The third volume of The Trumpiad (Book the Third) is complete, and is available as a printed book, an ebook, and (shortly) an audiobook. Book the Fourth (for 2020) is ongoing and will appear online shortly. If you need a refresher course to what happened in 2017, Book the First is available as a printed book, an ebook, and an audiobook, and Book the Second (for the year 2018) is likewise available as a printed book, an ebook, and audiobook. All proceeds for all three books after costs are split between Vine, a farmed animal sanctuary in Vermont, and New Alternatives NYC, an organization that helps transgendered homeless youth in New York City. If you don’t wish to purchase either volumes one, two, or three, you can read the twelve cantos for Book the Second on this page and for Book the First on this page. There now follow all twelve cantos of Book the Third.
Canto I: January 2019
Canto II: February 2019
Canto III: March 2019
Canto IV: April 2019
Canto V: May 2019
Canto VI: June 2019
Canto VII: July 2019
Canto VIII: August 2019
Canto IX: September 2019
Canto X: October 2019
Canto XI: November 2019
Canto XII: December 2019
Canto I: January 2019
The same old news curses Twenty-Nineteen,
A shutdown’s furloughed workers without pay.
Congress is deadlocked, he recycles spleen,
And Brexit grows more likely by the day.
I fantasize we’ll soon bask in the sheen
Of sunnier times. Until then, a display
Commends itself to my imagination:
Another farce of misrepresentation.
The mise-en-scène is at a country house
In Nineteen-Twelve, before it fell apart:
Long driveways, open lawns, the flap of grouse
Escaping from the guns. Let music start:
A genteel orchestra, some Johann Strauss.
The skipping beat matching the beating heart,
As by themselves or coupled up, each actor
Performs their role: hero or malefactor.
Outside, the shadows of midsummer dusk,
Murmuring echoes of an old romance;
A silken glove across a cheek, the brusque
Riposte to slighted rectitude; a glance;
A hand wiping a beaded brow—the husk
Of power lost to destiny and chance;
The flash of fireflies, like motes of dust
Caught briefly in the warm zephyrs of lust.
By the gazebo, thwarted lovers kiss.
Their fingers intertwine; their words are brief.
Too much opposes them: this transient bliss
A prelude to a life with no relief.
Propriety and property make this,
This fragmentary joy, exquisite grief.
From now on they will count the hours to death,
For though they breathe, they draw their final breath.
The twilight hides a melancholy man,
Whose hurt, scarred soul his guardedness outlives.
His boyish passion is long cooled; the span
Of time has curdled faith. Yet he forgives
The innocent their ardor; for age can,
He knows, distill the essential self, and sieves
The kernel from the chaff. To be awake
Demands that you all passion must forsake.
The exiled mourn and pray for retribution;
Their retinue sings songs of winter rain;
The jester mocks the wish for restitution,
And hopes that wit can compensate for pain.
The honest yeomen may lack elocution
Yet these retainers will be housed again.
And thus the whirligig of time brings round
The pastoral of loss and marriage found.
Meanwhile, the old magician breaks his staff,
Believing that enchantment’s gone to pot.
Technique’s usurped amazement, telegraph
And telephone destroyed what he had wrought.
His charms and spells foretold their epitaph
When he believed they’d never be forgot.
He conjured worlds but, at the very end,
Nostalgia proved to be his only friend.
Within the banquet hall, champagne on ice,
The tintinnabulation of rich laughter,
The transient flare of fading paradise;
The shimmering gowns and tapered necks that draught a
Perfume of money and the sacrifice
Required to relentlessly chase after
The effortless disdain of true nobility:
Its sprezzatura, ennui, and fragility.
A short announcement, chairs are re-arranged;
The floor is cleared, the band packs up and goes;
The canapés and demitasses exchanged
For port and cigarillos. Any woes
That scour the soul, or however estranged
The socialites may be, are mere sideshows.
The King and Queen have come. The piece will start.
The royal couple speak a while apart.
“Hippolyta, my love, whose noble mien
Once stilled the puissant breast of Hercules:
Leader of women, fearless warrior queen,
Prepared for us are new festivities.
Now is the moment when we change the scene
From matters of the state to revelries.
Unburden reservations and let fly
Thy discontent, as spirits soar on high.
“Sit next to me, Hippolyta, I fain
Would have thy company, while we enjoy
This fellow, monstrous strange, who doth complain
Most violently about a curious toy
(For that is what it seems fevers his brain).
It is a wonder that, like a schoolboy,
This rude mechanical should strut and bawl
About what seemeth nothing ’cept a wall.”
“Husband-to-be, it was bruited abroad
That such a one exists. You say ’tis true:
Yet scarce can I believe it. Is’t not odd,
O Theseus, that such a one should hew
So closely to his theme? Is Reason flawed?
Hath Moderation, which restraineth rue,
Suffered a usurpation, and is Choler
Enthronèd to harangue and sulk and holler?”
“Hippolyta, I know not if he feign
This mood or is possessed. But it is said,
That of a night he howls as if in pain.
‘O Wall,’ he yells, ‘I would rather be dead
Than not complete thee.’ In this fearful strain
He rents the silence of the House. ‘To bed,
My lord,’ his wife doth simper; yet he sobs,
Screaming of spectral mobs and phantom jobs.”
“But soft: he comes! O let my heart not fail
At such a fearsome sight! For like a lion
He doth reverberate and thrash his tail,
And toss his shaggy mane. Even Orion,
That mighty hunter, dare not hope prevail
’Gainst such a beast (truly Nemea’s scion)
If by his thunder thou wouldst judge his force:
I mean to say the opposite, of course!”
“’Tis the most piteous sight I’ve seen thus far:
For he who’d be a lion is an ass;
And when he thinks he’d cause the rough Tartar
To affright, or rugged Moor to water pass,
Or fire-breathing Musselman or Tsar
To flee to yonder hills or crack like glass,
He merely his defectiveness displays:
For where he thinketh that he roars, he brays.
“For in his sad delusion he doth shake
A mane that verily is a thin spool
Of aureate tincture: King Midas wouldst quake
At such as he; and e’en Narcissus’ pool
Couldst not reflect such pride: a grave mistake!
For all that glisters is not gold. This fool
Conceives that the apparel of a king
Confirmeth that he is the real thing.”
“Too true, i’faith: And yet—O sight supreme:
Hath ever such a creature worn such ears,
Except as it might be within a dream?
They should hark to the music of the spheres
So sizable are they. Ne’erless, they seem
Only responsive to deluded cheers.
The facts do leave his senses dulled and sore:
When sooths are told, his falsehoods soothe him more.”
“Quiet, he speaks.” “O Wall, O mighty Wall,
You are the best, believe me; I should know,
I’ve built a few—and you’re the best of all.
So potent and so beautiful, you show
That you’re the tops because you are so tall,
And thicker than a plank of wood. Although
I shouldn’t boast, though I would bet Beijing
Has never built a bigger, better thing.
“O Wall, O lovely Wall, whose mighty flanks,
Rise up to pierce the membrane of the sky.
Your rigid, concrete sections sunk in banks
Of tender yielding soil strongly belie
That I am weak. To you, I proffer thanks:
For your erection will exemplify
The dominance of my ascendency
And thus reflect most pleasingly on me.”
“Methinks the gentleman protests too much,
My Theseus, or thusly compensates
For some perceived inadequacy or such
That troubleth him. For, by my troth, he weights
This wall more as one would a woman’s touch
Upon a man, and therefore demonstrates
He knoweth not what of he speaks, for we
Demand respect, not mere carnality.”
“I know whereof you speak, my lady, thou,
An Amazon, art martial in the ways
Of war, as love. Thy stern-eyed stare and brow
Didst slay my heart, and though to my dispraise
Thou wert a gift from Hercules, I trow
Thy kindly visage indicates thy gaze
Hath softened from that righteous contempt
With which no man should ever be exempt.”
“Beware complacency, good sir, for love
Is not a thing bestowed but held on loan.
The iron fist within a velvet glove
Shapes tenderness, tests what is poorly sewn.
The couple’s minuet, the pull and shove,
Demands a balanced step lest we be prone
To stumble, without proper give and take.
Oh, peace: the creature doth more heehaws make.”
“My little hands will stroke your bricks and mortar,
Nostrils inhale the scent of wet cement;
I’ll bury in the joints a spoil-sporter
Who thought they could persuade me to relent.
I’ll make sure every Democrat supporter
Will pay for every panel: each red cent
They cough up will confirm that I’m the boss,
You’d have to be a dupe to double-cross.
“O Wall, how long have I waited to see
You symbolize my straddling of the land:
A barrier that will stop the refugee
And migrant, to whom we won’t lend a hand.
In the flat blankness of your masonry
You shutter and preclude, rebuff and strand.
As long as I can stare at you all day
I can pretend my woes are far away.
“No crack must be allowed, nothing neglected—
Nothing that carries plague or infestation.
No hint of germs or any of the infected
Should set one toe within this spotless nation.
Block off the entrances that are connected
To the other side. Thwart everyone suspected
Of being out to get me is the call.
And that is why you must protect me, Wall.”
“Hippolyta, I think I hast divined
What doth perturb this persecuted yokel.
This edifice that occupies his mind
Is his buttress against chaos, a focal
Point, metaphor, and figure. ’Tis a kind
Of base protection that shores up his local
Support but undermines the place of reason,
O’erthrows his sense, and turns it into treason.”
“How can it be, O Theseus, that the writ
Of government is thusly held for ransom?
Is’t nothing but an old man’s reckless snit,
Or petulance because he isn’t handsome?
Are not such gestures proof he isn’t fit,
And shouldn’t his kinfolk or allies plan some
Immediate intervention, lest in twain
He cleft the state, not to be whole again?”
“These times, indeed, are cause of consternation.
For how the wounded lion roars: his beef
At disappearing muscle, and frustration—
To him this forms the bedrock of belief
That his way is the best! This lamentation
To us is sound and fury, a motif
That runs through every era’s tune this truth:
That age rages against the hope of youth.
“For this is now no country for old men,
And still the agéd won’t give up their claim.
That generation still remembers when
It pointed fingers at, assigned the blame
For what was wrong to, others. That was then,
And now they find that they are just the same
As the corrupted who once led the masses:
They were the lions; now they are the asses.
“They thunder, ‘Build the wall. Let time stand still.
Pull up the drawbridge and hold back the tide.
Retreat into the bunker with your will,
Ensure thou art sufficiently supplied.
The end is nigh, the bells hath rung, the bill
Is due, and—lo!—the enemy’s outside.’
To us, these are the rants of the insane,
Yet Birnam wood must come to Dunsinane.”
So, Theseus. The King and Queen arise,
The howling man is ushered from the court.
The guests depart under the darkening skies,
Uneasiness has undermined their sport:
No happy ending or wondrous surprise,
Or tragic resolution to report.
Extinguished is the mansion of all light,
And curtains fall on that midsummer night.
Canto II: February 2019
Meanwhile, in Blighty, land of hope and glory,
Traditions, parties, institutions crumble.
The sausage-making has become more gory
Than even Bismarck could have dreamed of: tumbrel
And snare drum punctuate the age-old story
(Much clung to in the breach) that Brits may stumble,
But decency and honor will not fail:
It may be a close thing, but we’ll prevail.
Yet here we are, only a few brief weeks
Away from Brexit, and a more vile mess
You can’t imagine: every aspect reeks,
Infects, and sullies. In the gutter press
The editorialists part their arse cheeks
And dump their foul intestinal excess
Into the upturned mouths of those who read
To fill themselves with crap, not what they need.
Amidst Love Island’s bronzed and vapid dreamers,
X Factor wannabes, the WAGs, and fools
Who populate the tabloids, are the schemers
Who call Remainers “sell-outs,” “traitors,” “tools
Of Brussels.” These, the patriotic screamers,
Believe the English God and public schools
Will, freed from Europe’s heavy-handed yoke,
Regain their former glory—what a joke!
There’s Boris Johnson, clownish upper-cruster,
His rumpled suits and blond tresses askew.
He likes to imagine he’s a man you’d trust: a
Defiant, manqué Churchill, a true blue,
One Nation Tory, smug and full of bluster.
His deviousness and ineptness few
Would question. Yet, both lazy and affected,
He nonetheless thinks he should be respected.
Like his U.S. blond pal, he’s unashamed.
Like him, his private life’s a total mess.
Like him, he finds a way not to be blamed
For each debacle, faux pas, and distress
He causes folks. Like him, he can’t be tamed
By decency, hard work, or politesse.
This trumpery somehow gives him authority
With not an inconsiderable minority.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is clever, there’s no doubt.
He too has placed his bets that authenticity
Will over his old-fogeyness win out
Among the voters. English eccentricity,
Especially with toffs, still has some clout:
The tugging-forelock sort of class complicity,
That flatters you you can improve your station,
As long as old Etonians run the nation.
Nigel Farage and David Davis—prats
Who like to boast they’ve been around the block,
And know a thing or two—walk round like cats
Who’ve drunk huge vats of cream. Their poppycock
About how Brexit will mean bureaucrats
No longer will hold Britain back is chock-
A-block with balderdash, as if their rabble,
Could organize a single game of Scrabble.
Blokish insouciance and rank disdain,
Incompetent confusion and verbosity,
Have always been the methods of these vain
And superficial men. What a monstrosity
That they would sell the future just to gain
Political legs-up! What an atrocity
That people should consider them the leaders.
But then these fools are always lucky bleeders!
They’re always failing upward. Slick and trite,
Their preening sophistry passes for wit.
They love to claim they’re champions who will fight
For “ordinary people,” but they quit,
Or scatter like cockroaches in sunlight,
When someone calls them out for their horseshit.
Before long, they’re handed another post:
Their only task is who can screw up most!
Corbyn’s no better. Stubborn, uninspired,
And clinging on to power (just like May),
He’s likewise lost his party, which required
A leader who could lead. They both display
A bloody-mindedness mixed with the tired
Old nostrums of the Right and Left. The Day
Of Judgment will soon offer its conclusion:
These two were victims of their self-delusion.
As one, these vanguards and the self-appointed,
New-minted tribunes of the people spout
Their lies. It’s like they’re treble-jointed,
So freely they twist facts, turn inside out,
And flip things on their head. So, now anointed,
They fancy they stand on the last redoubt
Between a splendid future or great past,
Or vice versa. None of it will last.
It will not last because it is not true:
It once was—when world atlases ran pink,
Enforced by gunboats, industry, and new
Artillery that fired at each Chink
And Darkie who dared fight back. Very few
Would question “Free Trade” when they’re on the brink
Of slaughter, losing everything, addiction.
Since then, we British have enjoyed the fiction
That everywhere we went, roses were strewn
Before our feet. Benighted peoples wept
In joy at quoting Kipling. You would swoon
As well if you were obliged to be adept
At ceding cash, land, clout to each buffoon
Who aimed his gun and told you to accept
That being ruled was good for you. Their lot
Was to make sure Great Britain wasn’t forgot.
It didn’t last—empires must fade and fall:
Exhausted at defending every border,
Or lacking people who believe it all
(The altruistic humbug). Soon disorder
Invades the Motherland, begins to crawl
Across the shires and sleepy ’burbs, toward her
Most sacred sites. Then, in a conflagration,
The “project” is destroyed to save the nation.
Britain’s decline, of course, was more discreet:
Some lines drawn on a map, the lowered flags,
Royal salutes, the gathering of the fleet,
And tearful memsahibs packing their bags.
Or that’s the myth Brits tell themselves: the elite
They chose remained in charge to act as drags
On any persons who might have the thought
That they or their homeland could not be bought.
The fires that destroyed the British Pax
Were sparked in Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun,
Gallipoli, and Amritsar; the cracks
Widened by Mau Mau, Suez. One by one,
The ever-loyal subjects turned their backs
Upon the Empire upon which the sun
Would never set. Instead (an act of stealth),
The stolen-from now had the Commonwealth.
Remove the Commonwealth and the EU.
Within which the UK can strut the stage
And claim its status, what is left to view?
The UN and G7? I would wage
A bet that after Brexit very few
Among the sovereign states will care to gauge
Their deeds by what Great Britain says. The shift?
GB’s a little island, cast adrift.
The US knows it can command the heights
Of any new trade deal. The PRC
Likewise retains the upper hand. What rights
Or standards Brits may seek to guarantee,
Will be abandoned so the leading lights
Post-Brexit can inform the bourgeoisie
That, though each deal in truth is no great shakes,
They’re free at last to make their own mistakes.
Is this what people want—a throwback to
Grey fish and chips, stale crisps, bingo, warm ale?
Or pebble beaches, deckchairs, and beef stew;
And footie down the pub as you inhale
Smoke from the dying fag ends seeping through
Your clothes and hair? The Sun and Daily Mail
Injecting you with prudish prurience
Under the guise of “good old common sense”?
What really do the Brexiteers believe
Will signify the country’s Age of Gold?
Who’ll pick the crops or staff the wards, receive
The rude complaints, or wash the broken, cold,
And filthy toilets, hold the hand and grieve,
Or wipe the wrinkled bottoms of the old?
Who’ll fix the sink, stitch up the arrhythmic heart?
Who will repair what has been torn apart?
“Fear not!” (They say.) “We will bestride the earth!
A nimble, never-ending source of skill.
At first it may be tricky, as a dearth
Of fresh investment, low-cost labor, will
Mean businesses will close; the lowered worth
Of pounds and pence and property will chill
The already cool economy. But that pain,
Will merely make us truly strong again.
“That is the bulldog spirit: when confronted
With enemies who want to do us harm,
We’ve stood as one. Undaunted, we have blunted
The mightier powers, and without alarm,
Kept calm and carried on. Sure, we but stunted
Attacks until we could an ally charm
To fight for . . . we mean, with us. But that’s how
We always did it: Why start changing now?”
That was the case when troops fled from Dunkirk:
Britain was on the brink of being invaded.
Churchill hoped that his rhetoric would work
To buy time so the U.S. was persuaded
To join the war—or Hitler’d go berserk
And open up an Eastern Front. Hope faded
Through Forty-One until the German army
Launched Operation Barbarossa—barmy!
And when the Japanese attacked the Yanks—
Double relief! For now the Soviet power
And the U.S. could usefully send tanks
Against the Axis forces, and allow a
Beleaguered Britain to give tired thanks
For being saved at last. Though Eisenhower
And Zhukov had men and materiél,
They let the British play with them as well.
The trouble is that when the USA
And Soviets brought the Nazis to their knees,
The British thought that it was really they
Who pulled it off. “Excuse me, if you please,
Boris and Uncle Sam, you did OK,
But we were first. While you were ‘Let’s appease,’
By staying neutral or signing a pact
With Hitler, we spent two years being attacked.”
Once more, the myth of plucky little Britain
Punching above its weight was resurrected.
Once more, it claimed its “natural” right to sit in
The rooms where The Big Issues were dissected.
Once more, its “proper” place was underwritten
By how and what it spoke. And thus protected
By the US, the ashes of a past
Were blown upon and briefly glowed at last.
These were illusions. Many an Asian power
Is now resurgent; Russia sets its traps.
The Turks don’t care about their finest hour,
The French and Dutch and Germans deem Brits saps.
America retreats (its mood turned sour).
And while each John Bull type stands up and claps,
Reserves, investments, and assurance slip
Away without even a toodle pip.
Perhaps the Brits will hang out with the Swiss,
And claim the moral high ground, stay impartial,
And have great social services. But they’d miss
The chance to see brass bands, parades, and martial
Displays of the armed forces; take the piss
At “lesser” lands of the invaded. The harsh’ll
Declare that they’ve become the new Freedonia,
Allied with Iceland and North Macedonia.
Canto III: March 2019
Bob Mueller (he of stoical propriety)—
Whose silence speaks more fluently than Tweets;
Whose guarded manner and well-honed sobriety
For two long years have kept us in our seats;
Whose leak-proof counsel rebuffed notoriety,
The obloquy directed at elites,
And provocation—has reached the conclusion,
Regarding Russia: There was no collusion.
Or so we’re led to think by AG Barr,
A helmet-headed white man in a suit,
Like Mueller. All the news we know, so far,
Comes from his four-page letter. I’d dispute
The need to see the whole thing (re: Ken Starr),
But we need more than this to let the brute
Get off scot-free (or merely with a warning)
For inculpation, cheating, and suborning.
How rich it is that month in and month out,
Mueller has been belittled and defamed.
His public duty has been questioned; doubt
Been cast on his procedure; he’s been blamed
For each indictment he’s brought forth. The lout
Who’s done this? The guy who should be ashamed?
The head of state! The very man he scoffed at,
Is he to whom he should present a doffed hat.
Mueller is noncommittal on obstruction
(Or so we think), which means . . . well, I don’t know.
I guess one has to make one’s own deduction
Of what were questions, hints, or threats. Although
He mayn’t have ordered it, the blast and ruction
And the theatrical, absurd dumb show
He stages each time someone might suspect him,
Fools no one but those who want to protect him.
Moreover, he is so barefaced about it!
It’s not some master plan that he’s unrolling.
He doesn’t hide: in fact he loves to shout it
From highest rooftops. The disgusting trolling,
The winking, outrage, walk-backs leave no doubt it
Will never matter as long as the polling
Shows that his base thinks no one is above him,
And, what he really wants from them: they love him.
Consider, if you will, the Pharisees
Who thunder as the (a)Moral Majority.
They’ll cede his avarice and lust, the sleaze
And sloth, as long as it is his priority
To give them judges who will, by degrees,
Return them to what they deem God’s authority
Over the USA and its democracy,
By channeling a sinner’s rank hypocrisy.
At some point, virtue will be deemed a sin,
And modesty a weakness of the mind.
Abortion will be banned, unless you’re kin,
In which case . . . “Well, there’s someone we’ve assigned,
Who’ll ‘handle’ it.” As long as there is skin
Upon your dick, your creed won’t be maligned:
Unless, of course, your faith is up for capture:
For votes, arms sales, big money, or The Rapture.
Meanwhile, the thieving scum who raid the coffers
Where widows’ mites are dropped in humble trust,
Trawl dioceses looking for better offers
So they can join the reverent upper crust,
Who go to church to network. He who proffers
A tax-avoidance scheme is of the Just:
For lost sheep are best gathered by the priest;
Collected, they are handier to be fleeced.
And so the “pious” bow their heads and pray
That their portfolios and investments rise.
They call for peace for all, but ensure they
Allow the NRA to weaponize
Each citizen. “Earth is the Lord’s,” they say,
But they pollute the air, the seas, the skies.
They claim they hold a Reverence for Life,
And yet they thrive on death, conflict, and strife.
What saves us is his rank ineptitude,
His rigid, wounded, self-obsessed malignity.
In sum, he turns a win into a feud
And stamps upon the slender shoots of dignity
That had begun to sprout. He gets unglued
So easily that anyone’s benignity
(Should one bestow it) he’d consider bait.
How it must hurt to be so filled with hate!
By now, the assumption he causes commotion
To hide some brilliant, nefarious scheme
Does not obtain—the sort of helpless notion,
That in the anarchy detects a gleam
Of logic, and amid the self-devotion
Assumes he has a slightly bigger dream
Than ornamenting his self-advertisement,
His brand, his dynasty, and aggrandizement.
At some point, I imagine, the report
Will find its way (redacted) to the press.
We’ll get to read of sordidness—the sort
Of scuzzy deals and kickbacks that obsess
Good-governance types, but which are like sport
To ordinary voters. Their success
Is now so bound up with him that no sin
Carries a cost as long as each can win.
Indeed, what happened doesn’t really matter;
They don’t care if the Russians interfered.
High principle? The rule of law? Don’t flatter
Yourself that these things count: They disappeared
Decades ago. This superannuated satyr,
This self-important, fatuous Bluebeard,
Merely encapsulates the deviant norms
He throws aside in daily Twitter storms.
I thought that he’d be gone by now—I did:
I thought there’d be a pale to go beyond.
I thought that we would find a way to rid
Ourselves of him, or somehow we’d respond
More resolutely, or we’d slam the lid
Upon his silly rants; that he’d abscond
When his compadres were jailed or indicted,
Or fled his sad administration, blighted.
It’s not that he’s not done enough to prove
That he’s not fit for office, or has grown
In gravitas and aptitude. Each move
He’s made has carbonized or overthrown
Some obligation. It is still his groove
To hit down, mock, insult, betray, condone
Opprobrium upon the dead or living.
And yet he carries on without misgiving.
At every step, he’s been either supported
Or not condemned by leaders on the Right.
Either through silence or wildly contorted
Methods, they’ve sought to shuck their oversight
Responsibilities. They have cavorted
In their own cynicism, left a blight
On what remains of honor and restraint,
And ripped up decency as merely quaint.
But then right-wingers have always been rougher
Than any liberal. They love to claim
The so-called moral high ground: yet they’re tougher
On those who flirt with moderation; blame
The Left for each infraction; and then buffer
Their own for doing precisely the same
Or much, much worse. They have the unnerving knack
Of praising those they’re stabbing in the back.
His secret (though it isn’t really hidden)
Is that he doesn’t care (although he does);
He’ll do exactly what he wants, unbidden,
Since he adores the frenzy and the buzz.
Yet, like a mule, he’ll let himself be ridden
By stronger men, and relish it, because
He thinks by waiting on them idiotically,
He’ll ingest their respect and chops osmotically.
But then again, I could just be mistaken;
That, blinkered, like the press I’ve gone astray;
That every expectation is forsaken,
By verities that can’t be wished away.
One, is that faith in him will not be shaken
No matter what he does or he might say:
He’s tapped a primal, atavistic need
That won’t run dry, wherever it may lead.
A need for someone tough who will take charge;
Who’ll make you feel you’re special, and you’re right.
Someone who’s not afraid to live life large;
And hint you could, too, if you stand and fight.
A man who’s in your corner, who will barge
His way up to the front; and take delight
In shocking others, simply as a joke;
Who’s filthy rich, although he’s always broke.
Who cares if he is rude, knocks heads, breaks rules?
An omelet requires broken eggs.
The folks in Washington are simply fools
Who think they’re smart, when they are just the dregs.
He’s doing what he said. He ridicules
Both parties for their pompousness; which begs
The question: “Why’s it he who’s C-in-C?”
May in fact be, “Why didn’t they pick me?”
And that is that. The invective and the crowing
Are surface noise his fan-base disregard,
Like boos and hisses at a game. The throwing
Of pointed slights is fun. It’s no holds barred;
This ain’t beanball or crochet. Elbowing
And counterpunching are part of the hard,
Essential strategies of politics:
“You grow your carrots; we will keep the sticks.”
As long as the economy keeps humming,
And people feel their interests are protected
(They say), then may the swagger keep on coming,
The shamelessness is what got him elected.
If the Establishment can’t take the scrumming
Then let them leave the field of play, ejected.
We want a boss who’ll do the dirty work,
So what if he’s a narcissistic jerk?
Thus, his supporters: How to contradict them?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter what they think.
They clearly don’t believe that he has tricked them,
Or that he is a toady and a fink.
Of Democrats, they love that he has licked them
When they assumed that they were on the brink
Of having him impeached. He’s stronger now
Than ever; he’s defeated them—and how!
And yet, as much as he is vindicated,
The Southern District of New York awaits.
His businesses are being investigated
And he might still sail into dire straits.
He might find he is not as insulated
From past behaviors or former Playmates
As he had thought. These might not be impeachable,
But no one’s trust or fortress is unbreachable.
He will conclude that the report’s a sign
That he’s untouchable. He’ll fret and stew
About the enemies and traitors, whine
Some more, and then hotheadedly pursue
A policy that Democrats assign
As their main goal next year to attend to:
His triumph barely lasted one full day,
Before he told Barr, “Kill the ACA.”
With one rash comment, like Bela Lugosi
The ACA fight rose up from the dead:
A move that must have thrilled Nancy Pelosi,
Now that impeachment has been put to bed.
His team of strategists aren’t virtuosi
(Each a.m., they must check Twitter with dread).
The GOP must now pretend a “plan”
For healthcare can be found to please the man.
In some ways we are lucky the report
Was published when it was. It means there’s time
For Democrats to say “amen,” and sort
Priorities and candidates (the slime
Will be thrown soon enough). The Supreme Court
And climate change, much more than any crime
He may have done, should occupy attention
(And other policies that I could mention).
Beyond that, it is vital the campaign
Is not waylaid by who is “woke” enough.
What matters is what truly is germane
Without the interference of the stuff
That’s catnip to the Right. You may complain
That candidates aren’t perfect: but, well . . . tough!
I swear I’ll wrap my hands around the throat
Of any purist who won’t deign to vote.
So, let’s get real. Focus on the prize,
And let the bawling baby suck his lolly!
Right now he’s riding high, but my surmise
Is that he’s never very far from folly.
Consider this a blessing in disguise:
Buck up! Stand tall! Be rid of melancholy!
The list of candidates is still expanding;
They’ll make their cases while he is grandstanding.
The next few months, I may devote to them—
Perhaps explore their policy positions.
I’ve had enough of fury, gasps, and phlegm.
Indeed, I need to restock my munitions
(Poetic that is), mount each apothegm,
To be deployed in forthcoming editions.
It looks, dear friends, as though there will be more:
I’ve now resigned myself to a Book Four.
Canto IV: April 2019
Mueller’s report has landed with a thud
Upon the tender body of the state.
I thought it would, at least, have spilled some blood,
Or brought the axe down on his addled pate.
Instead of fireworks, it is a dud!
Met by a people wearied by the fate
To which they’ve been consigned: for it appears,
That he will win another four more years.
I’m not myself: forgetful, fraught, distracted,
I’m wandering around as in a daze.
What do the bits say that have been redacted?
Will Mueller testify and so rephrase
His statements to declare the villain acted
Against the law—and in so many ways?
Will he point to a pathway to remove him?
Or will he cave and modestly reprove him?
Distraught, I fall into a fever dream.
I call to mind the ghost of Maureen Dowd,
Whom I evoked in Hades. A bright stream
Of light dazzles my squinting eyes. Aloud,
I question, “Is it you—whom I esteem
For your honest appraisal; who’s not wowed
By the elite’s consensus, and who shows
What’s happening under my very nose?”
“Good grief, not you again!” moans Madame Mo.
“I thought I’d made the situation clear
When you annoyed me two long years ago.
I said back then that you would have to peer
Out of a different fishbowl, Martin Rowe.
You’d have to reach beyond your social sphere
And learn some lessons from those whom you scorned.
If you did not . . . you can’t say you weren’t warned.
“Can’t you see that in the great scheme of things
Mueller’s report is but a hefty tome:
A fantasy—like sorcerers and kings;
As relevant as life in Ancient Rome?
Call him a puppet; ask who pulls the strings:
All you are doing is blowing the foam
Off your soy latte. Robert Mueller’s case
Is something that will never move his base.
“Why should it? Job growth at an all-time high,
Inflation low, and wages rising, too!
Who cares if he occasionally tells a lie?
The underlying truth is that they knew
Damn well his faults, and just what kind of guy
He was, before the presidency. Few
Would make it in New York without being tough:
He’d fight for them—and that was quite enough.
“So what if he is callous, calls folks names?
We’ve all from time to time been sluts and dicks.
They understand DC’s not fun and games,
And their man knows how every dirtbag ticks.
He makes them feel good, usefully reframes
Each battle into ‘us’ v. ‘them.’ He kicks
Harder when he is kicked—they like that style:
The more he does, the more he makes them smile.
“The liberals are so easily incensed,
So quick to jump on chairs when they see mice!
The social justice warriors rail against
The ordinary things that give life spice.
They call them racist, sexist: they’ve dispensed
Their judgment without ever thinking twice
About shoes that they’ve never had to walk in:
And yet they will be talkin’, talkin’, talkin’.
“That’s why despite each Twitter eructation,
The toadying, the coarseness, and profanity;
In spite of each amoral calculation,
The obfuscation, faux outrage, inanity,
The pettiness, the brigandage, and vanity:
The attempt to try him won’t go very far
Not while, as AG, he has William Barr.
“How useful William Barr is to the bully:
The suit that covers his naked ambition;
The sheep whose coat is thick enough and wooly
To hide the predatory politician;
The mouth that swallows his ejaculations fully
And licks his lips at each nightly emission!
What better servant than this owlish flunky?
The organ-grinder has his dancing monkey.
“Barr’s sanitized each blatant execration,
Has flushed away his verbal diarrhea,
Whitewashed each criminal abomination,
And at each sin chanted Ave Maria.
He nonchalantly flaunts his cooptation
As if obstruction was a great idea,
The exercise of which (his one regret),
Was that he hadn’t thought to do it yet.
“But now he knows: there are no consequences.
True hucksters won’t be hauled across the coals.
The con men, frauds, and fiddlers of expenses,
Won’t be denied the chance to reach their goals.
No matter the misconduct or offenses,
They need not worry: for when the bell tolls
They’ll know it’s not for them. There’s no last straw:
For they’ve decided they’re above the law.
“Why be concerned with decency or candor
When you can fool a sucker every minute?
Why tell the truth when obloquy and slander
Is the whole ball game—and can help you win it?
When each Autolycus, Oswald, and Pandar
Is licensed to play morons like a spinet,
Why care for custom, principle, restraint?
It’s only losers who’ve a patron saint.
“He’d swore that he’d uphold the constitution.
But no one cares if he obeys the law:
A job and cash will hold off prosecution
Whether in DC or in Arkansas.
‘Keep them distracted’—that’s been the solution
For robbers and magicians. ‘Then withdraw
Whatever you can get away with.’ Reason?
Dissimulation’s the handmaid of treason.
“The trick, of course, is to ensure some minion
Is there to take the fall when they get near you.
As long as your court of public opinion
Holds someone weaker, someone who will fear you,
Someone more venal, over whom dominion
Can easily be had—then, while crowds cheer you,
Those peons go to prison for your sins:
Thus, everybody (but the lapdog) wins.
“For what is loyalty? Why have a code?
Like Falstaff, you’re concerned with Number One!
The noblest soul on whom the gods bestowed
Their grace and favor: show them how much fun
That could be had if they simply borrowed
From your old playbook, and they’d up and run
To catch some of the action: No sagacity
Can ever match the attraction of salacity.”
“Should Democrats try for impeachment, then?
Or would it merely mobilize the base?”
I ask. “Do you think that a few good men
Within the Senate could turn, and erase
The shame that grips the nation? In the den
Of vipers is there honor—just a trace—
Within the G.O.P.? Or is it plain
That it evaporated with McCain?”
“I wouldn’t bet on them,” she says. “There’s Mitt,
But there’s no evidence he’s grown a spine—
Perhaps Mike Lee, Ben Sasse. . . . Yes, I admit,
They’re not profiles in courage. There’s no sign
That Collins or Murkowski will commit,
And all the rest are his. The steep decline
Can be measured by Lindsay Graham’s hokum;
Sometimes I think I simply want to choke him.
“He’s got them by the balls, and they all know it.
He squeezes them and they sing like a choir.
Their tactics (or whatever) are to show it
Is all a feint and that the real liar
Is Clinton (Mrs.); and what lurks below it,
Is that rogue agents planned (and still conspire)
To undermine and terminate his sway:
And they will make this claim day after day.
“I’ve been around DC for three decades,
I’ve seen the petty hatreds come and go.
Most of them are a version of charades:
The fury false, the righteousness for show.
But Bill and Hill . . . man, all the fusillades
The G.O.P. has launched at them; the low
Things they’ve accused them of—it’s an affliction,
Obsession that’s morphed into an addiction.
“And, yes, the Clintons—sloppy and hedonic—
Have stoked the ire, thrown on tons of fuel.
But they bring out the frankly histrionic
In rightists, whether Brahmin or cesspool.
One reason for their fury (so ironic!)
Is that they know the Clintons can be cruel:
As tough, unyielding, ruthless in the field
As them—and that, like them, they will not yield.
“Their hate, is, thus, a perverse admiration:
A sense that in these two they’ve met their match.
Lacking ideas and charm, their inspiration
Was to find one birthed in the Clintons’ patch:
A showman, one who could be the fixation
Of media types, and who’d easily hatch
Conspiracies and memes, and die-hard fans:
Let ‘Clinton’ beat Clinton—such genius plans!
“Well, that’s my theory. Nothing justifies
How keen he was to perjure and obstruct.
If it was anybody else . . . the flagrant lies,
The filth that daily pours from his bile duct
Into the state. . . . I truly sympathize
With those who think, in principle, we’re fucked
Unless we draw the line and take a stand:
No one’s above the law in this fair land.
“But principles won’t win in Twenty-Twenty,
And decency won’t earn a single vote.
Don’t ever listen to the cognoscenti
(Like me): we always sound the same old note.
What is your plan to guarantee that plenty
Of the Obama lot who switched, or wrote
Him off as weak, come back into the fold?
Now let me go, please—this is getting old.”
She vanishes, and I am left alone:
Alone to think about what she has said.
Have we completely every option blown,
And is impeachment really, truly, dead?
Won’t somebody step up with a backbone
And venture where Republicans won’t tread?
And dare we hope enough of us remember
All that he’s done (and not done) come November?
O Robert Mueller, what have you denied us,
By so completely pulling all your punches?
With what enchantments you could have supplied us:
Like petals falling from the sky in bunches,
Or Schadenfreude welling up inside us,
Or such delights that three-martini lunches
Supply? You could have landed us in clover,
By telling us his presidency was over.
Of course, I don’t mean you’d have been so crass
To shout, “You’re just a crook, a stooge, a thief!”
I didn’t think you’d spank him on the ass,
Or raise your middle finger to the Chief,
Or turn, unbelt your pants, and expel gas.
But, as per Clint Eastwood with Lee Van Cleef,
I thought as Blondie you would grab the prize,
By finally dispatching Angel Eyes.
Instead (God damn your civilized sobriety!),
You showed how Russia treated us as fools.
You enumerated every impropriety,
And how his operation broke the rules.
You laid out how, in infinite variety,
He got all those who worked for him (the mules
Who did his dirty work) to go and lie for him:
He thought they’d love nothing more than to die for him.
It isn’t over. The investigations
Of his whole rotten empire are advancing:
Subpoenas for his taxes, fabrications,
And all the filthy lucre in financing
His sordid schemes, skirting of regulations,
And all the bluster, pimping out, and prancing.
Perhaps a shaft of light will break the gloom,
And lead the man quite rightly to his doom.
Until then, we’ve two-dozen Democrats
Running to take his place. Each has their gift
And it is early, but so many hats
In just one ring seems bonkers, and short shrift
Will likely soon be made of them. And that’s
Too bad: so, just before their all-too-swift
Departure from the scene, I’ll take the time
To ponder on their candidacy in rhyme.
Canto V: May 2019
Bring on the cavalcade of candidates,
The moderates, the leftists, in-betweeners;
The famous, unknown, and those whom the Fates
Determine should be taken to the cleaners.
I greet you all: for one, the glory waits;
The rest of you, either old misdemeanors
Or new mistakes will cause you to withdraw
Before we’ve even found your fatal flaw!
Another hat is tossed into the ring,
A gauzy video appears online.
A guy or gal for whom “Of Thee I Sing”
Refers to them—who’s been bestowed a sign
That points them to the White House, who will bring
Integrity back. . . . Then, a valentine
To family, America, and God.
And off to Iowa they gamely plod.
You’ve clearly got to be a tad demented
To think that you’re the one to beat the rest.
You give a thousand speeches in a rented
Hall and gymnasium; present your best
To the ten people in the room (augmented
By several staffers), have your moist flesh pressed
At countless meet-and-greets at county fairs,
Where no one knows what you have done, or cares.
The same old stump speech, endless photo-ops;
The babies spitting up on your two suits.
The fixed grin on your face, the whistle-stops
At factories and union halls; old coots
Who can’t hear what you say; the shameful sops
To local issues, countless flag salutes—
The flummery of the red, white, and blue:
When all you want is to say something true.
You analyze the horse race and the polls,
(Who’s up, who’s down, who’s new, who’s growing old):
You parse them like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Consultants tell you not to be too bold;
Don’t scare the voters; smile; ignore the trolls.
You wash your hands, but you can’t shake the cold
You caught in Concord. Yet you gird each loin
To head to Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
They whoop and holler when you stand on stage.
You tell them you will pay off student loans.
You say that there should be a living wage,
And detail your plan for empowerment zones.
Conjure the future, evoke a Golden Age—
Each way, they wave their signs, hold up their phones.
You ask them to cough up or volunteer;
They shake their heads and then they disappear.
It must be that adrenaline kicks in,
To fool you in imagining you’ll do it.
You tell yourself that someone has to win;
You have a chance as long as you stick to it.
You call the donors, half-believe your spin,
Hope that your spouse will somehow suffer through it,
And pray that one by one they fold before you,
And then, you mutter, they cannot ignore you.
You try to still the inner voice that sighs,
Perhaps I’ll land Interior, even State—
Or at the least a pundit job. You’ll rise
Within the party, be a heavyweight
Who’ll have the clout to choose . . . maybe the prize
Will be yours next time, or you could dictate
Terms to the winner. . . . Concentrate, you rasp:
Success this round still could be in your grasp.
So, in the circumstances, I salute you,
I wouldn’t do it, even if I could.
Of course, if you hold on, simply to suit you
Or your big donors, long after you should
Just step away, then I might have to shoot you!
It wouldn’t do the party any good
To have the spoilers take up precious space.
We need to focus on the national race.
There’s twenty-three of you (at time of writing),
I can’t even recall some of your names.
At this stage, should we choose someone exciting,
And risk it that they might go down in flames?
Or should we opt for someone less inviting
Who might be practiced at playing the games
You need to win? Jujitsu and hardball,
Boxing and chess: you have to know them all!
Let’s start with ingénue Pete Buttigieg
(One of the several candidates I’ll mention).
If nothing else, his name gives him an edge,
Or, at the least, had placed him in contention,
And offered his campaign a chance to fledge,
Before he stalled in his rapid ascension.
His wonderful iambic nomenclature
Suggests his is a true poetic nature.
He likes to roll his sleeves up, does Mayor Pete,
Speaks several languages—even Norwegian!
On most days, you’d walk by him on the street,
Yet his outstanding aptitudes are legion.
He plays the piano; is a vet; is neat,
Well-groomed, polite; and hails from a region
The Democrats will need to win next year,
Or hopes of beating him will disappear.
Pete’s problem may be not that he is gay,
Or Christian (or not Christian enough).
It’s not that he can’t handle an affray,
Or that he doesn’t know how to act tough.
The old dogs may not yet have had their day,
But though he’s young, he’s not a piece of fluff.
It’s that his decency won’t match a man
Who’ll be the Death Star to his Alderaan.
Right now, his tractor-beams are orientated
On Mueller, and ensuring that his tax
Returns are not subpoena’d . . . or located;
His shady deals, dodges, illegal acts,
And other “dark side” stuff, and the related
Malfeasance, are kept hidden lest the cracks
In his façade at last begin to open
(That’s what I am reduced to finding hope in).
Like Luke, Pete Buttigieg may have schematics,
And might locate the exhaust port to the core!
He’ll trust the Force (as well as aerobatics)
And make sure that this evil man no more
Can end life on this planet. The fanatics
(The drones and clones and troopers) may adore
His malice, but this lord may meet his end
Confronting the young mayor of South Bend.
It may take someone out of Indiana
(Who isn’t Pence), and just a little corny;
Unlike Lola at the Copacabana
(A washed-up showgirl) or that louche and horny,
Weird Uncle Fester, he’s Americana:
No flimflam, nothing X-rated or porn-y.
It’s like out of the dung has bloomed this flower:
I hope he’ll not be plucked within the hour.
Of course, we have that glad-hander Joe Biden,
Who forms a kind of contrast with that stinker.
Joe is the sort of guy you could confide in,
Although he may not be the deepest thinker.
We know he’s prone to gaffes, and he’s a dyed-in-
The-wool insider, a hook-line-and-sinker,
Been-there, done-that safe choice. It’s true, he’s tested:
But are we sure that he cannot be bested?
For in the end, they’re not so far apart,
These vain, old white guys, full of their baloney.
They have no trouble holding court: they start
And don’t shut up. If someone says, “You’re phony!”
They sulk. As far they’re concerned, they’re smart
And must be heard—part of their patrimony.
When will that generation cede the podium?
Why do they crave the stage and our odium?
And then there’s Bernie, running once again,
His videos fill up my Facebook feed.
We know what he stands for—he makes it plain—
And much of it is clearly what we need
(A simple health-care system, to constrain
The malefactors of great wealth): a creed
That’s true now as it ever was. However,
I’m just not certain of Bernie’s endeavor.
He’s so one-noted, only bread and butter:
The pocketbook, and all that it contains.
Each sentence is attended by a splutter
(Of outrage, doubt, or the half-chewed remains
Of what he ate that morning). He’s no nutter—
And yet four years of the discordant strains
Of Flatbush Avenue within my ears
Would almost certainly bring me to tears.
The fact that Bernie thrives on discontent,
Of grievance that you cannot get ahead,
Because the undeserving and the bent
Have rigged the system and left you for dead,
Echoes too closely what this president
Loves to lay on elites and the well-read:
I’d like to hope injustice is defeated
Without requiring grudges be reheated.
More dulcet, with a voice that’s modulated,
Senator Warren was the first to jump in
The contest. She’s less superannuated
Than Joe, Bernie (or him), but any bump in
Her popularity was adumbrated
When she claimed she was Cherokee. She’ll stump in
Each hamlet from Fitzwilliam to Lyme,
But he’ll shout “Pocahontas!” every time.
She, too, avows that she will drain the swamp
And hold the upper classes to the fire.
On graft, racism, and perfidy she’ll stomp,
And (unlike him) she will not be a liar.
Like Bernie, she’ll dispense with any pomp
And unlike 45, she’ll be a trier.
And yet I sense she lacks the common touch:
And when she tries, she tries a bit too much.
I like Kamala Harris; she is tough.
She’s laser-like when she’s prosecutorial;
She moves quite well between the smooth and rough,
Is sharp and bright but not too professorial.
I hope she doesn’t lose her nerve, or cuff
Her acid shrewdness. Since time immemorial
A clever woman has been deemed a threat,
I’d hope that, this time, we will not forget.
Now New York City’s mayor’s running, too.
He was my city councilmember once.
I’ve voted for him several times, in lieu
Of someone more exciting. He’s no dunce;
He faced much opposition from those who
Never forgave his chutzpah or his bunce
In beating Christine Quinn, who should have won—
And would have but for the Afro of his son.
That’s only six so far! For Gillibrand
Also from New York’s in, as if another
New York contender is in great demand
From every voter and his/her grandmother!
There’s Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, and
Tim Ryan, Julian Castro (not his brother),
John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar,
And still I’ve not yet finished—not by far!
I’d let them have a decent shake, withhold
My judgment, ponder on their policies.
IMHO, the end’s not been foretold,
And every one of them has expertise.
But by the time my vote comes round, in cold
And cruel April, only memories
Of moments in the limelight will remain:
He sounds familiar. . . . Who was she again?
Of course, the great exception to the rule,
Is he who now presides over us all.
A mass of candidates; an obvious tool;
A craven press in salivating thrall
To conflict; social media adding fuel
To stoke the blaze of discord and appall
The center, stirring up enough suspicion
To arm the Right with still more ammunition.
He also modeled swinging for the fence,
Eschewing lower office for the top.
He ran without fear of the consequence,
Because, in losing, he would simply swap
His failure for more wealth—a recompense
With which he was familiar. For each flop
That has defined his gilded life has led
Invariably to him earning more bread.
We’ve learned that for a decade in the eighties
And nineties, he squandered a billion clams.
Meanwhile, he claimed that he earned bucks with great ease
And was the most successful. Sure, at scams
And bullshit, he’s the best; the everyday tease
On what he’ll do he’s master of; the slams
And insults over Twitter—there’s no better.
It’s also true: he is the greatest debtor.
No one’s lost more and yet has gained so much;
No one unrulier has more obligation.
No one has more depended on the crutch
Of family wealth, and yet his affectation
Is someone self-made. One who hates to touch,
Somehow has fondled almost half the nation,
Convincing them that he’s a common man,
Who lost a billion in a ten-year span.
Canto VI: June 2019
Canadian photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur visited Thailand in early 2019 to document what occurs in slaughterhouses there. On June 11, 2019, the Guardian ran a story about the conditions for the animals. McArthur took the photo (below) of a pig in a factory farm in Spain in 2009. It is entitled “The Pig I Hope Is Dead,” because, as she says in her book We Animals, “By now, several years after I took the photograph, this pig is almost certainly dead—as are most if not all of her children, whether male or female. My hope is that she died soon afterward, so she couldn’t experience any more pain or loss.” These photos are used with permission of We Animals Media. In May, the United Nations issued a report on mass species extinction. This reality is reflected in the second half of this canto.
A man raises a club above his head,
Gripped like a baseball bat before the thwack:
His muscles taut, the weight and light are spread
Across his shoulder blades and down his back.
Three other men, one of them wearing red,
Await the mortal, unconditional crack
Upon the bony temples of a boar
Sprawled on all fours upon the slickened floor.
The soccer shirts worn by the two young men
Hint that a subtler game is found elsewhere.
It’s true the pigskins sprawled within the pen
Are also easily kicked. Perhaps each share
A wish to find a field. But they, again,
Discover they are trapped in a nightmare
That only lets them briefly dream of pleasure,
Before they mark the beat of the last measure.
The ocher, russet, brown, orange, and peach
Contrasted with the teal, blue, black, and gray,
Evoke the autumnal colors of a beech
Against a painted barn, the soft decay
Of leaves upon the soil; with hope that each
Will be replaced with life another day,
When spring returns. This fall displays a fall
That won’t see one life be reborn at all.
An older man is naked to the waist;
His flaccid arms and belly hang in space;
The biceps sag (for age won’t be erased).
His nipples droop; beard-stubble lines his face.
He seems a man who’s no longer in haste
To force what will inevitably take place.
He’s on the brink of leaving it behind—
His only contact with this? Bacon rind.
This man clutches a crimson metal bowl,
The knife in his left hand expects its turn.
The humans are impassive, for the goal
Of sanctioned executioners is to spurn
Emotion lest it flood the withered soul.
No matter if the stomach starts to churn:
The greasy bludgeon, wet with soap and brine,
Must come down hard upon resisting swine.
The pig opens his mouth and starts to scream;
The notched ears twitch; the eyes close up in pain.
Beneath his torso froths a bloody stream
From which he tries to scramble up: the stain
And scars upon his flank; the wrinkled seam
Of hocks as hooves slip on the concrete drain.
And through the doorway, glimpses of the rest,
Who of their lives will soon be dispossessed.
This animal, like millions done to death
In abattoirs and shambles round the globe,
Is one whose parting, terminated breath
Follows a blow across the frontal lobe,
And then the cut. Of course, the shibboleth
For “happy meat” eater or xenophobe
Is Western stun and bolt guns will allay
The agony: their ending “one bad day.”
Yet is not this dispatch more honest, truer
About what we believe or think is right?
Aren’t each of us a dulled, indifferent viewer
To violence that happens in our sight?
Don’t we imagine we’re not a wrongdoer
When we let someone else put out the light?
For when has mercy ever counter-weighted
The pounds of flesh that leave us satiated?
The barrels fill with offal everywhere;
The smells and stains seep into every skin.
The piss and shit are something that we share
Whether we’re blessed, luckless, or drenched in sin.
Confronted with mortality, we scare
As much as those we deem supper or kin.
For in the end, when this brief race is run,
We are alone; we will die one by one.
The sow sits on the stone and metal grate;
She’s barely old enough to birth her young.
Her world was, is, and will be this (a state
Of absolute confinement)—one among
Millions of others just like her await
Each litter stolen, until she is swung
By shackled legs, stunned, and her throat is slit:
Only her passing puts a stop to it.
How is it better that this sentient being
Is trapped within a filthy, barren cage,
Her babies taken from her? Is not seeing
Her brutal (non-)existence how we assuage
The guilt that gnaws at us? How very freeing
It is in this postmodern carnist age
To trust that industry and laws will keep
Us from the facts, ensure a good night’s sleep!
And so, conveniently, conveyer belt,
Electric prod, hoist, knockbox, scalding tank,
The depilators, strippers of each pelt,
And those who scythe each breast, back, rump, and shank,
And toss the innards of each beast who knelt
And begged for mercy—these we have to thank
For letting us bow heads and carve a slice,
In honor of God and their sacrifice.
Each minute, tens of thousands are suspended,
Their bodies disassembled at kill stations.
Each minute, just as many lives are ended
In unremitting mass eviscerations.
Each minute, our conscience is defended
By too convenient self-justifications
That, as we have the gift of personhood,
All that we do to them is rendered good.
This slaughter started before his election
And will continue after he’s been fired.
He is no worse or better; his deflection
No shallower or deeper; his acquired
Palate as opportune as a cross-section
Of ordinary folks. Only we tired
And irritating vegans break the peace,
In calling for the awfulness to cease.
Much worse for me are those who dare to claim
How much they love the animals they harm;
How deeply they respect them, how they name
Each one of them, and try not to alarm
Them as they load them onto trucks. No blame
Should ever be leveled at how they farm.
They brought them into life to celebrate it;
And they have every right to terminate it.
Or those who sigh the planet must be fed;
That life is cruel, or to each his own,
And other bunkum—as if the massed dead
Weren’t eating up the grain and soy that’s grown,
Producing waste that fouls the watershed,
Releasing odors and emissions. Moan
All you may want about agro-ecology,
But don’t deny you owe them an apology.
We made this sordid, excremental vision;
We chose these horrors, prearranged the pyre:
Each killing a deliberate decision,
Another body added to the fire.
Each second, a precisely willed incision,
Another corpse is tossed into the fryer.
And thus we pass the minutes on this earth,
And thus we quantify material worth.
But animals are leaving us. Their traces
Are disappearing from each mountain pass.
The species are deserting empty spaces,
And no more trails wend through the prairie grass.
No salmon follow scents back to the places
Where they were spawned; nor does a swirling mass
Of birds collect in autumn to fly forth;
And in the spring not one will journey north.
The animals are leaving us. Sharp eyes
No longer narrow in the underbrush.
The evenings fall silent; when the skies
Lighten, few songs or chirrups break the hush.
The anthills are abandoned; butterflies
Fail to pupate, and pollen’s fragrant blush
No longer coats the bees nor feeds a hive:
There are not any more of them alive.
The animals are leaving us. They’ve known
For centuries the outlines of their fate
At our hands. They’ve mourned the whitened bone,
Caressed the wounded skin, taken the bait
And gnawed their limbs off to escape. Each lone
Zoo prisoner has paced his tiny crate
And hoped for that day when the way was clear
To leave the stares behind and disappear.
The animals are leaving us. They’ve seen
What will come to us all—and very soon.
They’ve felt the ice melt under them, the green
Savanna turn to ash, and blue lagoon
Clog with effluent, plastic, or benzene.
They’ve felt the oceans change. The beaches strewn
With garbage, where they once prepared their nest,
Became the graveyards where they come to rest.
The animals are leaving us—departed
Before we even knew that they existed:
The organisms whom we hadn’t charted,
Whose fate we did not know, yet who’d persisted
Through age upon age; who’d swum, slunk, crept, darted,
Burrowed, or floated on the air, unlisted.
Why would one choose human signification,
When one would face instant annihilation?
The animals are leaving us. They’ve read
The writing on the wall. The gristly meat
That rots in heedless jaws; the vein that’s bled
So liberally; the license to mistreat;
The trophies stuffed and mounted, head by head;
The babies ripped from mom’s lactating teat—
They’ve understood too well what will await them.
They recognize how vehemently we hate them.
And so they’re leaving us. The soundless seas
Will soon contain no fish, while the crustaceans,
Shell-less, will die off, too. No winter freeze
Will shape the icecaps; and the island nations
Will sink into the depths. Boreal trees
Will desiccate and burn, while permutations
Of temperatures will increase till the heat
Will lead to people dying on the street.
And so they’re leaving us. Why stick around
To feel our fury’s enervated gasp?
Why stay to watch who’s saved and who is drowned,
Whose fingers let slip an enfeebled grasp?
Why gloat when bloated bodies form the ground
Upon which other humans stand, to rasp
Their own cessation? Why stay and exalt?
When all are gone, then there’s no one to fault.
And so they’re leaving us to walk unheard
Through cinders, cracked beds, each forsaken city,
Reciting how such human-ness conferred
A special suffering, a unique pity;
How, as in the beginning with the Word,
So at the end: the epitaphs are witty.
But at what moment will we realize
No one’s survived to admire this demise?
No one to soothe the loss, or justify us.
No “other” who can tell us who we are.
No one who can with tenderness supply us,
No gentler kin or kind than us by far.
No one who hasn’t been extinguished by us
On this late planet, third closest its star.
No creature who stirs the imagination;
No one to mourn us after the cremation.
Another pig is brought onto the floor,
Shrieks pouring from her mouth. Her ululation—
Frantic, despairing, unanswered: “What for?”
She cries, “What crime? What is the allegation
That’s brought me to this place? When did the war
Begin against us? And what provocation
Did I stir up that you should thus betray me,
Beat me into unconsciousness, and slay me?
“Why persecute us? How have we offended
That you should handle us with such disdain?
We could have just as easily befriended
Each other, helped each other meet the strain
Of aging. We, together, could have ended
The dissonance that occupies your brain:
You tell yourselves that you’re not cruel men,
Yet you love harming, again and again.”
Her lamentation stops: phlegm fills her throat;
Her eyes roll up; her legs buckle and fold.
The club comes down once more. In the remote
Recesses of our minds, where lies the old
Fiction that we are good, might we devote
A passing thought to she whose death, foretold,
Portends the passing of the oldest teachers,
And us—the murderers of other creatures?
Canto VII: July 2019
Last month, my valet Jeeves, the goodly swain,
Brought me the morning pick-me-up he brews—
Some rare distilment that each dulled membrane
Drinks in like nectar, sparking every fuse,
Lending some vim and vigor to each vein.
Once I had quaffed, I hailed the man: “What news?”
Steepling his hands, he said: “I dare to say
That we have seen the last of Mrs. May.”
“Good Lord!” I utter. “You mean the P.M.?”
“I do, sir.” “What the old girl is no more?
She’s pushing up the daisies? Swallowed phlegm
Just once too often? Reached the other shore?
Cashed in her chips?” He gives a brief ahem:
“She has not died, sir. Rather, on that score,
Her exit’s less dramatic, you will find,
Than your conceit would warrant: she’s resigned.”
Now, normally, such news would cause grown chaps
To gasp and call their brokers or imbibe
One of the stronger brews. But then, perhaps,
We live in such strange times that to describe
A day at Westminster and jotting scraps
And bon mots on the state no longer jibe
With a reality that’s more absurd
Than any for which one can find a word.
Not that I wasn’t sad for her, mind you.
It’s obvious that she was trying hard.
I’m not much of a worker, it is true,
But even I could see that she’d been scarred
By carrying on with what she had to do,
Surrounded by mudslinger and blowhard,
Assailing her as Dr. Moriarty—
And those were just the members of her party!
I cinch my robe. “Well, frankly, I don’t blame her.”
I take another snootful of the snifter.
“It isn’t that I’m eager to defame her
Or say ‘I told you so.’ I think they stiffed her—
Pretending that they weren’t trying to shame her,
Or sabotaging her so they could shift her.
A bigger bunch of boobs, I never knew:
And as you aware, I’ve met a few.”
“She was, indeed, ‘more sinned against than sinning.’”
“One of your own?” “I fear not, sir: the Bard—
King Lear.” “The sort of show that leaves you grinning?”
“The tragedy is held in high regard
But mirth is rarely present from beginning
To end: I find Cordelia’s death quite hard
To take.” An eyebrow rises just a tad:
Emotion almost overwhelms the lad.
“I mean, Theresa could have learned a thing
Or two from Bingo Little, Freddie Widgeon,
And other Drones: a way to take the sting
Out of the tide of history; a smidgeon
Of carefree derring-do; a touch of zing—
Instead of making duty your religion,
And strong-and-stable nonsense that she spouted:
It’s no surprise the Tories were all routed.
“Bingo’s a dodo, but he is a brick;
Freddie’s an ass, but loyal to a fault.
They won’t surprise you, and what’s more they’ll stick
With you through good and bad times. Their gestalt
Is to put back the chum in chump. They’re thick,
But tons of fun: no angst or thunderbolt
Of insight or conviction will alarm you;
And that’s a guarantee that they’ll not harm you.”
“A most intriguing thesis. Are you implying
That this prime minister would have succeeded
If she’d been stupider?” “Well, Jeeves, I’m trying
To say that, on occasion and as needed,
It helps to be a good old boy. Relying
On Queen and Country somberness, as she did,
Turns off regular punters. They’ll support
Someone who seems that they’re a jolly sort.”
“Well, in that case, sir, you will like the man
Who’s been elected to replace the leader.
He wears his learning very lightly, can
Be guaranteed to mock the earnest, cede a
Statistic for a joke, and blithely fan
Some bigotry to amuse the casual reader.
Compared to him, you’ll find Mr. Fink-Nottle
Resembles not a newt, but Aristotle.”
“You talk of Boris Johnson, do you Jeeves?”
“I do indeed, sir.” “Well, we’re up the creek,
And no mistake about it. Who conceives,
Apart from him, that he’s the bloke we seek
To keep the UK in one piece; believes
One word he says? He changes every week—
Except his suits who’ve never met a press,
As comb his head? The man’s a total mess.
“There is some precedent for such a fellow,
I think you’ll find, sir, across the Atlantic.”
“The fathead in the White House—jowls of jell-o,
And that ridiculous blond mop? Each hour, some antic
That causes nervous types to gasp and bellow?”
“Of him I speak, sir. Not to be pedantic:
But one led to the other. We have rulers
Who act as if they are primary-schoolers.”
“This is the very rummest of rum do’s,
Jeeves, but I can see what you might be thinking.
We’re now so bored, a talent to amuse
Or rile us up now dominates our thinking.
Good policies? Sound morals? Just refuse
To honor pledges; lie a lot (while winking);
And keep us watching, and these are the goods
To help us think that we’re out of the woods.”
“I fear you are correct, sir. In my calling,
Discretion is the modus operandi.
To act the clown would be thought as appalling,
The modest gentleman outranks the dandy.
Why call attention to your deficits? How galling
To be so desperate! The well-aged brandy
Offers more taste than carbonated fizz;
The steady hand more comfort than the whizz.
“And yet, it seems, the people have declared
That substance is less preferable to flash.
Someone who grasps the issues, a prepared
And solid public servant without dash,
Will never match a blundering, wild-haired,
And deeply flippant person, who would crash
Out of the European Union with no deal
As long as it would further his appeal.”
I’ve never seen my valet quite so miffed,
And tell him so. His gaze levels on me.
“For members of your class, on whom the gift
Of wealth has been bestowed, the travesty
Of lost jobs, disinvestment, and the swift
Diminishment of good prospects will be
A column in the papers. For the rest
It will be an implacable stress test.
“What irks me, sir, is that he plays the ass,
As if his education were a right,
To be disposed of as beneath his class.
For those such as myself, who’ve had to fight
For access to the places through which pass
Men such as he with ease, his recondite
Yet shambolic pretensions are offensive:
No wonder, sir, that we are apprehensive.
“What’s more his laziness and off-the-cuffness
Speak volumes of his rank complacency.
The calculated bombast, windy bluffness,
Are tactics to conceal; the repartee,
The messy hair, the diamond-in-the-roughness
Are mere distractions from the fact that he
Lacks firm convictions and the strength of mind.”
He pauses. “I’m familiar with his kind.”
“Now, look here, Jeeves. Just what are you implying?
I know we share two alma maters: Eton
And Oxford. We find humor fortifying,
And think it better on the whole to sweeten
The miseries that mark this world by crying
With laughter and not sadness. I was beaten
Resoundingly at school: when thus abused,
You’ve every right to choose to be amused.
“I mean no harm to anyone. I pay
A decent wage to you, and treat you well.
I let you take a lengthy holiday
And, though a Wooster, have been known to quell
My zest for snazzy togs. As my valet
You are aware you have no parallel
(For which I’m very grateful). But I stress,
That there are boundaries to my largesse.”
Jeeves blinks, not once, but twice, and heaves a sigh.
He’s never been so discombobulated
(At least not in my presence). “I will try,”
He says, “to explain why I remain frustrated
At Mr. Johnson, your response, and why
It’s not enough to be appreciated
For various expressions of servility,
By those who are a byword for puerility.
“The assumption, sir, is that you’ll always lead,
No matter your incompetence or vanity.
That even if a million bodies bleed
Because your bullishness leads to insanity,
You think you’re born to rule us: that your breed
Won’t know true justice because your urbanity
Will guarantee that were mischance to assail us
You’d be around to amuse us and regale us.
“God save us from clever, unserious men,
Who can’t be bothered to grow more discerning;
Who throw tantrums and toys in their playpen
Because they never took kindly to learning.
Their studied ignorance time and again
Allows them to bluff their way out; their gurning
A compliment to everyone’s complicity
In tolerating leaders’ eccentricity.
“My scorn is not confined to the nobility
Or upper-middle classes and pretenders.
My peers have been befuddled by docility,
Assuming that for arrivistes the splendors
Of leadership will come: that one’s gentility
Is best attained by status-quo defenders
Who show unearned respect for people who
Consider them ungracious parvenus.
“My fault’s been to presume somehow, in stages,
The playing field would finally grow flatter;
That wealth would trickle down; that our wages
Would be more equal; that it wouldn’t matter
Where one received one’s tutelage; that sages
Would finally dismiss every Mad Hatter
Who clung to power: that honest perspicacity
Would, in the end, defeat bald-faced mendacity.
“I see that I’ve been woefully naïve,
That I, too, bought the bunkum and the blether.
I let my innocent wish to believe
In human decency—light as a feather—
Disarm me with those who aim to deceive.
I assumed that, in the future, a bellwether
Would point the way to truth: I was deluded.
In short, I was a fool, I have concluded.
“And, as a fool, then I must reconcile
My idiotic falling for each platitude
Dispensed by those who have no gift but guile,
Whose ludicrous and retrogressive attitude
I should have seen more clearly (that bland smile
And those cold eyes; the extraordinary latitude
That we all gave them), with my supposition
That even jokers aren’t above suspicion.
“Therefore, I tender, sir, my resignation.
I can no longer serve you in this fashion.
Noblesse oblige, the deference of station,
No more deserve my energy or passion
Than does this country such an aberration
As Mr. Johnson. I’ve some bonds to cash in
And will retire to Shoreham-by-Sea
To open up a little B&B.”
“Good heavens, Jeeves, but this is insurrection!”
I say. “Just Bolshie talk. Who will prepare
The morning pick-me-up; make the selection
Of what a proper gentleman should wear?
Who will provide the suitable protection
Against Aunt Agatha? What man will scare
Away the brides-to-be from good old Bertie?
Who’ll have a useful tip for the three-thirty?
“Would higher wages, more time off suffice?”
“You miss the point, sir. I no longer see
Myself in bondage to a class whose vice
Is so transparent, and whose claim to be
The natural rulers of me cuts no ice.
Well-meaning though you are, you are to me
Someone I cannot stand to be around
A moment longer: I am Sussex bound.”
With that the blighter takes his coat and leaves.
And I must dress myself and all that guff.
Monstrous ingratitude I call it, Jeeves,
I say to no one. I should call his bluff
And visit Shoreham—see how he receives
His lord and master then. Enough’s enough:
When Jeeves departs, then England pales and fades.
All old Etonians: to the barricades!
Canto VIII: August 2019
The once green fields of my imagination
The liquid springs that gushed forth words and verse,
The fertile vineyard of my inspiration,
The potent richness that it could disburse,
Have shriveled up or died. A desiccation
Has fallen on my poetry—a curse
That’s left even my Fleurs du Mal benighted,
And poor Calliope ignored or slighted.
The woodlands where Terpsichore cavorted,
The pastures where the love-struck Damon mowed,
The bubbling brooks where naked Maenads sported,
The leas where Gray’s meandering bovines lowed,
Have been cut down or dammed, pastoral thwarted,
And nought’s mellifluous, where once it flowed:
The lyrics that I once wrote on the breeze
To emerge now need a constipated squeeze.
The hillside where I quaffed a hoppy ale,
The lucent pools beneath the ancient mill,
The leaf-strewn copses in the dusky vale,
The dappled cottage by the quiet rill,
Have been bulldozed to prospect for oil-shale—
Some rocket fuel or literary swill
That could power these rhymes or light a fuse
To keep me going, absent any Muse.
I con this summer eclogue in September,
For August’s gone, likewise poetic heat.
I guess I should be pleased it’s not November
And that I’m but a month behind. The sweet
Smell of the root crop helps me to remember
That autumn’s lease has its rewards, replete
With earth’s bounty—or what’s free of disease,
Dioxin, glyphosate, and PCBs.
I search for themes whose veins have not been mined,
A road less traveled, pathway still untrod.
Each time I stumble on a route, I find
My clumsy footprints stamped upon the sod.
I’ve gone to Hades thrice and left behind
(Or tried to) cozy nostrums. Yet, by God,
This president confounds—as do the times—
Leaving me bereft of hope, insight, and rhymes.
The fault, in part, is that things never shift—
Even as they grow worse. Each month, a man
Commits mass murder with a gun. We sift
Ourselves into two tribes: one wants a ban,
One doesn’t; blame is spread; the passions drift;
Distractions weaken our attention span.
An endless round of grief and ammunition;
Continuous loss a permanent condition.
The climate crisis deepens. Forests blaze,
Storms rage, and Greenland melts, yet nothing’s done.
In fact, the opposite: in many ways,
The government is working so that none
Of President Obama’s mandates stays,
And we keep pumping gas out by the ton.
Driven by spite, these vandals guarantee
That none of us will see next century.
But those of you who’ve read the Trumpiad
Discern that this is old news, done to death.
What more is there to say? “Of course, it’s bad,
And getting worse,” you say, “so save your breath.
Just make me laugh.” I hear you: Who’d be sad
And permanently angry? Even Macbeth,
Amid the horrors of the regicide,
Brings on the Porter—comic and dry-eyed.
It’s time, once more, to summon up the ghost
Of someone who will brusquely set me straight.
I don’t imagine he would be the toast
Of many poetasters, and his state
Of mind leaves much to be desired. The most
That one could say of him is that he’ll prate
For long enough to generate a stanza
Or ten, which I consider a bonanza.
I close my eyes, and in that inward space
Appears the same disheveled, rotten mien.
If anything, the odor of disgrace
Is stronger than it was before. His lean
Frame now is skeletal; the tattered lace
Hangs further from his frayed cuffs; the obscene
Grin’s now cadaverous, the dermis ashen.
His rheumy eyes display little compassion.
“What do you wish of me, m’sieur?” he asks.
“Or any of the other ghosts you haunt?
There’s no right way to undertake the tasks
A satirist must make his own. You taunt
But he taunts better; you rail, while he basks
In the unfeigned endorsement of those who’ll flaunt
Their love for him because it gets your goat:
The madder you, the more you float their boat.
“You simulate a kind of talking tough,
And yet compared to him, you’re just a mug.
You hold to norms, assume that if you puff
Enough the house will fall, or that the drug
Will wear off soon, and that his fans will slough
Him off like an old skin. But he’s a thug
Who’ll not concede an inch: you have to fight
Beyond his terms, and not do what is right.
“Commitments that you have to pluralism,
The common good, the notion of One Nation,
Wilt when confronting demagogic schism,
Appeals to tribe, and blood association.
Why compromise when angry egotism
Allied with supine ‘leaders’—whose castration
Permits them to sing praise avec bon ton—
More than suggest to him that he’s The One?
“You Rousseau-ists believe Man’s natural state
Is neighborliness and cooperation.
That, offered the chance, kindness will conquer hate,
That we incline to good and not damnation.
You assume that inch by inch and date by date
History arcs in slow amelioration.
You mention education, public health,
Extension of rights, and the general wealth.
“Perhaps it’s true: that misery guts like me
Are much too gloomy, too inclined to note
How much the glass does not contain, and see
The clouds and not the rainbow. To devote,
Oneself, as I did, to debauchery
You may not reckon a good antidote
To sorrow, yet it has the benefit
Of helping someone not to give a shit.
“Good Christians believe we’re born in sin,
Depravity’s imbibed from the first day.
That even youth—so new, so clean of skin—
Walks on this poisoned dirt with feet of clay.
The aesthetes understood, to their chagrin,
That beauty is too much like Dorian Gray:
A carapace that may breed love and trust
But is a palimpsest of hate and lust.
“That’s why the Church and Government exist:
To beat the unruly passions into line;
To turn those with the boldness to resist
Into their fellow despots. Why resign
Yourself to life under the iron fist
Of God and King unless you can enshrine
Your servitude as peon or a knave
By standing on the body of a slave?
“And so the working-class police each other
To guarantee that no one takes their crumbs;
Ensure that no tall poppy rises; smother
Ambition; and as soon as the time comes
For battles on a foreign field, then brother
And sister will march to their leaders’ drums:
To fight an enemy that they don’t know
In order to maintain the status quo.
“So envy and resentment maintain order;
Class-consciousness keeps people in their place.
When enemies are massed along the border
Or one too many of another race
Come to ‘your’ area, do they accord a
Brief moment to reflect, or turn to face
The ‘other’ as a friend in need? No way!
Defend yourself! Once more unto the fray!”
De Sade stops for a minute. “So, m’sieur,
My diagnosis of your difficulty
Is that you’re too fastidious and demure
To take on these bâtards. This jeu d’esprit
You claim satirical needs more manure
To make it stink. Much like a lavatory,
You must welcome the ordure and then flush:
Your piss-poor poetry makes no one blush.
“And, sir, what is the point of any fictions
If not to imagine loathsome violations?
What rich assortment of painful afflictions
Could you not visit and conjure vexations
For him you hate so much? Turn your addictions
Into your power, bolster the foundations
Of your contempt, and stop being so nice:
For once, let virtue step aside for vice.
“Your circumspection does you little credit,
Your wish to please does even less, believe me.
The only use for guano is to spread it,
And yet, unless you’ve managed to deceive me,
You’ve only let a few farts out. You said it:
Your poetry’s run dry—while it may grieve me
When a satirist manqué cannot do it,
If you’re too meek to forge ahead, then screw it!
“Recall the prophets in the wilderness,
The loonies spouting fury in their caves.
They didn’t care if they failed to impress
Or upset others, or if they made waves.
They shouted, ranted, raved—made lots of mess
And broke things; suffered beatings; went to graves
Ignored or spat upon. But they were right
To rage against the dying of the light.
“They were correct to rip it, go down blazing,
For when the times are bad, you can’t maintain
A weak ‘if this, then that,’ blandness of phrasing,
Or pusillanimous, ironic vein.
Wherefore timidity? When they are razing
The planet to the ground—then you’re the rain
That drenches them in pus, sweat, piss, and smut:
If you can douse the flames, who cares with what?
“And when you hear the soldiers at the door
To cuff and haul you away at half past two;
Or when you fear you can’t take anymore,
And sense no one is listening; then you
Commit yourself again to an encore
Even more vile than heretofore: you spew
Your imprecations to the empty air
And do not care if anyone is there.
“For there is freedom in the imagination
No matter how iniquitous or lewd.
The oppressors may try violence, temptation,
Deprive you of your friends, or hope, or food;
But on the brink of faintness or starvation
One sip of the elixir of turpitude
Will rouse the satirist to greater heights
Even as he is given the last rites!
“Take Mitch McConnell: There’s a man who needs
To be portrayed impaled upon a stake;
His ass cracked open by a rod that reads
MY MASTER’S PRICK. Each time he moves, a quake
Erupts inside him. He cums as he bleeds:
Skewered for his obsequiousness, this fake
Conservative mumbles his meek assent
Each time he’s rogered by the president.
“And Stephen Miller: Put him in a cell
Hung upside down until he pees his britches.
Watch how the toady steeps in his own smell
That dribbles through his unctuous seams and stitches.
Relate how as his head begins to swell
Illegal immigrants equipped with switches
Beat him until his wounds fester and ooze;
And when he begs for mercy, they refuse.
“Write of the fatty bronzed one waterboarded—
He would not pardon torture after that!
Or sleeping in some overcrowded, sordid,
And frigid room for weeks, without a mat.
Then, day and night, blare at him some recorded
Loud music; pound his organs with a bat;
Whip each foot with stiff wires to let him know
How far your creativity can go.
“Stick safety pins into his orange skin,
Hook up his gonads to a power source.
Turn on the juice and smell his paper-thin
Hair catch. Attach him to a pommel horse
And let a troupe of obese gymnasts spin
And dance upon his carcass. Take a coarse
Hair shirt and rub it till his torso bleeds.
Is this not what your storytelling needs?
“Grab Jared Kushner by his hairless balls
And shove him in a mincer—set to GRIND.
Lock pissy Lindsey Graham in the stalls
And steal the biggest pails that you can find;
Fill them with vomit; then, in waterfalls,
Pour out the contents on his head. He’ll find
A literal display of your disgust
At everything he’s done to break your trust.”
Canto IX: September 2019
“You can imagine how I’d treat Ivanka,”
De Sade continues, “in a room, alone.
After I’d utilized my lingua franca
On every orifice, then I would hone
My special skills upon her ass. I’d spank her
And send her back to dad—weeping and prone:
They say of kids, you shouldn’t spare the rod;
When I am done, she’ll have her rod, by God.”
“Enough!” I shout. “You’ve made your case quite clearly.”
“Aha,” he snorts. “I knew you lacked the nuts
To fully take the war to them; how merely
The thought of such atrociousness just shuts
Your outrage off completely; how sincerely
You haven’t got the audacity—you putz!—
To blow the fortress up. For let’s be blunt:
That’s what it’s going to take to get the cunt.”
“Please, do not swear,” I beg. “Why must you cuss
In order to hit home?” “Would you prefer,”
De Sade replies, “That we not make a fuss?
Oh please don’t take our rights away, good sir,
We promise we’ll be good! No, no! You truss
Them and their cronies up, and then you stir
The pot of boiling oil. You watch them fry
And serve them to the red states, crisp and dry.
“Do you believe that this is not a fight
Unto the death? Does your enfeebled brain
Not get it that in this world ‘might makes right’
And will forever? Moralists may strain
To justify our wish to seek the light,
But most of us feel there’s too much to gain
By snatching what you can—and quickly, too:
For if not now and you, then when and who?
“The Church has always grasped that naked power
Is best dolled up with jewels and brocade;
The rack and thumbscrew in the gloomy tower
Applied by prelates artfully crocheted;
The youths summoned to bedsides on the hour
Inhale God’s holy vicegerent’s pomade.
Corruption and licentiousness will thrive
As long as there’s a willing priest to shrive.
“The Church has realized it best of all:
That one can snag a piece of younger flesh
To be consumed. You hold it in your thrall,
Share it among your pious friends—the fresh,
Orgasmic joy at innocents’ downfall;
Their sorry efforts to escape the mesh
In which they’re pinned. Why call for liberty
When God himself has chucked away the key?
“Just look around, we’re each of us to blame:
We toss our privacy away for free.
We willfully expose ourselves to shame
And yet compulsively we pay the fee
To unmask ourselves. We play this sordid game
Hoping our brand will somehow guarantee
The public will obey the rules we’ve set,
And then we’re shocked when they choose to forget.
“The Internet is filled with dicks and tits
In every combination you could want.
In my day, it was art, and naughty bits
Were euphemized in pornographic contes
Smuggled from prison for the greatest wits
To salivate over with their croissants.
We bonked the maids, eloped, and got the clap,
Died poor, and were interred in limed burlap.
“Now Jack and Jill primp and pose in HD,
Each throbbing vein and livid spot on view.
The bright-pink scars and plastic surgery
The unkind camera reveals anew.
Is everyone a victim—he or she,
Disporting in their bedsits for the few
Who pay to watch them strip, exploited? Or
Are they aware what they’re undressing for?
“In my day, spies shacked up in bawdy-houses,
Blackmailers turned johns into useful sources.
The State knew who’d unbuttoned which one’s blouses
And which marquis was sodomizing horses.
They kept an inventory of wayward spouses
And dragooned lowlifes into the armed forces.
As copulation thrived, so did the State.
(Keep big things underhand and masturbate.)
“But that is nothing to the State today:
It screens the screens you watch and who you’re screwing.
Do you believe that if you were to stray
And come to their attention that your viewing
Would not come up? Imagine your dismay
When officers suggest there’s no point suing
Because they have the records. What a mess!
How fast do you suppose you’d acquiesce?
“And that is what you’re fighting, Mr. Rowe.
Do you suppose politeness stands a chance?
Dishonesty is timeless, that I know,
And risk attends a contradicting stance.
But satirists don’t wallow in the flow:
They see a grave and straightway start to dance;
They knock down idols, desecrate the shrine;
And, if in doubt, the brave and good malign.
“If you’re not willing to live or abide
With alienation, hatred, and rejection
Then do not carry on. If you decide
That every man and woman’s imperfection
Is fair game for your pen; if as your guide
You hold up each excrescence for inspection
Then I will add you to the cursory list
Of those who can be called a satirist.”
De Sade pauses, throws a revolting leer:
“You may ask why you should believe a cynical,
Heinous exploiter, someone without peer
In ruining young lives, the shabby pinnacle
Of vicious aristocracy. My dear,
Good sir, your observation may be clinical
But it is meaningless. Yes, old de Sade
Is gone, but there are others just as bad.
“Take Jeffrey Epstein—such a satirist!
A pedophile and rapist, fake and fraud!
How did this conman manage to enlist
The rich and royal for his schemes?! This flawed,
Transparent perv was allowed to exist
Within society, traveling abroad
To pimp for wealthy men. He got the honey
For jerks who had the power and the money.
“And more, they courted him—the great and greater!
They sought him out, told him they were his pal.
They didn’t care he was a fornicator
Of adolescent girls; their rationale
Was cash trumped morals. But, sooner or later,
A cow finds a way out of the corral
And others follow. Once they blew the whistle
Each hapless victim turned into a missile.
“For Epstein had his records, billets-doux,
And no doubt snaps and video to boot.
He handed to them every ingénue,
Conscious that both belonged to him. Each cute
Masseuse and double-bed-warming chouchou
Was a downpayment against a lawsuit,
Bought him access and cronies by the fistful.
(But I should stop, it’s making me quite wistful.)
“Epstein was what you’ll never be. He saw
Beneath the sanctimony and esteem
The needy phallus, cash-strapped slut, the maw
Of hunger that cannot be filled. No scheme
Was too outré for him; no natural law
Unbreakable. Morality’s a dream,
And Epstein was awake: the power thrilled him
Till he was caught—and that is why they killed him.
“The satirist, you see, must not divide
Himself between the good and bad. He must
Be undeluded, take sin in his stride,
And recognize that everyone is dust
And to dust we’ll return. His bare backside
Is willing to be tanned until a crust
Has formed that can’t be broken. Then his rump
Will disgorge crap in an almighty dump.
“Are you willing to pay the price—to turn
On favorites as equally as foes?
Will you your liberal bona fides burn
And happily stamp on your best friend’s toes?
Can you abide the coarse without concern
And break taboos, cross lines, bury your nose
In turds that stink to heaven? Will you quail
At just the thought of ending up in jail?”
He waits, but I stay quiet. “As I thought:
A namby-pamby charlatan and wimp.
Good for a laugh or bon mot—and well-wrought—
But nothing more than a pearl-clutching simp;
Filling his empty verses with a lot
Of wishy-washy nonsense from a limp,
Irresolute, and tepid conscience. Hell,
I wish I’d never been summoned. Farewell!”
De Sade departs, leaving a scent behind:
The reek of desperation (his or mine?).
I’m stunned, but soon enough I start to find
Myself attempting to draw a thick line
Between de Sade and me—something designed
To cover up my faults, stiffen my spine,
Or otherwise distract me from my weakness:
That irksome and equivocating meekness.
Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps my temperament
Is unsuited to verbal fusillades.
The elegiac world that I frequent—
Replete with disappointments, deepening shades,
With hopes deferred, loves lost, and the advent
Of winter frosts—are no match for grenades
And riots on the street. What hope do I
Have on the ground, when gazing at the sky?
“Where was de Sade when the Bastille was stormed?”
Another voice appears inside my brain.
“At an asylum. When the Assembly formed
Where was de Sade? At his old tricks again,
Avoiding taking sides. My friend, he’s warmed
His calloused hands on other people’s pain
For far too long. His pompous cynicism
Cannot conceal his lacquered egoism.
“Michel de Montaigne: I am pleased to meet you,”
I nod my head, as there before my eyes
Resolves his noble visage. “Sir, I greet you
In some distress, but not with much surprise.
De Sade, when summoned, usually will beat you,
If not with whips, then words. He usually tries
To highlight someone else’s indiscretions
To cover up his manifold transgressions.
“I won’t deny that his stringent refusal
To admit of natural laws has the attraction
Of pseudo-honesty. His self-recusal
From simple decency; the putrefaction
Of his abuse of children—these bamboozle
The mind, because the singular infraction
Is washed away in tides of titillation,
Two-facedness, and wholesale exploitation.
“But individual harm can’t be obscured
By general debauchery: the fist
Across a woman’s face; that he procured
Those who had much less choice, could not insist
On their own rights to liberty. He lured
The young because, he thought, they’d not resist:
Yet most of them fought hard. Even his worth
Has merit only through his noble birth.
“My judgment is that Le Marquis’ profanity
Is mostly a sign of disordered thought;
What strikes de Sade as free-thinking urbanity
To me’s the swagger of an overwrought
And narcissistic wretch, who took inanity
For liberation; who experience sought
And yet could not experience the truth
Because he lacked both dignity and ruth.”
Montaigne levels a look at me. “You know,
The times I lived in—endless wars and slaughter
Over beliefs—they filled me full of woe.
It seemed it couldn’t get much worse. France thought her
Nightmare would never end—that we would go
On killing one another till the water
Covered the sea. And all caused by the smidgeons
Of doctrinal quarrels between religions.
“Yet some of us survived. Two centuries later
Another revolution, and more slaying.
I’ve been a hero to the state and traitor,
Often within myself. Between the praying
And reckless self-regard, the saint and hater,
A very thin line lies. What I am saying:
Is that the absolutes and God above
Should ever be tempered with human love.”
Canto X: October 2019
Montaigne departs, and I’m once more alone—
Alone with my poor judgment and great doubt.
The weight of this sad time has only grown
Leaving me dazed and generally bummed out.
But what is this that stops me in mid-moan;
And causes me to skip and jump about?
Could it be true the dam at last is breached,
And that the orange one will be impeached?
Am I hallucinating, in a trance?
Is this merely another fever dream?
Have we clawed back one fragile, slender chance?
Will black clouds part to uncover a gleam
Of light? Is this twisted and bad romance
He has with certain voters losing steam?
Will the engine of law sputter to life?
Will we locate a spot to stick the knife?
Are all the chickens coming home to roost?
Has he been hoisted by his own petard?
Has he the government too far traduced?
Has he one bridge too many seared and charred?
Has he too many confidences loosed
For the supposed deep state to disregard?
Has he fallen so far that he’s reached Hell?
And is that sound I hear the final bell?
Is Frank Sinatra crooning his “And now. . .”?
Is Berbick punching Ali to defeat?
Has Cincinnatus gone back to the plow?
Has Charles Cornwallis beaten the retreat?
Are altars prepped for every sacred cow?
And how scorching will be his fiery seat?
When will the scythed one rap upon the door
To tell him that his presidency’s no more?
Is Gary Cooper’s clock approaching noon?
Have Butch and Sundance charged, their pistols firing?
Has the rotund mezzo begun to croon?
Is Clarence Thomas thinking of retiring?
Has Alan Ladd walked into the saloon?
And is Charles Foster Kane at last expiring?
In short, is this the end—the crisis point?
And will the villain end up in the joint?
Imagine Thorwald when he sees he’s rumbled;
Or Brundle as he turns into The Fly.
When Sauron understands that he’s been humbled
By little people whom he failed to espy.
Consider Jericho with ramparts crumbled,
Or Israelites stranded in the Sinai.
Are we in sight of the long-promised land?
And will Pharaoh sink in the desert sand?
Has his wrecked ship of fools foundered on rocks;
Is his brief candle burned down to the wick?
Are no toys left to throw from his sandbox,
Or nothing that’s not been sold to Old Nick?
Have his ears opened to the crows of cocks?
And has the safety catch been switched off—click?
Have dice been cast, the Ides of March arrived?
How is it that I am so damn revived?
I spring from bed each day with vim and zest;
I greet each dawn with open-eyed conviction.
The weight that used to bear down on my chest,
Has dissipated. Now free of constriction,
My step is lighter, and I’m not so stressed;
I mutter less, I’ve started reading fiction!
My hair is thicker, breathing is less labored:
You’d even say I’m happy as a jaybird.
Be gone, the songs of doom and lamentations!
Stay far away you prophecies of woe!
I’ve no more time for your mortifications,
No more will you the seeds of discord sow.
I’m only interested in good vibrations
And not how long a row there is to hoe.
We’ll get this done—of doubt my mind is bleached.
We’re going to get this s.o.b. impeached!
I’d fallen on my knees and wept hot tears,
Worn through ten hassocks praying to the Lord.
I’d ululated through the night for years,
Hoping normality would be restored.
I ate bad food and drank too many beers,
To numb my sense of him whom I abhorred.
I gasped for breath, a fish that had been beached;
But now it seems that he might be impeached.
The reasons are the same, for he’s not changed:
Using the state as though it is a vassal.
If anything, he’s even more deranged,
Treating the Constitution as a hassle
That’s best ignored. From dignity estranged,
And principle divorced, this ugly, facile,
And self-defeating man has overreached—
Or so I dearly hope—and he’s impeached.
If so, it’s clear he’ll go down in a fury,
Betraying friends who’ve been his loyal drudges.
He’s terrified he’ll face a hostile jury,
Or even worse for him, “Mexican” judges.
He’ll do whatever he can to ensure he
Has to be dragged from office—all his grudges
Will be enflamed, his Tweets not sent but screeched!
It alters not the truth he’s been impeached.
We’re not at that stage yet: Nancy Pelosi,
The Zen master of Congress, plots each move.
She gets when rounding up i Mafiosi
(Or so they think they are) that odds improve
With frequent squeezing. No matter how gross he
May be, you have to keep wearing the groove:
As he digs deeper, soon a point is reached,
When there’s no choice: he has to be impeached!
Nancy’s got nous: she knows there’s much more dirt
Than we are privy to, and which she’s got.
She’ll turn the tap when ready—drip or spurt—
In order to ensure the news is hot.
She also understands that he will blurt
Something incriminating on the spot.
Each day his precious lifeblood will be leeched,
Until support dies off—as he’s impeached.
He’ll criticize old Joe and Hunter Biden,
Hoping that his “a plague on both your houses”
Approach creates a permanent divide in
The USA. The danger is he rouses
Such bitterness the GOP is tied in
To outright violence, which he espouses.
When sermons on armed uprising are preached,
There’ll be no choice: he’ll have to be impeached!
The fakes, saps, brutes, dupes, sharks, and boobs around him
Reveal themselves, each day, as underminers—
Of truth, honor . . . and him. It’s clear they found him,
Much as a fly finds rotting flesh: the liners
Of pockets, cheapjacks, swindlers—these have bound him
Together with their fate; these intertwiners
Will turn on one another soon enough,
Especially when each wrist bears a handcuff.
How downright weird it is that Mayor Rudy,
Who once was fleetingly a source of healing,
Is now the orange monster’s Howdy Doody—
Less innocent, of course, more unappealing,
But still strung like a puppet! How this moody,
Gesticulating lunatic is sealing
His fate with lies is something to behold.
Quite why, we’ll have to wait till he’s paroled.
But . . . just what has possessed him—Giuliani—
The grinning, manic dervish on TV.
Part Nosferatu, part a freak-show carny,
Part sweaty, desperado wannabe,
The former prosecutor’s gone full blarney,
And losing all his credibility.
Perhaps he’s ill or mad or on some drug:
Ah well, he’ll detox when he’s in the jug.
And there’s Lev Parnas and one Igor Fruman,
Backhoes of sleaze and shady operators,
They’ve been arrested for their all-too-human
Wish to hang out with other thin ice–skaters
To boost their bank accounts. Lacking acumen,
Such lovers of half-assed, would-be dictators,
Broke campaign finance laws. It will be fun
To learn what they’ll admit under the gun.
These guys are something out of central casting,
The furtive glances, strangely bulging neck;
The silly haircut and the everlasting
Confused facial expressions; ears like Shrek.
The depth of their delusion, and contrasting
Assumption of their skill, display the dreck
That constitutes their brains. These knock-off goons
Are less Yakuza than the Looney Tunes.
A sordid mess of backroom deal and trade-off,
Is what’s defined these grifters from the start.
Their baseness would embarrass Bernie Madoff,
Their egos bring a blush to Bonaparte.
Their weakness is transparent; for they’ve paid off
A host of tougher men who, much more smart,
Know that each craven, spineless gamma male
Will always have their scruples up for sale.
How eager they are to please autocrats,
How swiftly they send allies down the river;
The cowardice with which they throw brickbats
At those less powerful than they, but quiver
And make themselves convenient doormats
To strong men who demand that they deliver
To them what is not theirs to give! Such losers
Will always show their weak chin to the bruisers.
The orange one’s the capo of this gang:
Each knuckleheaded, blustering fiasco
That he arranges; all the Sturm und Drang,
This cut-price, bargain-basement Donnie Brasco
Discharges; each impenetrable harangue
And word salad he sprinkles with Tabasco:
They demonstrate this vapid, would-be hood
Is truly bad at not being no good.
I think he feels the walls are caving in,
That time is running short, support is waning.
Friendless, his power ebbs; cronies begin
To inch away, then run. It must be draining
Each day to shield a man who makes your skin
Not crawl so much as pullulate. The feigning,
The constant flattery, the willful blindness;
And icing on the cake, constant unkindness.
How must it eat away at any soul
Or beating heart with an ounce of concern!
To have someone who’s basically a troll,
A ranting bot with hatred left to burn,
Sit in the Oval Office! What a toll
It must take on a conscience that might yearn
For higher ground! And yet this bottom-feeder
Expects you to be a brainless cheerleader.
Imagine being there while he is spinning
His endless fabrications and fatuities.
Your bum is sore and so’s your mouth with grinning
At ill-informed pronouncements and vacuities.
You long to leave the room, yet he’s beginning
Another round of blatant incongruities
And insult comedy. Who’d want to sit
One minute more through this and not just quit?
Senate Republicans gave up the ghost
Long, long ago. Now that McCain is dead,
Their severed balls dispensed to them on toast,
And every semblance of compunction shred,
Their wretchedness is clear: they are the most
Slavish of lackeys, a bunch of inbred
And toothless, weak-kneed sycophants, who face
A choice: their seat or undying disgrace.
What will you do Ben Sasse, Martha McSally?
Will you at last step up to save the nation?
Will you a soupçon of your mettle rally
To lead us from the depths of deprivation,
The darkest hour, the executive Death Valley,
And put the country first? Or will damnation
Draw us yet further into endless pain?
How will you vote, Susan Collins of Maine?
And Cory Gardner, there in Colorado?
Will you arise, make a decisive stand?
Or will you demonstrate a sham bravado,
Or worse, inadequately reprimand
The fink; or worst, go incommunicado,
And to this bastard hand the motherland,
So he can grab it by the pussy: Cory!
Please let me hope it is a different story.
And Mr. Romney. . . . May I call you, Mitt?
Will you tack up your colors to the wall?
Over the years, you’ve spoken piles of shit
On decency and grit—only to crawl
Back to your hutch when you are pressed a bit
By the Dear Leader’s criticisms. Haul
Your ass unto the barricades for once,
Unless you want to be history’s dunce.
And what of you, Lamar of Tennessee?
And you, John Thune—and even you, Ted Cruz?
Are you simply going to let him be,
Given how much you really have to lose?
He’s going to bring you down, I guarantee!
He’s poison, toxic, fatal, plain bad news.
Disgorge him now and you might ride the worst;
Leave him, your rotting body might just burst.
Canto XI: November 2019
First, let me be polite and give you props,
For offing Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi.
We’ve learned by now that US special ops
Are not too shabby taking out a baddy.
Being you, you had to pull out all the stops,
Embroider, preen, and brag. But that jihadi
Deserved to die, and I don’t mind your crowing
If it might stay a while ISIS from growing.
It doesn’t take away that you betrayed
The Kurds to Erdogan and to Assad.
It doesn’t hide how easily you’re swayed
By tougher men than you, and just how bad
Your need to be admired is; how you’ve stayed
Amazingly inept; and just how mad
It is that you—yes, you—are C-in-C:
Someone without an ounce of gravity.
How many openings you’ve been provided
To act the statesman, take the longer view!
How many moments you could have decided
To let a comment pass, give some their due,
Or say a kindly word! But you’ve derided
And chastened every lowly victim who
Dares to oppose you. In your victories,
You burn the forest till there are no trees.
I’ve always found it odd how, when good news
Falls from the bough, or ripens for the picking,
You’ll crush or flatten it, or simply bruise
What should be relished. When you should be ticking
Off your accomplishments, you sing the blues.
You rant, and like a tot, screaming and kicking,
You mewl how much you’re not appreciated,
No wonder each deed’s glow is obfuscated.
But then again, you seem to hate success—
Though you assert that it is all that matters.
What you crave is the drama and the mess,
The bone-crack of the prop-chair as it shatters
On bronzed torsos in some state of undress.
You love the pseudo-heroes, villains, satyrs,
The muscled dude or dudette’s flex and pout.
For you, life is an endless wrestling bout.
The drama and the hair, the bogus bluster
And faux contempt and fury; bathing suits
And twinkling robes; blinged wiseacres who cluster
In the first row; the sparkly pants and boots;
The emoting, babes, and half-chipped lacquered luster,
That gets it’s sheen and gloss but constitutes
The thrill of loutish glamor: yes, it’s phony—
But who’d be poor in order to be tony?
Who’d want restraint when you can strut your stuff?
Who’d let another dominate the stage?
Who’d reason one could ever get enough
Of adulation, mockery, and rage?
Who’d tell the truth when you can pose and bluff
Your path to riches? Who’d wish to assuage
The hunger for the whole pie—every piece?
Who’d be a lamb not nab the Golden Fleece?
Who’d have an open hand when a clenched fist
Presents more possibilities for gain?
When someone asks for help, who could resist
The chance to empty wallets or cause pain?
When this world is your oyster, who’d not twist
The knife to prize the shell apart, and drain
The juice in one almighty slurp, so nacre
Could not be snatched by any other faker?
For men like you, authority’s burlesque,
Outrage and teasing, cash-outs and charade;
A balance of the freakish and grotesque
With flash and nicknames to spice up the staid.
Throw in a rumpus, add your statuesque
And silent spouse, and jokes, and you’ll persuade
Those who, amid their pantomimic jeers,
Will cast their vote for you for four more years.
And yet you comprehend it’s all a fraud—
You know it and we know you know it, too.
When thousands rise to their feet to applaud,
You’ll see the one or two who won’t—you’ll stew,
And agonize that they have seen how flawed
You are; and what they say of you is true.
Thus, having reached the top, the Holy Grail,
Your heart narrates a very different tale:
Which is that you will never be respected:
No matter how you boast or ballyhoo.
Doors will be shut, and you will be rejected,
By those who don’t think you Park Avenue.
You claim to be regarded and connected,
And maybe so. You’ll not find a way through
To inner peace, because you’ve always thought
Yourself a loser, who’d one day be caught.
That’s what it is: you want to be exposed,
The con revealed, the curtain pulled aside;
The day the jig is up, when you’re foreclosed
Upon, the debts piled up, nowhere to hide;
Each gull or mark you’ve stiffed, each dolt you’ve hosed,
Will leap at you to flay your orange hide.
And at that moment, martyrdom awaits
The president of these United States.
That’s why you’ve always been brazenly frank
About your crimes (and of Russian complicity).
You’ve always pointed up the enormous plank
In your own eye, your outrageous lubricity:
You take your sins, invert them, and outflank
Critics by blaming them (with specificity)
Of the same heinous deeds. So you confess
To crimes and neutralize them nonetheless.
You’re dumbfounded that you have been allowed
To get away with wrongdoing. You blink,
Astonished, that the great unwashed, the crowd
Of people whom you’d once have run from, think
You are magnificent; how you have cowed
The establishment you hate so much. You drink
The raucous laughter in; dismiss the notion
That it might shift to silence from devotion.
Why can’t they hear you don’t know what you’re saying,
You’re merely filling space with words and blather?
Don’t they perceive it’s a role you’re conveying:
Just smoke and mirrors, soap bubbles and lather?
You’re a performer, who’s good at portraying
A big star on TV—which you would rather
Be doing every minute . . . not this role.
To govern well was never your main goal.
Now that the impeachment hearings have begun,
Do you get that the sands are running out?
Do you discern that some facts can’t be spun;
That there are some commandments you can’t flout?
Did this not long ago cease to be fun?
Is it not evident the last redoubt
Has finally been breached, and that the ranks,
Ammo expended, are now shooting blanks?
Is silence in each room you enter thicker?
The orders that you issue slightly less
Readily obeyed or acted upon quicker?
Are acolytes less willing to suppress
The baffled looks or inadvertent snicker,
Or extricate their bosses from the mess?
Are doors of offices shut when you pass?
Are coworkers forsaking you en masse?
Do Jared and Ivanka’s foreheads crease
With lines that even Botox can’t erase?
Does Don Jr. less regularly grease
Your rusted heart by talking how the base
Still worships you? And is your wife at peace,
Because she feels your imminent disgrace
Has only added zeros to the amount
She’ll get when you’re at last brought to account?
Is Giuliani smirking in his coffin,
Sated and plump from sucking out the blood
From your administration? Oh how often
Have you dreaded his ghastly grin, the thud
Of heavy footsteps that no shag can soften!
How gross that all he touches turns to crud:
Shit sandwiches and snot-filled ravioli,
Topped off with piss-and-pus-drenched guacamole!
There’s tightness in your chest, a midnight sweat,
Dark clouds that frame the corners of your eyes;
Disquiet that the sun’s about to set;
And apprehension that the mounds of lies
Are toppling. Could it be that hushed Regret,
The unfamiliar spirit you despise,
Shadows the White House residence, demanding
An audience, or at least some understanding?
Regret, with her two sisters, pale Remorse
And wan Humility, had little truck
With you when you were young. But then the course
Of life was smooth for you—a rich, young buck
Who could screw up without alarm, your source
Of wealth untouched. You found no random schmuck
Could stop you, you were bound to strike it big—
Of those weird three you didn’t give a fig.
But now, Remorse, Humility, Regret,
Once alien to you, appear one night.
When dark descends, in ghostly silhouette,
The three glide through the corridors—a sight
That’s only for your eyes. This tête-a-tête
(Auras that shimmer in the blanched moonlight)
Drains color from your cheeks—you can’t avoid them
When once you would have hired and “enjoyed” them.
Yet there they stand, an Aubrey Beardsley trinity:
Sad visages, long hair, and eyes downcast.
Once, you would have assaulted their virginity
And bragged about it, or at least harassed
And rubbed against them. But your masculinity
Is not what it once was: For you have passed
The point (although you never were adorable)
When women’s shocked repulsion is ignorable.
“Have I met you before?” you ask each fey one,
“Did I once boff you? Did I pay you cash?
I may not be a billionaire (I play one
On The Apprentice), but I have a stash
For such occasions, and have had since Day One.
But if you blackmail me, then I will smash
Your statuses; under a bus I’ll throw you.
Well, anyway, tell me how much I owe you.”
“O little man,” severe Remorse returns,
“Consider what unhappy times await
He who has always spurned us, and who burns
With haughtiness and impudence. Your fate
Is evident: For him who never learns
To temper his indulgences, the date
Draws nigh (O dreaded day) when he will be
The victim of we ashen sisters three.”
“But I am worshipped,” you begin to sob.
“My staff says I’m the greatest president
Who ever lived; that I’ve done the best job
Of anyone—they tell me. I’ve been sent
By God, the crowd yells back. I’m a heartthrob—
Just ask the ladies I have nailed. Lament
And boohoo all you want: I have no need
For sluts like you, no matter how you plead.”
“And yet we’re here,” Regret says. “And we linger,
Translucent, yes, and like the morning mist.
But thrice you feel a thin, accusing finger
Tap on the chest. Thrice, you try to resist
Each cold yet vehement embrace. You fling a
Firm arm away, and yet we three persist:
These sad and liquid eyes cannot be hidden;
Nor our admonition overridden.”
You interrupt: “Do you think I’m some sap
Who’s going to worry what some hippie bitches
Consider my defects? Sit on my lap,
And you might reconsider. You dumb witches
Somehow believe that I might give a crap
About others’ beliefs. I made my riches
By never giving in or being nice:
Go back to Berkeley would be my advice!”
“Vain fool!” Humility replies. “Your pride
And confidence are paper thin. You’ll fall,
And fall so hard that you’ll have wished you’d died
Rather than endure the condemnation. All
The wealth, the branding, everything you’ve tried
To build up through the years—all that you call
Your own—will be removed from you: Prepare
To face your doom.” They vanish into air.
I don’t believe it, either. He’ll escape,
Because of his supporters—like the rest.
Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein: you can rape
And steal and get away with it, if blessed
With privilege—conferred or born with. Shape
The stories, dis-inform, and you’ll molest
Whomever you can snag. In this case, too,
He’ll never get to meet his Waterloo.
Canto XII: December 2019
Another year is ending, and what’s more,
A decade. And it’s reasonable to say,
That though we didn’t get what we asked for,
We got what we deserved. We’ve found a way
To avoid hard choices, skirt science, and score
Cheap victories to sidestep judgment day.
There will be reckoning, I have no doubt;
But how destructive we will soon find out.
For now, though, stocks are at an all-time high;
And unemployment numbers keep declining.
The finger buildings scrape against the sky,
While low-life hacks are busy undermining
The institutions that might question why
The debt’s exploded; why flagrantly strip-mining
The nation’s ecosystems is thought wise;
And why the head of state insults and lies.
Impeachment passed the House; we now await
Trial in the Senate. Mitch McConnell’s said
That his Republicans will not debate
The issues, and instead will flout or shred
The Constitution, to check and frustrate
Justice. The G.O.P. has made its bed,
And now intends to lie in it. They’ll bend
Whatever rule they can to help their friend.
Where are the true conservatives of yore?
Are country clubs festooned with white-haired coots
Haunting the greens, plaid-trousered, shouting Fore!
Into thin air? Do long-retired suits
Sequestered in their suites on the top floor
Shiver at what the future brings: the fruits
Of short-term thinking, schism, and division,
And one man who’s escaped all supervision?
Do former titans once lauded in Forbes
Now gasp at how brazen is speculation?
Do VC tyros stare into the orbs
Of cut-price mystics, stunned how exploitation
Could be so blatant? A man’s mind absorbs
Only so much outright misinformation
Before it is congested by the mud,
Or starved of oxygen, or thought, or blood.
I doubt it: they’ve deposited their loot
In Monaco, or Switzerland, or Cayman.
They’ve long thought paying taxes is a hoot,
Nice for the liberal conscience or the layman,
But not for “job-creators.” So, they’re mute
When we bozos approach and ask them, “Hey, man!
You gotta dime?” But then they’re well aware
That every bum dreams he’s a millionaire.
That’s what will hold back change: the fantasy
That if we keep the system one more year,
We’ll strike it big, break through, at last be free
Of debt and IOUs; that if we clear
Away the rubble, pick the card . . . whoopee!
We’ll gain our just rewards, or the veneer
Of safety, ease, even a chance to brag;
So what if assets come with a toe tag!
Sure, in its way, the populist rebellion
Carries away elites of Left and Right.
That leaves the opportunists and this hellion:
Who cares for nothing but himself; whose fight
Won’t stop until each would-be Machiavellian
(Like Mitch) and verray parfait, gentil knight,
And all that’s in between, have been attacked,
Belittled, shamed, and ultimately sacked.
By then it may be much too late. We’ll judge
With certainty that facts are an illusion,
All lawgivers sunk equally in sludge.
The strongman slams nuance and seeds confusion;
Power is exercised through hate and grudge;
The aim’s to make it a foregone conclusion
That without him the “enemies within”
Will turn the U.S. into East Berlin.
Don’t underestimate the many satisfactions
Of envy and its twin, retaliation.
Don’t overlook the powerful attractions
Of forcing someone who’s not of your station
To hold a sign confessing crimes; abstractions
(Like rue or mercy) can’t match the elation
Of seeing others overwhelmed by stress:
Who does not love an enemy’s duress?
Here, also, Left and Right find common cause:
Enforcing orthodoxy where they can.
No room for doubt, no need to slow or pause
The trek to heaven. Those who question? Ban!
The slow to learn or listen? Sharpen claws!
The worriers? Call for the hatchet man!
What both demand is lockstep, tribal thinking:
Communion offered via Kool-Aid drinking.
Over these last three books, I’ve turned my lens
Upon the growing hopelessness beneath
The “boom” decade that was the Twenty-Tens.
It’s like we’re wrapped in a transparent sheath
That both protects and binds us, warms and pens
Us in to habits, mostly bad; a wreath,
A tribute offered to a storied past,
A memory of days that went too fast.
And as the towers rise, each gleaming pane
Rebukes those shadowed on the streets below.
There huddle, in squalor, mounds of the insane,
The addicted, taking junk, meth, pills, or blow;
Each hollowed face, each speckled, bloodied vein
Mirrors the sheen of wealth. The spectral glow
Of hunger—some for food, some for a fix—
Mixes the red–blue of our politics.
Can either party answer to the needs
For housing, intervention, health, and hope?
The man who picks his scabs, the girl who bleeds
And pulls her hair; the guys so high on dope
They bow and bob, like wind-striated reeds;
The Vietnam vets who scour the trash or grope
Into a half-lit doorway for a snooze,
Their hands wrapped round a half-bottle of booze.
These are the ones we see, but what of those
Huddled in bedsits or in cheap hotels?
The kids who can’t afford to eat, who doze
Their way through class; or those in prison cells
Going cold turkey. Why do we suppose
That shame or economic magic spells
Will lift them up or end the ceaseless craving?
Why do we think those drowning are but waving?
The rest of us go off to work each day
To earn enough to buy the latest phones.
We stare at screens and swipe our lives away,
Persuaded that it’s others who are clones,
And that we’re not captives. We toil to play
The games that divert us from student loans,
Mortgages, debts from credit cards we rack up,
Buying unwanted stuff that we can stack up.
The truth is most are a decisive knock
Away from living on a piss-soaked street;
One needle’s prick from an outline in chalk;
One drink from a corpse in a winding sheet;
One bill from putting everything in hock;
One mishap from being a slab of meat.
The mad, the sad, the spaced-out are the signs
Of how slender are the dividing lines.
Or are for most of us. For men like him,
Who see the rabble clustered in their tents
And want these eyesores cleared away; whose grim
And Manichean worldview represents
The poor and lost as one large synonym
For losers, bundles on the subway vents
Mean walking from limo to vestibule
Through garbage is decidedly uncool.
This fiscal model’s based on confidence:
Of promises and pitch, vagueness and greed.
It’s not so much the use of common sense
But more an act of faith, a kind of creed
That everyone will win, that pounds and pence
And greenbacks will if sexed up join and breed
That strange, misshapen progeny called wealth:
To be adored above law, love, and health.
Unsatisfied, the favored child devours
The planet to supply its appetite.
It shovels up the land, the ancient flowers
Crushed over eons into coal. Its bite
Severs life’s arteries, consumes the hours,
Absorbs the resources we need to fight,
To find some kind of method to survive:
Hold on to what we have, if not to thrive.
Will we decisively recalibrate
Our cross-eyed vision, sharpen our capacity?
Will we focus our gaze and demonstrate
A deeper understanding and veracity?
Or will we double down, exacerbate
Our absolute, insatiable rapacity?
Or could these next ten years merely portend
A faster danse macabre to the end?
Since Rio we have known how high the stakes
Would grow—and that was thirty years ago!
If then we’d pressed our foot upon the brakes,
Stopped digging holes so deep, and stanched the flow,
The warming might have proven no great shakes:
Minor adjustments, not a massive blow.
Instead, we carried on with blithe impunity,
Exploiting each loophole and opportunity.
The huge infernos ravaging Australia
Portend a future that by Twenty-Nine
Will render this new decade’s glossolalia
Of clueless platitudes and anodyne
Advice the vacuous paraphernalia
Of a smug epoch that failed to divine
What was in front of its blistered eyelashes,
Until infernos scorched each lid to ashes.
The chances—oh, the chances—we have squandered;
The era wasted, mining coal and oil.
Our riches spent on pointless wars, we’ve wandered
From combat to conflict on foreign soil.
The military-industrial complex laundered
Our blood and treasure and ensured turmoil
Distracted us enough to guarantee
That this will lead to a catastrophe.
Not even Paris slowed us down; I think
It reinforced the stubborn nationalists,
Who’ll happily compel us to the brink
And push us off, then run. Monetarists
Will furrow brows and, in the crisis, slink
Away as shares collapse. The jihadists
Of every sort will line us up at pits,
When the Rube Goldberg engine falls to bits.
Who has an answer for the gathering storm,
The melting icecaps, and the raging fires?
What mighty goal demands that we conform
So rigidly to serving our desires
To drug ourselves to death? Why set the norm
Of addled acquiescence to these liars,
Who claim they have our interests at heart?
Why give them license to tear us apart?
But no one’s held to account: not the flush hawkers
Of opioids who got the pain-filled hooked;
Not the talk-radio or the TV squawkers,
Who advocated war and overlooked
The trauma and the havoc: well-paid talkers,
Who’ve never fought in battle, and who cooked
The news to suit their goals. And not the brass
Who claimed, “We’re winning,” to protect their ass.
Since Two Thousand we’ve been immersed in shit
Of our own making: vats of steaming poo
Poured over public life. Each hypocrite,
“Expert,” or Wise Man has dumped it onto
The soldier, farmer, civil servant; spit
An endless stream of diarrhea through
The body politic, leaving our species
Up to our reeking nostrils in their feces.
I hope that from the surfeit of manure
A lotus springs that leaves the crap behind.
A shoot both fresh and clean, and yet mature
And hardy: one resilient and kind.
Balance of old and new, pure and impure,
Deep-rooted, seeking sunlight—may it find
Itself grounded and standing tall: a shade
Protecting the abandoned and afraid.
For in the end, the money will not save us;
The rising waves will breach the offshore banks.
The neoliberalisms that enslave us
Will burn to cinders, as will marshaled tanks
Along the borders. These two decades gave us
Ample reminders that the longest planks
Still end in air and sea, yet on we strode.
Despite the warnings we would not be slowed.
Will we continue nurturing the afflictions
That dull the soul, blanket the grief and dread?
Will we retreat into the virtual fictions
Of our screens, or boldly barge ahead
With messianic end-of-days predictions
That save our tribe—sooths pinned to each warhead
That lights the tinder of the funeral bier
On which lies the charred Earth? Happy New Year!