The Trumpiad: Book the Second

This is the second and ongoing volume of The Trumpiad. Book the First can be found on this page.

Canto I: January 2018
Canto II: February 2018
Canto III: March 2018
Canto IV: April 2018
Canto V: May 2018
Canto VI: June 2018
Canto VII: July 2018
Canto VIII: August 2018
Canto IX: September 2018
Canto X: October 2018
Canto XI: November 2018
Canto XII: December 2018

Canto I: January 2018

I

We have, scarred souls, arrived at a new year.
Familiar dread, anxiety, and sorrow
Have followed us, and in their wake appear
Fresh worries, more concerns about tomorrow.
We’ve held still further rallies, but the mere
Thought of the man requires that we borrow
Yet darker tropes and once more navigate
The Acherontic cesspools of the state.

II

Once more to Hades we must go: to find
Another voice to echo through the gloom.
Once more we leave the liquid skies behind
To wander through the chthonic wastes, where fume
The glaucous vapors and where each day grind
The veined ores of the cliffs, on which the spume
Of endless wintry oceans break and die
Beneath a glowering and baleful sky.

III

Once more I encounter Lady Liberty
And Uncle Sam, sprawling upon a rock.
Their skin is sallow, physiognomy
Dotted with cuts and bruises: every pock
And welt, each scab and gash, an actuary
Of hopelessness. But I am numb to shock
At such a sight: we’ve all become inured
To sicknesses we think cannot be cured.

IV

Before I have a moment to reflect,
A visage forms before me: bearded chin,
High forehead, and a look both circumspect
And piercing; of great subtlety within,
Yet also adamantine intellect.
He silently observes me, then a grin
Ripples across the surface of his face.
He gestures me to sit. I take my place.

V

“You’re still without a hero for your tale.
No obvious standard bearer you can follow.
As if Hades might host the Holy Grail
And bearer, too. You’re reasoning is hollow:
For it assumes democracy will fail
Because of faith in one man. We can wallow
In the belief that we don’t have a role
In keeping the Republic sound and whole.

VI

“For all the Founders’ efforts to constrain
The populist impulse and withhold power
Among elites, they knew that to sustain
A kind of freedom, one that could still flower
In spite of slavery, there must remain
Irreconcilables that, come the hour,
Would be resolved somehow—no less, no more.
As I discovered, it would take a war.

VII

“All wars are tragedies, there is no doubt.
I know that I was tardy to declare
Freedom for black people; and that my route
To it was slow and crooked. I’m aware
That abolition would not just rub out
Decades of horror. If I’d lived, my care
Would have been to stop, or at least to slow,
De facto slavery through ol’ Jim Crow.

VIII

“But I was murdered. Now, you might avow
This illustrates the theory that “great men”
And their antagonists drive history: now
With this bold criminal, as it was then
With me. But why’s it helpful to endow
Villains or champions, time and time again,
With atavistic power? The U.S.A.
Was built to hold both kinds of men at bay.

IX

“Stop looking for the president to quit.
Stop thinking that a hero will step up.
Stop hoping that you won’t have to commit
Yourself to what is hard. The bitter cup
Of freedom’s yours to grasp—a sip of it
(On which only those who want it can sup)
Might lead to courage and intoxication,
Both of them good and bad for this great nation.

X

“I took my liberties as president:
Suspended habeas corpus, fought a war.
I did it knowing I had only bent
The arc of justice slightly, and that more
Had to be done, by many, if the intent
Of a more perfect union that fourscore
And seven years ago had been declared
Might flourish, whether I was killed or spared.

XI

“But it was neither self-ordained nor easy.
No one cedes power unless there’s a fight.
The sins of man—from lethal to the sleazy—
Recur each generation, just as night
Succeeds the day. Struggle may make you queasy,
But that is how it is: you seek the light
When it is dark. The Gettysburg Address
Was offered on a bloody battlefield, no less.”

XII

He pauses. “Not what you wanted to hear,
Most likely; something pat and aphoristic
Is more your style.” He glances to his rear
And nods at the two junkies. “It’s simplistic
To think these emblematic of the fear
And trembling you possess. It’s casuistic
To assume they’re drugged up for lack of conviction.
Perhaps addiction is only addiction.

XIII

“Protect the institutions of the state,
Support all those who run to earn a seat.
Enforce what’s civil in public debate,
Be gracious when you win, bold in defeat.
Know when you’re wrong, and recognize that fate
Can intervene, but that you have to meet
The good and bad with equanimity.
That’s all the advice you will receive from me.”

XIV

The Emancipator strides into the mist,
Not looking back. Dumbstruck, I watch him go.
Should I have asked for clarity, insist
He justify his party, strike a blow
That might knock sense into them? Or persist
With more specifics, not just more bon mots
More suitable for grade-school kids than, well,
Someone who had descended into hell.

XV

“You’ve every reason to be disappointed,”
Responds a voice that shimmers in the murk.
“I’m always unimpressed by the anointed
Of any age: I find them too much work.
They’re usually content to blurt disjointed
Banalities, assuming like a clerk
You’ll jot them down and gild them, so posterity
Will endow pithy falsehoods with sincerity.

XVI

“I’d like to offer you apologies
For all the nonsense that has been bestowed
On you in your two visits. A disease
Of Hades is we dwellers bear a load
Of apothegms and dubious expertise
To dump on each poor guest. To discommode
Someone in such a way is most unfair:
Oh, by the way, you know me as Voltaire.

XVII

“You’ll be relieved I have no good advice
To offer you. You’ve heard it all before.
I don’t believe that sex and race suffice
As means of total comprehension, or
You’re obligated to reach out, be nice,
Or any such thing. Why put so much store
In what we imagine progress can achieve
When any fabric we can just unweave?

XVIII

De Sade’s all right, but he’s obsessed with lust
And power, and there’s more that motivates us.
I know it’s hard to imagine or to trust
In innocence untrammeled; what awaits us
Each moment can destroy what seems robust.
Yet I’m not cynical; fate dominates us
But can’t determine all. It’s not perfection,
But we possess some sort of self-direction.

XIX

“It’s often thought that I am laissez-faire,
That all I say is ‘cultivate your garden.’
As if a life inhaling country air
Or writing odes in William Shakespeare’s Arden
Is open to one not a millionaire.
Though an aristocrat, I’m not (beg pardon)
A snob—it’s clear that equity is vital
Whether with or without a title.

XX

“I think that we should cultivate the good:
Kindness, I feel, has much to recommend it.
Hooey or bigotry should be withstood,
No matter how the many might defend it.
I am inclined to welcome brotherhood
(At least in the way that I comprehend it)
Except when it defines itself by race,
Class, tribe, religion, family, or place.

XXI

“I loathe all pseudo-systematizations
I am inclined to castoff any “ism.”
Those chosen few who’ve had annunciations
Usually lead their followers to schism.
Apotheosis, afflatus, damnations—
No curse or blessing, sacrament or chrism
Convinces me what the elect think true:
That God looks out for me but not for you.

XXII

“I also think that most people are dumb,
Ill-read, and thoughtless. Demagogues adore
The lie that ‘ordinary folk’ can plumb
The depths of complex policy, or pore
Over the ‘facts.’ Instead, you bang the drum
For war or mutiny, and watch them roar!
Too many ‘great men’ have made it their job
Not to rule wisely, but to stir the mob.

XXIII

“So don’t imagine that the common herd
Will ever topple him, or G.O.P.
Will see the light. It’s patently absurd
To think that any action or decree
Will change the underlying trends. He’s stirred
A hatred in the people that will see
What Lincoln once hoped he could just ignore:
That’s segregation, violence, and war.

XXIV

“I saw it in my life: kin torn apart
By long-dead hatreds newly resurrected;
The smallest hamlets, stout of limb and heart,
Had ancient compacts easily infected
With mindless prejudice. The dismal art
Of breeding genocide has been perfected
By Germany, Rwanda, and by Spain.
The U.S. did it once—why not again?” 

XXV

He stops. “Also, not what you want to hear:
A negative old Frenchman who’s run riot.
Given the times, one wants to add a cheer
To E. M. Forster’s two, and thereby quiet
The unvoiced and yet ever-present fear
That true democracy is a like a diet:
Good for a while, healthful and purgative,
But it’s for war and plunder that we live. 

XXVI

“But there is also good as well as bad,
A glimpse of gentleness amidst the brutal:
Someone to wash the dead, comfort the sad.
And though these acts may in the end be futile,
You don’t have to be a Sir Galahad
To exemplify nobility. The suit’ll
Fit with an act of kindness, generosity
Even when all around you is atrocity. 

XXVII

“I’m, therefore, not suggesting acquiescence.
Nor do I say, ‘Let’s all be eremitic.’
I’m stating that in terms of the excrescence
That is your president, and the mephitic
Nimbus that he emits in his senescence,
It might be wiser to be analytic
In how, where, and on whom you dish your fury:
You can’t be sure they won’t be on your jury.

XXVIII

“A final word. Never discount the rot
Within the court of a corrupted king.
I’ve known a few: no sycophant forgot
A single slight; no one who kissed the ring
Stayed loyal to the end; and each despot
Knows that their love is bought. And that’s the thing
To look for as the walls begin to close:
Who thinks they know; and then who really knows. 

XXIX

“You’ve mentioned her already. Watch his wife!
I saw it all with Madame Pompadour.
She saw too much of Louis’ shadow life
To be disposed of—and she wanted more.
Nothing he offered her could halt the strife
That she could cause for him. Show her the door,
And she would bring the house down round his ears.
He understands that: she is whom he fears.

XXX

“I’m not saying that she’s Lady Macbeth,
Although she’s made her bargains with the devil.
I’m saying that with every single breath
She’s planning her next move. On every level
She’s calculating how and when the death
Of his short reign will come—and, when the revel
Ceases, what good or bad outcomes impend
For her and her son. That is all, my friend.” 

XXXI

At that Voltaire retreats into the dark.
I step over the bodies of the prone
Two broken symbols of the state, embark
Upon the boat that ferries me, alone,
To brighter shores, where blooms the single spark
That lights the day. Then through the overgrown
Grasses that open to reveal the wood
Wherein we choose the path that’s bad or good.

Canto II: February 2018

I

You place your hands upon the golden basin;
The mirror coolly soaks up your reflection.
Hairspray and powder puffs will fold your face in
A mask that evanesces your dejection.
Beneath, you’ll sculpt defiance, and encase in
A wall of make-up layers of protection;
So, though your febrile feelings may be frayed,
Your features will stay perfectly arrayed.

II

Your unguents, oils, and salves emolliate
The lineaments of shame, regret, and stress.
Your lace and silk embrace the skin, and sate
Your yearnings for a tenderer caress.
Your blushers, balms, and bronzers mitigate
The age-spots, while the satin cocktail dress
You’ll slip into accentuates each curve
Reminding you of how much you deserve.

III

You purse and dab cream on your thinning lips
(The injection has worn off that left them plump).
You try a smile (“At least on the big trips,”
He says, “Just like you did it on the stump”);
Instead, a rictus. You must get to grips
With what is keeping you in this deep slump,
You tell yourself; it does no good to frown.
It’s mad enough already in this town.

IV

You dread the click and then the fatuous drone
Of morning TV. Your heart starts to sink.
Before long, he’ll call out, “Where is my phone?”
You’ll beg him once again, “Don’t tweet! Please, think
Before you type.” He’ll grunt at you, and moan
As he squints at the screen. And then he’ll blink,
And snort—“Mueller again. A total lie.
I never said that! God, I hope they die!

V

“I can’t believe they think I’m such a sap:
Those bastards, CNN and NBC.
“They simply make shit up—and I will slap
That prick Schiff’s smarmy cheeks. People like me!
I’m right and they are wrong. (I need a crap.)
They’ll never take me down. You leave me be:
I’ll send a tweet that will make Lemon gag,
Watch how he squeals, the slimy little fag!”

VI

But that’s to come (he’s still asleep; he snores).
You breathe upon the glass, inhale a plume
Of fragrant steam that opens up the pores.
You ascertain the essential oil’s perfume
Is less potent than yesterday’s, your stores
Of patience more depleted, and the room
And options narrower. Still, you determine
You won’t be brought down also by these vermin.

VII

It’s not you want to show him what he’s missing,
That train departed many years ago.
You’re not that riveted by whom he’s kissing,
You’ve lived through the soap opera, blow by blow.
It’s not even a way of reminiscing
About the pleasures you once shared. Although
You don’t need so much time to turn out pretty,
You primp because it makes you feel less shitty.

VIII

Your liner hovers under your right eye.
Upset, you shake out an unwanted tear.
You search your consciousness for reasons why
You’re sad or what specifically you fear
Will happen. It’s not hard to identify:
But it’s not only him—you are quite clear—
And it’s not menopause (you’ve pills for that).
What can it be that’s leaving you so flat?

IX

You’re not a weak-kneed whiner or a quitter;
It’s not the Slavic or the Balkan way.
You stick it out through good times and through bitter.
You don’t give in to haters. On the day
Of judgment, you join with a heavy hitter
So that you are the predator not prey.
He must be very potent who defeats a
Shrewd and determined beauty from Sevnica.

X

And yet, when lovely woman stoops to folly
It’s vital she secure her compensations.
The first and most important is the lolly,
In cash or real estate (several locations);
Second, a pre-nup that demands that all he
Must do is be discreet—the assignations,
Meanwhile, you index by “date, place, consort,”
For that blessed day when you meet him in court.

XI

You were aware that what he thought his charms
(His gilded life, his money, lack of shame)
Might wear thin quickly. Yet, you toned your arms,
Botoxed, plucked, waxed, and tanned, and took his name.
You even bore his child. His many harms
And evils you took as the price of fame.
What mattered to you was your neurasthenia
Was treated in Manhattan, not Slovenia.

XII

You weren’t born yesterday. His lickerish,
Lubricious smirk, and vulpine leer might flatter,
But you discerned a freshly seasoned dish,
Rubescent flesh presented on a platter,
Would make him salivate, someone who’s wish
Was to ensure that beta males would scatter
When he had her for breakfast, lunch, and dinner:
If you’re devoured, at least be by a winner.

XIII

That once was you—ambitious for the top,
Drawn readily to men who stank of power.
You liked he never fathomed how to stop;
You were impressed that he had built a tower
And let you stay in it. You lived to shop,
And he never complained. He could be dour,
But there were always ways you could avoid him,
Even if it repeatedly annoyed him.

XIV

And so you made your peace. The playmates rose
And fell—pneumatic blondes, redheads, brunettes
Who struck his fancy and then struck a pose.
In days they all moved on, with no regrets
As long as they were paid enough. For those
Who foolishly thought their ample assets
Matched his, he’d always cut them down to size:
It’s clear who was the winner, who the prize.

XV

In many ways, you welcomed them: the candy,
Pop-tarts, and sugar-babies who would giggle
Around him, when (drooling, leering, and randy)
He fell upon them at the shows. Each wriggle
Embossed his ego, fooled him he was handy
With women. If you have a qualm or niggle,
It’s that he can’t distinguish gold from brass:
Those girls who’ll lick and those who’ll kick his ass.

XVI

Bill Clinton’s like that, too, you think. Though slicker,
And better read, he can’t resist the grope.
Both he and Bill were strivers, knew that liquor
Got you in trouble, stayed away from dope.
But women were a habit. You could stick a
Babe with fake tits, both of them, and the pope
In a small room, and no plea for compunction
Would stop them until she was up the junction.

XVII

You could have been best friends with Bill and Hill;
A useful pair, good for the family brand.
Chelsea could have enabled you to shill
Your merchandise more broadly, even land
Some global mega-contracts that would fill
The coffers for decades. They’d understand
That dynasties don’t need the oversight
When, since they do it, must make it all right.

XVIII

That was the plan—at least as you conceive it.
You were each other’s valuable possession.
You would increase your revenue, retrieve it
From those who lacked the requisite aggression,
And gain regard from those who still believe it
Matters that wealth (you’ll pardon the expression)
Is held by the “right” sort, not social blots.
You’d show each one of them who called the shots.

XIX

Yet something shifted when your son was born,
You changed from Aphrodite to Athena.
He shuffled through the penthouse—lost, forlorn—
Lamenting you weren’t servicing his wiener.
You heard he held you up for special scorn
Because you didn’t like the grand arena,
And that you didn’t relish politics,
With its connivers, con artists, and cliques.

XX

Each night you closed your eyes, and feared the tread
Of leaden footsteps, the wet cough and wheeze,
As he flopped down beside you in the bed.
Your jaw was clenched at every painful squeeze
He gave to your milked breasts. You sighed, and said,
“I have to get my sleep. I’m tired. Please.”
And, grumbling, he would turn away. “You cow!”
He’d add. “I know some sluts who’d want me now.”

XXI

You lift your face once more toward the glass.
When did the fire gutter in the eyes?
When did disgust, contempt, and anger pass
The point when all your efforts to disguise
Your loathing of his cruelty—the crass
And thoughtless way that he would jeopardize
Your futures with his pointless double-dealing—
Had, to your shock, found out they had a ceiling? 

XXII

You don’t blame other women for expedience,
You would have done the same if you were they.
But there’s a cost for tolerating deviance
That goes beyond the ordinary pay
That sex, companionship, and blind obedience
Demand. More than big bucks must make each day
Endurable: if a thing’s indefensible
Then airing it is ultimately sensible.

XXIII

Observing him today, it’s hard to see
The man he was in 1998.
True, he was broke, but so were you; to be
The object of his gaze made you feel great.
He asked you for your number; to agree
Would have entailed some rudeness to his date.
Instead, you asked for his, and said you’d call him:
In one move, you could control and forestall him.

XXIV

And though you didn’t trust him, you admired him:
You shared with him the never-ending craving
For every piece of it. And you desired him:
Not for his looks or height, or misbehaving,
But for how much he wanted you; you fired him
Up—told him that life should be more than raving:
You urged, “Why not dream that you could be better,
Than merely a divorced mogul and debtor?”

XXV

Instead, he turned into a politician:
The sort of man you’d known when you were young:
Who lacked all courtesy and inhibition;
Whose hands wandered too low; whose rasping tongue
Thrust through your lips; whose every proposition
Was an annoyance or an insult flung
At you, as if they were scratching a bad itch:
Like Karadzic, Milosevic, and Mladic—

XXVI

The men with big hair standing on the hillside,
Deciding where the bombs and bodies fall;
In suits or camos, taking in their stride
Their self-importance. On and on they drawl—
These tinpot leaders, bursting with their pride
In . . . nothingness. Kings of the local mall!
Such little men! So limited in means;
Amounting only to a hill of beans.

XXVII

And that is where your hatred comes to rest:
How timorous he is, how easily shaken;
How desperate for love! When he is blessed
With every chance to lead or to awaken
The nation, to be hapless and distressed—
So puny, such a mama’s boy; so taken
With his own persecuted, childish rage
That he cannot command the global stage.

XXVIII

He’s woken once again and started ranting.
You add the last touches to your still life.
If you say so yourself, you look enchanting:
A sight to calm the soul, bring peace to strife,
And leave a gentleman of substance panting.
But that won’t happen because you’re his wife.
You walk into his room—superb, sublime:
“I won, goddammit! That’s my only ‘crime.’”

Canto III: March 2018

I

Stephanie Clifford straightens out her dress.
She swivels to make sure her panty-line
Cannot be viewed. God, my hair’s such a mess!
She cogitates. My boobs, though, look divine.
And so they should, they cost enough, I guess.
She examines her reflection. “You’ll be fine,”
She adds out loud. “You have truth on your side.”
But better, she ponders, I have my pride.

II

She’s not naïve, she grasps how people judge her:
A vapid schemer and an easy lay.
She’s wagered that the people won’t begrudge her
Stint in the limelight, given what she’ll say.
In any case, opprobrium won’t budge her:
She’s heard it all before, day after day:
The happy hooker, femme fatale, the minx.
As if I care what anybody thinks!

III

In truth, they’d loved her movies—every scold,
Each family dad and perv, even some gals.
She (mostly) liked the crew and centerfold,
And male co-stars—her unpretentious pals
Who didn’t label and thought porn more than cold,
Hard cash, but fun. And Candida Royalle’s
Career showed that women could be erotic
And not portrayed as skanky or robotic.

IV

She didn’t like the hard stuff—all that vile
Debasement, cruelty, asphyxiation.
She loved burlesque and bonking with a smile:
The campy, trampy, vampy hip gyration;
Earth-shaking climaxes brought off with style.
Result? All members standing in ovation.
The squirming, heaving, panting were her skills:
She enjoyed the acting, and it paid the bills.

V

But it would end, and now approaching thirty
Time was not on her side. This man was rich,
The Apprentice was a hit, and she was flirty
And pleased to drop a hint she was no snitch.
If necessary she’d get down and dirty
To clue him in that she was not a bitch.
Of course his wife had just born him a son,
But why should she mind? She was not a nun.

VI

It’s awful for a looker to grow old,
Especially when your body is your trade.
No matter how you plump and tuck and mold,
A younger woman comes along. You fade
Into the background, or (if bought and sold)
You run the circuit where drones and D-grade
Hard-up, flash-in-the-pan “celebrities”
Court their equally aging votaries.

VII

You sit behind a desk wearing a shirt
Two sizes two small for your perky rack.
Up steps a loser—Bud, or Bob, or Burt—
And stammers he’s a huge fan. You smile back,
But he’s fixated on your chest. You’re curt
But civil, you’re like, Geez, what a sad sack!
I once raked in a thou to suck a cock.
And now they give me peanuts to sign schlock.

VIII

She’d glimpsed into that barren territory,
Was adamant it would not be her fate.
She had convictions and a brain, her story
Would be written by her, and neither state
Nor private pressure would hold back the gory,
Salacious details that she would relate.
If she went down, she’d make sure he would, too,
His lies made it the proper thing to do.

IX

They met at a golf tourney in Nevada:
He was one of the tycoons, stars, and hacks
Who fancy themselves stronger, richer, badder
Than other bros. He amped it to the max:
Joking and posing, bragging that he had a
Woman in every port, and making cracks
At everyone’s expense. She would deploy
Her bag of tricks to reel in this big boy.

X

She’d known his sort, she’d laid a few before:
No depth, nothing between the ears, the kind
Of dude whose single interest was “more”:
More money, fame, women, and power. Grind
And grit took too much work. Their basic lore
Was move in quick and exit fast—no mind
To those beneath you. Their only attraction
Was preening themselves to be men of action.

XI

The good thing: they were easy, loved to boast
About themselves and shoot the shit all week.
Now and again you had to coo, or toast
Their gifts with oohs and aahs, or hear them speak
At length about how you “got” them the most.
Of course, they loved to dream they were unique:
God’s gift to Earth and womankind. But then,
That attribute was common to all men.

XII

What made him different was overt weakness.
Beneath the bluster, smarminess, and hooey,
It was quite clear to her, there lay a meekness,
As if he felt a fake and fraud, and knew he
Would always be. The suavity and sleekness
He craved he could not summon, while the few he
Revered thought him a chump. Thus, her agility
Would exploit his transparent vulnerability.

XIII

In essence, he was merely one more John:
A small-time huckster, penny-for-a-ride,
Last-chance-salooner, Midnight Cowboy—one
You could run any scheme upon; whose pride
Made him an easy mark; whom a top gun
Who’d learned the score could easily worm inside
And pummel like a drum. For a few cents
He’d lay himself wide open to offense.

XIV

That day at golf, she fluffed him, kept him near her:
Her top was low-cut, and her bra pushed up.
Her fragrance was expensive, dress was sheerer,
And both her twins burst out of each D-cup.
Unsubtle, yes, but she had to be clearer
Than any other likely lass he’d tup.
In such a manner, she made sure that she
Would be the one he’d shank off from the tee.

XV

He swung, she shouted “fore” at every play.
She gripped his three-wood tightly in her hand.
Each stroke he took, she gasped. “Go Don,” she’d say,
And wiggled when he showed her how to stand
As he tried to land drives on the fairway.
Her wedges pitched his balls out of the sand;
And guided them expertly to the hole:
He scored a birdie; she attained her goal.

XVI

Before long he was calling day and night,
Inviting her to this event or that.
She made quite sure to hold the reins as tight
As possible, and not to let the cat
Out of the bag. To catch more than a bite
At real wealth and not simply fall flat
Required the talents of Defoe’s Roxana:
And this bored baron was to be her manna.

XVII

She let him boff her once or twice or thrice;
As Stormy, she’d done it on tons of sets.
She moaned and squealed on cue (a good device
For staving off the yawns, as all soubrettes
Are forced to do). She told him it was “nice,”
And never asked to stay. She’d no regrets
When sex came to an end. Why cite morality
When this was but transactional carnality?

XVIII

What pissed her off was no job was forthcoming,
No special gig, not even an audition.
She thought, I’m not someone for whom nose-thumbing
Remains the price you pay: I have ambition!
I’ll fight him for my rights. So, fingers drumming,
She badgered him for decent recognition
By way of money. She received some pay,
And scribbled her name on an NDA.

XIX

That would have been the end of it. And yet,
It rankled her he clearly didn’t spare
Those whom he’d lie to or he’d send a threat.
It irked her that he made her so aware
That to him she was just a Penthouse Pet,
To be discarded like a broken chair.
She hated when he crowed on the TV
Of grabbing pussies. She cried, “That was me!”

XX

She watched the Inauguration, and his wife—
How sad she was!—and thought, What have I done?
I admit that I’ve not led a blameless life,
I’ve lost more paramours than I have won.
I’ve been unfaithful, been a cause of strife,
But what she’s going through cannot be spun
As anything but wretched. With a frown,
She made a vow that she would bring him down.

XXI

And now they’ve sent a goon squad out to scare her,
His lawyers argue she’ll owe twenty mil.
She’s offered to give back the dough to bare her
Soul and make a clean breast of it. And, still,
The injunctions come in floods. Why does he dare her,
When it would be more wise to let her spill?
We’re conscious he’s a reprobate and sleaze,
Why bother if there’s yet another squeeze?

XXII

But we’ve discerned, that’s not his way—attack,
Kick at the pricks, hit downward, don’t admit
To anything, and never not strike back
Is how he rolls. He’ll simply pile on shit
Until the world is blanketed in cack.
He wants to drag us all into the pit
So that his grave misdeeds no longer gall us
And we no longer fight what will befall us.

XXIII

He’s never had the discipline or rigor
To hold his appetites in check. He’s scared
Of making tough decisions, so the bigger
The mess he leaves behind the more impaired
Becomes his judgment. Everything’s a trigger,
Because if one lone brick’s extracted, there’d
Be nothing, he’s aware, to stop his tower
From tumbling him in minutes out of power.

XXIV

And that’s the story so far. In the glass,
We glimpse the women that he’s thrown aside
Stare at themselves and behind them a mass
Of other women to whom he denied
An ounce of self-respect, or made a pass
At and slagged off and browbeat when they tried
To appeal for justice. So, the net draws in,
And soon we’ll weigh up what counts as a “win.”

XXV

In silence, Mueller of the hangdog mien,
Hones his investigation to the soul
Of the affairs—the driving force that’s been
There since the dawn of time, the tawdry goal
Of guys in power and the Vaseline:
Money and sex. You need no grassy knoll
To guess what lies beneath claims of collusion;
There is not an alternative conclusion.

XXVI

Meanwhile, the so-called adult in the room
(That’s General Kelly as the chief of staff),
Is hearing in the night the bells of doom
That ring for anyone who makes the gaffe
Of working for the president. The boom
Is lowering on Jared Kushner—laugh,
You might, for hubris needs its nemesis.
But don’t you ask, “How has it come to this?”

XXVII

Rex Tillerson is gone (deposed by tweet),
Andrew McCabe’s kicked out without a pension.
Hope Hicks fled, Gary Cohn’s out on the street,
And Omarosa left in some contention.
Rob “Bruiser” Porter couldn’t stand the heat,
John McEntee needed an intervention.
And you don’t need to be a great forecaster
To see the end of Gen. H. R. McMaster.

XXVIII

We’ve got no diplomat in South Korea,
We’ve no idea what team will meet Kim.
The strategies and plans remain unclear
And, typically, it’s all because of him.
No doubt, he assumes he will instill such fear
That Kim will deem his chance of winning slim,
And so he will pull off before our eyes
A peace that will net him the Nobel Prize.

XXIX

Till then, the firings are, it seems, a feint
Or prelude to the hugest call in town:
Once he feels that he can, without restraint,
Dispose of Sessions, Rosenstein bring down,
Install Scott Pruit as A. G. then paint
Bob Mueller as a stooge, a plant, a clown,
Then that will finally bring to a head
The crisis to which everything has led.

XXX

Or so you might assume. My bet’s on Stormy,
Because (though he does not have any shame
And what she says won’t prove decisive for me),
She will give others courage. He’ll defame
And call them whores and fake—the sort of norm he
Goes by—but then who will he find to blame
When the First Lady’s patience runs its course
And she declares she’s suing for divorce?

XXXI

And then we’ll know how frail he is, how fearful.
He’ll rant and scream and blame it on the press.
He’ll fire off tweets, self-pitying and tearful,
About how lonely, wronged, and in distress
He feels, but then how vengeful, bullish, cheerful
He is now those who aimed to dispossess
Him of his tenure and what he’s acquired
Have been flushed out—he would have had them fired!

Canto IV: April 2018

I

Bob Mueller straightens out his foulard tie,
And shoots his cuffs, smoothes out a lick of hair
That’s wrestled free. He entertains a wry
And calculating smile. Though debonair,
He’s cautious not to preen or amplify
His manifest trustworthiness. Beware!
The pinstripes should alert those who’ve dismissed him
As just a bland upholder of “the system.”

II

He trims his gray-white sideburns so they match.
He checks for a stray whisker that bespeaks
A shoddiness that lesser men won’t catch.
He slaps the aftershave upon his cheeks,
And lets its vapors waft into his thatch.
Fastidious and stolid are critiques
He’ll own as his strong suit. He’s found that others
Are easier to trump wearing Brooks Brothers.

III

If he must play the wasp or be more peppy
He’ll gladly do both to bring home the bacon.
By judging his style “undiluted preppy”
(In that verdict opponents aren’t mistaken),
The greenhorns may scoff that he’s Imhotep-y
(Old hat and mummified), but he’s not shaken.
He’d rather be considered monotonic
Than negligent, heedless, foolish, moronic.

IV

He flicks his head: dandruff on neither shoulder.
He’s pleased to note his teeth are free of rocket.
No stray nose hairs, thank God. Just time to fold a
Silk handkerchief into his right breast pocket,
And he is ready. Yes, he could be bolder
In how he dressed. But should they deign to knock it
As fusty or passé, or try to bait him:
He’s certain they’ll not underestimate him.

V

His penny loafers shine, a sturdy pair
That justify whatever ground they stand on.
His coat is pressed and brushed, his gloves are where
They always are—he’s not big on abandon.
His furled umbrella leans against a chair,
On which his scarf is draped. He lays a hand on
His keys, wallet, and cellphone. Last of all,
He glances at the mirror in the hall.

VI

He steps outside the door to shutters clicking,
Ignores the questions, strides up to the car.
A brief tip of the head, no press ass-licking
Is needed. One should never go too far,
And push the hands. For when the clock is ticking—
The springs are wound, gears oiled, and all wheels are
In motion—your sole thought is Time will tell.
Not merely through a watch, but tolling bell.

VII

The planet asks for it by yesterday,
Whatever it is: money, justice, power,
Decisions, deeds, and judgments straightaway.
It’s “Please get back to me within the hour,”
Or “Don’t miss out,” or “Is it yea or nay?”
But he will not allow the world to sour
Him on his love of process or reflection,
Why should they? He’s not running for election.

VIII

Traditional in the mode of Edmund Burke,
He’s leery of revanchists and flat-earthers,
And every Old Pretender or Young Turk.
Each of the alt-right trolls, truthers, and birthers
That he’s encountered is a massive jerk,
Whose piddling self-belief in their own worth is
In inverse ratio to their command
Of basic facts about their native land.

IX

Burke understood that change would come, was needed
In some respects, but institutions mattered;
That law and order should—nay, must—be heeded
Lest vital social covenants were shattered.
For this, it was best that power was ceded
In increments that over time were scattered
Like seeds to tend with care and circumspection
And generate progress not insurrection.

X

But now his party’s got an anarchist,
Ripping up custom, protocol, convention,
As its commander. No “cease and desist”
Comes from a centrist, no word of dissension
From any pressure group. An iron fist
Has gripped the G.O.P. and reprehension
Is now considered a loyalty breach:
So much for sponsoring freedom of speech!

XI

He settles back and lets his chauffeur drive,
Stares out the window as D.C. crawls by.
His is the character whom forty-five
Fears most. He (and the FBI)
May cause his presidency to nosedive,
But he’s not bothered. You may lie and lie,
But evidence asserts itself, no doubt.
And once it does he’s sure the truth will out.

XII

He’s nothing left to prove to the in-crowd;
But he has proof where every body’s stowed.
The passing politicians may be proud,
But he knows how much and to whom it’s owed.
The president may deem himself unbowed,
But he can see much farther down the road.
He’s mapped each speed bump, ramp, and intersection,
No one can pass without his intervention.

XIII

The nation’s febrile state doesn’t confuse him:
Who’s up, who’s down is boring subject matter.
He’s not disturbed by people who abuse him,
Nor overwhelmed by those who fawn or flatter.
He gets his mandate. Let those who accuse him
Of overreach continue with their chatter,
He’ll go about his labor gathering dirt
Without soiling his spotless Oxford shirt.

XIV

It’s up to Congress whether they will choose
To act or just roll over, cut or trim.
He knows his findings will be called “fake news,”
But he hopes they’ll at least pull back the scrim
And finally the people disabuse
Of their beliefs about the man they hymn.
Then, like a Cincinnatus, he’ll retire
To plow his furrows as a country squire.

XV

Discretion is an underrated skill:
Say little; infer nothing; take the hits;
Avoid the cable sirens’ ceaseless trill;
Leave campy farce and histrionic fits
To Hollywood and Hannity. Distill
Reality from fantasy, and bits
Of evidence form something irrefutable,
Incriminating, damning, indisputable.

XVI

You drop your line into the watercourse
And wait until the minnows grab a bite.
You slowly reel them in (no need for force)
And let them realize, without a fight,
That it would be wiser to be a source
Rather than make it needful to indict
Them, and destroy their dear-held reputation
As decent men of probity and station.

XVII

That moment when a felon recognizes
The jig is up is, to his mind, delicious.
The visage blanches as he realizes
The choice before him. No need to be vicious
Or adversarial: the greater prize is
Always a bigger fish. It’s meretricious
To gloat or laugh as small fry gasp or squirm:
It’s best to be polite, direct, but firm.

XVIII

He now lets swim a virtual aquarium
Of oily cyprinids who gulp on cue.
These shiners are natives of an imperium
That’s under his self-confident purview.
He’d fill another bowl, tank, or terrarium
If it would help him haul in You Know Who.
He’ll let the opposition fret and worry,
While he casts and recasts. No need to hurry.

XIX

He’s cognizant that for the prosecution
Contrasts are vital: That has proven true!
Those slapdash opportunists; Lilliputian,
Conniving lummoxes (a motley crew)
Against a public servant, institution,
And Brobdingnagian. He’s no Yahoo,
Who fouls up his own house. His single goal
Is to flush all the crap down the plughole.

XX

That solid helmet on a granite head,
The square-jawed and über-patrician aura,
The baleful stare that leaves so much unsaid.
Compare this with twill softer than angora,
Upon a pate as fragile as moist bread,
The smirk as long and slimy as remora.
One suit is finely tailored, cut to fit,
The other looks as though he’s slept in it.

XXI

One lost a friend and classmate in Vietnam,
The other got a bone spur and deferred.
One has lived life without giving a damn,
The other, a marine, deployed, incurred
A wound, was honored. One’s a total sham,
The other weighs the value of his word.
One took his high-school sweetheart as his love;
The other’s bedded dozens (see above).

XXII

One was confirmed without a single “no” vote;
The other polled much fewer than his foe.
One is a reckless, empty-headed showboat,
The other won’t stoop to a quid pro quo.
One always finds new ways to strike a low note,
The other’s sure to turn him soprano.
When they meet you can bet your bottom dollar,
That one will keep his counsel; one will holler.

XXIII

Mueller’s aware that (self-)incrimination
Does not depend on only proof and facts.
A lie can be caught through perseveration,
The tree falls to the wind as to the axe.
Public opinion, social isolation,
As much as evidence can widen cracks
In the securest psychic masonry.
That’s why even the guiltless cop a plea.

XXIV

Unfailingly, reliably, each week
A morsel is delivered to the press:
Where the investigation’s headed, whom they seek
To interview, and in this game of chess
What gambit they might play. Each tiny leak
Is met by frenzied tweets, outrage, distress.
These serve to leave his job a good deal easier
By tinting every sleazy action sleazier.

XXV

Thus, when Bob Mueller issues his conclusion—
If it perhaps finds he did nothing wrong
And that he wasn’t involved in the collusion—
His effort to obstruct, distract, prolong,
Or otherwise plunge us into confusion,
Will be what brings about his end. For “strong”
Men, too, have their Achilles’ heel: his flaw
Is that he thinks that he’s above the law.

XXVI

It helps occasionally to wind the clock.
This time he told the FBI to raid
The offices of one whose poppycock
And unabashed hogwashery conveyed
A view that (post hoc propter ergo hoc)
Tells us to trust that Stormy wasn’t paid
To keep silent (nor was the Playboy bunny)—
Or if they were, the money wasn’t funny.

XXVII

The legal eagle, name of Michael Cohen,
Is now staring at bank fraud—just for starters.
Bob Mueller’s team advised the Feds to go in
To find if they could have his guts for garters.
They probably suspect that they can throw in
Some laundering as well. Meanwhile, the martyr’s
Whining that Mueller, Sessions, Rosenthal
Should be dismissed—Unfair, you hear him bawl.

XXVIII

This is a rerun of Dubya and Kerry:
A petulant and cossetted poltroon,
Whose witlessness, frivolity, and scary
Self-confidence insinuate that soon
We’ll find ourselves at war. His adversary,
A veteran caught up in the cocoon
Of custom, discipline, restraint, who’ll find
That service, honor, duty are maligned.

XXIX

As Tweets fly faster than an Exocet
Into the ether, his impetuosity
Causes each ally, citizen, and pet
To shiver in their silos. His verbosity
And posturing turns every soubriquet
He slaps on a rival into pomposity
Emptied of menace, part of the game show
That’s all that he will ever truly know.

XXX

Bob Mueller takes his seat before his desk.
His eyes scan and absorb the memoranda.
The case’s details may be arabesque,
Hard to detach the facts from propaganda,
But he is confident that the grotesque
Farrago will be ended, and some candor
Will briefly glint before the planet bubbles
With yet more conflict, poisoned gas, and troubles.

Canto V: May 2018

I

Vladimir Putin pops his pecs and freezes,
The perspiration glistens on his torso.
Each vein is stippled, as when summer breezes
Flutter the Volga’s surface (only more so).
His reaches for his posing pouch and squeezes:
He finds it pleasingly filled out. To store so
Much masculinity in such a vault!
If he is proud of it, it’s not his fault.

II

Not since Attila stormed across the Steppes
Has such virility straddled the Urals.
You won’t see such ripped abs or quadriceps
On saints or tortured martyrs in the murals
Of any church. How many planks or reps
Can Macron do, or Merkel? No-one’s cure-alls
Have brought such vigor to the Russian state.
Is he not buffer than Peter the Great?

III

Like golden wheat the fine grains of his hair
Traverse his pate, from shell-like ear to ear.
With his left hand he could flatten a bear,
Leaving the right one free to grab a beer.
All other leaders haven’t got a prayer,
For when confronted, he could throttle fear.
His baleful stare, it’s said, once felled a buck,
You might as well attempt to stop a truck.

IV

He’s harsher than a January in Minsk;
And fiercer than June in Blagoveschensk.
He’s slyer than a minx from Chelyabinsk,
Sterner than Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk;
He’s firmer than the soil of Sakhalinsk;
More gritty than the Battle of Smolensk.
Though he is deeper than the River Dnieper,
He sometimes can be grimmer than the Reaper.

V

He’s tougher than a winter in Siberia,
He’s dryer than a Stoli over ice.
He’s meaner than the taiga’s cold interior,
But no one ever conquered being nice.
Each other homo sapiens is inferior,
The equivalent of ticks, or germs, or lice.
They itch, but at the risk of being hated,
It’s always best to have them fumigated.

VI

He pats his rubicund and plumped-up cheeks,
That sit like cherries on his unmoved mug.
He practices his various techniques
For seeming human, not appearing smug,
And (something he’s been working on for weeks)
Smiling so that he doesn’t look a thug.
His lips congeal in a reptilian rictus
That outlines his watchword: Semper Invictus.

VII

After a minute, he gives up and glares
Into the mirror. What’s the point of trying?
He’s now been head honcho for years—who cares
If he is warm and friendly? Magnifying
The glory of the Motherland’s affairs
Within the world, projecting force, and spying
On others: these are what the people crave.
It doesn’t matter how he might behave.

VIII

He finds it risible the West asserts
That it has been, and always will be, best.
When Europe was infested with black shirts
During the War, and parties were suppressed,
The Nazis only got hit where it hurts
When Soviet forces put them to the test.
The arrogance of those declared to be
The bulwarks of a true democracy!

IX

The people whom he leads know what they want:
To be appreciated round the globe.
They’ve had enough of every jibe and taunt
Delivered by a pompous Russophobe.
Their moment to assert themselves and flaunt
Their brawn has now arrived, to poke and probe
The self-indulgent bodies of the West
To show how they disintegrate when pressed.

X

He leers into the glass—how satisfying
It is to learn of how far off the rails
The U.S.A. has gone, how that fool’s lying,
Outlandish tweets keep hammering more nails
Into the country’s coffin! Without trying,
The chump’s obeying his commands. The scales
Have finally been tipped toward the strong men,
Away from the effete and scrawny wrong men.

XI

Of course, the boob is gutless, proud, and weak,
Undisciplined and lazy, scared and shallow;
By playing to his vanity and pique,
He’s easy to manipulate. His callow
And greedy son-in-law is just a geek:
A nut as hard to crack as a marshmallow.
Toss them some lies and they’ll do what you need:
Incompetence and chaos guaranteed.

XII

The U.S. once at least put up a fight:
The Cold War days, where you knew where you stood.
Then men were men, and could tell wrong from right
(Americans were bad, Soviets good).
Yes, things were often tense, and but a slight
Miscalculation of a missile could
Start M.A.D., but that sharpened one’s muscles:
Now all that’s left is con games, graft, and hustles.

XIII

Why can’t the West have leaders like Assad
A man who’ll do whatever must be done
To rid his land of vermin? Yes, he’s mad—
A maniac who poisons just for fun
Women and children—but he gets the bad
Is better than the worst, which is just one
Islamist who sets off a dirty bomb
And then you have a world war or pogrom.

XIV

Where is the steel of Erdoğan or Xi?
The U.S. is complacent, fat, and numb.
Obese morons from sea to shining sea
Eat crap, learn nothing, blankly chew their gum:
So much for that land of the brave and free!
How apt that it’s the dumbest of the dumb
Who leads that vacant nation: a buffoon,
As gassy and thin-skinned as a balloon.

XV

The many women are an added perk,
As aids for him to undermine his foe:
The two young whores who did such useful work
In thirteen when they showered in Moscow;
The “lawyer” who in sixteen didn’t shirk
To pass him intel; and the blow by blow
Accounts of former girlfriends he has stiffed.
His infidelity’s been such a gift!

XVI

Throw him a female body in a skirt
And he would chase her anywhere she led him.
Undo a button on a see-through shirt
And he’d absorb whatever bunk she fed him.
Pay anyone enough and they would flirt
And inside fifteen minutes they would bed him.
He grins: I’ll bet you all the tea in China,
He’s never yet turned down a free vagina.

XVII

Of course, the Slavic man makes ladies wet:
Women have clinched his iron buns and sighed.
But it’s a lesson leaders can’t forget:
That careful intervention is your guide.
If you’re caught with a Penthouse Pet,
It’s best a certain pressure is applied.
In his experience, the throat’s the way:
Grip tightly, and your problem fades to gray.

XVIII

The skill lies in ensuring that you scare
Those who might threaten you, and reassure
The more punctilious you’d never dare
Subvert the rule of law. You act demure,
But show your rivals that no matter where
They hope to hide or how long they’re obscure,
You’ll find them when you want to. Until then,
They’ll live the existence of ill-omened men.

XIX

The long-lost friend who reappears (“Hello there!”),
She meets you in a bar and gets you drunk.
She whispers that she’s long desired to “go there,”
Meanwhile her jeweled fingers cup your junk.
Her iPhone takes the photos, then from nowhere
You find you’re woozy, hogtied on her bunk.
You wake and read her note: Please, I implore you:
Forgive. They had my son. I’m sorry for you.

XX

Yes, actual strength’s exerted in the dark:
Unopened letters piled up on a mat;
The decomposing body in the park;
The smell emerging from an “empty” flat.
The naked woman found without a mark
Upon her corpse; a glove and baseball bat
And bits of flesh left by the railroad track:
A bloody mess found in a cargo sack.

XXI

An unexpected “accident” is planned;
A heartbreaking and shocking “suicide.”
A sudden “illness” that an unseen hand
Turns mortal overnight. Some cyanide,
Untraceable until too late; a gland
Is pierced; a syringe floats out with the tide.
Results of an “inquiry” are uncertain;
After the condemnation comes the curtain.

XXII

The unclaimed bomb exploding in the square,
The unmarked uniforms that cross the border;
The nameless voices that come on the air
Saying they’ve reinstated law and order;
The unforeseen requirement to declare
A new republic; an ignored recorder
That videos the leader in the palace
With money, drugs, or a tumescent phallus.

XXIII

The heretofore unknown extremist cell
That forces a suspension of one’s rights;
The amazing “find” of stored materiel
That dictates a revival of black sites;
The sudden treachery that one must quell
Before the streets are overrun and fights
Between the gangs, mysteriously armed,
Cause this great nation to be badly harmed.

XXIV

The unexplained dissension in the ranks
At other parties’ rallies; ballots spoiled
Due to a “technicality”; the tanks
At intersections relay news of foiled
“Coups” for which, “unprompted,” the crowds give thanks.
The gross “insult” that leaves one’s honor soiled,
And offers you no option but to act
To force your opposition to retract.

XXV

The unexpected surge of “just plain folks”
Demanding that their rights not be curtailed.
The “home-made” signs that say the truth’s a hoax
Cooked up by cliques whose leaders should be jailed.
The “outrage” of elites who don the cloaks
Of populism: these are best kept veiled
So that you achieve your goals—of real wealth,
Of endless sway and dominance—with stealth.

XXVI

Of course, a skillful operative creates
Confusion and distraction, while he moves
To boost his grasp on power, separates
The immediate from the long-term goal, and proves
Adept at camouflaging aims. He waits
Until all is in place. For it behooves
The virtuosic genius bent on crime
To figure out just when is the right time.

XXVII

This is what separates him from the fool:
The lack of craftiness, deceit, and guile.
He’s far too keen to please, to be the tool
Of stronger men than he. That stupid smile,
He thinks, that wreathes his face; he’s so uncool:
The grimacing and sniffing—there’s no style;
No sangfroid or aplomb! He shakes his head,
In Russia, he’d be given up for dead.

XXVIII

Yet the pretender who believes he’s hard,
Who struts and frets that he is not afraid:
Is trickiest to deal with. You must guard
Against the damage he can do or trade
Him for another, higher-value card,
And let them think that he has not been played.
You shuffle and his weakness is exposed;
You lose a hand, but that small gap is closed.

XXIX

November’s coming up, one more election!
A chance to cast more doubt, increase dissension,
And double the deceit and misdirection.
How wonderful the President daren’t mention
The interference! How wise his selection
Of mentors that support his intervention!
He didn’t think he could be more surprised
By just how fully he’s been compromised.

XXX

Yet there it is: more lies, distrust, and hate
Eroding the dishonest, bankrupt West.
Dismantling the protection of the state
And leaving it a fractured palimpsest
Of what it was. Thus, to emasculate
These namby-pamby incels and divest
Them of their power can at last instill
An everlasting triumph of his will.

XXXI

Vladimir Putin knots his tie and flexes
His guns to loosen up the starch that’s pressed
Into his shirt. The battle of the sexes
Between the hard men and those merely dressed
In men’s clothes is the one that truly vexes
His sense of right and wrong. He fills his chest,
And watches how his suit expands in pride:
Who wouldn’t choose to be on Russia’s side?