’s no time for artistic probation:
The game’s afoot, time ripe, the need is now.
The fate of the Republic’s our vexation:
Whether we last through these four years, and how.
When a sham ignoramus runs the nation,
Who cares if I’m sufficiently high-brow
To catch the wretched agon of the times
Successfully in Tasso’s piquant rhymes?

III

Lord Byron knew the mixture well: Don Juan
Incorporates the seemly and the seamy.
And per the era, I venture a new one
Should be both sanctimonious and steamy.
To tenderize the shock of thinking who won
And help us chew, then somewhat tart and creamy
Must be my verse: to catch the zeitgeist’s mood
Demands the euphuistic and the crude.

IV

It’s usual in this type of composition
To issue forth a ringing invocation:
A call to arms, a plea for a commission
To bind the wounds; locate a lofty station
From which to proffer a worthy petition
Or lift the veil upon a desecration.
I need a spot where I can coalesce
Each bilious outflow in one putrid mess.

V

O soft Gowanus: issue forth your scents
To cleanse my verse; your waters rank and deep
Diffuse my acrid spewing; in your dense
Alembic boil each noxious phrasing, steep
Within your nacreous current each offense,
And turn from dross to gold this steaming heap
That like compost builds life. Is it obscene
To call on you, my flush-full Hippocrene?

VI

Where are you KENTILE sign, whose lambent beams
Once shone upon the sludge-filled sites below?
Where are the slicks you lit, the oiltar seams,
The bodies swaying in the undertow
Of the canal? Bless my cloacal memes,
Which rise above South Brooklyn’s dirty glow,
All you who contemplate tranquility
When stuck in traffic on the BQE.

VII

Muse, cross the bridges: Newark’s meadows sweet,
Old Cleveland’s groves, the springs of Buffalo,
Descant upon the passing of Main Street,
Now empty, once full not so long ago.
Detroit shall echo, Gary shall repeat
That what was once created is no mo’:
For why spend time in genuine creation
When wealth is made through idle speculation?

VIII

Look! How we whisper prayers, levers yank,
And buttons push (the gamblers’ Vitus’ dance);
Or rub the lotto genie and so bank
Our futures on the one-in-a-million chance!
Deposits going south, stocks in the tank,
Our houses worthless. And yet, in a trance,
We reckon if we placed just one more bet
We’d magically dissolve our unpaid debt.

IX

Speak, Prophet, let each narcissistic byte
Decode the bibble-babble of this age.
Dismantle every cable droid, indict
Each billion-dollar suit, and turn your rage
Upon the posing proxies that each night
Pour forth the toxic gas that drives the gauge
That measures book advances, honoraria,
And gobs of cash spat forth in faux hysteria.

X

Descry, O Instant Messenger, the stores
And houses boarded up, the vacant lots
And men who cluster at the corner, scores
To settle or trace up arms, the easy shots
That have no consequence—for all the doors
Have long since been foreclosed on. Join the dots,
You gamers, for the people are in hock
For taking and not taking enough stock.

XI

Direct your gaze toward the gilded suite
Within the Tower; settling on the sofa,
Chew over how the bully deigns to meet
Each sycophantic leech and fawning gopher,
How much he smirks as on their knees they bleat
For work, pretending he is not a loafer.
As long as they’re on good terms with the bruiser,
They think that he won’t shame them as a loser.

XII

A puffed-up peacock, scabrous popinjay,
Falstaff without the grace or sack or wit,
A loathsome skeev, a spawn of Rabelais,
A thin-skinned and vainglorious hypocrite,
Is the Commander of the USA.
Revisit that when next you take a shit.
Let tumble from your bowels into the pan
Quite what you think about this wretched man.

XIII

“But wait!” I hear you say, “he’s now our chief,
And sixty million folks can’t be mistaken.
We needed change, and Hillary’s a thief,
And now the ruling classes are left shaken,
Because of their presumption. All your beef
Is mere sour grapes. And soon you will awaken
In a U.S. of A. that’s rightly ours,
In which we’ll wield full presidential powers.”

XIV

My answer to these claims of right is “No.”
No to accepting that this harlequin
Has any right to strut and primp and crow.
I see no cause to offer him my chin
To punch. This baldfaced Braggadocio
Will not go underided. If I sin
It would be in not being hard enough
Upon the flaunting, pompous piece of fluff.

XV

“Good riddance to Obama!” comes the cry,
“The Muslim, godless stooge, the Communist,
The enemy within, the Kenyan spy,
The interloping, false flag terrorist,
With his transgendered wife!” A desperate try
To stigmatize a couple who’ll be missed.
Your fears were never real, but fever dreams:
Unlike your man; for he is as he seems.

XVI

What standards the Obamas had to meet!
They couldn’t be angry, browbeat or defame,
Or marry twice or thrice. They couldn’t tweet
Insults or obloquy, affront or shame.
Their kids had to be kind and smart and sweet,
Michelle compassionate and without blame:
They always had to leave a good impression
And not commit a solitary transgression.

XVII

And now we are confronted with this Nero
Who’ll fiddle as the planet burns: his pride
And vanity unmatched; the perfect hero
For this land, where all flagrancy’s denied,
Compunction shunned, and where a total zero
Can rationalize all torture, and deride
As quisling crybabies those who attempt
To offer another vision. What contempt!

XVIII

Is it not weird he has no hinterland?
No book or film or play that moved his soul,
No cultural lodestars, neither small nor grand,
That left him vulnerable or made him whole?
It seems that all is surface (and it’s tanned),
A world of flash and shimmer, without toll:
No weight of loss or sorrow or regret.
Good Lord, he doesn’t even have a pet!

XIX

What will he do when he is called to grieve
When natural disaster strikes the nation?
One-forty characters will not relieve
The pain of lives destroyed; nor adoration,
Disdain, or ridicule help us believe
The leader knows the sting of deprivation.
When hugs need to be given, will he reel?
Or, arms extended, will he cop a feel?

XX

More worryingly still, when terror hits,
As it most surely will, will he react
Judiciously, advisedly? Or blitz
A city, region, country when attacked
To prove his manliness? Or blow to bits
Each treaty, bloc, agreement, and compact:
Provide the terrorists with all they need
To fill the beds once more at Walter Reed?

XXI

Perhaps the Prez will be as disengaged
As George Bush was in his first months: content
To go on victory tours and grow enraged
At SNL, while trying to foment
Some phony crisis so he’s not upstaged
By the dull busyness of government.
He’ll sit counting his future bucks and cents
And hand over the Executive to Pence.

XXII

The danger is he’ll think he knows it all:
Filling the airwaves with his contradictions.
There’ll be perpetual conflict, and in thrall
To all the fires he sets and all the fictions,
Distracted by the thrill of daily brawl,
We’ll spend our outrage feeding our addictions.
Meanwhile the Congress will pass legislation
To end the federal administration.

XXIII

Of course, one hopes that the judicial branch
Will act to halt congressional overreach;
That genuine conservatives will blanche
At efforts to undermine freedoms of speech,
Assembly, privacy; will salve or stanch
The wounds inflicted; or they’ll block the breach
Made in the wall dividing church and state,
And protect the defenseless against hate.

XXIV

One might repose some hope, if just a flicker,
That senators will act with gravitas,
And seek out common ground to act (don’t snicker!).
If not, then frankly it might come to pass
That Jefferson’s Republic (here’s the kicker),
Will fold before this petulant jackass:
And all that will be left will be amurcous
Game shows of unrelenting bread and circus.

XXV

Yet what about the notion that the chump
Will (at last!) shake things up, and, by upending,
Return some power to the people, pump
The economy with infrastructure spending,
And catapult us from this so-called slump
Into a future glory never-ending?
Of course, he might—except that he’s abstaining
From every promise that he made campaigning.

XXVI

What makes this flagrant treachery more galling
Is how he savors playing us for fools.
Beyond his bombast, tantrums, and name-calling
His goal seems only to dispense with rules
To allow infractions even more appalling.
It’s all too clear that he considers mules
The folks who voted for him, suckers all,
Stick figures scrawled upon his bullshit Wall.

XXVII

The coal and steel jobs are not coming back,
Obamacare’s repeal has no replacement;
The Wall will not be built, and every claque
Is lining up for patronage. Abasement
Will be complete when every stooge and hack
Is settled into every job and space meant
For those who care for their agency’s mission,
Instead of beating it into submission.

XXVIII

So now we wait to see what fate will show.
The USA has been through worse—got through
The Civil War, slaveholding, the Alamo,
Pearl Harbor, My Lai, Watergate; and grew
Following 9/11. Even so
That better days await might not be true:
Reliant on exclusion and amnesia,
Dispensed through a collective anesthesia.

XXIX

Of course, I hope that we are proven wrong,
And suddenly he is magnanimous:
Reforms the prisons, builds the roads, makes strong
The economy (and does it without fuss),
Returns power to where it should belong,
While not throwing the weak under the bus,
And, while admitting that he can be crude,
Ensures that only rich people are screwed.

XXX

So now we wait for the Inauguration,
Our senses frayed, and hearts and souls a-flutter,
What will he say to calm a frazzled nation?
What soaring rhetoric will this man utter?
Will he, at last, ascend to meet the station
To which he aspired, or will he simply mutter
A few pat phrases from the autocue
Before attacking his latest bugaboo?

XXXI

What will it be? Four years of garbled tweets,
Of grievance, petulance, dissimulation?
Four years of protest marches in the streets,
Met each night with a pettish lucubration?
Of dirt (financial and between the sheets),
Corruption, filth, and misappropriation;
Or something else? Distinction or disgrace?
We’ll find out soon enough; so, watch this space.

Posted in The Trumpiad, Works: Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Serendipity of Publicity

Nathan Heller's "Blood Ties" in The New Yorker

Nathan Heller’s “Blood Ties” in The New Yorker

A few years ago, I was fortunate to play a role in helping Gene Baur, the co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, complete his first book, which told the story of the organization and the many animals that he’d rescued from stockyards.

Last week, my company, Lantern Books, and I were mentioned in a profile of one of our authors, Jens Soering, by Nathan Heller in The New Yorker. This was a first for us. Three of Jens’ books with Lantern were named—One Day in the Life of Prisoner 179212, An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse, and The Way of the Prisoner—as was the individual, Fr. Thomas Keating, who brought Jens to us, and who is another of our authors.

Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food was published to modest success by Simon & Schuster in 2008. One of the purchasers of that book left a copy at a bed & breakfast in New Jersey. A visitor picked up the book, read it, and was so inspired by its story, and the tales of the animals who made their way to Farm Sanctuary, that she told her husband about it. The visitor was Tracey Stewart, the wife of former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. Not only did Jon invite Gene on his show to talk about his latest book, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life, co-written with Gene Stone, but Tracey purchased a parcel of land in New Jersey that will be her own sanctuary for farmed animals, and which will be run by Farm Sanctuary. She also published a book, Do Unto Animals, that, like Farm Sanctuary, is a rallying cry for less cruelty and more compassion.

In a world where it’s harder and harder to break through the incessant noise of self-promotion, information overload, and multiplying media to reach your audience and make an impression, the story of how one person read one book that changed her life and thereby brought an enormous amount of positive attention to a worthy organization is delightfully analogue, old-school, serendipitous . . . take your pick. No paid consultants; no publicity hacks; no massive media blitz. Just a book on a table that found its way into the hands of someone who was ready to be transformed. It’s perhaps what all publishers and authors dream of: it so rarely comes true, that when it happens there’s something providential about it.

I wish I could say the Heller piece has aroused great interest in Jens’ work/situation or our company, but it hasn’t . . . yet. I like to think that it’s still early days. Apartments around the world are filled with back issues of The New Yorker waiting to be read. Jens is the subject of a forthcoming documentary film, The Promise, which may remind that special someone of Heller’s thoughtful piece, and which in turn may stir the Kraken of national attention. Until then, we do our bit, communicating however we can about our books—hoping that that special someone will change her life and change the world.

Posted in Editing—Publishing—Writing, Publishing | Tagged , , , , , ,

Jens Soering, The New Yorker, and Me

It’s a strange thing to see your name written out in the elegant, restrained typeface of The New Yorker magazine—as I, on this Monday morning, discover myself to be (in Nathan Heller’s “Blood Ties”). As someone who’s subscribed to the magazine for almost two decades, it feels unreal—as though the “Martin Rowe, a co-founder of Lantern Books,” is someone else entirely. But the thoughtful and conscientious Nathan Heller did come round to my house to interview me; the subject of his piece, Jens Soering, is an author of four books for Lantern; and another of our authors, Thomas Keating (also mentioned), did indeed send Soering’s first manuscript, The Way of the Prisoner, to us.

The story that Heller tells is complex and layered, and, as far as I can tell, accurate. It’s also restrained and judicious, without any of the sensationalism that (one might hope) might draw attention to our publishing program—with all of the risks and rewards that come with intense media interest. But the piece, at least, offers a welcome recognition for Lantern, and I’m grateful for that.

Posted in Publishing, Writing | Tagged , ,

The Book as Souvenir

Seth Godin is one of those disruptive gurus of marketing, publishing, and connectivity, and I think he speaks a lot of sense. I especially appreciate what he says about the book as a souvenir—with all of the ambiguity that such a word implies. Witness this comment:

A book is a physical souvenir, a concrete instantiation of your ideas in a physical object, something that gives your ideas substance and allows them to travel.

Out of context, a 140 character tweet cannot change someone’s life. A blog post might (I can think of a few that changed the way I think about business and even life). A movie can, but most big movies are inane entertainments designed to make a lot of money, not change people. But books? [. . .]

Books change lives every day. A book takes more than a few minutes to read. A book envelopes [sic] us, it is relentless in its voice and in its linearity. You start at the beginning and you either ride with the author to the end or you bail. And unlike just about any form of electronic media, you get to read the book at your own pace, absorbing it as you go.

Posted in Editing—Publishing—Writing, Writing | Tagged

The Fine Writer

A friend who is currently writing a book sent me an email about its progress. She told me she’d started to read H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald’s award-winning memoir of how she dealt with her grief over her father’s death through falconry. My friend had had to stop reading the book, she related, because she’d been intimidated by MacDonald’s lush vocabulary and poetic style and it made her feel inadequate as a writer. Her own language was much more down to earth, she wrote, and she was trying to tell a story very plainly.

I have not read MacDonald’s book, but my friend’s comments did strike home. I, too, tend toward lushness in my prose. I often ask my sentences to carry a lot of weight—not least by freighting them with dependent clauses, balancing them between several semi-colons, and never allowing a noun or verb to complete their tasks without colorful adjectives or adverbs as chaperones. Once I’ve reached a first draft, I polish my prose to a dazzling sheen, which is not to say that it’s clear, well-written, insightful, or compelling. It may sound resonant; it may be lyrical; it may offer to the reader a veneer that suggests a rich grain of considered thought. But, in the end, the polish can lacquer the prose to the point of lifelessness.

I’m currently reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, the first volume of her much-lauded re-imagination of the life and times of Henry VIII’s fixer, Thomas Cromwell. I’ve no doubt that Mantel labored as mightily over her prose as MacDonald did hers, and I do mine. What’s remarkable, however, about Mantel’s writing is that it feels as unvarnished and sometimes as muddled (who is the “he” in this sentence?) as the times she is describing. Sentences tumble into each other; we move back and forth in time and in and out of Cromwell’s head frequently within paragraphs; names are dropped, kicked around, and picked up again with abandon (and who is this “Thomas”?). Yet it all works. The prose more than breathes; it runs, pants, shouts, laughs, whispers, and has all the energetic vital signs you want in a book. It’s Dickensian in all the right ways: expansive, unafraid, pell-mell, and rich with characters and incidents. And in its own way as plain as day.

My worry as a writer is that my effort to make each word matter and to render each sentence beautiful is my way of avoiding producing sentences over which I don’t have complete control, which is itself a symptom of fearing not that I lack the tools to write a book but that I don’t actually have enough raw materials to make anything worthwhile. My facility, after all, hints at facileness. Yet a little less polish might open up cracks in the story to reveal emotional, intellectual, and narrative depths that had heretofore been plastered over by “fine” writing. The task is not to write plainly or beautifully; the task is to write truthfully. And sometimes that is a harder and scarier prospect than any prose style can fix.

Posted in Editing—Publishing—Writing, Writing | Tagged , , ,