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 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.
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. Your 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 sway
Among the elected, they knew to sustain
A kind of freedom, which would not decay
In spite of slavery, there must remain
Irreconcilables that would one day
Be somehow remedied: alive or dead,
As I discovered, there would be blood shed.
“All conflicts are a tragedy, 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 abolish, or 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 strength? The USA
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 dominance without 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 garnish 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 we are 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
(Or at least in the way 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 cast off 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 GOP
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 US 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 thoughtful 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 II: February 2018
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.
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.
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 grimace. 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.
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!
“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!”
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.
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.
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?
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 reckoning, you join with a big hitter
So that you are the predator not prey.
He must be very potent who defeats a
Shrewd and determined beauty from Sevnica.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 gullibly thought their ample assets
Matched his, he’d always cut them down to size:
It’s clear who was the victor, who the prize.
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, hoaxed him he was handy
With ladies. 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.
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 bimbos 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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 ending it is ultimately sensible.
Observing him today, it’s hard to see
The man he was in Nineteen Ninety-Eight.
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.
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?”
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—
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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 judge 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.
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.
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 borne him a son,
But why should she mind? She was not a nun.
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 C-grade
Hard-up, flash-in-the-pan “celebrities”
Court their equally aging votaries.
You sit behind a desk wearing a shirt
Two sizes too 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.
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.
They’d 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
Great gal in every port, and making cracks
At everyone’s expense. She would deploy
Her bag of tricks to reel in this big boy.
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, hot chicks, and options. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 her 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.
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.
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?
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.
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!”
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 lousy. With a frown,
She made a vow that she would bring him down.
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?
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.
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, a single fumble
Would lead to all he’d engineered to crumble.
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 people 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.”
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 would-be titans and the Vaseline:
Lucre and sex. You need no grassy knoll
To guess what lies beneath claims of collusion;
There is not an alternative conclusion.
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?”
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.
We’ve got no diplomat in South Korea,
We’ve no idea what team will meet with 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.
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 AG 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.
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?
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The planet asks for it by yesterday,
Whatever it is: money, justice, force,
Decisions, deeds, and judgments straightaway.
It’s “Get back to me now,” not “in due course.”
Or “Don’t miss out,” or “Is it yea or nay?”
But no business, regime, ruler, or bourse
Will turn him from the process or reflection,
Why should they? He’s not running for election.
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.
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, he thought it best that might was ceded
In increments that over time were scattered
Like seeds to tend with care and circumspection
And generate progress not insurrection.
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 GOP and reprehension
Is now considered a loyalty breach:
So much for sponsoring freedom of speech!
He settles back and lets his chauffeur drive,
Stares out the window as D.C. crawls by.
His is the character whom 45
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.
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.
The nation’s febrile state does not 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.
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.
Discretion is an underrated skill:
Say little; infer nothing; take the hits;
Avoid the cable sirens’ ceaseless trill;
Leave folderol and histrionic fits
To Hollywood and Hannity. Distill
Reality from fantasy, and bits
Of evidence form something irrefutable,
Incriminating, damning, indisputable.
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.
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.
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.
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 Houyhnhnm. He is no Yahoo,
Who fouls up his own house. His single goal
Is to flush all the crap down the plughole.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ergo propter 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.
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, Rosenstein
Should be dismissed—Unfair, you hear him whine.
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.
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.
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
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).
He 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, where is the fault?
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?
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 Gorgon stare, it’s said, once felled a buck,
You might as well attempt to stop a truck.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He finds it risible the West asserts
That it has been, and always will be, best.
When Europe was infested with brown 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!
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.
He leers into the glass—how satisfying
It is to learn of how far off the rails
The USA has gone, how that schmuck’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.
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.
The US 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 MAD, but that sharpened one’s muscles:
Now all that’s left is con games, graft, and hustles.
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
The little 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.
Where is the steel of Erdoğan or Xi?
The US 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.
The many floozies 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!
Throw him a curvy 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.
Of course, the Slavic man makes ladies wet:
The dames 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 garrulous soubrette,
It’s best a certain pressure is applied.
In his experience, the throat’s the way:
Grip tightly, and your problem fades to gray.
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.
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.
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 model found without a mark
Upon her corpse; a glove and baseball bat
And bits of flesh left by the railroad track:
A bloody mess pulped in a cargo sack.
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.
The unclaimed bomb exploding in the square,
The unmarked uniforms that cross the border;
The nameless voices that come on the air
Claiming 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 dinars, drugs, or a tumescent phallus.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, a skillful operative creates
Confusion and distraction, while he moves
To seal his hold 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Canto VI: June 2018
O bottom-feeders, creatures of the deep,
Whose gaping jaws scoop up the world’s detritus;
O writhing spawn that wake the child from sleep
With screaming nightmares; you, whose words affright us
And drain the pith of happiness; who creep
Like cankered parasites; who gnaw and bite us
And wither up the stem, decay the root,
Infest the tree, and bruise or spoil the fruit;
You viral strains, whose mischievous mutations
Corrupt the frame, immobilize the heart;
Whose malware and insidious computations
Crash the O.S. and deconstruct each part
With their infected bytes, insinuations,
Spambots, and Trojan horses. . . . Hit RESTART!
And reboot me to toughen my hard drive,
That as the others’ wheels’ spin, I may thrive.
You shameless hypocrites and double-faced,
Flyblown douchebags who screech and caterwaul;
You self-appointed arbiters of taste,
Who scam and plot, befog or block or stall
What’s right: reduce me so I’m as debased
As you, that on bright days I cast a pall.
Help me to sow confusion not contrition,
Avoiding any consistent position.
O schistosomes who slurp the juice from marrows,
Who soil what’s clean, turn vital signs necrotic;
You Pharisees, whose eyes aren’t on the sparrows,
And deem compassion and concern psychotic;
Whose rampant cruelty constrains and narrows
What’s gentle, and admires the despotic—
Come to me now and line my words with curses,
And marinate in spite once more my verses.
O you, distorting revenant and thief,
That steals away the vacillating soul:
Consume the last few remnants of belief
That men do good, and scarf down my trust whole.
Egest the boluses of conscience, grief,
And generosity; and set my goal
At obdurate aversion and revulsion,
With out-and-out contempt as its propulsion.
Inspirit me with ignorance and resentment,
Enflame me with the grievances I seek.
Help me ignore the Sirens of contentment;
And tie me to the mast of doublespeak.
Steel me to cast aside every torment meant
To coerce me to turn the other cheek.
Give me the strength to stifle any kindness;
Gouge out my eyes to enhance my moral blindness.
Sever my thoughts from scruples. Let me accuse
Those fellows whom I once championed of treachery.
Open my throat to laud the same man, whose
Behavior I once thought abhorrent lechery.
Twist each doubt I once had into fake news,
And morph what I held dear into mere kvetch-ery.
Where once I thought that character was king,
Lead me to claim that it don’t mean a thing.
Where I roared, “We don’t talk to rogue regimes!”
Show me how to applaud autocracy.
Where I deplored protectionism and dreams
Of nativists to turn inward, let me
Now praise them; where I’d once seen through his schemes,
Direct me to proclaim his right to be
A maverick who’ll make America GREAT!
And if he fails, blame all on the Deep State.
O you unholy ministers of night,
Who talk of virtue and a God of love
Yet preach that all his policies are right:
Remove my iron hand from velvet glove
And flay the faces of all those in flight.
Explain it as a mission from above,
So no one might accuse my acts of charity
As wickedness and inhumane barbarity.
Read me my Bible verses that I may
Relish again my white supremacy;
O justify my faith so I obey
The dictates of a creed centered on me.
Give me carte blanche to drop my head and pray
That only my kind may be truly free.
Reveal to me the end of your great plan
To pay obeisance to the Son of Klan.
All hail, you Gorgons, lend me your forked tongue,
Your vacant chest, and petrifying stare,
With which you hail the stealing of the young
From out their parents’ arms. Remove each care
That may, unwanted, come, and leave it strung
Upon a rack, so each may know despair.
Thrash empathy with mocking self-regard—
For love is soft; like you, I must be hard.
Ensure that all the little children suffer
Who come to me; eject the unwelcomed stranger.
Build up a wall of babies as a buffer
To keep the migrants out. Let them know danger.
When Motherhood knocks at your door, then cuff her,
Imprison her, and kick over the manger:
Burn down the barn, and massacre the kine;
If you’re a Friend, then you’re no friend of mine.
Varnish my wit that it may not be pricked
When toddlers’ hands clutch cold, metallic bars.
Armor my mind when citizens are kicked
And beaten by “protectors” of the Stars
And Stripes. Forge chains anew lest we be tricked
By vermin who, like aliens from Mars,
Live with us and yet aren’t like us: these rats
Conspire with their brethren, Democrats!
Bleed all the vital organs of tendresse,
Block the aorta, dry the ducts of tears.
Sew eyelids shut that no shard of distress
May perforate my xenophobic fears.
To guarantee kids’ wails gain no ingress
And puncture my reluctance, stop my ears.
For this we know: the best form of defense is
Eviscerating faculties and senses.
Throttle the voices raised in ululation;
Dissolve the spines of nonviolent resisters.
Shackle the orphan, ripped at the way station
From she who birthed her; salt her weeping blisters
And shred her back: no human obligation,
Devotion to Christ, or honor to Pistis,
Removes the need to strengthen nationhood:
If it entails another’s anguish, good!
You hollow men that lead the GOP:
Persever in your plan to amputate
The limbs of government—move rapidly
To get us to the unitary state.
Torture the imprisoned Lady Liberty
Until she’s broken, bleeding, and prostrate.
Then how we’ll laugh at how you used to stand
For values that you’ve stamped to death or banned!
I thought we’d plumbed the Mariana Trench,
Descended to the very darkest zones;
I thought my nose had smelled the foulest stench
And hacked putrescent flesh from off the bones;
I thought the jaw could not more tightly clench,
Or that we wouldn’t lift any more stones
And shrink from what vile body was revealed.
But I was wrong; there’s more that was concealed.
More fathoms we have sunk, new nadirs reached—
Into the vasty darkness we descend.
The ship of state’s warped keel and hull were breached
Over these many years; we didn’t mend
The holes, and took on water. Sometimes, beached
Upon a bar, we think leaks at an end.
Sometimes, we touch upon a small plateau,
But then we tilt once more, and down we go.
The helmsmen had their eyes on the horizon,
The crow’s nest yelled that land was just ahead.
The bridge was whitewashed, and we brought supplies in,
To keep us placid, lazy, and well-fed.
But who repaired the sails? Why weren’t we wise in
Plugging the gaps or swabbing decks? Instead,
We let the rot of centuries go on,
Warping the ancient planks we stood upon.
Warped by the bodies layered in the hold,
Warped by the infant stolen from his mother;
Warped by the men who split apart and sold
Whole generations in the market; brother
And sister kept in pens, feeling the cold
Rain and hot leather lash their backs, they smother
Each tender hope they birth lest it is taken,
Enslaved, and traded for some coins or bacon.
Warped by two centuries of men in chains,
Locked up because they’re black or poor or both;
Warped by the bison skulls piled on the plains,
The broken treaties sealed with a false oath;
Warped by the pioneer and cattle trains
That stole and ransacked for the cause of growth.
A trail of bloody tears from coast to coast;
Those who paid least have always gained the most.
Warped by the bodies hanging from the trees,
Warped by the bombers shrouded in white sheets;
Warped by the marchers pummeled to their knees
For exercising their rights on the streets;
Warped by the batons, tear gas, and trustees
Of “real” America—the smug elites
Who, to cut costs and sharpen their refinement,
Make sure they’re invoiced only on consignment.
Warped by the land’s collective anesthesia,
By undiminished craving for distraction;
Warped by decades of longstanding amnesia,
Voter suppression, muddle, or inaction;
Warped by the notion that we’re an ecclesia
Or Big Tent without class, blood, tribe, or faction:
That if we lie enough, it will be true;
And shouting “We are great!” will see us through.
Yet this is where we find ourselves: the young
Without their parents one more legacy
Of how this country has forever sung
Of liberty, yet it defines as free
Only its choice of whom to choose among
A human or non-human family
To place in bondage, sell, murder, or truss
Up: those they have concluded are not “us.”
Meanwhile, young Chairman Kim buttons his jacket
And rests his pudgy hands upon his paunch.
His conscious stoutness is part of the packet
Of cues that let his people know how staunch
Is his love of his grandfather. They lack it—
A lunch, that is—because he’d rather launch.
But torment’s noble; let them eat their scraps,
He thinks: Without my strength they would collapse.
He smiles at his uproarious success:
The dotard came to bow before the luster
Of his plump cheeks and sleek, black hair; his dress,
Austere and fitting, cut through the creep’s bluster
And showcased a young leader who’d impress
A tougher strongman than this piece of dust—a
Limp-wristed, flaccid, needy bloviator,
Who thinks himself the great negotiator.
Does such a moron think that he’ll agree
To cede what brought the US to the table?
What nonsense to believe that any free
Man would throw down a pair if he were able
To play a royal flush! Security
Depends not on some fantasy or fable
Of strength, but spies and threats of Armageddon
Should someone think you’re someone they can tread on.
His father and grandfather played the game
Of “reel them in” and then slowly renege;
Do what you can to diffuse who’s to blame
And keep the terms of reengagement vague;
Call viciousness and hardiness the same,
Exaggerate (and don’t visit The Hague),
And no one will dare to provoke the beast,
Not when you have a nuke or two, at least.
He signed a piece of paper, nothing more,
He’ll sign another one if necessary.
China presents an ever-open door
Should his own circumstances grow too hairy.
The last thing Mr. Xi desires is for
His country to implode; so best be wary:
Smile, shake hands, throw the idiot a bone,
And if he thinks he’s won, leave him alone.
Wait a few months and then resume the testing.
He’ll tweet outrage, but his threats will be hollow.
China will not accept even suggesting
Regime change, fearing what chaos may follow.
Arsenals of nukes turn nations “interesting,”
Not client states—and much tougher to swallow.
It gives you more room for negotiation
When you can bargain with annihilation.
Canto VII: July 2018
Once more into the depths, dear friends, once more,
To drink the dregs and wallow in the swill:
This quisling president reveals no floor
To his depravity, or that he will
Not place his interests (or raze the store),
Above the nation’s—ceding all, until
Democracy’s a shellgame or illusion,
A victim of his manifest collusion.
He flew to Brussels and insulted Merkel,
And said that Europeans were the “foe.”
He flew to England, acting like Steve Urkel,
And goofed around. Again, he dared to show
How much he lies. Then to complete the circle,
He flew to Finland, and stood toe to toe
With Putin against his own government!
Therefore, we must conclude, it’s evident
That he’s a traitor—nothing but a traitor!
The man who sold the world for private gain.
You’ll find out sooner, or you’ll find out later,
Republicans, the more you let this vain,
Unstable, and corrupt prevaricator
Go on, the harder it will be to explain
Your own connivance and failure to act:
Your shameful weakness means you should be sacked!
Is Kavanaugh’s appointment worth all this:
The derogation of the FBI,
The CIA, the law? Is the abyss
That you would plunge us into for that guy,
Worth one more bitter, sputum-ed Judas’ kiss?
When will you finally call out the lie
That this man is protecting anything
Except himself, his property, and bling?
He’s banking that you’re frightened of his base:
The ethnochauvinists who hate DC.
He bets you won’t insult him to his face,
Because your miserable timidity
Defines your weaknesses. You’ll not replace
Him on the ticket, as you fear that he
Will bully you until you leave your seat:
And then your infamy will be complete.
How scared you are, you mediocrities,
Lacking all strength, integrity, or scrotum!
Have you no spunk among you? Geez Louise!
Is every congressman just a factotum;
A foppish pussyfooter that a breeze
Would topple? Get a grip or spine, and vote him
From office, would you? Or will you let pass
This bozo who keeps showing you his ass?
Considering you all, I feel disgust
At what you failed to do before sixteen.
How will you ever claw back any trust
When you have simply handed this obscene
And unfit man the presidency? Must
I spell it out again? This libertine
Is now the enemy. He’s over-reached:
He has to be immediately impeached.
Let’s name some names: Ted Cruz, you hate his guts,
He called your dad a turncoat; in return,
You called him pathological. He’s nuts
(You’ve even said he is), and yet you spurn
The chance to slam him to the floor. You putz!
You heartless schmuck! Your ilk will never earn
Voters’ devotion, which would much more easily
Be proffered if you weren’t so goddamn weaselly.
And then there’s Lindsey Graham—you brown-noser!
So quick to raise your finger to the wind.
You, too, think he’s not fit, and yet (you poser!)
You love to claim the high ground, act chagrined,
And yet when threatened, you couldn’t be closer,
Than if he’d had you shot, deboned, and tinned,
And eaten you for lunch. A bigger whiner
Has yet to simper from South Carolina.
And you, Mike Pence, you’re keeping awful quiet.
Afraid you’ll screw your chances to succeed?
I’ve heard you honor God—why don’t you try it,
And pray that He is rightly served in deed
As well as word? But, really, I don’t buy it—
This “holy man” act. You’re just one more reed,
Thin, bent, and broken in capitulation,
You’ve let ambition lead to abnegation.
Paul Ryan: you who were the wonderboy!
More Wonderbread—without gluten or grain:
A pasty substitute; the clown-faced toy
The monarch loves to trash and bash again
To see if he’ll bounce back. Do you enjoy
Being his plaything, do you feel no pain
When he yanks your black hair, punches your face?
Why not fight back, you total waste of space!?
Rand Paul, you snot-nosed, sniveling little git!
Have you no principles? You used to be
So full of probity, you thought each shit
You dumped was marbled with integrity.
Now you stand in defense of he who’d sit
Upon your face and fart if he felt he
Could not control you. God! I am so lucky
That I don’t have to meet you in Kentucky.
At least McConnell hasn’t got a soul
To lose, he hocked it when he was a kid—
For power. How else could this human mole,
Who cares for nothing, and who never did,
Blink his way to the top? He made his goal
To stymie, curtail, reverse, and forbid
All progress or reform or hope. Old Nick
Could not have done much better than this prick.
And then there’s him—the toadiest-in-chief,
The panty-wetting lackey, piss-poor fraud.
A man so sullied it beggars belief
He’s not performed each foul deed that his bawd,
The Russian president, has led him to: his brief
Was to murder the West. I’m overawed
At just how fast he carried out his mission:
I gasp, then weep, then call for the mortician.
His argument is that all nations do it,
And that we are no better than the rest.
Corruption, lies, and graft (witness Scott Pruitt)
Are just the price of business. It is best
To flatter despots, and those who eschew it
Are Pollyannas. Feather your own nest,
Believe no one, the toughest dude wins out.
If not you, then side with the one with clout.
That’s fair enough if you’re a great tactician,
A man who reads the board, weighs up each move.
One can (almost) admire naked ambition,
Or even someone with a point to prove.
A focused hardness, with no soft contrition,
Displays a certain rigor, as if you’ve
Dried your self to an unbreakable kernel,
Without remorse or anything internal.
That’s Putin—contrast him with that lard-lubber.
How transparent his needs, how green, how foolish!
In contrast to the muscle, his soft blubber
Wobbles at every irritant. Each toolish
And infantile rejoinder that his rubber,
Puckering lips puts forth, each time a mewlish
And prissy pout crosses his face, the wimp
Displays he’s up for sale from any pimp.
That’s what annoys me most: he’s such a slut,
So bad at being strong, so lank and slack.
Show him a hard man and he bends his butt
Toward him, and begs him to mount his back
To teach him who’s the boss. He loves to jut
His chin and puff his chest out, but one whack
From Putin’s lads, and he’ll lie prostrate faster
Than one can say, “Please give it to me, master!”
It’s obvious he’s compromised—each speech
He’s made is meant to make the Russians happy.
He offered to ensure that they could reach
Deep into the US, and make it snappy,
As long as they would help him win. The breach
Was made—and haven’t the results been crappy?
So as the net is closed, he lashes out
To end it all. That’s what this is about.
It’s clear that Robert Mueller has the goods,
Cohen and Manafort have spilled the beans.
It’s evident he’s deeper in the woods
Than anyone imagines, that the means
For his disposal are arranged—the hoods
And thugs are being collared while he preens.
You can bet the indictments will grow keener,
Each time revealing a truer demeanor.
I’ll wager Roger Stone will follow suit,
He’s not going to take one for the boss.
Who’d really want to plow the legal route
And go to prison and not double-cross
His capo? There’s no love for such a brute,
Especially when they grasp what candyfloss
He is to tougher capos. They get he’d
Send them down river if he had the need.
So Roger Stone knows more than he lets on:
The shady dealers; rich guys who love broads
And pesos; men whose pride, when played upon
By flatterers and bandits, foster wads
Of influence, and C-notes by the ton.
If you can give them info, then the rod’s
In your hand, so that if they’re not compliable,
You’ll beat them until they are more reliable.
Stone’s smelled the odor of incrimination:
He saw the sweat on Nixon’s upper lip.
He’s sniffed the humid blooms of perspiration
That grow beneath the armpits when a slip
Leads to a federal investigation.
He’s swum with rats leaving the sinking ship
To ride the tides until another wave
Returns them once more to a greater knave.
Stone’s whispered a mild threat into an ear
And scrutinized a tanned face blanch and fall.
He’s shown the photographs that make it clear
The candidate should leave the race and call
The “victor” to concede. He’s let a smear
Stand one more day than needful so that all
Escape is blocked—and then he’s ushered out
The victim, so there won’t be any doubt.
Stone’s ground a reputation into dust,
With one well-placed exposé in the press.
He’s made sure good men are undone by lust—
Perfume, a key, a hotel room, a dress.
The frailties that can turn boom to bust,
Repentance and rehab, display finesse
That he’s employed on heirs and upstarts, too.
What you believe is moot: he’ll come for you.
Stone knows that people can be disappeared,
Should they encroach too nearly on a fact.
What brings great men down is not what they feared
But how and to which item they react.
The log that broke the jam might have been cleared
If left to those with subtler skills and tact.
But if a great man panics, then his power
Is measured not in months, but by the hour.
Stone’s got a sense of when the jig is up:
His rule is that he slips out long before
There’s any chance he’ll drink the bitter cup;
No need to give his enemies the floor
With him still on it. No, he’ll let them sup
On victory, observe what they’ve in store
For him. If they want info, he’ll supply it;
If to destroy him . . . well, just let them try it.
But Mueller’s canny, Stone has to admit,
He’s piling on the pressure day by day.
The subtle squeeze, slow growing of remit,
Allows him to proceed in any way
That he sees fit; Stone notes he will not quit
Until he’s joined the dots, or made the play:
At some point, you watch how the dice have rolled;
You calculate the odds, and then you fold.
The indictments of the dozen Russian hackers
And of the Russian female infiltrator
Inevitably will lead to their backers.
In turn, they’ll point to sources even greater,
Who supervised the “plumbers”—the attackers
Of our civic space; the instigator
Who gave the green light. Could we find out soon
That, as was rumored, it was this buffoon?
Some mix of business interests and money,
Toss in some intel and the hackers, too.
To spice the dish pour in some Russian honey
And let the stinking mess of pottage brew.
Meanwhile, you let the little orange bunny
Pretend he’s in control, and let him chew
His way through every norm. When it is time:
You guarantee that he’ll commit the crime.
How else to explain it? Using Occam’s razor
You exercise your logic. Yes, he’s prone
To admire dictators, and he’s an effacer
Of facts, so it could be that on his own
He’s so thrilled to be a Kremlin embracer.
Yet he displays each minute a full-grown
Guilt complex, rich with tics and fear and hate:
He is a puppet of the Russian state.
Canto VIII: August 2018
O Omarosa, how do I begin
To enumerate the ways you represent
This gilded age’s avarice and sin?
How can my verse encompass the extent
Of your Faustian bargain? How unspin
The arras of denial you have spent
Two decades at the wheel for, till the troth
You plighted has become your winding-cloth?
A grifter’s now “betrayed” another faker;
The rats gather to see who’ll jump ship first.
Each operative believes they’re a wiseacre
Who may be bad, but others are the worst.
As long as there’s a more extreme lawbreaker
They’ll cut a plea or they’ll be reimbursed
By book advances and the speaking circuit:
If nothing else, they do know how to work it.
They start by groveling on live TV,
They rue the day that they were so deceived.
They swear they didn’t comprehend, agree
That what they said was not what they believed.
They shake their head and state that that will be
Honest—indeed, they’re mightily relieved
That they can tell the truth about . . . whatever.
And that they won’t do it again. No, never.
So they acquire another bout of fame,
Bask in the glory of shriven contrition.
They whisper that they had to clear their name;
They grimace, and provide this admonition
To fellow moths who cultivate the flame:
Beware the heat of realized ambition.
Is that a yawn or laugh I see them stifle?
Is this remorse, or is it a mere trifle?
And does it matter that it doesn’t matter,
That honor is for fools, dunces, or churls?
Is it the purpose of cats to get fatter,
Or swine to wear whole necklaces of pearls?
Is probity a synonym for flatter,
And does the rich man always get the girls?
Is this La Ronde or just a Feydeau farce,
And when will he be thrown out on his arse?
It’s like we’re in a funhouse, where the floor,
Walls, ceiling, and the furniture are distorted.
One can’t stand or sit straight, or close the door,
Without losing one’s balance. Unsupported,
You lean and stretch, or grab onto a drawer,
Only to have it fall away. Thus, thwarted,
You crouch close to the ground, hold your position,
In case one move might worsen your condition.
And yet it isn’t fun, it’s terrifying,
How blithely we’ve accepted his barbarity.
We blink and shrug amid the glut of lying,
And throw up hands at unashamed vulgarity.
You’d think National Review-ers would be crying
For decency—and yet (moment of clarity)
Just . . . [crickets] . . . greet each scrofulous extrusion
He pops on us in limitless profusion.
It’s hard to feel too sorry, Omarosa,
For what you’ve been through, how he’s called you out.
You were so near you couldn’t have been closer,
Yet never once did you express a doubt
About him. Did you think he didn’t pose a
Threat to good order and he wouldn’t flout
Every convention, wreck our compos mentis?
Did you not come across this on The Apprentice?
You tell us you were shocked, shocked, he was racist;
Astonished that he hated women, too.
You can’t believe his motives weren’t the basest,
Or that he wasn’t loathsome through and through.
You say of him and Paula White that they kissed
And did a whole lot more—as if it’s new
That he’s a drooling skirt-chaser and lecher:
Well, lawks-a-mercy! Better fetch a stretcher!
Perhaps you thought his villainy an act:
The balderdash and bunkum for TV.
That when the lights went off, cameras were packed,
And everyone went home, some honesty
And kindness would emerge; that those he sacked
Were told that it was just a show; that he
Would give them pointers on how he succeeded,
And help them afterward with what they needed.
Did you feel likewise or did you espy
Someone as hard and suitably capricious?
And have you told yourself the reason why
You joined the campaign wasn’t adventitious
But something loftier? Or did you sigh,
And let this sybaritic, meretricious
Senex amans roger all of us rotten,
Just so that you would never be forgotten?
Whatever is the case, you and the shirker
Got what you wanted. Then you sat beside him
And watched how he belittled each co-worker
And African-American; supplied him
Fig leaves to hide the shame the penis-jerker
Would toss aside, and you never defied him.
And now you’re seeking recompense and fame,
As if this is just yet another game.
Another game while Nazis are resurgent;
Another game replete with outright lies;
Another game that is like a detergent
That bleaches crimes, yet cannot sanitize
The bloody stain that’s always re-emergent
(Whether overt, latent, or in disguise,
Spattered on white cloaks or stanched by the rope)
And will not be washed clean by any soap.
* * *
On lower floors, the museum’s dimly lit
(Deliberately so), the passage tight.
We walk among the artifacts—a bit,
A pair of shackles, collar, whips that bite,
The hold where people died, the letters writ
In darkness and with little hope in sight:
Pleadings for mercy from those who, exiled,
Want nothing more than to be with their child.
Douglass’s memoir, Harriet Tubman’s shawl,
And Banneker’s riposte to Jefferson
The hypocrite; Attucks, the first to fall;
A simple patterned dress worn by someone
To show “respectability”; a small
Brooch with a portrait of a man who won
By sitting thus, in slavery’s profanity,
A measure of immeasurable humanity.
A bloody map of Kansas, used by Brown;
A banjo and a drum, its surface worn;
A wooden auction block in Hagerstown;
Nat Turner’s Bible, coverless and torn;
The fight to gain a personal pronoun;
The Proclamation; and (the white man’s scorn)
The deeds of sale, the Fugitive Slave Bill;
And (wondrously) a free, black woman’s will.
You rise a floor and once more are confronted
By aspirations, hopes, and dreams deferred.
Each section shows how when their aims were stunted
By bigotry and hatred, undeterred
These regular folks’ focus wasn’t blunted:
They marched, they sat, they stood, and they were heard.
Each generation fought to find its voice,
As much through need to live as any choice.
The footage illustrates how young they were:
The bobbysoxers, schoolbooks in their arms;
The lads in their sharp suits, all “ma’am” and “sir,”
Smiles angled just so to enhance their charms.
Dressed to the nines, eyes front, these kids confer
An unearned dignity upon the harms
Delivered to each coiffed, pomaded head,
A silence that leaves nothing to be said.
And still you rise—the Panthers’ raised, clenched fist;
Martin and Medgar, Fred and Malcolm: shot.
An airplane from Tuskegee; those who enlist
For “V” at home and overseas; boycott
Of buses, depots, lunch counters (Resist!)
Baldwin and Shirley Chisholm; astronaut
Charles Bolden’s suit. And tucked away, you will
Encounter an alcove for Emmett Till.
Once more, ascend: there’s Berry’s Cadillac;
The P-Funk spaceship; Ella; Lady Day;
Robeson the athlete, statesman, actor; Flack
And Ross; the Williams’ sisters; Beyoncé;
Jordan and Jackie; Michelle and Barack;
Ossie and Ruby; James Brown; Michael J.;
Ragtime and be-bop; hip-hop and the blues;
The infant Sammy Davis’s tap shoes.
It’s not just stars and idols: everywhere
Black folks are busy through organization:
Trades unions, schools, guilds, and houses of prayer.
Whether in pamphlet, book, or peroration,
The call to mobilize goes out, Prepare
To claim through discipline and education
The long-discarded promissory note
For those who kept the USA afloat.
You emerge into the thick air of D.C.
Shocked by the magnitude of what you’ve seen:
How steep the climb; how costly was the fee
Of freedom; what was, and what might have been.
The furious grandeur, passion, dignity,
Beauty, horror, and all that’s in between:
A contribution that cannot be weighed,
And still the reparation is delayed.
* * *
In contrast, grievance and equivocation,
The ignorance of history and hate;
The shocking casualness of the conflation
Of such crimes, either blaming it on fate
Or That is in the past, or (bold negation)
On Northern tariffs of Eighteen Twenty-Eight;
And not embedded white supremacy
That was, is, and (it seems) will always be.
So, when he calls you “dog,” you hear the whistle:
The echo of racial brutalization.
It’s always more than just a curt dismissal,
Because in the bleak story of this nation,
The dogs were used to track you, make you bristle
With terror as you led a demonstration;
Or sicced upon you—one or in a pack:
Hunted and hounded just for being black.
So, when he calls you “dog,” you read the score:
Your bestial self precedes you. A rapacious,
Man-eating succuba—who, wanting more,
Threatens the sovereign man; or a bodacious
Bearer of white man’s secret seed, a whore
Whose mind is fixated on the salacious.
Unless you’re older—then you’re just a scold,
Or chuckling mammy with a heart of gold.
So, when he calls you “dog,” he inflicts pain,
Using the unearned privilege of race,
To send you to the auction block again,
Where you were sold like chattel; to debase
And strip you of your personhood, and drain
All agency from you: You keep your place,
Is what he means by “dog.” You’re a cheerleader,
An entertaining token, or a breeder.
Two months ago, we walked among the steles
Recalling men and women, old and young,
Lynched in the USA. What shrieked appeals
Did they cry to the crowd as they were strung
Up from a tree or beaten on the heels
Before being burned alive? And who among
The cheering crowds of white folk felt the sting
Of ruth, and yet they didn’t do a thing?
More than four thousand of them (many more
Were not recorded). Some named; some unknown.
Lynched for knocking on a white woman’s door;
Lynched for “annoying white girls”; left alone
By cops, black men and women by the score
Were shot, drowned, just a pile of ash and bone,
Because of white fears of miscegenation,
Crime, insurrection, or sexual predation.
Few of them ever got into a court
To undergo what passed for due process.
Their murder was less punishment than sport,
A chance to show that you might not possess
Much in the way of goods, and might fall short
In many ways, but you’d not acquiesce
To someone lower than you claiming rights
That God had conferred only on the whites.
So, when he calls you “dog,” he shows his hand:
The grinning hangman with his useful mob.
He signals to all those who understand
(Victim and perpetrator) that his job
Is to enforce—not laws, but his demand
That you obey him or you’ll feel the throb
Of his rough justice. You will stay alive,
If barely—just ask the Central Park Five.
O Omarosa, how will this thing end?
When Unhinged is remaindered, will you try
To walk back what you’re saying now, amend
Your many contradictions, and ally
With him again, as his only black friend?
Or will you stay the course and testify
That when he called you “dog” he lost the bet
That those of us with conscience will forget?
Canto IX: September 2018
Dear Wystan, I’ve been woefully remiss
And dilettantish in not writing you
Before I set forth on this venture. This
Is not because I didn’t think it through,
Or somehow felt your ghost would take the piss
That such a talent-stunted inconnu
As I might emulate what you did better:
Composing an ad hominem verse-letter.
It’s more the fact that times seem so much slicker
Than when you lived. Your contests were historic
(Good vs. Bad). Now things change so much quicker
That more than a rough sense of the dysphoric
Is tough to weigh. The social network’s sicker,
But we’re fattened consumers (both caloric
And profligate materialists)—we got
What we “deserved”: a chicken in each pot.
I loved your valedictions: Yeats and Freud,
The old-style bearers of new certainties.
You let their faults slide (they would be annoyed
That you rewrote to complicate the ease
With which you let the public voice avoid
The fraudulent in trying too hard to please).
Those two did not revise their various visions,
No prophet reexamines bad decisions.
Of course, you knew best how to illustrate
How lengthy shadows on complacent squares
Morphed into busy thoroughfares of hate;
How, clear-eyed, one could be caught unawares
When, terrorized, the asphyxiated State
Clawed at the hands that strangled it. The heirs
Of homegrown jesters pose a clearer danger,
You hinted, than the charismatic stranger.
As we, the mourners, mirthlessly attend
These tedious farces and mindless charades,
I write as one who’d hope to be a friend,
To ask you how you’d marshal the brigades
Of vulnerable tolerance, and send
Squads of decorum to face fusillades
Of hatred, shame, and dehumanization
Spearheaded by the leader of this nation.
You might say that we’ve seen it all before:
The casual slide into autocracy,
The placid slope that tips into a war,
The subtle shifts that lead us to agree
With what was once unconscionable. Each door
To a way back is closed; the bourgeoisie
Accommodate the demagogue, while others
Are quietly separated from their mothers.
You touched the neurasthenic, rendered chic
The logic of the working-class machine.
You valorized the triumph of technique
Over the shabby pieties of the obscene
And bankrupt ruling classes whose mystique
Was shattered by the Great War. If a clean
Break with the past could bring in something new,
Who’d blame you for hoping it could be true.
You weren’t averse to posing in your twenties,
Pronouncing on Large Themes. Each abstract noun
And wry, de haut en bas opaqueness, mentees
And other Macspaundays would go to town
With. When emotion struck, impudent sentries
Would fight disorder with their cap and gown:
How evident the order of each street
To lidless eyes at thirty thousand feet.
You aped the manners of the newly Left:
Young men with pipes, festooned with serious looks;
In profile, their smooth brows suitably cleft
In cerebration, clutching slender books
Of gnomic statements that are scanned as deft,
But devastating counters to the crooks
Within the Establishment who ran the show,
Whether in Westminster or in Moscow.
Such heady days, when every word you penned
The high hats took as something to be noted!
You might have tried your darnedest to offend,
But school chums in the BBC devoted
Programs to you, and thus let you pretend
That your social antennae were gold-coated:
You swapped ideas with (as you did the beds)
Fellows who sold the country to the Reds.
I don’t deny you faced down fascist Spain,
And Mosley’s blackshirts, and the generation
That took you once to war and would again.
But did you not see that collectivization
Would starve the poets, too? And when the stain
Of the collective guilt became too much, the nation
Across the water welcomed you: you stayed
And finished the dirty, low-down decade.
You might have ended up like me—discarding
Bon mots in plummy tones to impress the Yanks;
Feigning one’s shyness although self-regarding,
And subtly condescending to the ranks.
Professional Englishness, carefully larding
Self-deprecation with slight nods of thanks,
Is advantageous in the USA:
It’s just the price we pay to get our way.
But then (it happens), Love lifted an arm,
And laid his head upon your casual shoulder.
You hoped you might resist his obvious charm
By being mordant, cerebral, and colder.
You shunned commitment more out of the harm
You worried you might cause if you were bolder.
But Love refused to move, and stopped your mouth,
And Reason, once your gothic North, went south.
South to the verdant landscapes of the soul,
Where riverbanks collapse into the flow;
And overhanging moss and fishing pole
Caress the current; and the gentle, slow,
Alluvial insinuations roll
Each coral key into a soft largo,
Moistening the rigid, lapidary drone
To a relaxed and heavy-lidded moan.
South to the lands where young men lounge on rocks,
And señoritas flap their blushing fans;
Far from the barren moors and loading docks,
The smokestacks, washing lines, delivery vans;
Bingo on Tuesday nights, the mismatched socks
Of street kids playing football with tin cans;
And, standing at the kitchen sink, a wife
Who scours the pan and prospects for her life.
Far from guilt-culture’s beer-and-whisky sours,
The embittered blue blood on the fateful lawn;
The clock’s broadcast of solitary hours,
The shuttered windows, curtains always drawn;
The wretched plumbing, and the wilting flowers
Left by the grave by one who checks a yawn:
You weren’t the first, and will not be the last,
Who bit the Big Apple to break the fast.
You needed space (as I) to gain perspective,
To see the larger picture—where the glass
Would not display the obvious directive
(Unyielding and assumed) of our class;
Where every word was taken as reflective
Of what, not who, you were—a sort of pass
That watchmen would stamp if it was in order
To make sure you’d walk back across the border.
It’s not that Love turned you complacent, Wystan,
The urgency of Faith made sure of that.
You were not meant to be another Tristan;
An English irony means that the ghat
Remains unlit for us, should there exist an
Unwarranted occasion to fall flat
Upon one’s ruddy face in farce and bathos,
Rather than burn to ashes with much pathos.
For you and I were not cut out for battle,
We never stood upon the barricades.
Owen et al. lived “rifles’ rapid rattle,”
And kept their meters tight, as hand grenades
Tore limb from limb. For us, there’s only tattle,
The pompous prosody of the parades
That mark the fact the fighting will now cease,
Though no one will grasp anything like peace.
You thought that poems never change a thing:
They may witness the sacrificial act,
And clasp the mortal hand; yes, they might sing
Of what’s lost or forgotten; and extract
The essence of what’s transient, the sting
Of thwarted hopes, desire; and refract
The rainbow-colored wavelets of humanity
Amid the slate-gray ocean of inanity;
But war is waged, whether composers write
Or enlist as more Georgian cannon fodder;
A multitude of Juvenals may indict
The follies of the age—but any plodder
Who takes to verse can find himself one night
Thrown into jail, abandoned by his God, a
Sad victim of the truth that there’s no time
In history where despots needed rhyme.
So, what to do? You run your daily chores,
You eat well, drink fine wine, avoid the vatic.
Sometimes you write a poem that explores
The Zeitgeist without being enigmatic.
You publish it and each reader ignores
The message, in favor of the hieratic
Effusions of your much less-wrinkled years,
When you’d dismissed all pity and its tears.
What’s left? An aperçu, but nothing grander:
An elegy for a dearly departed;
A sonnet for a lover, flush with candor;
A panegyric to the lionhearted
Suffused with satire so it doesn’t pander;
Perhaps a limerick to get you started.
But keep the public poet in abeyance
Lest you be carted off in a conveyance.
Stick to the mystical or the aesthetic,
Wystan, is what’s demanded nowadays
For wordsmiths predisposed to the splenetic.
Because we’re too preoccupied, the craze
For haiku is what’s thought of as poetic—
No more than an Instagramable phrase
Is suitable for us. Epics are nice,
But they will not suffice if not concise.
So, you and I are stuck—each well-formed canto,
As timely as an eighteenth-century folly.
We might as well be speaking Esperanto,
Or like two parrots squawking “Pretty Polly.”
Each stanza is an ill-fitting portmanteau
For these times, when a studied melancholy
Is what’s demanded. Wystan, this society
Would not stomach a new Age of Anxiety.
If you were here, you’d tell me not to gripe;
“No one asked you to write,” is what you’d say.
“You claimed that you believed the time was ripe,
But on what evidence? You name a day,
When what the people liked most wasn’t tripe—
The Penny dreadfuls, pulp (bland or outré),
That’s what they’ve wanted since the cavemen sat
Around the fire chewing mammoth fat.
“And those are bookworms—most folks never cross
A bookstore’s threshold, or their finger run
Across a grimy library shelf. ‘Their loss,’
You might say, but they’re having too much fun
By watching serials (both great and dross)
On Netflix, Hulu, Amazon—each one
A story that once you were forced to read,
Now downloadable when and if you need.
“I used to patronize the middle-brow,
Who bought subscriptions and collected works
Of Shakespeare, Dickens, and read Irving Howe.
Each day from Fordham or White Plains, the clerks
Would take the train with Mailer, and kowtow
To literary seigneurs—and their smirks.
But even mandarins would not dare chasten
Commuters for their love of Perry Mason.
“For each admirer of Steinbeck or Cather,
A dozen tuck into a Philip Dick.
We critics may stew or throw up some blather
About great literature, but Hammett’s Nick
And Nora get the audience in a lather
Much quicker than Saul Bellow and his shtick.
Sure movies kept Fitzgerald from his muse,
But, hell, they paid the bar tab for his booze.
“In other words, you write because you must—
What audience you have’s not your concern.
Most times the stuff we publish gathers dust
No matter how artistically we turn
A phrase or limn the vagaries of lust,
Or demonstrate how decorously we yearn:
Thousands of hours practicing the craft
Of making readers weep, to learn they laughed.”
Canto X: October 2018
Unpack your polo shirt and Argyle sweat-ah,
Slip on your Oxfords and Nantucket red.
Stuff each half-eaten pizza and French lett-ah
Into some unsuspecting freshman’s bed.
Rouse Carlton from the sack with Henrietta;
Desist, Tucker and Trent, from getting head.
New joys await, more chances to cavort,
For Brett now sits upon the Supreme Court.
Advise Pablo that you must quit the chukker,
Ask Benson to bring round the Daimler-Benz;
Nathaniel, iron your best bib and tucker,
Cancel this fall’s stag-hunting in the glens.
Remind your liberal uncle he’s a sucker,
For thinking that you ever could be friends,
But you’ve forgiven him, since you’re a sport,
And Brett now sits upon the Supreme Court.
Pause Coldplay on your iPhone, Alexander,
Fold up the Wall Street Journal and the Post.
Slam shut The Fountainhead, as something grander
Than any erection that John Roark could boast
Has tumesced Mitch McConnell. No “second-hander”
Would do for him; Garland gave up the ghost,
And Mitch found someone whom we could support:
That’s why Brett sits upon the Supreme Court.
Lay down that good old bong pipe, Emerson,
Bid Newport and Hyannisport goodbye.
Tell Ma and Pa that, though Cannes would be fun,
The call’s gone out from Alpha Sigma Phi.
Quentin, you may have got a hole in one
On Pebble Beach, but leave her now and fly.
Alumni are required to attend a
Much-needed, liver-detonating bender!
So once more to the kegs, pledges, once more,
And guzzle amber liquid till you puke.
Moon every soph, deflower then ignore
The gals from Brown and Penn, Princeton and Duke.
Laugh at the unmonied hordes who envy your
Entitlement and privilege. Rebuke
The notion they’d enough muscle to thwart
Brett taking his seat on the Supreme Court.
Glug down pint after pint until you vomit,
Skip every class in order to stay stoned.
Sit each exam just so that you can bomb it,
And give nothing away that can’t be loaned.
Though lusterless, our sex makes us a comet
Whose streaky triumphs will not be bemoaned
By anyone who thinks they could abort
Brett’s elevation to the Supreme Court.
Defenestrate the laptops of the geeky,
Pour glue upon the keyboards of each nerd;
Scrawl WE WON on the foreheads of the freaky,
With fountain pens that etch in every word.
Shout from the rooftops Veni, Vidi, Vici.
Though Caesar only ruled the common herd
Before he found that life was very short,
Brett’s young and now sits on the Supreme Court.
Strew food around the dorm rooms with abandon,
Block with new textbooks every toilet bowl;
Throw darts at photos of Susan Sarandon,
And run your dirty briefs up the flagpole.
Spike drinks of any girl you lay a hand on,
And let her apprehend, though an asshole
And someone whom she thinks the last resort,
You might one day sit on the Supreme Court.
Expose yourself to gender studies majors,
And colonize the women’s dorms’ safe spaces.
On how many you’ll cause to weep place wagers,
Whatever their identities or races.
You may only be acne-flecked teenagers
With little clue and even fewer graces,
But even you (barman, another quart!)
Can capture a seat on the Supreme Court.
Farewell to dreary lectures on consent,
So long to seminars on social justice.
Say toodle-oo to white male discontent,
For there’s no jurisdiction that will bust us.
We’ve got the Court, Congress, and President—
You have no choice, you’ll simply have to trust us.
Your boring talks on male responsibility
Will be forever trumped by male puerility.
Humiliate the gays and non-conforming,
Subvert the P.C. Nazis where you can.
Cry “USA” whenever you are storming
Sororities or burning the Koran.
Deride those who believe in global warming:
“The proper study of mankind is man.”
For science, insert faith—for what is knowledge,
When liquor is what we imbibe in college?
Demean those who’ve not summered on the Vineyard,
Or savored après ski in Taos or Vale;
Who’ll never get what it took to have been barred
From that Dubai hotel shaped like a sail.
Laugh at the poor, for you will never think hard
About your wages on a sliding scale.
Dismiss them from your mind as not the sort
Who will ever sit on the Supreme Court.
And when, at last, you reach a man’s estate
(With Bentleys in the driveway and a pool),
Proclaim the meritocracy is great,
And polish up your CV for law school.
Your legacy’s your scholarship and fate
(You may be foolish but you are no fool).
You have the numbers of whom to exhort
To make sure you sit on the Supreme Court.
So ladies, clutch your pearls or shake a fist,
Call for the smelling salts until you’re sick.
Burn every bra you want, if you insist,
This is one prick that you won’t get to kick.
Yes, Emily may have her little list,
But here’s one job that she won’t get to pick.
Push back your bangs and sob, file a report,
You won’t take his seat on the Supreme Court.
Petition all you like for reparation,
Bake vegan cookies through the livelong night;
Stamp your old Birkenstocks in indignation,
Or don your flannel shirts and fly a kite.
Pretend a wave is coursing through the nation
That will unseat the men you want to fight.
Republican white women aren’t the sort
To stop Brett sitting on the Supreme Court.
March in the street and wear your pussy hats,
Sing hymns of parity and self-respect.
Go home to your crocheting and your cats
And rant on Facebook (as it’s less direct).
Proclaim the Year of Women, get your tats,
And make believe you’re tough and woke and echt.
We’ll pat your heads and offer you support
But only if Brett sits on the Supreme Court.
We think that when it matters, you will cave:
Your husbands see that you’ll fall into line.
You’ll find it difficult to act too brave
When they lean over you and, by design,
Make very clear that unless you behave
And leave the vote to them, your newfound spine
Will crack under the strain of our retort:
“Kavanaugh must sit on the Supreme Court.”
We played your little game, we wept and sniffed,
When our integrity was held in doubt.
The very thought that we might have been stiffed
Caused broken veins to flush and lips to pout.
We interrupted to show we were miffed,
And answered back (if needed, we could shout),
Because, when pushed, we really had no choice:
Not only dogs must hear their Master’s voice.
And when it looked as though we might be doomed,
The brothers rallied round and helped their own.
How stark the difference! The tenors boomed
Their wounded vanity; each plangent tone
Silenced the piping quiver of the wombed,
And anyone who might dare to postpone
What was predestined since the world began:
That woman is the helpmeet for a man.
A man who’s not ashamed of drinking beer,
Who understands the value of restraint.
(You writhe upon her body, make her fear
That she will suffocate, or merely faint.
Laughing, you deign to let her disappear,
Disheveled, down the stairs.) Any complaint,
You shout down as a smudge, a stain, a tort,
You’ll take all the way to the Supreme Court.
Always assumed, unearned authority
Hangs lightly from your shoulders. You indict
With stern and sober words each detainee
For what you did when young. For your birthright
Allows elites to shuck off as a spree
What would have others sent to jail on sight.
Thus does the wheel of justice turn and grind
The chaff in favor of the more refined.
How much have we deserved you, Kavanaugh,
How cozily you fit the judge’s robe.
How just it is that you’ll lay down the law,
Given how heavily and deep you probe.
How right it is that we should stand in awe
At what brew froths inside your frontal lobe.
So, welcome to the highest bench, and hail.
But really, Brett, you had us all at Yale.
How much we’ve yearned to soak up your tirades,
And wash down your nasty exasperation.
How much we savor you spending decades
Drowning in your resentment and frustration.
Vengeance, as you will show, has many shades,
But as befits your blameless reputation,
You’ll prove the embittered always have their druthers,
By steadily removing rights from others.
It’s obvious your temperament is suited
To ensuring that the undeserving sweat.
It’s not needed to strut or be jack-booted,
To strike down laws that precedence once set.
Freedom of speech will be reconstituted
To guarantee that not one more nymphet
Will have the nerve to question your ascension
Without a swift removal to detention.
No doubt your female clerks will understand
When you limit a woman’s right to choose.
Perhaps they think that, under your wise hand,
Men everywhere will no more deign to use
Females as sperm repositories, and band
Together to swear they will not abuse
Them. And if they should leave her up the spout,
They’ll do what they can to help mother out.
And what of Ashley, your devoted wife,
The mother of your daughters, loyal spouse?
Was she aware that in your early life,
You might have been a bully and a souse?
Could you cut through the frost with a blunt knife
When you returned that evening to the house?
Did she point to the couch and storm upstairs,
Leaving you to reflect on your affairs?
Her mouth turned down, she seems about to cry.
As she surveys your back upon the chair,
Is she asking herself the reasons why
You put your family through this? Or where
The man she thought she knew had gone? Or (sigh)
How the old faults are back: the nostril flare,
And stubbornness—and how, to her surprise,
Each minute you grow smaller in her eyes.
Or do I understand you, Brett, too well:
Suffused with petulance, anger, and rue?
You see your teenage self under a spell
Cast by the attachments of the boys you knew.
Gaucheness and ignorance were by a shell
Of posturing assurance kept from view.
Your bragging was a cloak that could enfold you,
Because what girl would ever want to hold you?
And so you drank to camouflage the shame
Of your ineptitude at meeting girls.
You hung with jocks and tried to play the game,
By throwing punches, doing reps and curls,
And thinking that you would escape the blame
For whatever might happen. They’d be churls,
Who later called what happened in the dark
Assault: they were mere hijinks and a lark.
And now you are confronted by this boy—
A man who thought he leaned toward the good.
Someone who would not willingly destroy
A young girl’s sense of self, and never would
Pretend it didn’t happen—the real McCoy
(No brutal fake or liar): one who could
Claim with some credence that he was not liable,
And place a dry hand on the Holy Bible.
Who was this person suddenly made known?
And was that child the father to this man?
Is that what maddened you—that you had grown
Into a vision of yourself that ran
So counter to her memory? Now shown
The terrible reflection, the great span
Of time collapsed, and you became the youth
Who raped a girl and then forgot the truth.
Canto XI: November 2018
Jamal Khashoggi walks into the room,
Assuming it’s where he’ll get documents
That will confirm that he’ll become a groom
For a fourth time. The series of events
Between his entrance and untimely doom
Are murky, nonetheless there’s no suspense,
Given the personnel (or we can guess),
What happened at the wish of MBS.
As soon as he’s inside, Jamal Khashoggi
Gets he’ll not leave the embassy alive.
He’s met these guys before, the various dodgy
Retainers, thugs, and fix-it men who thrive
In states like Saudi. Whether lean or podgy,
They turn the screws, mop up the blood, or drive
The corpse away: the ever-ready crew
Of dead-eyed goons for do what they will do.
The wastrel sons, the formerly addicted
Craving the rush of knocking someone senseless;
The brainless bullies who were once convicted
Of assault against the frail and defenseless;
The malcontents and sadists un-afflicted
By morals, whose perversions are pretense-less.
They are so full of love of nationhood
That only murder makes them feel as good.
They lounge before him, some he notes are armed:
The exits blocked, no windows, a desk-table,
Two chairs, and a long bench. He’s not alarmed
So much as reconciled: He won’t be able
To get away or leave the place unharmed.
His heart sinks as he sees the jumper cable
And outlet in the wall. And the last straw:
A glimpse behind a back of a bone saw.
He’s told to sit; he says he’d rather stand.
He’s shoved into a chair; his arms are tied.
A plump and sweaty second in command
Slaps him across the face. He’s mortified
More than just scared: that such a filthy hand
Should cuff him—one that scratched a fat backside
And, no doubt, smelled the fingers. He won’t wince:
Why give more satisfaction to the prince?
The fat man parks his butt upon the desk.
He smells his BO and his halitosis.
The aide strokes his dyed beard in a grotesque
Attempt to simulate a diagnosis
Of what is wrong. The torturer’s burlesque,
Jamal Khashoggi thinks: a strange psychosis,
Which justifies shredding a life’s brocade
By turning death into a masquerade.
That was the bargain that his country struck:
Profligate rule for Ibn Saud’s clan,
While, in exchange, the imams got to suck
The joy and love from Islam, every man
Dictated their wives’ lives, but ran amok
When out the country, and both groups could fan
Jihadism and war in every land
As long as oil was pumped out of the sand.
For eighty years, the leaders of the West
Paid homage to the King for his black gold.
For eighty years, the peoples did their best
To tell themselves they’d not their birthright sold.
For eighty years, the wrongs were unaddressed,
Misdeeds unpunished, generations rolled:
The glitter, sinecures, endowments, dosh
Served to cover corruption in whitewash.
And MBS had said he’d overthrow
The stagnant years of pointless deference;
The stale hypocrisies, of who you know,
The gaudy crassness and pointless expense
Of living there. But then came the chateau,
The Leonardo, and the unwelcome scents
Of bog-standard venality and greed:
The state merely another title deed.
He was naïve, he thinks now, to pretend
That he could get so close and not be spurned;
That he could tell the truth and not offend.
He should have been more cautious, should have learned
To keep his mouth shut, or perhaps to blend
Some sycophancy in to not be burned.
But it’s too late now: a man with bad breath
Is going to tell him how he’ll cause his death.
The fat man coughs and speaks: “And so, Jamal,
You find yourself in a predicament
Common to Judases, who love to scrawl
Their tracts on independence and consent.
They imagine, in their vanity, that all
Their sentences will rouse each malcontent
To overthrow the bondage of the king,
Launch from their MacBook Pro an Arab spring!
“When has the pen been mightier than the sword?
Lincoln did not prevent the Civil War.
Fine sentiments have never stopped the horde
Mounting the ramparts, bashing down the door,
Or throwing godless artists overboard.
When shots are fired, writers hit the floor
As quickly as illiterates. Simply stated:
Language and skin are easily punctuated.
“Did you believe that you would not be caught?
That somehow you could live beyond our reach?
What kind of fantasy or muddled thought
Persuaded you that your freedom of speech
Wasn’t abridgeable; that you had bought
Protection through your straddling of the breach
Between the West and Saudi? Your mistake?
Your stick poked one too many times the snake.
“Whatever calculations you have made,
However well-placed are your advocates,
The horror at your passing will soon fade,
The wreaths and candles tidied from the gates.
The wheelerdealers’ games will still be played,
And once more the securities of states
Will trump one person’s unimportant death,
Perhaps before you take your final breath.
“Of course, the ‘killers’ will soon be arrested;
Regrets and blame be issued, as per norm.
We’ll ‘try’ someone authorities requested,
Then public execution (usual form):
An overzealous citizen (detested)
Who didn’t comprehend the firestorm
He would unleash committing such a crime:
And so his timely death will buy us time.
“Meanwhile, the US will mouth its outrage
That such a thing was done to such a man.
The president, however, takes the stage
To call the media fake, say he’s a fan
Of those who beat up journalists—a page
Ripped from the same playbook as Erdoğan:
They fulminate against us, but they cave
When we pay more to get them to behave.
“Your rights are no match for materiel,
Dreams forfeited for ruling the Levant;
Your hope for freedom’s sunk in an oil well,
Considered prose drowned by a mullah’s rant.
The stern op-eds will not relieve the hell
The Yemenis experience, nor the scant
Whispers of opposition stop the blast
Of missiles or the cries of children gassed.
“There are no depths to which we will not go;
We’ll always be much harder, kill more foes.
The regime holds the power, cards, and dough,
To silence democrats’ annoying throes
Of conscience. And the wise investors know
That we aren’t bothered by sententious prose
Demanding the atrocities must cease:
Commerce and palms will always soak up grease.
“Should such schemes fail, we always have distraction,
Another ‘accident’ that fills the news;
Perhaps a new atrocity or faction
That threatens, or the killing of some Jews—
Something that will set off a chain reaction,
A little spark to light a well-placed fuse,
That leaves the erstwhile problem only embers,
And, therefore, guarantees no one remembers.
“So it will be with you: a passing wisp;
A half-lost reminiscence on the breeze;
The thought of you is just the slightest lisp,
A susurration no more than a wheeze.
The tears dry quickly on the cheek, as crisp
Autumnal winds blow summer leaves from trees:
Your life and work not even a vignette.
Even your grieving girlfriend will forget.
“The moment’s come for you to meet your maker,
To reconcile yourself to midnight’s chimes,
Confess to all the lies that a muckraker
Like you has told; the millions of times
You erred. Think it a chance to undertake a
Thorough examination of your crimes,
Before we take your body, piece by piece,
And isolate each part till your decease.
“Fight all you want, cry out, express remorse;
Howl all you can for us to spare the rod.
No one will hear you, no superior force
Is on its way; nor will a rescue squad
Deliver you. Your life has run its course;
Your pain’s not even interesting to God.
Know this: no matter how you scream and curse,
The punishment we mete out will be worse.”
The fat man stands and beckons with delight
Two knuckle-dragging hoods to start their work.
I’ll spare you details, not because it’s right
To eschew torture or because I shirk
Recounting such unwholesome truths, or might
Upset some readers, or because a perk
Of being the author is I can decide,
What to include and what to take in stride.
The reason for my silence is I can’t
Envisage what they did to him that day.
My pallid inspiration leaves me scant
Resources to conjure the sick array
Of awful ignominies and poignant,
Intolerable horrors on display.
Enough to say, they beat him all they could,
Then cut him up and hid him in a wood.
So ends a life, no greater than the others,
And quickly superseded by the slaughter
Of Jews in Pittsburgh, with two caring brothers
Gunned down. And soon enough these will be water
Under the bridge. Meanwhile, Yemeni mothers
Hold up a bag of bones, a son and daughter,
Starving to death. They might well be in Homs:
There are no safe havens from US bombs.
But we discern the Saudis are our friends,
For they ensure Iran won’t rule the roost.
They may hate Israel, but they share the ends
Of stopping Hezbollah getting a boost
And moving swiftly ethnically to cleanse
The Middle East of Sunnis. So, reduced,
Iran and Russia won’t be recrudescent
And seek to dominate the Fertile Crescent.
Turkey’s the wrinkle in this little plan—
Another Sunni nation. Its ambition
Is for revanchist, neo-Ottoman
Status within the region—a position
Of indispensability, to span
The Sunni world. Its boundary condition
Is to ensure that neither East nor West
Will function outside Turkey’s interest.
So, no one cares for you, Jamal Khashoggi,
Your US “friends” prefer the weapons deal.
The Turks “complain” because their demagogy
Upsets the Saudis, and by it they seal
Their usefulness to the US. Each Hadji
Who boycotts Mecca in protest will feel
Their reverence kick in, and make a date
Obediently to circumambulate.
As long as oil continues to fill tanks,
And money lines the coffers of the rich,
Who cares if pensmiths, dissidents, or cranks
Compose their screeds, lament, opine, or bitch?
The mighty will cry their way to the banks
And leave the writers’ bodies in a ditch.
The reader turns the page, or swipes the screen,
And what you said and thought remains unseen.
Goodbye, Jamal Khashoggi, and so long,
This is the last stanza in which I’ll name you.
I’d offer you some hope that in my song,
You’d gain a piece of everlasting fame; you
Aren’t yet only a footnote. You are wrong:
No one will read these lines. I do not blame you
For being mad, but that’s the writer’s lot:
No sooner scribbled down, as then forgot.
Canto XII: December 2018
It’s Twenty-Fifty, and the President
Of the United States starts her address
To frightened fellow citizens: “The extent
Of problems that we face, and the duress
You’re under, you already know. My intent,
In talking to you thus is both to stress
That choices matter, acts have consequence,
And to prepare you for the hard years hence.”
She looks out at the crowd: a wretched lot,
Once used to living large, without a care
For what was valuable and what was not.
But then, she thinks, not one of us could square
Desire with a need. We had forgot
That, although we might not have been aware
Of seismic change or it seemed far removed,
The pudding would arrive, a point was proved.
She didn’t blame them for their consternation:
The country’s self-image did not admit
That generation after generation
Might not be richer, or that the most fit
Might struggle and not make it. The temptation
Was to assume Progress was holy writ,
But there had been forewarnings all along
That what was going on was very wrong.
The thinning of the humus for the crops,
The burning of the forests and the plains;
The glaciers’ retreat from mountaintops,
The lack of seafood in the empty seines;
The species’ failure, population drops,
The inconsistent pattern of the rains;
The brownouts and the melting of the street,
The record freezes and the stifling heat.
The silent trees and empty nests in spring,
No “V” formations shading autumn skies;
The seas in which no whales survived to sing,
How the unprecedented did not surprise;
The septic smog that covered everything,
The prospects withering before our eyes;
How, doors locked, desperation takes a grip,
And one by one, away they quietly slip.
The garden plants whose flowers could not bud,
The seeds that didn’t germinate or sprout;
The ruminants too hot to chew the cud,
The ponds devoid of tadpoles, streams of trout;
The boreholes silted up, oases mud.
Cadavers of the sinners and devout
Lay rotting in their graves—though death arrived
Much slower for the rich than the deprived.
“We’ve known of climate change for three score years,”
She intones, “We had the assets to retreat
From fossil fuels, move slowly through the gears
To more efficient energy, and meet
Each goal with greater ease, with new careers
Replacing old, saving each poles’ ice sheet,
Cleaning the planet of contamination
Instead of wildfires, storms, and inundation.
“But industry decided not to budge,
And craven politicians didn’t act.
We’d lie to you directly or we’d fudge
And whine, ‘We are not ready.’ We attacked
The messengers as stooges with a grudge,
Or doomsayers whose research clearly lacked
The absolute proof that we said we’d need
To pay this pressing issue any heed.
“The threats and premonitions became clearer,
The gales stronger, the weather more intense,
The costs of our complacency grew dearer,
Our economic models made less sense.
The moment when the window shut got nearer
And it was harder to shun evidence
That no amount of will or expertise
Would hold the temperature at two degrees.
“We’re now at two, and heading toward three.
In summer, manual work must stop outside
During the afternoon. The honeybee
Is virtually extinct: with it have died
So many other species that we see
Few mammals, birds, and flowers on the wide
And shriveled prairies. This abundant land
Has been denuded by our very hand.
“The Everglades are gone,” she says, “the Keys
Broken and overwhelmed by hurricanes.
Miami’s vanished, too, floods to the knees
Proved greater than the ability of drains
To channel water daily. And D.C.’s
Capacity to manage storms remains
A work in progress. This, for you and me,
Is the new unending reality.
“And that applies to politics as well. We were
A people who welcomed the evacuee.
And now we’ve built walls that we hope deter
The torrents of invaders. We decree
That we will shoot to kill those who prefer
To risk their own lives. This ‘land of the free’
Is now a fortress: curfews, roundups, guns
Protect us from the more ill-fated ones.”
She shudders: India and Pakistan . . .
Ten million dead, and many more each day
In transit. Total breakdown from Bhutan
To Laos. Meanwhile, Dhaka and Mandalay
Unfit to live in; the Sea of Japan
A warzone, while destroyers block the way
Of armadas of desperate refugees
Who’ve taken to the roiling, open seas.
So many bodies washed up on the beaches
Piled high and burned in pyres on the shore.
The mounds of carcasses who fill the breaches
In the barbed wire. A thousandfold or more
Who freeze to death unknown in mountain reaches,
Or whose bleached bones cover the desert floor.
The infants tossed across the boundary moats,
The elderly pushed out of crowded boats.
“It’s only right that I should let you know,”
She says. “I hate that it turned out this way.
And yet I’ve sworn to bear and not forego
My burden to ensure the USA
Is not flooded by immigrants. Although,
I, too, want freedom for mankind, the day
Of happiness pursued is gone. My duty
Is to retain what’s left of life and beauty.
“And so we’ve turned the ships back from the ports,
Established no-man’s lands at every border.
The DNA banks, iris checks, and courts
Proclaim who is prisoner, who a warder.
We’ve exiled undesirables and the sorts
Of misfits who exploit any disorder,
And misuse every deluge, snowstorm, drought
To undermine, intimidate, sow doubt.”
How suddenly the scarcity descended,
She thinks, and neighbors turned on one another!
How soon the Constitution was suspended,
And how serenely we embraced Big Brother!
How fast the “criminals” were apprehended
And locked up so there wouldn’t be a pother!
How distant talk of liberty would seem,
As if democracy had been a dream!
And when we’d changed course, although much too late,
We had assumed that it would be all right;
That in a trice we’d reach a normal state,
The future only a few watts less bright.
We never once thought it would not abate
Or that we might not make it through the night.
But snows did not fall, rains were weak, or wetter.
We were more stringent; it did not get better.
“I won’t lie: coming decades will be tough.
We’ve ended coal and oil, we now eat meat
From cells, and engineering may be enough
To lower carbon rates. However, heat
Will keep on rising, and (the very stuff
Of nightmares) such pains may be obsolete:
The cycle we are in may now surpass
All efforts to climb out of this morass.
“What is required is agile fortitude:
No room for those who’d question martial law.
We will not tolerate those who’d collude
To ransack New Orleans as we withdraw.
We will continue rationing of food
And jail hoarders. It may stick in your craw:
But you are free to leave this land at leisure:
Or else you stay, but only at our pleasure.”
She turns and walks into the Capitol
Her exit marked by silence at her back.
She gives a fleeting smile: She’d won the poll
By promising the facts, however black
They might appear. Solely to console
Americans with lies, she’d said, would smack
Of arrogance: the state was bad enough
Without the cant of patriotic guff.
Three decades earlier a president,
Had mentioned “carnage” and despair. He’d talked
Of country first, and used the discontent
To fuel grievances. And so he hawked
Nostalgia: when the world knew what it meant
To fear the big stick, and the US walked
With swagger. As if thinking you’re John Wayne
Would somehow make your nation “great again.”
He’d no idea what “carnage” would await
Within the decade. Even forty-four
Believed that the administrative state
And tech would smoothe the way without the chore
Of making citizens appreciate
Just how much had to change. Did they ignore
The truth because they thought that our foundation
Was not the People but the Corporation?
She lets a sigh escape her lips. So much
Had gone, she thinks. And much more was to come.
A loss that felt more intimate than touch,
Closer than thread between finger and thumb.
She leaned on hope as on a broken crutch,
And woke each morning heart-struck, empty, numb.
She searched for signs of progress and stability—
An exercise of pipedreams and futility.
She was obliged to maintain the illusion,
A faith in the unseen: somehow, the course
Of history would lead to a solution,
A pivot that would tip the scale, a source
Of energy or sequestration, fusion,
Or coolant—one that might reverse the force
Of Nature’s predetermined retribution
Against us, we who’d caused the destitution.
But this was different: no bureaucratic
Muddle or margin-fiddling would suffice.
Until that happened, only the pragmatic
Would be required. God did not play dice,
Or even weigh the balance: an emphatic
Silence had greeted theft, assault, rape, vice,
Mass murder, and the corruption of mores:
An endless parade of The End of Days.
She steps outside: the jaundiced sun at noon
Clings to the ragged trees. The limo waits,
An emblem of a power that will soon
Be but a shadow. They slip through the gates,
No one’s in sight, except for a platoon
Guarding the entrance. No one celebrates;
The tent cities are, for the moment, quiet;
Tonight, she fears, there’ll probably be a riot.
We had a chance, goddammit, had a chance,
She thinks. If even thirty years ago,
They’d had the courage to dissolve the trance
Of corporate control—if merely to slow
The inevitable for a decade, and advance
The means of our survival. Or said, “No.
No more will you extract, burn, or despoil
For coal or meat, for ethanol or oil.”
But nothing happened: endlessly, we played
With our distractions and the silly game
Of who was up, who down, and so betrayed
The future. In the end, we were the same,
No matter what the politics—afraid
To ask for sacrifice in more than name:
Obsessed with trivia, earnings reports,
We treated governance and Life as sports.
The orgy that preceded conflagration,
The festival announced before the quake;
The fine-tuned writings published as the nation
Was rudely forced to finally awake;
The pundit class whose witty derogation
Was no match for those who could pitchforks shake;
The sunbathers who thought the weather balmy,
And found they could not outrun the tsunami.
The very best and very worst of times,
The skin that barely covered the cadaver;
Mad money, deaths from opioids, and crimes
Of many men: each day, a new palaver
Distracted us from hearing tolling chimes,
Or ground slowly consumed by bubbling lava.
This was the era, wasteful and obscene,
That lurched into the year Twenty-Nineteen.