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
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.
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 plume
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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?
“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.
“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.
“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?
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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?”
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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 2: February 2018