When history books are written about 2017 and the year that preceded it (assuming that something called “writing” survives, such things as “books” remain, and any human settlements exist to recollect anything in the way of “history”), it may be possible to consider with a degree of equanimity the character of the forty-fifth president of the United States, the reasons for his election in November 2016, and what either tell us about the people who voted for him or those who thought it unimportant to vote at all.
Until then, however, there is The Trumpiad: Book the First. Written in the style and verse-form of Don Juan by Lord Byron, this epic poem in twelve cantos is a cri de coeur, a pungent satire, and a richly allusive Jeremiad on the times we live in, as well as a throwback to the mock-heroic epics of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad and Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.
At once high-flown and bawdy, and a faithful recollection of the anxieties and pantomimic absurdities of 2017, The Trumpiad: Book the First is not only a unique collectible but an entirely charitable endeavor. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be divided between Vine, a farmed animal sanctuary in Vermont that works at the intersection of animal liberation, LGBTQ rights, anti-racism, and issues relating to disability, and New Alternatives, an organization that offers services for homeless queer youth in New York City.
Book the Second (exploring the annus horribilius of 2018) is available here, and Book the Third is currently unfolding here. If you don’t want to buy Book the First, its entirety (without endnotes) follows forthwith:
Canto 1: January 2017
Canto II: February 2017
Canto III: March 2017
Canto IV: April 2017
Canto V: May 2017
Canto VI: June 2017
Canto VII: July 2017
Canto VIII: August 2017
Canto IX: September 2017
Canto X: October 2017
Canto XI: November 2017
Canto XII: December 2017
Canto I: January 2017
In olden days, a writer with pretension
To voice his people’s hopes in smooth hexameter,
Would make a case for poetic ascension
By laying down an ode or epigrammata
Before composing something with dimension,
For risk he’d be exposed as a rank amateur.
Why show you’re just another two-bit schemer
And what’s more do it in ottava rima?
But there’s no time for artistic probation:
The game’s afoot, time ripe, the need is now.
The fate of the Republic’s the vexation:
Whether we last through these four years, and how.
When a sham ignoramus runs the nation,
Who cares if I’m sufficiently high-brow
To catch the wretched agon of the times
Successfully in Tasso’s piquant rhymes?
Lord Byron knew the mixture well: Don Juan
Incorporates the seemly and the seamy.
And per the era, I venture a new one
Should be both sanctimonious and steamy.
To tenderize the shock of knowing who won
And help us chew, then somewhat tart and creamy
Must be my verse: to catch the zeitgeist’s mood
Demands the euphuistic and the crude.
It’s usual in this type of composition
To issue forth a ringing invocation:
A call to arms, a plea for a commission
To bind the wounds; locate a lofty station
From which to proffer a worthy petition
Or lift the veil upon a desecration.
I need a spot where I can coalesce
Each bilious outflow in one putrid mess.
O soft Gowanus: issue forth your scents
To cleanse my verse; your waters rank and deep
Diffuse my fetid spewing; in your dense
Alembic boil each noxious phrasing, steep
Within your nacreous current each offense,
And turn from dross to gold this steaming heap
That like compost builds life. Is it obscene
To call on you, my flush-full Hippocrene?
Where are you KENTILE sign, whose lambent beams
Once shone upon the sludge-filled sites below?
Where are the slicks you lit, the oil-tar seams,
The bodies swaying in the undertow
Of the canal? Bless my cloacal memes,
Which rise above South Brooklyn’s dirty glow,
Drivers who contemplate tranquility
When stuck in traffic on the BQE.
Muse, cross the bridges: Newark’s meadows sweet,
Old Cleveland’s groves, the springs of Buffalo,
Descant upon the passing of Main Street,
Now empty, once full not so long ago.
Detroit shall echo, Gary shall repeat
That what was manufactured is no mo’:
For why spend time in genuine creation
When wealth is made through idle speculation?
Look! How we supplicants the levers yank
And buttons push (the gamblers’ Vitus’ dance);
Or rub the lotto genie and so bank
The future on the one-in-a-million chance!
Deposits going south, stocks in the tank,
The houses worthless. And yet, in a trance,
We reckon if we placed just one more bet
We’d magically dissolve our unpaid debt.
Speak, Prophet, let each narcissistic byte
Decode the bibble-babble of this age.
Dismantle every cable droid, indict
Each billion-dollar suit, and turn your rage
Upon the posing proxies that each night
Pour forth the toxic gas that drives the gauge
That measures book advances, honoraria,
And gobs of cash spat forth in faux hysteria.
Descry, O Instant Messenger, the stores
And houses boarded up, the vacant lots
And men who cluster at the corner, scores
To settle or trace up arms, the easy shots
That have no consequence—for all the doors
Have long since been foreclosed on. Join the dots,
You gamers, for the people are in hock
For taking and not taking enough stock.
Direct your gaze toward the gilded suite
Within the Tower; settling on the sofa,
Consider how the bully deigns to meet
Each sycophantic leech and fawning gopher,
How much he smirks as on their knees they bleat
For work, pretending he is not a loafer.
As long as they’re on good terms with the bruiser,
They think that he won’t shame them as a loser.
A puffed-up peacock, scabrous popinjay;
Falstaff without the grace or sack or wit;
A loathsome skeeve, a spawn of Rabelais;
A thin-skinned and vainglorious hypocrite,
Is the Commander of the U.S.A.
Revisit that when next you take a shit.
Let tumble from your bowels into the pan
Just what you think about this wretched man.
“But wait!” I hear you say, “he’s now our chief,
And sixty million folks can’t be mistaken.
We needed change, and Hillary’s a thief,
And now the ruling classes are left shaken,
Because of their presumptuousness. Your beef
Is just sour grapes. And soon you will awaken
In a U.S. of A. that’s rightly ours,
In which we’ll wield full presidential powers.”
My answer to these claims of right is “No.”
No to accepting that this harlequin
Has any right to strut and primp and crow.
I see no cause to offer him my chin
To punch. This bald-faced Braggadocio
Will not go underided. If I sin
It would be in not being hard enough
Upon the flaunting, pompous piece of fluff.
“Good riddance to Obama!” comes the cry,
“The Muslim, godless stooge, the Communist,
The enemy within, the Kenyan spy,
The interloping, false-flag terrorist,
With his transgendered wife.” A desperate try
To stigmatize a couple who’ll be missed.
Your smears were never facts, but fever dreams:
Unlike your man; for he is as he seems.
What standards the Obamas had to meet!
They couldn’t be angry, browbeat or defame,
Or marry twice or thrice. They couldn’t tweet
Insults or obloquy, affront or shame.
Their kids had to be kind and smart and sweet,
Michelle compassionate and without blame:
They always had to leave a good impression
And not commit a solitary transgression.
And now we are confronted with this Nero
Who’ll fiddle as the planet burns: his pride
And vanity unmatched; the perfect hero
For this land, where misconduct is denied,
Compunction shunned, and where a total zero
Can justify state torture, and deride
As quisling crybabies those who attempt
To offer another vision. What contempt!
Is it not weird he has no hinterland?
No book or film or play that moved his soul,
No cultural lodestars, neither small nor grand,
That left him vulnerable or made him whole?
It seems that he’s mere surface (and it’s tanned),
A world of flash and shimmer, without toll:
No weight of loss or sorrow or regret.
Good Lord, he doesn’t even have a pet!
What will he do when he is called to grieve
When natural disaster strikes the nation?
One-forty characters will not relieve
The pain of lives destroyed; nor adoration,
Disdain, or ridicule help us believe
The leader knows the sting of deprivation.
When hugs need to be given, will he reel?
Or, arms extended, will he cop a feel?
More worryingly still, when terror hits,
As it most surely will, will he react
Judiciously, advisedly? Or blitz
A city, region, country when attacked
To prove his manliness? Or blow to bits
Each treaty, bloc, agreement, and compact:
Provide the terrorists with what they need
To fill the beds once more at Walter Reed?
Perhaps the Prez will be as disengaged
As George Bush was in his first months: content
To hit the golf course and become enraged
At SNL, while trying to foment
Some phony crisis so he’s not upstaged
By the dull busyness of government.
He’ll sit counting his future bucks and cents
And hand over the Executive to Pence.
The danger is he’ll think he knows it all:
Filling the airwaves with his contradictions.
There’ll be perpetual conflict, and in thrall
To self-lit conflagrations and the fictions,
Distracted by the thrill of daily brawl,
We’ll exhaust outrage nursing our afflictions.
Meanwhile the Congress will pass legislation
To end the federal administration.
One tenders hope that the judicial branch
Will work to halt congressional overreach;
That genuine conservatives will blanch
At efforts to undermine freedoms of speech,
Assembly, privacy; will salve or stanch
The wounds inflicted; or they’ll block the breach
Made in the wall dividing church and state,
And protect the defenseless against hate.
One might repose some trust, if just a flicker,
That senators will act with gravitas,
And seek out common ground to act (don’t snicker!).
If not, then frankly it might come to pass
That Jefferson’s republic (here’s the kicker),
Will fold before this truculent jackass:
And what we will be left with will be amurcous
Game shows of unrelenting bread and circus.
Yet what about the notion that the chump
Will (at last!) shake things up, and, by upending,
Return some power to the people, pump
The economy with infrastructure spending,
And catapult us from this so-called slump
Into a future glory never-ending?
Well, yes, he might—except that he’s abstaining
From every promise that he made campaigning.
What makes this flagrant treachery more galling
Is how he savors playing us for fools.
Beyond his bombast, tantrums, and name-calling
His goal seems only to dispense with rules
To allow infractions even more appalling.
It’s obvious that he considers mules
The folks who voted for him, suckers all,
Stick figures scrawled upon his bullshit Wall.
The coal and steel jobs are not coming back,
Obamacare’s repeal has no replacement;
The Wall will not be built, and every claque
Is lining up for inside perks. Abasement
Will be complete when every stooge and hack
Is settled into every job and space meant
For those who care for their agency’s mission,
Instead of beating it into contrition.
So now we wait to see what fate will show.
The U.S.A. has been through worse—got through
The Civil War, slaveholding, the Alamo,
Pearl Harbor, My Lai, Watergate; and grew
Following 9/11. Even so
That better days await might not be true:
Reliant on exclusion and amnesia,
Dispensed through a collective anesthesia.
Oh man! I hope that we are proven wrong,
And suddenly he is magnanimous:
Reforms the prisons, builds the roads, makes strong
The economy (and does it without fuss),
Returns power to where it should belong,
While not throwing the weak under the bus,
And, though admitting that he can be crude,
Ensures that only rich people are screwed.
So now we wait for the Inauguration,
The senses frayed, and hearts and souls a-flutter,
What will he say to calm a frazzled nation?
What soaring rhetoric will this man utter?
Will he, at last, ascend to meet the station
To which he aspired, or will he simply mutter
A few pat phrases from the autocue
Before attacking his latest bugaboo?
What will it be? Four years of garbled tweets,
Of grievance, surliness, dissimulation?
Four years of protest marches in the streets,
Met each night with a pettish lucubration?
Of dirt (financial and between the sheets),
Corruption, filth, and misappropriation;
Or something else? Distinction or disgrace?
We’ll find out soon enough; so, watch this space.
Canto II: February 2017
Where are the songs of Spring? (You may well ask.)
Where weeds in wheels shoot long and lovely and lush.
The darling bud’s not ready for the task,
The lark ascending but a darkling thrush.
The smell of dread’s cloaked by a facial mask,
And hectic cheeks rosy with flu’s first blush:
We raise a cry, given our president,
“Now is the winter of our discontent.”
It’s only been two weeks, and madness brews!
The Constitution creeks and sighs and buckles.
The lawyers have descended! Talks of coups,
Secret cabals, and gangs may give you chuckles
But this seems scary-true to me. A fuse
Is lit: I counsel, “Get out your brass knuckles.”
For something quite explosive has begun
And there’ll be street-fighting before it’s done.
I know last canto’s tone was too threnodic.
But like so many, I was out of humor.
I sought for major strains, something melodic,
Yet what were sounded were the bells of doom; a
Long, plangent, ululatory, spasmodic,
Dyspeptic groan at the malignant tumor
That’s formed within the body politic,
And hasn’t been excised yet. Sick, O sick!
Therefore, instead of taking medication,
Let me recall a topos from the ages:
A listing of the heroes of the nation,
No longer here, but who now fill the pages
Of history books. They reached the highest station,
And by the lesson of their lives, these sages
Reveal to us it might not be as bad
As it might seem in this dark season. Sad!
Picture a man uneasy in his skin,
Of awkward twitches, blatant paranoia,
Without a friend, but enemies within,
Who craves respect from those he loathes; destroyer
Of an elite that will not let him in;
Whose angst is that a congressman or lawyer
Will strip from him the one thing he gets kicks in:
That’s power. I refer to Richard Nixon.
Is Tricky Dick not the progenitor?
Think of it: subterfuge, plots, half-baked theories,
The all-consuming need to settle a score,
The exposés, the leaks, an endless series
Of depositions, cover-ups, and more,
Leaving the world astonished at the sheer ease
With which one man can macerate the nation
Unless allowed to freebase adulation.
Recall the Hardings and their Teapot Domes,
And Wilson’s resurrection of the Klan;
The bought-and-paid-for Gilded Age’s gnomes
Who helped the rich grow richer; and the span
Van Buren to Buchanan. Thoughtful tomes
Indict their many frauds and failures. Can
We locate in the list an Anglo-Saxon
More cruel than the bloody Andrew Jackson?
I venture not. Yet mediocrities
(Like Major Major) need a sinecure.
They, too, seek graft and love perquisites!
How else will cocky layabouts ensure
That others do the work so they can squeeze
Into their schedule one more victory tour?
It’s fun to spend one’s time before adoring
Crowds chanting your name. All the rest is boring!
This man, therefore, is not an aberration.
He seems that way because we have forgot
How much the past reveals the amputation
Of truth from how we dream we were: the rot
Of sharecropping and lynching, segregation,
Of Joe McCarthy, tenements, the lot
Of native peoples and the broken pacts:
These are not myths or misconstrued; they’re facts.
What if he’s ill, not merely solipsistic?
What if he cannot function without crisis?
You sense he’s desperate to go ballistic
And take thousands of troops to war with ISIS;
Inflate his chest and pose in a fascistic
Homage to Mussolini, which is why this
Scenario’s so weird. I ask again:
What if the U.S. president’s insane?
It started at the Correspondents’ Dinner
When President Obama—who of late
This man had been asserting was a sinner
For not releasing his certificate
Of birth, and claiming he would soon begin a
Phishing trip to make sure he was innate—
Determined at the banquet with the accuser
To have a little fun with his abuser.
It turned out that the “tough” investigator
Discovered that he didn’t like to see
The truth about himself. The fabricator
Resolved to run for office. History
Will demonstrate that this manipulator
Decided to destroy the powers that be
Not out of care for ordinary folk
But just because he couldn’t take a joke.
The trouble is he’s not a merry pranker
Who yearns to punk and make his trifling plays.
He thrives on turmoil, enmity, and rancor,
Thrills in deflection, falsehood, and malaise.
In English parlance, he’s a frigging wanker
Who kicks the sticks from old people, and preys
Upon the fragile. If he acts the thug,
He thinks, no one will see under the rug.
Talking of which, please tell me what’s that carpet
That sits atop his head? A dormant rat?
A shiny coprolite dug from a tar pit?
A grouchy and albino Maine Coon cat?
The decomposing body of a varmit,
Or golden guano from a loose-bowelled bat?
It looks like someone piled on wet spaghetti
And dried it to resemble a small Yeti.
Now I don’t like to dwell in negativity:
I’m mostly Mr. Sunshine, happy camper.
If leaning to the good is my proclivity
Then surely (without being a rubber stamper)
I should say something nice. For expressivity
That’s only doom and gloom will be a damper
And make us want to clasp our knees and rock.
So I’ll reframe these features that I mock.
O weave supreme, a glorious filigree
Of cultivated strands, metallic weft,
Frozen by gel, embalmed through chemistry,
Each follicle effulgent: right and left
Can marvel at the stylist’s topiary,
That threaded so few hairs into such heft.
Bald Opportunity is most dismayed
To see his single hair in that blond braid.
Upholstered fleece: an auric monument
To everything he’s hungered for since birth;
A cover for his failures (youth misspent,
Failed marriages, the bankruptcies). It’s worth
In sleek and contoured moldings that augment
His dome to him is much more than the mirth
That falls upon its lustrous sward like dew
And polishes his barefaced self anew.
And what about those gestures so balletic?
The forefinger and thumb (perverted mudra)
Bespeaking . . . what? Precision? Truth emetic?
The prissy cynicism of his sudra
That highlights how easily the bathetic
Can hide the fact that an almighty budra
Is going to be levied on your ass!
Don’t be confused by postures that look crass.
O brazen sybarite, whose farouchemoue
Puckers with such fastidious disdain.
Not even Blanche DuBois could swoon and stew
In such “melodramatic diva” vein.
Carnival barker, breathy ingénue,
Both Susan Alexander and Charles Kane:
Not to be ostentatiously ungallant,
I must say, “Exit right; you have no talent.”
What honeyed words shall we say of Melania?
That she’s a sylph in bondage to Silenus?
Or like the accurséd fairy queen Titania
Enamored of an ass? A marbled Venus
Carved by jealous Pygmalion? An ania
To a flame? The sheath that covers up his penis
And offers him the semblance of propriety
To make sure it’s not unmasked in society?
Observing her pinched features, fixed and strained,
You sense that something has gone wrong. As if
What, years ago, she bargained for has drained
The joy from her. And like a living GIF
She’s trapped in the same motions; every pained,
Thin smile; her slender body taut and stiff:
These show she knows and worries that her beau
Will one day say, “You’re fired,” and she’ll go.
Where is the joshing, where the amorous ease,
The warmth that comes from knowing that your guy
Has reached the top? I wonder, did he squeeze
Her hand that first night, look her in the eye
And say that he was sorry for the sleaze,
But that man was no more? That he would try
To be someone of whom she could be proud,
With whom she could stand resolute, unbowed?
Yet there she is, untouched and unadored,
Who walks behind him as he strides ahead.
Locked in her ornate cage, depressed and bored
Out of her skull, each day is filled with dread
At what he’ll say or do next. Her accord
For staying with him’s ultimately led
To being First Lady and the people’s house
And yet she wakes still married to a louse.
Unlike the elder children, with their shrewd
Accommodations to the Chief, their sire,
She and her son look haunted and subdued.
What does she know, what has she seen transpire
Within those marbled walls? Did she conclude
That it was best to shrink back and retire
Rather than be herself and thereby cross
The man she once loved, who is now her boss?
Has she awoken in the dark of night
And wandered to the living room to find
His jowly mien wan in the cellphone’s light
Or staring at the TV screens? Do kind
Hands settle on his shoulders: “It’s not right,”
She says, “they’re merely messing with your mind.
Let them alone and come to bed, my sweet.
It doesn’t matter. You’ve no need to tweet”?
Does he reply, “You’ll never understand.
I cannot let them have the final word.
I’ve never lost. I always win. Command
And others act—that’s me. No little turd
With half a brain will beat me. I demand
Complete respect”? So, by reason unspurred,
(While she retreats, knowing she’s tried her best),
Do his two stubby fingers do the rest?
So much for being nice! I must admit
I find it hard to separate the man
From that office in which he sits. The shit
Is flying but has not yet hit the fan,
And yet we wade through ordure. Piles of it:
A vast lake from Orlando to Spokane.
And every movement, statement, and booboo
Bears undisputed vestiges of poo.
So, no, I won’t go high when they go low.
(Apologies, Michelle!) What sorts of scold
Would Swift or Joseph Heller or Thiong’o
Be if they meekly did as they were told
By those in power? When the ill winds blow
You open up your cheeks and blast, tenfold,
Ripostes both sobering and pedagogical,
Or, failing that, overtly scatological.
Canto III: March 2017
In epics, usually at their very heart,
The plot stops and the hero, marked by fate,
Encounters a Parnassian whose art
The poet thinks incomparable. The great
Wordsmith displays a tableau that, from start
To end, unfurls a pageant of the state,
With warriors both mythic and historical,
And women who are plainly allegorical.
This interlude’s intended to attest
To those who thought you just a Grub Street hack,
That you’ve a right to be among the best,
And that you don’t care if they’re talking smack
About you—you know you’re not like the rest,
For Destiny’s fair winds are at your back.
You are the voice and conscience of the age:
Pretenders will be forced to leave the stage!
If nothing else, conning this entr’acte
Gives you a chance to prove you’ve got the chops:
Skewering enemies, displaying tact
With those who may go either way, and props
To those who are your friends—for now. Thus, packed
With figures (in both senses), such name-drops
With any luck might last for centuries,
Although we know there are no guarantees.
That time has come, dear reader: let’s descend
Into the depths of Hades, where the Styx
Meanders through the Tartaran gloom. Attend!
The lost ones wailing at our politics;
The anguish of the Founders at the end
Of the Republic. Even dreary Nyx
Pleads for a glint of lightness to set free
The souls of Uncle Sam and Liberty.
These two were last seen at the Inauguration.
They’d come from sleeping in a cardboard shack
Near the Potomac, to cheer on the nation
As it changed leaders. But their jaws fell slack
At the new president’s disinformation.
With shattered hearts they wandered slowly back
And that night gave their country up for lost.
They sought out Charon, paid their dues, and crossed.
How sad they seem! How gaunt, how wan, how worn!
The flaming torch that she had once upheld
Extinguished; his stovepipe tattered and torn;
The passion in his piercing eyes now quelled;
And facial muscles sallow, limp, forlorn,
As if from Eden they had been expelled.
On seeing them, so downcast, frail, and weak,
I summon up my wits and start to speak.
I call to them, “O Lady Liberty
And Uncle Sam, had you waited a day,
You would have stood among a shining sea
Of people of all colors, straight and gay,
Befitting what it means to be the Free
Of this fair land.” But they wander away,
Not hearing what I cry. I shake my head:
It’s not that easy comforting the dead.
My eyes search for the Sybil for this mission:
Who might I—poetaster, versifier—
Ask as a guide for such a composition?
Nor Virgil, Hermes, Homer, nor the lyre
Of Orpheus are in my range; my edition
Needs a cut-price Calliope to inspire.
Without blinking an eye (for I’m not proud),
I summon the ethericMaureen Dowd.
Behold she manifests herself! Her retinue
Are twin putti, Irreverence and Snark,
And weird sisters, Smirk and Snide and Rue.
The five give me the side eye, and remark,
“How strange it is that a rube such as you,
Would have the chutzpah, gumption, or the spark
To call forth such as one as She, whose irony
Is wasted on a putz who thinks he’s Byron-y.”
“Silence,” commands La Dowd, “for this poor fool
Must needs receive a vision; a charade
That I shall place before him that will school
Him in lampoon and farce; a cavalcade
Of failings and defects. For ridicule
Must scatter the grotesque harlequinade
Of ogres that goosestep within the pate
Of that man who is now the head of state.”
She lifts her arms, and suddenly a cloud
Descends. I blink and stare: before my face
Deplorables effuse from the black shroud
Of deepest darkness and take up their place.
I cannot but admire how Maureen Dowd
Can conjure a cabal of such disgrace
As these atrocious phantoms. There they cluster:
A murderers’ row of perfidy and bluster.
First, Insecurity: twitching and wincing,
Ranting about his ratings and fake news;
His arms flap as he tries to be convincing
At how much he’s admired by the Jews.
Yet all the while, between the camp and mincing,
He’s scared someone will say that this king’s trews
Are non-existent, and the only clothing
He shrouds himself with are terror and loathing.
Next, Insincerity: homunculus,
A fawning, two-faced fraud, fair-weather chum.
So filled with fat lies is this incubus,
He floats free of the real. This pond scum
Is so infected and befouled with puss
That he makes those who know him sick and numb:
For there is yet no surefire antidote
To remedy ventripotence and bloat.
Third in this wretched chain is Victimhood,
Sullen and mewling, whining, pouting, glum.
“Why can’t I get my own way? I’ll be good,
I promise,” is the falsehood that this bum
Whimpers and snivels. “I’m misunderstood.”
Yet Victimhood’s sly grin shows he’s not dumb.
If you cross him he’ll really put the boot in,
Either with goons or with his great pal Putin.
Then twin sisters, Bullying and Suspicion:
Mean girls who detest those whom they admire;
Their shoulders cold, they seek total submission
From those they think might have their measure; fire
The talented and worthy. A condition
Of being a cool kid is you conspire
Against all comers: for it’s very clear
That if they can’t love you, at least they fear.
That shade rubbing his hands is Calculation:
His task to uproot Kindness and Largesse;
To work without respite to spike inflation
And expand Insincerity’s vile mess.
There’s Self-delusion (way above his station)
And clinging on despite lack of success.
And leading them in chants, replete with bile,
Is Gall, his mug sprayed with an unctuous smile.
The rest of them are lost within the herd
Of gluttons and con-artists, a great crowd
Of flies that swarm the Vices. A huge turd
From Egomania expels a cloud
Of vast windbaggery and the absurd.
It’s just too much. I shout, “Spirit of Dowd!
How might I, humble drudge, in these sad times,
Defeat such turpitude with my poor rhymes?”
“You think I’ve got the answer?” laughs the Muse.
“I’m just a columnist. We like to think
We hold some clout, but really we just schmooze
And write down third-hand gossip. Seas of ink
Are spilled for nothing. Yes, we point j’accuse;
Occasionally we may kick up a stink
That might cause blushes; but that’s very rare.
Most of the time we simply blow hot air.
“The president’s an idiot, but folly
Has been the stuff of politics forever.
He’s not the first commander off his trolley
And will not be the last. We might say ‘Never
Again,’ and yet we find ourselves, by golly,
Once more with reprobates, pulling the lever
For someone who is chock-a-block with flaws
Yet whom we know will push our favorite cause.
“This guy is big box-office. He’s appalling,
It’s true, but equally compelling viewing.
He’s always known that showing off’s his calling
Especially when he is scenery-chewing.
What does he care if he’s accused of balling
Or doing what he just should not be doing?
It’s part of his compulsion to convey a
Strong message that he’ll always be a player.
“In your disparagement, where is the blame
For Hillary, the Democrats, the press?
Obama was too cool; the blue team’s game
Was hoping trumpery would more or less
Hand Hillary the White House; or her name
Was only what she needed to progress.
You never win because it is your turn,
That’s what nomenklaturas never learn.
“I’m not denying race, misogyny,
Or white fragility don’t play a role;
The right dissembled, and ‘identity’
Works both ways. But, what’s new? Sure, digging coal
And building walls aren’t real policy,
But class must count for something, and your goal
Of holding the Obama coalition
Failed in the face of working-class sedition.
“You think that Sanders would have won the poll?
A Jewish socialist who looks a mess?
Each anti-Semite, John Birchmanqué troll
Would have attacked him, and with great success.
In days, they would have swallowed him up whole
And fed his body to the right-wing press.
The young ones may have thought him hip and ‘woke.’
But in the end he was the same old bloke.
“So cut your blather, wise up, and get real.
This man’s a threat, yes; he must be opposed.
But your task is not simply to appeal
To your own kind. You must be more hard-nosed,
And take down cant wherever, bring to heel
The nonsense from the left-wing that’s bulldozed
Its way through academe. Your form of group Id
Is just as dangerous and just as stupid.
“You’re going to have to leave your comfort zone,
And find out why your sort of liberal bias
Makes others squirm. You may employ high-flown
Language to demonstrate why they are liars,
But that does not excuse your scornful tone,
Preposterous conceits, and every pious
Assumption that each working-class Luddite,
Would, if he listened to you, see the light.
“You know the story of the quid pro quo
Between the Feds and Wall Street: heavyweights
In both blew right through our hard-earned dough
And said, ‘You pay: that’s how it operates.’
If you’d been lent a pitchfork and flambeau
You would have been the first to storm the gates.
Meanwhile, Joe Blow, Jane Doe—to their great grief—
Lost everything: car, cash, jobs, house, belief.
“You said it: Uncle Sam and Liberty
Were homeless. Look around you at the losses
To opioids, destitution, misery;
The casual destruction of the bosses
Who ship their jobs abroad. Sure, you and me,
We’ve got some money stowed away, our tosses
Are such that we can count on luck most days,
But if you have no cash, it’s layaways
“And loan sharks, scams, and debt up to your ears.
Do Chuck Schumer and others speak to this?
Do your soy latte–, smoothie-drinking peers
Have any clue of what it’s like to miss
Your payments and find yourself in arrears?
Do you? In such a case, who cares for ‘cis’
Or ‘trans’ or BLM? They’re games to you
If your food doesn’t last the whole day through.
“What you need is a story,” she goes on.
“You can’t keep simply spouting derogation
Month after month. The Obama days are gone,
And now we need a hero for the nation
To countermand this ass. An Amazon,
Who’ll be a legendary demonstration
Of what we could be. It may be pretend,
But at least we’ll have fun before the end.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I’ll be leaving.
I really don’t belong here with the dead:
I’m still alive (though looks may be deceiving).
And while it’s true I have a heavy tread
Like Orpheus, I’m not concerned with grieving
The losses of a female figurehead.
The Clintons always have done very well
Each time they put their followers through hell.”
At that, she leaves (yes, in a puff of smoke),
The Vices with her, while her scornful train
Throws me a glance, complaining what a joke
It is I should have summoned her in vain,
Before they vanish in the gloom. I croak
A brief farewell, then try to ascertain
Why she believed that it was mandatory:
To cast a hero who could lead a story.
Canto IV: April 2017
I’m cogitating on this, when appears
Before me a familiar compound ghost.
The wry smile, weary mien beyond his years,
And fierce disgust bear witness to a host
Of perfidies imposed upon his peers—
Of murder, beatings—that would break the most
Resilient of souls. And yet his air
Betrays no trace of loathing or despair.
He turns to me: “No doubt, you’ve been advised
To reach beyond the base to comprehend
What happened and why pollsters were surprised,
And what message the voting might portend;
I’m sure you’re pondering why the despised
White working-class to whom you condescend
Would place their bets upon a slug and fop
Being the one who should come out on top.”
He says, “Always remember: from the start
The ‘patriots’ made a determination
Of who would be considered ‘us,’ a part
Of the rich fabric, who an aggravation.
No war, no act, no president, no art
Can sound the depths of such repudiation,
Until together, honestly, we face
The scourge that is our legacy on race.
“Obama isn’t dumb, he knew his place
In history could be a divagation;
That one black president would not erase
The original evil of discrimination.
He realized we’d work to do to chase
Away the fantasy that our foundation
Did not bake in injustice, bigotry,
And violence against people like me.
“How much this monster must hate 44:
To be so pointedly and soundly mocked
By him—a witty, bright man, who could score
Without assaulting women, and who rocked
With Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and what’s more
Was not emasculated. He cock-blocked
White-male assumption and entitlement
That a black man could not be president.
“You see it in his jutting chin, his stance,
The swollen chest and extra lengthy tie;
His dread of being unmasked, the sidelong glance,
The insecurity; his need to lie
And claim that he’s the victim and enhance
His image of himself as the good guy.
His confidence is obviously a trick;
A Jenga stack held by a single brick.
“The man’s a patsy, but even a sap
Can dog whistle. The birth certificate;
The Central Park Five, the ‘worst leader’ crap—
These tell white people what he means by ‘great’
Is that he’ll make black people doff their cap
To massa once again, and what of late
We’ve gained will be rolled back. On this, he’s sure:
Whiteness is normative, blackness impure.
“His posse of alt-right supremacists
Shows noxious whiteness continues to fester;
Each washed-out, knock-kneed, sad sack that exists
Believes George Washington is his ancestor;
Your pallid, inbred dragger-of-his-fists
Insists that he’s a paragon, the best a
Country like ours produces: but for proof
Who are they going to point to? Dylann Roof?
“Now, liberals like you want to be cleared
Of guilt by melanin association.
But name a time when black men were not smeared
By similar slurs: sexual predation,
Assault, rebellion? Or black men feared
White women’s words against them? Friend, this nation
Is steeped in hate and dread that’s so extensive,
That your weak ‘It’s not me!’ is plain offensive.
“That’s why I’m tired of being told to wait
For white America to ‘get it.’ No,
It’s said, it’s not their fault that what was great
To them leaves out Friedan, Vietnam, Jim Crow,
And whom you couldn’t love or even date
Without some buzz-cut clown or G.I. Joe
Beating the shit out of you every day,
Joined by his righteous pals, the KKK.
“It’s hard to face such privilege: to admit
That poor and sick and jobless though you are,
You don’t, won’t ever, think that you don’t fit;
That your translucent pelt bears you so far
Beyond your brother’s tanned hide. To submit
To such a truth would throw off your North Star.
For Liberty’s and Uncle Sam’s pale skins
Absolve you of a multitude of sins.
“Ironically, we black folks want to cleave
To what this nation promises to all.
In spite of crackers telling us to ‘Leave!
Go back to Africa’ each day, we fall
For jingoistic humbug, sit and weave
The beautiful illusion that the small
Improvements in our lives will one day lead
To a time when no more black children will bleed.”
He stops and draws upon his cigarette.
“Well, there it is. ‘My country, ‘tis of thee.’”
He looks me up and down. “Now, don’t forget,”
He adds, “That words can soothe too easily
The soul of heartache. And it’s a good bet
That’s what you’re hoping for; that you will see
Safe passage through the muck. But it’s much harder
To stoke your rage and reignite your ardor.
“Write what you will, you’ll never be Du Bois.
You cannot claim to ‘sing America.’
Red, white, or blue—your color is a choice
Where we are always black.” He paused. “We are
Always the other. So, you use your voice
In any way you wish, take it as far
As you can go. I wish you luck, you’ll need it:
A middling gift with only pique to feed it.”
At that, he disappears into the haze.
I breathe out and reflect. It seems my fate
Is not to wreathe my head with laurel bays
But to be shown by writers, live and late,
The insufficiency of my poor lays
In apprehending the affairs of state.
Dejected, I trudge slowly to the exit,
When from the mist a Frenchman cries out, “Sex it.”
I raise my head and, lo, in some decay,
In front of me is theMarquis de Sade.
Chuckling and gibbering, déshabillé,
Scratching his flaking scalp, clearly half-mad,
He bows extravagantly: “Bonne soirée
To him, the downer! Sir, you’re feeling bad
About your prospects as a satirist.
Might I, a humble hedonist, assist?”
I nod. What, really, do I have to lose?
“Your trouble, m’sieur, is that you’re too polite.
Even Ms. Dowd—her talent’s to amuse,
Not scandalize; the other’s to be right.
But real satire doesn’t pick and choose
Whom to be friends with and with whom to fight.
The point is not to be mellow and pensive;
But to be universally offensive.
“What better way than sex to spill the bedpan
And pour forth streams of effluence and stink;
You may ejaculate or stick to deadpan,
Evoke a burlesque babe or slim-hipped twink,
But whether you give or like getting head, man,
Dig ‘in your face’ or more ‘nudge, nudge, wink wink,’
Sex breaks down every barrier and taboo,
Because whom you shaft will in turn shaft you.
“The priest caught pants-down with his catamite,
The statesman rifling through his mistress’ drawers;
The moralist found naked at dawn’s light
Bound by a dominatrix on all fours;
The socialite whose sateless appetite
For rough trade opens legs, hearts, and class doors:
These illustrate desire is unrestrained,
However we might wish it be contained.
“The judges thrashed by minxes in their nighties,
The wise guys felled by languorous brunettes,
The cops fellated in their tighty-whities,
The Dixiecrats impaled by black coquettes,
The honeytraps who snare the high-and-mighties,
The teens on the back seats of their Corvettes:
These testify to the lordly misrule
That renders sex the satirist’s best tool.
“The milf who finds the plumber’s snake most handy,
The blonde who dives into a mogul’s pocket;
The lingam that licks each yogini’s candy,
The tux who shoots the deb off like a rocket;
The cad whose mick slips in the virgin’s shandy:—
As every plug fits snugly in its socket
So sex supplies the necessary juice
That froths the foam of fountains of abuse.
“The Mennonite who trolls for ladyboys,
The imam who courts his hermaphrodite,
The Hasidim cruising the streets for goys,
The monk who stains his habit every night,
The nun whose bedside table’s full of toys,
Renunciates whom lust comes back to bite
Reveal a strain of sex that’s anti-clerical
But cannot be dismissed as just chimerical.
“So, my advice is stop being so pious
About what’s wrong. Ignore the culturati;
When has there ever been a time when bias
For one’s own blood, land, ethnic group, or party
Did not rule hearts? The politicians ply us
With nostrums that lead us to think we’re smart, we
Compound our vanities with the fixation
That history bends to amelioration.
“But hate and prejudice are unremitting,
In every decade thoughtlessness renewed.
Elites gain pleasure regularly shitting
Upon the schmucks who itch to be subdued.
They let the shysters take their power, pitting
Themselves against their fellows to collude
With hucksters whose main message (finely honed)
Is, ‘I’ll make sure the other guy is boned.’
“So, damn each conscientious Pharisee
Who never votes because ‘it’s just a sham’;
The mouth-breather who says, ‘He speaks for me,’
When douche-y hacks upchuck their aural spam;
The selfish tightwad who only feels free
To get involved when he is in a jam:
These morons with their regular apostasies—
Are nothing but the ass-wipes of democracies.
“Through their inertia or their votes they got
What they deserved: a venal, oily fake,
As disengaged and ignorant as the lot
Of them; a lazy, good-for-nothing rake
Who aims to yank the handle of each slot
Machine of government to cash in, make
A ton more money on cable TV,
And once again bankrupt the bourgeoisie.
“Your task, then, is to let it all hang out.
Imagine those two Russian hookers humping
Above his orange corpulence; the lout
(Wearing a shower cap) enjoys them dumping
Their piss into his navel; but the sprout
That is his dick he can’t prevent from slumping
Each time a golden drop lands with a splat,
In panic that this might be kompromat.
“We know the pussy-grabber craves patootie.
He longs to let his grubby fingers roam.
Think of his sweaty crevices, the fruity
Pong of his cheap cologne. When he gets home
And boasts to gamesmen playing ‘Call of Booty,’
Imagine women smearing cleansing foam
Within each orifice the mountebank
Has pawed, or into which his damp lips sank.”
The old lech stops and grins. “Feel better now?”
He leers. “The artist’s role is overrated:
In Hades no one ever gives a cow
At what you wrote. So much of it is dated
And every name forgotten, anyhow.
Whether you’re scandalous or understated
Most will ignore your thoughts in all respects
But one—and that is when you speak of sex.”
He waves me off and, fortified, I rise
Until the surface of the earth I meet.
Before me spring has lightened up the skies
The flowers bloom and songbirds dart and tweet.
My time in hell has given me supplies
With which to tune my wit and scrub my feet.
My task is clear: without doubt or revision,
To stand and fight in total opposition.
Canto V: May 2017
Let fly the flags; resistance songs upraise;
As one, chant slogans and hope reignite:
For we have made it through a hundred days.
We were convinced that he would set ablaze
The Constitution, and let the alt-right
Fly their false flags as long as he got praise
Pursuing strongman tactics and mores.
We thought the nation would end overnight,
But we have made it through a hundred days.
The president continually displays
His rank incompetence. But now in sight
Are warning flags voters will reappraise
What’s tolerable. Will he let malaise
Entomb us, or conjure distress and fright
To terrorize the next one hundred days?
Who knows? It never ceases to amaze
How much confusion, contumely, and spite
His flagging, on-the-fly rule spits up: rays
Of light we see, but in too many ways,
It’s clear the worst is yet to come: so, fight!
Let fly the flags; resistance songs upraise;
That we may live another hundred days.
* * *
Now I’ve returned from Hades, I am bound
To ponder how to prosecute my story.
My muse has told me that another round
Of o me miserum (or short of glory)
Cheap shots and gripe will only make me sound
A whining malcontent. Much better for me
And readers, she’s said, to conjure a fighter
Who’ll do the necessary to the blighter.
Perhaps she wants a hunk who’s lithe and lusty,
To fight against our leader’s callous vanity.
He’s somewhat dim perhaps, but brave and trusty.
His steadfastness will shame the cruel inanity,
And what is piecemeal, shambolic, or crusty
About the administration. His humanity
Will shine through in his dash and derring-do
And strike a marked contrast with You Know Who.
When asked to serve, he’ll lift the nearest blade
And rush to fight without much preparation.
He’ll down the enemy and won’t be stayed
Though one might wish for a sign of mentation.
And while as subtle as a hand-grenade
Our hero will provide some compensation
In that before he’s righted every wrong,
He’ll trill a leitmotifed chromatic song.
C’est vrai, the danger with the martial sort
Is that he can’t take domesticity.
Once war is over, he returns to port;
And after he’s kissed his Penelope,
And she’s told him to cut the hedge and sort
His man-cave out and clean the lavatory,
He starts to think it would be quite a wheeze
To sail through the Pillars of Hercules
And westward to the sunset. I prefer,
Someone who’s blessed with brains and guile and cunning,
Who’ll toss each pencil-pusher and poseur
A withering bon mot to send them running;
Whose wit will cut to ribbons each frotteur
Who rubs him the wrong way artlessly punning,
And rend their orifices raw and tender.
No, let’s leave him alone, and change the gender.
Let us dream up an awesome warrior queen
Who’ll grapple with the groper and his clan;
With gimlet eye and steady gaze she’ll clean
The clocks of every spineless congressman
Who tells her that gals like her should be seen
And not heard. While reciting Thich Nhat Hanh,
She’ll grip his scrotum in an iron fist
And should he not be truly mindful, twist.
Or someone understated, shy, petite,
Yet five foot two of compact dynamite.
She gets her nous and savvy from the street,
And knows when to give way and when to fight.
A Daoist ninja warrior, who’s quite sweet
Unless you cross her, then this mighty sprite
Will unleash merry hell upon your cheeks
Until you can’t park your sore tush for weeks.
I get that Byron was being sarcastic
When he implied heroes were two a penny.
Partly, of course, since (far from periphrastic)
He could halloo his own achievements when he
Rained down his scorn, either wry or bombastic.
I don’t possess half of his talents; any
New Britomart that I cause to appear
Will likely flop before she shakes her spear.
It’s possible that for the Kali Yuga
The goddess, skull-bedecked, would suit, or Shiva;
Or someone au courant like Freddy Krueger
Could hand out his sharp nightmares; and “throng-cleaver”
That Gimli wields or Christoph Waltz’s luger
Might do the trick. Or (more Leave It to Beaver
And much less bloody) we could in a pinch
Call Clarence Darrow or Atticus Finch.
The movies are replete with Marvel Comics
Heroes and villains, mutants and X-men.
I’m tired of such unhappy souls: where’s Tom Mix
To thunder to the rescue, or John Glenn
To once more thrill us with his astronomics?
Wolf Man, Catwoman, Amber, Kylo Ren
Might move some merchandise: but times are drastic—
Since real life is ten times more phantastic.
In sum, it’s hard to locate a game-changer
Since any character is trumped by fact.
You think each day cannot get any stranger,
Yet whether through crime, misdeed, or compact,
Another scandal bursts, another danger
To the world order: set up to distract
From some grand ruse or mere incompetence?
And do we even know the difference?
What fresh hell can this be? we gasp and sigh.
Let’s summarize what we have learned to date.
In Spring last year, Justice, the F.B.I.,
And others partnered to investigate
Attempts by Russian hackers to deny
A free and fair election; fabricate
Fake news; and, by release of Dems’ emails,
Avert notice from G.O.P. travails.
The six-agency group aspires to find
Who paid the hackers. Meanwhile, House and Senate
Intelligence committees are assigned
To find out just who was behind it, when it
Occurred, and what effect it had. The mind
Would need the wisdom of a Daniel Dennett
To calculate every ramification
Of each conjecturable machination.
Why was the House Intel Committee chair
Meeting with staffers in the dead of night?
What info did he get and did he share
And on what planet would he think this right?
What does Mike Flynn know? Will we find out where
Both Manafort and Page fit in? Will light
Be shed on Russia’s role in the campaign
Or will dissimulation win again?
How should we comprehend each hour’s claims?
Russia was once the flavor of the day,
But now is wrong and China right; war-games
For World War III with the D.P.R.K.
Go on apace; each tidy set of aims
In foreign policy in every way
Is tossed aside. Existence is at stake:
Yet missiles are launched over chocolate cake.
Meanwhile, we pray that Jared and Ivanka
Kindly employ their finely tailored gloss
And slick PR skills as a kind of a Sanka
To water down their caffeinated boss.
But even they can’t hide the fact this wanker
Is without scruple, couldn’t give a toss
About a single thing but saving face
With those he says he represents: his base.
Bizarre it is, like Midas in reverse,
That what he touches turns from “gold” to crap.
For Billy Bush was thriving, then the curse
Of his off-camera remarks’ mishap
Saw him thrown off his primetime show, and worse,
The man who egged him on avoids the rap
To ride his “locker-room” identity
To an unconscionable victory.
And Bill O’Reilly, old-white-people bait,
And fan because he boosts his Nielsen rating,
Is felt up by the little hands of fate.
Women talk of his calls while masturbating,
Unwanted propositions for a date,
And, though Bill’s forced to go (true, with a grating
Financial deal), his erstwhile guest can blabber
(Unpunished) how he is a pussy-grabber.
Now Roger Ailes, Steve Bannon, and Paul Ryan
Have had their wings clipped (Flynn might go to jail).
Chaffetz is done, Nunes is toast, and Lyin’
Ted has not been heard from. And I would quail
If I were Roger Stone. Only a scion
It seems is safe from being doomed to fail.
Advice to pols: think of ways not to show
If you’re invited to Mar-a-Lago.
The irony is that he’s not the lone
Villainous fool or showy would-be king,
Whose arrogant, half-macho half-cornpone
Belief is l’etat c’est moi posturing—
They want to think they’re like Don Corleone:
Dispensing grace with a kiss of the ring.
And (if you’re President Rody Duterte)
Ensuring that drug dealers don’t reach thirty.
In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Has commandeered the state and now can reign
Until he’s seventy-five. And, deadly spawn,
Young Chairman Kim has decades left of pain
To inflict on his poor country. Woe upon,
Poor Egypt, Venezuela, and the bane
Of those who hope for peace—Putin–Assad:
That murderous hybrid of what is bad.
Jeb Bush called him the “chaos candidate.”
Some pundits say it could prove advantageous
For him whose moves one can’t anticipate
To challenge sacred cows; the more outrageous
The move, the crazier that it might rate,
The more a realignment that this magus
May conjure: well, I’m not sure what they’re drinking,
But this is nothing more than wishful thinking.
Chaos by definition’s uncontrolled;
It’s always prettier before it starts.
Strategic brinkmanship to break the mold
Is well and good, but sometimes finer arts
Of statecraft, knowing when it’s good to fold,
Are needed to resolve the harder parts.
Khrushchev and Kennedy in sixty-two
Saw Armageddon if they saw it through.
We assume that Kim Jong-un’s not really crazy
But ups the ante to suppress dissent.
We assume the president won’t ape Scorsese
And that he’ll cool the jaw-jaw to prevent
War breaking out. For now, Goldwater’s daisy
Remains unplucked, but merely to foment
A crisis to prove that you can draw faster
Will, in this case, lead only to disaster.
Rex Tillerson tells us that regime change
Is not the aim, just a nuke-free Korea;
The generals around him will arrange
A peaceful climb-down—there’s no need to fear
That he’ll go off half-cocked. Is it not strange
That in this escapade it is not clear
Just who we mean? For what we say of Kim
Could just as readily apply to him.
Is it not wacky that it’s Xi Jinping
To whom we turn to calm the situation?
That moderation might come from Beijing
Cannot but make my head twirl, for this nation
(Once this man’s bête noire) now commands the ring,
Can get any sort of accommodation
On Taiwan, Spratly Islands’ reefs, Tibet,
That it wants from its new best friend and pet.
Meanwhile, health care repeal’s snagged again,
The vaunted tax plan’s but a single sheet;
The economy hums on; we wait in vain
For the great infrastructure bill; Main Street
Continues to endure the opioid pain;
The Muslim ban’s tied up in court; the seat
Of government is stalled while national treasures
Are compromised for the extractors’ pleasures.
So we return to letting plutocrats
And plunderers despoil, deface, and spill.
And while this fragile planet warms, fat cats
And their investors take no care, nor will
The government hold them to account: for stats
And warnings won’t stop them firing the grill.
So, yes, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose;
But why should I accept such status quos?
I pen this just before the climate rally
Will gather in D.C. to call for action—
This quarter century marks a sad tally
Of thwarted goals, missed targets, lack of traction
Among the people. We still shilly shally
Or (worse) give time and credence to a fraction
That claims that scientists exaggerate
The effect of climate change and we should wait.
For what? Until Miami’s in the ocean,
The permafrost has thawed, poles open seas?
When Byron wrote his poetry, the notion
That we might end life in four centuries
Would have been risible, but now in motion
Is warming of four, even six, degrees,
Not seen on Earth for millions of years.
How is not this the sum of our fears?
How is not this the focus of this era?
Why aren’t we doing now what must be done
To end the use of fossil fuels; bring nearer
New skills and policies so more than one
Or two of us survive? What could be clearer
Than this grim task? Yet what son of a gun
Is leading us into the deepest hole
But he who thinks the answer is “More coal!”?
Canto VI: June 2017
June is upon us, and we’re six months in.
Each day brings more alarm and conflagration.
Each month I find it harder to begin
My task without dread and exasperation.
Yet, pace Dowd, De Sade, and James Baldwin,
A blanket character assassination
Does not come easily to me. And why?
Because we’re both born under Gemini.
Now I know what you’re thinking: that it’s crazy
To think astrology can hold the key
To understanding how he ticks—a lazy,
Reductive stand-in for psychiatry
That lacks a scientific structure for the ways he
Determines his reality to be.
But my aim is not psychotherapeutic,
But mythopoetic and hermeneutic.
We Geminis are ruled by Mercury,
Quicksilver god of messages and trade.
A puckish trickster, always moving, he
Can talk his way out of an escapade,
Employ seduction to the nth degree,
And wave his hands like weapons to persuade
You into thinking that it would be great
To hand him moola or go on a date.
Unfettered by the need to say what’s true,
Ungrounded by responsibility,
We Geminis love searching for what’s new—
New friends, new baubles, new places to be
Where all the action is. However, through
Legerdemain or glib aside, we flee
When we feel that we are constrained or bored,
Or even worse, belittled or ignored.
Mere light and air, we have no shadow side:
Commercial skill is also greed for money.
We can sell anything, and we’re both snide
And blithe; we’re quick, we’re cruel, and we’re funny.
God of transitions, Mercury can slide
From one mood to the next: one moment sunny,
The next a pouting child. We’re in the know,
But, if you ask “about what?” we must go!
Like Dug the cartoon dog in Up! we’re swayed
By any passing fad or observation.
(Squirrel!) We are good-naturedly waylaid
By surface shininess, improvisation,
And gossip. Anything that is too staid
Or needs a molecule of concentration
Can make us want to run or raise our guard:
We do not like what’s complex or what’s hard.
In spite of attributes that are alarming
It’s hard for us always to be malicious.
We’re much more comfortable being charming.
We don’t like direct conflict; we’re ambitious,
First, to seal the deal by disarming,
And, second, make the buyer like us. Vicious
Retorts and personal attacks come later,
Should we fail to wow as an instigator.
Therefore, my (tepid) rancor might be due
To that I see myself in him. How much
We crave the spotlight . . . only for the view:
Pretending that we have the common touch,
We fret that we’ll be judged a parvenu
And not up to the task. So, as a crutch
We bluster that of course we have a plan, sir!
(As long as we can make it through the stanza.)
That said, I’d like to hope I’d practice caution,
Restrain myself from speaking off the cuff.
I’d want my staff to keep things in proportion
And say when I’ve done or not done enough.
I think I’d know to delegate, for sure shun
Contempt and defamation, take the rough
And smooth as equal parts of holding power,
And not measure achievement by the hour.
I trust I’d want to know the truth from lies,
And that I’d not be frightened of dissent.
I hope I’d face my faults and not disguise
The danger facing any president
Of only seeking good news or the highs
And pomp of office. I would not prevent
A range of views from being aired before me,
And I would not ask people to adore me.
I’ll never be the Commander in Chief
And so can tell myself I’d have a heart
And would behave. It comes as some relief
That Taurus is ascendant in my chart,
Which gives me discipline. But that bold thief,
Light-fingered Hermes, can outdo, outsmart
Those who would tie him down. And don’t expect
Him to be cool, serene, or circumspect.
The restlessness of Mercury’s a blessing:
If ousted, he will find someone to blame
And move on to the next thing. No point stressing
Disgrace to Hermes, for he has no shame.
In fact, he might already (I am guessing)
Be formulating a sly plot to game
Washington, D.C., so he can exact
The maximal revenge for being sacked.
All things considered, I have thus concluded
It’s not a superhero that we need.
To pine for an immortal is deluded,
A vanity despair and weakness feed;
A wish the idle and the hope-denuded
Use to avoid the worry they’ll succeed
If they rose up and fought for recognition:
The comfort of unnoticed opposition.
The paradox is that this fake and fraud
Pretends to speak the “truth” of discontent.
Those who believe they’ve been ignored applaud
Someone they wanted to blow up consent
And take their country back. This sham and bawd,
Who only cares about himself, was meant
To be the people’s tribune and to fight
So they’d receive what they thought theirs by right.
O double treachery! The boob and pill
Is too incompetent for his agenda:
He has no understanding of the Hill
And each day he blurts out random addenda,
Errors, tirades, redactions that will kill
The legislation. Each speech in the blender
Makes an already hard job even tougher,
As well as those who voted for him suffer.
The second insult: what he’s getting done
Does nothing for his base. The health-care plan
That passed the House (no matter how it’s spun)
Will hurt the poor and old. Yet, this conman
Told folks his scheme would be the best, bar none:
For whom?’s the question. How a person can
So wantonly mislead those who believed
Is shocking even to me, the undeceived.
The Muslim ban won’t stop one terrorist;
The tax cuts will not help the middle-class.
The budget ends the programs that assist
The hard-hit regions, jobless, and the mass
Of people in the red states, who have kissed
Their welfare net goodbye. A coup de grâce
Will surely come when, sometime in the fall,
They realize he will not build the Wall.
Thus, more supporters will become addicted,
And, due to Sessions, spend more time in jail.
The infrastructure bill, which was depicted
As quasi-multi-partisan, will fail
Because he doesn’t care for the afflicted
Who need jobs, hope, and luck. So he will bail
On the few promises he’s not discarded
To fantasize that he’s still well-regarded.
We do not need a Storm or Wolverine:
What we demand is one Republican
Or ten to say, “He can no more demean
The office of the president. This man
Is not up to the task, and the obscene
Series of follies that define the span
Of his administration must be ended.
He can no longer by us be defended.”
I don’t expect McConnell, Cornyn, Cruz,
Paul Ryan, and other G.O.P. hacks
To stand up and be counted. They refuse
To get a spine or stiffen their bent backs.
As long as they think they have more to lose
By ditching him, they’ll not bring down the ax.
These profiles of gutless hypocrisy
Won’t move until it’s risk- and conscience-free.
But I assume you’re not like them, Ben Sasse.
I hear they walk tall in Plainview, Nebraska.
I like to think you’re in a different class
From every other cheap-jack. It’s a task a
Straightshooter from the heartland could amass
Thanks of a grateful nation for: unmask a
Disreputable charlatan, and teach him
A lesson he won’t soon forget. Impeach him!
What hope that Lindsey Graham, John McCain,
And Pat Toomey will proclaim, “That’s enough!”?
What more is needed, Sue Collins of Maine,
To show that you are made of sterner stuff?
Lisa Murkowski surely can’t maintain
Her silence. And what happened to the bluff
Bob Corker or John Thune of South Dakota?
I can’t believe you don’t care one iota.
Leaving aside each crime and misdemeanor,
Endangering the sources and intel;
Ignoring that he makes Anthony Weiner
Look cherubic; and avoiding, as well,
How he and his clan couldn’t be obscener
In their extravagances, what the hell
Do you believe should be the repercussions
Of being so damn cozy with the Russians?
But who is this who’s coming to the rescue?
A gray-haired white dude, name of Robert Mueller.
The F.B.I. guy will weed out the fescue
And flush the bushes to find if our ruler
Is innocent, a Nicolae Ceauşescu,
Or simply just a grown-up Ferris Bueller
Who can’t hack working. With deliberation,
We hope Bob saves us from disintegration.
I trust Mueller will take his time (a friend),
For Mercury hates pressure. He’s already
Tweeting his outrage, umbrage that won’t end
Even outside the White House. But the heady
Mixture of revelations might impend
His losing his ascendancy. Instead, he
Will prefer to prop up his precious brand
Rather than carry on taking a stand.
At that point, he’ll claim the system’s corrupt,
That Washington was always out to get him.
He’ll bellyache the politicians sucked
And that he hated everyone who met him.
He’ll state without his leadership we’re fucked
And we’ll be sorry that we have upset him.
Licking his wounds, he’ll go back to his Tower
Like Sauron, and wait to restore his power.
I hope they throw the book at him, I do.
I hope they toss his helmet, clip his heels,
And force him to confess and grovel, too.
I hope they probe his actions till he squeals
So he can know what he has put us through,
And recognize what each one of us feels.
I hope that those who voted for him see
How bad he was, is, and will always be.
Yet, knowing him and us, he’ll find a way
To avoid more than a mild slap on the wrist.
For he’s America—Live for the day!
Give him another chance! Let’s co-exist!—
Or, at the least, the rich, white man’s cachet
Allows him to walk off into the mist
With millions in his termination packet
That lets him finance yet another racket.
So Hermes laughs again—the kid takes flight:
Spreading his rumors, throwing cash around,
And joining A and B with C. Delight
Aerates his freedom, animates each bound.
Wired each day and sleepless through the night,
He makes sure his feet never touch the ground:
The Peter Pan of endless broken vows,
The boy who stole Apollo’s sacred cows.
More seriously, what shall we conclude
About these disunited states we live in:
That we allowed someone plainly unglued
To be the leader? Will we be forgiven
By those who follow us and whom we’ve screwed?
To whom will our souls turn to be shriven
When we’re confronted in the coming years
With blood and sweat and toil and seas of tears?
Canto VII: July 2017
He rises up before you every day
(Or so it seems): the blotchy, fleshy face;
The blank-eyed stare; the hair in disarray
Or greased back. From his purple nose, you trace
The booze or drugs, the broken veins that splay
Across the sallow skin. And to displace
His weak chin, the token of pedigree:
The contoured, gray-flecked, middle-aged goatee.
Each mugshot shows a flattened vacancy,
Ambitions bleached, and half-held vows ignored,
A faint hint of respectability
Amid the self-inflicted wreckage. Bored
Eyes narrow in contempt or glint with glee
At what he takes as some kind of reward:
If it required this as an audition,
Then it was worth the price of ammunition.
No doubt a man who liked the quiet life,
Who loved his guns, his Harley, and a beer.
But recently, he’d found out that his wife
Was seeing Pablo from accounts. The fear
Of cuckoldry had cut him like a knife.
That Friday, he’d loaded his hunting gear
And brought down both with his AR-15:
His self-respect ensured his shots were clean.
He didn’t go to church much, but he knew
Some Bible stuff, and he had read online
About Islam. “I’ve got my eye on you,”
He told Virat in sales. “One move, you’re mine.”
Virat just smiled, but two weeks later grew
Concerned enough to leave his job. At nine,
Virat was killed—a bullet to the head:
“He looked suspicious to me . . . glad he’s dead.”
He had to save the innocents from death,
He heard their frantic cries for his protection.
He’d never stand down. To his final breath,
Even if it demanded insurrection,
He would obey the higher law that saith,
“Suffer the little children.” No reflection
Was needed when he hit the detonator:
If he had faults, their faults were all the greater.
He had nothing against the blacks and Jews,
The ones from India were kinda smart.
The Mexicans were everywhere, their crews
Did all the work around there: A fresh start—
He understood that. But why did they choose
His women? Each to his own kind was part
Of God’s law. When he saw one with a white,
He knew that what he had to do was right.
He didn’t understand when customs changed:
These crazy genders, diets, and gay marriage.
Who said the order should be rearranged,
What was wrong with the horse before the carriage?
His children didn’t call him, his estranged
Wife took his money—they liked to disparage
What he believed in. He’d show who was boss:
One more dead bureaucrat was no one’s loss.
Hell, let them come: the Black Hawks, Kevlar suits,
The G-men, smoke-bombs, hand grenades, the lot.
For he was armed and ready. Thugs in boots
Could kick his door down, but they would be shot.
He’d die his own man—from his corpse, the shoots
Of a pure land would sprout, purged of the rot
Of mongrelism. Martyrdom would bring
Forward that hoped-for day: Let freedom ring.
Since when was it fair game to interject
When he was talking? When was it OK
To claim his privilege had to be “checked”?
For decades he’d worked hard, could he not say
Whatever he damn liked? Or not expect
Some deference? Chips would fall where they may,
But he would be allowed to speak right through,
Even if it required a death or two.
You once knew what it was to be a man.
You held a job; you put your kids through school;
You married someone organized who’d plan
Your life, but didn’t change you. Then, the rule
Of law meant something and what you began
You finished. But these days you were a fool
If you did not take whatever you pleased.
The only “triggers” that mattered were squeezed.
You women have to live with guys like these;
The ones who claim that might always makes right;
The ones who tie the nooses to the trees;
The hairy gutbucket and troglodyte
Who guns his oily hotrod; every sleaze
Who speaks of hard work, yet this parasite
Sucks at the creamy teats of state for free—
A champion of “real” liberty.
The entitled, condescending “voice of reason”
Who shuts you up (because he knows what’s best);
Who purrs, “For everything there is a season,”
And yet year-round is feathering his nest;
Who loves to lecture you, though you’ve degrees in
The subject, and when you start to protest,
Is flabbergasted there was a suggestion
That what he said might be open to question.
The idiot who catcalls in the street,
Assuming that no lady can resist him,
As both of them offer the other “meat.”
And even though each woman has dismissed him,
He’s confident (she’s obviously in heat)
Her ire is regret that she’s not kissed him.
Or if not that, he’s whiled away an hour
By showing females who has real power.
You’d thought that toxic masculinity—
Unwarranted assurance, childish brashness,
Assertion without proof, misogyny,
Indignant threats of retribution, rashness,
Bone-idleness, ass-backward sophistry,
Refusal to back down, and talking trash—yes,
You hoped that after what we had endured
This adolescent country had matured.
What naïfs you were to presume white guys
Would take their place among the rest; how callow
To think they (we) would hand over the prize
Awarded to them every day; how shallow
To hope they’d step down, and not exercise
Each constitutional right. Having left fallow
(In their minds) the last eight years, they intended
Emasculated rule to be suspended.
How apt it is, therefore, that there appears
A white man without conscience, heavenly
Mercy, or prudence, to dispel the tears
That tremble inside masculinity;
A man who won’t back down, openly leers
At what he wants to fondle, cannot see
Beyond his own self-interest, who cares
Not one jot for any other’s affairs.
A man who’s never struggled, never fought
For something he believes in. No grand mission
Has shaped his life, except what can be bought
Or sold: without an atom of contrition,
Regret, or ruth; without a single thought
Beyond the purview of an acquisition
To fortify the grandiosity
Of his labyrinthine monstrosity.
And when the winding pathways of the maze
Come to an end, do you think you will find
A wounded, half-formed creature, who spends days
And nights howling for help? When you unwind
The skein of kindness, will his furious gaze
Soften. Thus, tempered, would he be inclined
To leave his darkness for the light of day,
And, raging, not turn inward or away?
I doubt it. The ungracious crenellations
(Amassed in eight jejune decades) grow stronger.
The buttressed grievances and crude foundations
Of ego are impermeable. The longer
The flippant palisades and battle stations
Stand to protect the male conceit, the wronger
We’ll be in thinking that he’ll be impeached:
This Bluebeard’s castle’s walls will not be breached.
No decency escapes these parapets—
Just clouds of poisoned gas released each morning
To ruin moods for hours; curdled jets
Of nauseating tweets, rude and suborning.
You try to slough it off, read the regrets
From legislators impotently warning
“Stop!”—vainly pleading no good will come from it:
Yet wait a day . . . another stream of vomit.
For in the end, it’s not about the voters.
Nor every issue he’s feigned interest in.
It’s not about the state of General Motors,
Or global trade, or (maybe) even skin.
It’s not about whom he will pick for SCOTUS,
Or finding out just who really did win.
It boils down to simple temperament:
This man is not fit to be president.
The only reason why he is still there
Is he’s a man. Given what he has done,
If any woman decided to share
Her thoughts about a man’s parts—oh what fun
The XY chromosomes would have! The air
Would go blue as they turned on her as one
And drummed her out of office for her sin:
It’s certain that no woman’ll ever win.
He swims, unconscious, in the welcome waters
Of masculinity. The thirteen bros
Who drafted healthcare to affect all daughters,
Wives, mothers, sisters, and hurried to close
The clinics that would keep them healthy taught us
That “women’s issues” simply do not pose
A problem to reflect on. Men believe
It’s their job to determine who’ll conceive.
What do they know of caring for the sick?
Or looking after a disabled child
While working two jobs? Or when the dumb brick
That used to be your husband went and filed
For bankruptcy to void his dues, his dick
Lodged in another county seat, bills piled
High, you cannot afford to live . . . or sink. . . .
Do these men ever take the time to think
Of who cleans out their offices, or makes
Their kids’ beds, or rubs Brasso on their plates?
Of who comes in to brew their chai, or bakes
Their croissants, or opens their enclave’s gates?
Can they imagine what courage it takes
To leave their lives behind and trust the fates
To seek freedom somewhere that’s strange and new
Trusting what the U.S. proclaims is true?
Or is it our shared task to ensure
That these men know how much we are impressed
By how crucial they are, how much allure
They have, and how we (the weak and distressed)
Are grateful they protect us? Then, demure
Consumers, do we do our level best
To ignore their self-absorption and flip-flopping
By spending days and nights in online shopping?
Whatever is the case, this frantic need
Is more than a whole country could supply:
Think of his Cabinet, who went and peed
Their pants in joy exclaiming how and why
They loved working for him. Each one agreed
He was the greatest, while he cast his eye
Around the table like an emperor:
As if this was what government was for.
It’s like the worst of white men’s self-belief
Is synthesized in one dude, and distilled:
Vanity, shamelessness, an endless beef
With critics; coarseness; triteness; and a willed
Careless concupiscence. A leitmotif
That runs throughout, and lets the tension build,
Is that beyond the lunacy, the drama:
How much he’s plagued by hatred for Obama.
But why pretend this lummox needs a cause
To prosecute his dreadful, loathsome schemes?
The frantic efforts of staff to hit PAUSE,
STOP, and RESTART will fail. The plaintive dreams
Of those who voted for him—his huge flaws
Will snuff them out, and rend them at the seams
Because he doesn’t care and never will:
You’ve been had and you will pick up the bill.
Those who still work for him—each ghastly day
Brings yet another call for genuflection.
You stand before us, trying to display
A shred of dignity, while your dejection
Is evident to everyone. He’ll betray
The little of what’s left of your affection
And claim you were a tramp, a fraud, a loser:
Now is the time to fly from your abuser!
Enough! Enough! Republicans be brave.
Call for a special session and declare
The time has come for him to go. In grave,
Regretful, rueful prose say this nightmare
Must end, and that the goal must be to save
The country lest we fall into despair
And close up shop, for it will be too late
To rescue the scuppered vessel of state.
Canto VIII: August 2017
“This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle”—
Thus, Ulysses (from Tennyson). No wuss
Was this princeling, but full of care and wile;
A stern-browed Ithacan (not treasonous),
Who recognized that stringency and guile
(Not iffy courtiers from hostile nations)
Work best in furthering one’s aspirations.
Together U & T hosed down the place
Of oafish, lazy, good-for-nothing sons.
The ineffectual suitors, lacking grace,
Had hung out there for years, consuming tons
Of food and wine and time. These wastes of space
Were quickly flushed away to everyone’s
Relief. Sometimes you’ll find the worthless scion
Is tempered best when tickled with hot iron.
Indulgence is the father to this man,
His family, he pouts, is “quality.”
What each day is revealing is his clan
Has no more dignity or decency
Than père. The only difference I can
Discern is that they don’t appear to be
As desperate as father for attention,
Perhaps because he pays them a subvention.
When I hear of a family of grifters,
I think of card-sharks or someone’s ex-spouse;
Of welfare slackers, inbred white-trash drifters,
Or Mr. Skimpole sponging in Bleak House.
We know each family contains shoplifters,
Dropouts, perverts, and mandatory souse,
That said, it’s rare to find a group this cozy
Or dozy emulating Mafiosi.
At least the bloody Medicis had taste;
The British monarchs patronized the Poet.
The Julio-Claudians weren’t all debased,
And while John Adams’ progeny did blow it,
And Billy, Neil, Roger, et al. disgraced
Their brothers, they at least had sense to show it
Mattered that bad behavior’s repercussions
Should not mean selling us out to the Russians.
Lo, what is this we find? The first-born, Don,
Thought it would be a wizard wheeze to meet
With Putin flacks to set his paws upon
Some dish on Hillary. And to complete
The party? Jared Kushner, Putin’s faun
Paul Manafort, and a lengthening sheet
Of scuzzballs. Now we see claims of collusion
Aren’t just a liberal nighttime effusion.
This Don is the same dude who loves to shoot
Whatever threatened or endangered beast
Wanders into his sights. The big galoot
Runs his pa’s business, which means at the least
Should he and Eric prove less than astute
(A fair bet at the moment), then the greased
Duo will be themselves under the gun—
Something, for once, they won’t find so much fun!
For evidently Mueller’s closing in
On where the filthy lucre in this affair
Is found. Even ten rinse cycles of spin
Won’t launder the rubles the Russian bear
Has dumped into his real estate. No “win”
Or even drummed-up international “scare”
Will cover up the fact from the word “Go”
He’s been bought and propped up by Russian dough.
That’s why he has withheld his tax releases,
That’s why he gins up his bromance with Vlad;
That’s why he’ll let the U.S. fall to pieces
Rather than stiff these clients. His comrade
And cronies have unloaded piles of feces
Upon their greatest fan. Our Stalingrad
Will happen when, at the appropriate minute,
Vlad flips the switch and we are buried in it.
To stop this shit storm, what did Don propose
To stink-proof some of the executive suite?
Did Junior even feign to hold his nose
As he ceded Ukraine, said they’d defeat
The sanctions, or adopt the quid pro quos
That Russia wanted? And what coded tweet
Or speech did Pops give to let his Vlad know
That it was clear who really ran the show?
What’s so unusual in this concern
Is that it isn’t sleuths or great reporting
That’s lending us these insights. What we learn
Does not emerge from haggard journos sorting
Through trashcans, or a much-abused intern.
No D.C. madam or sting with coke-snorting
Is causing 45 to come a cropper:
It’s coming from within the White House proper.
Are junior staffers huddling in nooks
Lowering their tones as the boss walks by?
Are they scribbling down notes so that their books
Will capture the dysfunction? Do they lie
To please him or avoid the dirty looks
Of other liars? When the F.B.I.
Hauls them to court will they stick to their brief,
Or tell you they were mimicking the chief?
Of this we can be sure: this nest of vipers
Has poisoned government for a decade.
You huddle by your desk frightened that snipers
Will pick you off, that any random aide
Will throw you to the wolves: being one-stripers
Is thankless when you’re so often betrayed.
Who’d work in that place even for a week,
When what you hold dear is undone by pique?
You think about it: what marginal action
For good can be achieved when day by day
You’re undermined? Each project has no traction
Because you can’t set out a play-by-play
Without him wrecking it. Meanwhile, each faction
Pits you against your colleagues—what they say
About you ends up in the press. Each morning
Should be prefaced with a government warning.
Sean Spicer (R.I.P.) detests “The Mooch,”
Who really wants to be the Chief of Staff.
Reince Priebus thinks the old man’s latest pooch
Is a mere showboat and good for a laugh.
Jared-Ivanka love his coif and smooch—
And papa’s happy. Plus, on their behalf,
If they can piss off Bannon, then it’s more
Likely that Daddy will show him the door.
There’s old Jeff Sessions with the dunce’s hat,
Because he did not do what he desired.
And Sarah Sanders will hear that she’s fat:
His way of telling women that they’re fired.
The whole crew will soon end up a doormat
On which he wipes his feet when he grows tired
Of them obeying rules, laws, inner compasses,
Instead of diving into endless rumpuses.
You wouldn’t know this White House has got “weeks”
To focus on issues and policies.
The reason is outbursts and frequent leaks
Consume the media’s bland nobodies
And color his proposals. Such bespeaks
His odd impairments and iniquities
That lets him sabotage what he holds dear
As if achievement is a kind of smear.
I never glimpse a genuine concession
To joy or pleasure, just obnoxious gloating.
I never get an inkling or impression
That he likes something for its sake—like floating
On air or oceanic bliss. Aggression,
Derision, shtick, and humbug before doting
Admirers seem to be what he most needs:
Sucking the lifeblood out of which he feeds.
What’s left is but a broken, hollow shell,
A fractured carapace for president.
He doesn’t make you trust all will be well
If we believed in him. Instead, torment
And hatred, twenty-seven kinds of hell
Ensue from each obnoxious tweet he’s sent.
He’s not struggling against another foe.
It’s simple: He’s the fons et origo.
Consider that last month he spoke before
Thousands of Boy Scouts at their jamboree.
He could have eulogized esprit de corps,
Steadfastness, discipline, fidelity;
Hailed sacrifice and usefulness—the lore
That Boy Scouts live by. But, this nobody
Addressed a Friars Roast, without restraint,
Full not of motivation but complaint.
Still harping on crowds at the Inauguration,
Lamenting how the health-care bill is stalled,
Threatening folks in his administration,
Railing again at fake news, he recalled
How he won (state by state) throughout the nation.
Then he held every teenager enthralled
As he recounted how a billionaire
Bought a big boat to hold his “parties” there.
Perhaps he thought the lads would find the swingers
And moneybaggers people to admire.
Or had in mind that such ribald humdingers
Would light under these lusty youths a fire
And turn them into debt-laden right-wingers:
Rich wise guys with a babe whom they can hire
To decorate the prow and mix the drinks,
Or guard the rugrats while they hit the links.
He thanked the children for their votes and told them
They could sing “Merry Christmas” once again.
He criticized Obama, and then sold them
His tax repatriation ploy; made plain
He thought D.C. a “sewer,” and cajoled them
To promise they’d not let their mojo wane.
In sum, the only point of his address
Was to convince himself of his success.
Maybe he thought teen boys would understand
The ebbing, flagging powers, need to win.
Or that he hoped the scouts would lend a hand
And help this pensioner through thick and thin.
Like everything he does, it wasn’t planned
And his neuroses bled through his bronzed skin
Onto the tens of thousands ranked below
Who knew that, at the least, they’d catch a show.
And, in the end, are we not entertained?
The meltdowns, hissy fits, unchecked compulsion,
Potemkin signings, morning rants, harebrained
Ideas, and veneering and emulsion
From panderers and peddlers, have retrained
Our sense of wrong, relaxing our revulsion
By turning abnormality quotidian
And painting self-reflection deep obsidian.
It feels like things are coming to a head.
I am aware that the much-yearned-for end
Has been deferred and many tears been shed
At thoughts this presidency may extend
To a full term, and further. So, I tread
With caution when my thesis I defend:
I cannot think this can go on much more
Without him simply blowing up the store.
He clearly wants Jeff Sessions to resign.
He urgently hopes Bob Mueller will cease.
You sense he’s jonesing to can Rosenstein
If only to acquire a moment’s peace.
“I s’pose,” he thinks, “it would be asinine
To do any of these, lest they release
A crisis that I simply won’t survive.”
These are some of the thoughts of 45.
“Now hold on,” he replies, “if Sessions goes
I’ll employ Giuliani—he’s my chum.
Instead of weak-willed Price and his bozos
I could get Newt. He’d love to stick his thumb
In Ryan’s eyes, McConnell’s face. Just shows:
Go with the bruisers who can ruck and scrum.
They love me and they’ll never let me down,
Not like the G.O.P. in this dumb town.”
Can you imagine? How would this enhance
The G.O.P. among the younger set?
What image would it mold or cause advance
Except to make millennials regret
That they’d survived to see this day? Fat chance
That either nominee would pass. And yet,
He’d name Ted Cruz for A.G., as a wheeze,
To have him beg for favors on his knees.
Given this crisis, Democrats’ chief tenet
Should in the midterms in 2018
Be to win back the House and/or the Senate
And not take anything as read. We’ve seen
What condescension does for parties—when it
Demands a sharp and principled machine
To send as many people to the polls
And wrest back at least one of the controls.
Let’s not be coy about this. Self-protection
Is what he cares about. If he must drag
Congress along the floor as misdirection
Then he won’t hesitate. If a false flag
Is needed, he will raise it. No abjection
Is too much; each supporter’s body bag
Is waiting to be zipped if they assent
To this ask: “Will you serve the president?”
Canto IX: September 2017
Satire depends for its effectiveness
Upon the supposition a way through
Ineptitude, aggressiveness, and mess
Can be discerned; that what is good and true
Is evident to all those who profess
To be the thoughtful, decent person who
Knows right from wrong, feels empathy and shame,
And seeing evil, calls it by its name.
Since his election, I’ve been mostly sickened
And stunned in equal measure. I have tried
To understand those whose bruised hearts were quickened
By his excess, who felt that they’d been lied
Enough to, who enjoyed that he’d no slick and
Genteel stump speech; and worried that the tide
Was running out—so they gave him their vote:
He’d tip the ship, sure; but he’d float their boat.
I’m not unsympathetic to the claim
That the elites get more than their fair share;
That for the working stiff, the social game
Is rigged against him; those who say they “care”
Don’t understand the pressures; that the blame
Goes to both parties; and that one’s despair
At straight-talker, glib hack, or bland patrician
Makes one vote for an anti-politician.
Through flimflam, insolence, and the deceit
He’s sullied us with; through each simpering flob
And pestilential snot-stream that each tweet
Smears over us; through the pain this fat slob
Inflicts on us each day, I’ve tried to meet
His voters halfway. But no more, this yob
Has not my pledge, and nor should he from you:
If you cared for this land, you’d say so, too.
Roll up! “The Mooch” was fired from the cannon,
His brief role in the circus done and dusted.
Priebus was shown the exit, and Steve Bannon
(The conjurer of smoke and mirrors) busted.
The bogus ringmaster remains: the man on
Whom all this nonsense hangs. These dipsticks trusted
That they would have his ear, be in the know.
What fools! For treachery is his m.o.
Sebastian Gorka, the soiled-goods hawker,
Has gone. He blames the enemies inside
The White House: saboteurs, says this big talker,
And would-be Democrats, who have denied
The big “creep” (aka Hillary’s stalker)
His nationalist agenda. You decide
Just whether the head barker needs a hand
In ruining his “vision” for this land.
He neither wants to learn or work or read.
He’s idle, ignorant, and apathetic;
Attacks the very people that he’ll need
To get things done. Yet, like a forced emetic,
Or a medieval quack who wants to bleed
The sick body to cure it, or ascetic
Who hopes gnosis emerges from starvation,
The enema of the people scours the nation.
And there is something cleansing, I confess it,
In what he’s forcing us to expurgate.
A boil or cyst—no matter how we dress it—
Must at some point be drained. And just to wait
And hope it goes away (rather than press it)
Will only let it ooze and suppurate.
His sickening and poisonous derision
Has made on legion lesions an incision.
Just what is it emerging from the stew?
What mucilaginous and rancid chunk
Of undigested hate plops into view?
What seborrheic pustule has this punk
Squeezed with his tiny fingers? What moist poo
Dribbles from his fat cheeks? What slimy gunk
Infects the public sphere, backs up the pipes?
And leaves us a despoiled stars and stripes?
What sooty spittle’s foaming on the tongue?
What melanomas bloom upon the skin?
What oily film that coated either lung
Has been hacked forth to tar each double chin?
What pungent rash has now (unbidden) sprung,
And made us sweat and pullulates within?
(Is part of this disgraceful concentration
The shameful verse that forms this compilation?)
What rotten wind’s been loosened from the bowels?
What halitotic eructation freed?
What mucky bin of sanitary towels
Or skidmarked underwear stained with old seed
Has been left out, unwashed, and now befouls
The air? What scabby, loathsome demon breed
Stumble like moldy zombies through our streets?
Clad in their polo shirts and slacks not sheets?
Fascists, that’s who. Them and the KKK,
The neo-Nazis, and the alt-right crowd.
These men (and women) act as if it’s they
Who are the honorable ones—the avowed
Custodians of what’s good—whose rebel gray
Should rise again and don the whitewashed shroud.
What it required was autocratic hacks
To wrest the country from the Jews and blacks.
And now they’ve found their leaders. One, Jeff Sessions,
Is poised to once more lock up black men (“thugs”)
To make the world safe for those whose transgressions
Are white collar in every sense. On drugs
(Also again) he’ll wage war, with concessions
I’m sure for most whites (poor or rich). The jug’s
For criminals, as long as they aren’t armed
With licensed guns. They’ll walk the streets unharmed.
We’ve known a long time of the other guy,
He’s shown his racial animus for years.
His father loved the Klan, and it’s clear why
He asked about Obama’s birthplace: fears
About a black man wielding power lie
Behind the sell-out Giuliani’s jeers
That Obama loved not America.
And now we have the black-clad Antifa.
This is the game the right wing likes to play.
To set up some equivalence, sow doubt.
“We may have lynched,” they cry, “but every day
The blacks kill one another! And you shout
Insults as we practice free speech; you say
It’s hate, and so do we of you. My lout
Is matched by yours—and each one’s views are awful.
But if there is no violence, it’s lawful.”
These views can (if you squint hard) be appealing,
Play to a moderate’s dreams of liberty:
That in the public marketplace, freewheeling
Ideas on how much of history
To hold and what to let go, what is healing
And what is harmful, are calmed in degree
By letting the extremes of left and right
Have at each other in an endless fight.
Or if not that, then people of good sense
Will come together in the solid center.
That the two parties will expunge the offense
Caused by their flanks and raise up a big tent, a
Response to those who’d argue that defense
Against anarcho-fascists, to present a
Bold front against them, are most necessary
To guarantee the future’s not so scary.
But what if the habitual restraint
Shown by the president just isn’t there?
What if one party’s craven, its complaint
Too muted, or complacent, doctrinaire?
What if it’s calculated that the quaint
Notions of normalcy—even to care
About society—aren’t worth the sweat?
Do they think they can temporize the threat?
Is each Republican scared of attacks
Not just from him but Breitbart? Will they bow
And supine lie upon their spineless backs
To take his bullying? Will they kowtow
Because the diehard right will send out flacks
To threaten or condemn should they not vow
Allegiance to the feckless autocrat?
And if they do so, will that then be that?
They say that it will never get so far.
Someone will say, “Have you no decency?”
And like McCarthy his ascendant star
Will fall, and he’ll resign or cease to be
Of consequence? But it’s beyond bizarre
That nothing that he does will shake the tree
Of true believers or the timid shills
Who will stay with him (even if he kills).
Despite his spite, his knavery and gall,
He yet retains the love of some one-third
Of voters: those who want to build the Wall;
Who itch for phantom former greatness; heard
In the attacks upon the elites a call
For dreams that were theirs but had been deferred
By immigrants and spongers, and their sort,
Whom their man would imprison or deport.
Since Charlottesville, and Heather Heyer’s death
(Mown down by an alt-right supremacist),
We’ve barely had a chance to draw a breath
Without his calumny, flick-of-the-wrist
Contempt for truth, or tossed-off shibboleth
To show he “cares.” He acts royally pissed
When his equivocations and neurosis
Reveal more evidence of his psychosis.
My anger’s not about the monuments
To Jim Crow, Southern history, states rights.
It’s how it’s “us” or “them,” blatant defense
That those who march with Nazis are the knights
Who should (and must) defend “us.” It’s pretense
That “heritage” is colorblind, that whites
And blacks will obviously vote with their races:
Why unify us when we’ve our places?
Listen, supporters! He’s clearly unfit.
He won’t do what you want, because he can’t
Do what is needed to get any shit
Done. He’s undisciplined; can only rant
When smooth persuasion beckons; throws a fit
When smarts would open doors, and offers scant
Examples of the skill that, brick by brick,
Builds coalitions that make D.C. tick.
But these deficiencies pale next to others:
His default is to stimulate dissension.
It’s obvious that if he had his druthers
He’d end the opposition and convention.
He yearns for battle—brothers against brothers—
As long as he can bathe in the attention.
If it is vulgar, conflict-rich, and scrappy,
And TV ratings break the roof, he’s happy.
But even this description makes it seem
As though there’s art behind his brash persona.
A cunning scheme to drain the swamp? The dream
Of a revived America? Each donor
To his campaign to get a favored scheme
Fast-tracked to nowhere? Nonsense. A rank stoner,
Blissed out and clueless, would detect this rat
As someone who’s no cattle and all hat.
And, apropos, the monumental flood
That Harvey has poured onto Houston, Tex.,
Gives him still yet another chance to blood
Himself as useful and unselfish, flex
His presidential muscle. To the mud
He then could bid farewell, as he projects
The image of a leader, reconciler,
And not a canting serial defiler.
He could proclaim an era of resilience
In facing climate change; free up resources,
Imagination, and people of brilliance
To shape the next five decades, so the forces
Of nature might be softened, a consilience
Of Texas grit and focus that divorces
Us finally from fossil fuels and coal
And stops us digging holes and makes us whole.
Yeah, right! If you think he’ll do such a thing
Then I’ve a bridge in Brooklyn that’s for sale.
The presidency amplifies to bring
The true man to the fore (it’s still just male).
And so it’s proved. Houston will no more sting
His conscience than a dog will catch its tail.
He’ll get his photo-op and let the state
Clean up the mess, and claim that he’s done great.
Houston’s a diverse place, it represents
America in microcosm. Here’s
The first great litmus test: This president’s
High Noon, the whole ball game: it’s endless tears
Or acclamation. Handling such events
Is how a nation calibrates its fears
And aspirations for their families:
Will he lift up or bring us to our knees?
Canto X: October 2017
I first flew here in 1987,
Landing expectantly at JFK.
It was December, and the vault of heaven,
As I recall it, was not English gray
But liquid blue. I felt my spirit leaven
As from the Carey Bus I stepped that day
To feel the echoed beat of dancing feet
Near Grand Central on 42nd Street.
I knew right then I’d come back here to live,
My union with the city felt organic.
The pace, the noise, the hustle didn’t give
Me pause. Instead, they had a groovy, manic
And syncopated kick; a combative
Yet welcoming impatience; a galvanic,
Persistent pulse that swung and throbbed: ambition
Was all that was required for admission.
Transferring to the U.S. was, for me,
A break from past restraints of class and clan,
A chance to get a job and to breathe free
Without assumptions of what sort of man
A person of my background had to be.
No one cared where I went to school, my plan
Needed no pulling of the old-boy strings,
Political alignments, or such things.
Naturlich, I have had enormous luck:
My gender, race, accent, and education.
I’m tall, I’m able-bodied, and don’t suck
At sports; a common sexual orientation
Is mine, and though I can still be a schmuck,
I try to honor each friend and relation,
As well as strangers that I meet, with fairness,
Kindness, and decency, or plain awareness.
I, therefore, know my views are rarified:
That N.Y.C. is not the U.S.A.
I try to be as honest and clear-eyed
About how much Great Britain falls away
From its view of itself; how people died
Directly for my comfort. The U.K.
Has still not reckoned with its shameful past,
And that is wrong. That silence must not last.
So, I’m aware I’m not much of a guide
To my new-found-land. And I cannot know
What life must feel like when you are denied
Full liberty because of race, although
Your people built the nation. I decide
To what I pledge allegiance, and can go
Wherever I wish. My views, newly minted,
Perforce must be both blinkered and rose-tinted.
When I came here to live, in ’91,
The days were dark: the murder rate was high,
The city’s mood was grim. And yet the sun
Still rose and people worked, and, by and by,
With more cops on the street, and CompStat run,
The death toll fell, although the reasons why
Remain uncertain. We may never know
Why homicides have plummeted so low.
Perhaps an increase in incarcerations;
Consolidation of the trade in crack;
Removal of lead paint from installations
So kids could stay in school and keep on track;
Sickened by death, young men left altercations
With no cold body on the hot tarmac:
Each change contributed—to which, add one:
The state tried to control who got a gun.
The longer that I live here, it grows clearer
To me how hurt this country is, how cracked.
Elections pass, laws change, but we’re no nearer
To addressing the sad truth that the compact
On race–class, North–South (which a thin veneer, a
Mask of politeness hides), an artifact
Of our virgin birth, is now a curse,
Which, since we cannot deal with it, grows worse.
Yet when I think of this place I call home
I feel more pity, bafflement, than rage.
I revel in not having far to roam
To greet the world, and thereby to engage
With awe at how this city’s polychrome
Environment works as a kind of stage
Where we each play a part. Diversity
Can never be a shortcoming to me.
This month, I’ve binge-watched the ten episodes
Of Ken Burns’ series on the Vietnam War.
You see how each choice, fault, and lie erodes
The confidence, faith, and the moral core
Of those sucked in—how every action bodes
Ill, and a deep shame is confirmed. It tore
Apart whole nations, people, families,
The ordinary grunts, and Vietnamese.
The wall that Maya Lin designed let pain
And grief emerge as you descended in.
We need to plumb that fury, and not feign
Either contempt or smugness. No threat-grin
Should censor folks who sorrow for the slain,
However they were killed. We must begin
To face the horrors of the past, not let
Us fool ourselves it’s better to forget.
It seems to me that one way we’re unwell,
Is how and why we’ve fetishized the gun:
A symbol of resistance, pride, a gel
That holds a tribe together; how a son
Shows Dad he is a man. No tolling bell
Can break the itchy trigger that someone
Who buys a weapon, swearing not to abuse it,
Will at some point feel that he’s forced to use it.
Yet, when a shooter murders fifty-nine
Attendees at a concert in Las Vegas,
I wonder if perhaps the fault is mine,
As a non-native, thinking that guns plague us;
Not getting that guns are a piquant sign
Of rural life, freedom, the way a magus
Might brandish his wand and make disappear
The maladies of disrespect and fear.
I understand the Founders’ deep alarm
About an over-reaching central state.
The fragile army needed men to arm
Themselves to combat threats, both small and great,
From foreign foes. I do not get the charm
Of shooting animals for fun, but rate
Such pastimes not as bad as factory farming:
That’s nothing but a crucible for harming.
I guess a gun can make you feel more safe
When you live in the sticks. An indoor range
I’ve shot in, and I think that it would chafe
A sane gun owner (or he’d find it strange)
That anyone would think it cool to strafe
Whoever comes in view. But this exchange
Is not permissible. The N.R.A.
Rules Congress, and it will not go away.
Australia once felt a similar pain
And banned some guns and deaths declined a lot.
When sixteen kids were cut down in Dunblane
Restrictions were imposed. Of course, it’s not
As if you cannot kill; and an insane
Person will find a way. It’s just it got
A little harder to commit the crime:
More lives were spared because it bought some time.
But not here, not in these United States.
How can this be the price of liberty?
The opioid addiction rightly rates
As a crisis of public health; how free
Can we be when so many die? What straits
Will make us see what other nations see?
We’re killing one another in the streets
Whether we are (or not) wearing white sheets.
Not even 45 is, thus, to blame
For these old wounds, he merely rubs more salt in.
We like to think he is the worst, but shame
Is yours and mine, whoever we find fault in.
We’re equally wrong in playing the game
Of thinking that we’re more evolved. A halt in
Believing we’re untainted is what’s needed,
If we’re to heal the body that we’ve bleeded.
So, murder, guilt, and controversy reigns
While seismic happenings are underway.
It’s possible the ulcers and migraines
That he inflicts upon us every day
Disguise a worse disease: that our veins
Are being emptied while we hope and pray
For health. But all he does suggests this man
Has no clue: that he doesn’t have a plan.
And yet it’s also true that great events
Are cooking slowly, and we are distracted.
Even if we swapped him for VP Pence
Occurrences would still leave us impacted.
The elite have failed us terribly, and hence,
When dreadful laws are forcibly enacted
To make survival possible, we’ll know
We blew the chances not so long ago.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
This ain’t. Each tempest and disastrous flood
Makes plain that nature’s might can deliquesce
Each well-formed thought and road; the viscous mud
Tugs at the hopes and knees, and in the mess
Brings progress down to earth with a great thud.
These storms, while often vivid and climactic,
Serve as a kind of mental prophylactic.
For they are not the main things we should fear.
Beneath the placid, ordinary day
Just slightly warmer than the previous year;
Or springs the wettest yet; or early May
Experiencing record temps; severe
Drought, fire, or monsoon—the primrose way
To hell is being paved in each meridian,
Until the terrible event’s quotidian.
Will folklorists describe how massive storms
That ripped apart the entire hemisphere,
Or hurricanes that overrode the norms
Of only months before, caused to appear
An armed resistance to the rumored swarms
Of homeless migrants crossing each frontier,
Leading to martial law, rule by decree,
And tyranny from sea to shining sea?
We are already well beyond the dawn
Of loss and disappearance. Gradually,
We notice birds, mammals, and fish are gone
While we run through our tired repartee
Of just how we are the sine qua non,
The life worthy of life, the apogee
Of the Almighty’s vision. Each statistic
Suggests a self-importance that’s hubristic.
Will poets tell the unbelieving youth
That once there roamed across a fertile earth
Tigers and rhinos, and (“It is the truth!”)
White bears and elephants; that once their worth
Was measured by a skin or horn or tooth,
And so we slaughtered them? And when the dearth
Of fish was something we could not ignore,
We carried on until there were no more.
The places of the world will vanish, too—
Submerged or just abandoned. Holy sites:
Where life and death took our forebears through
The generations; where the annual rites
That marked time’s passage, formed the social glue,
And brought us joy were held. No fancy flights
Of virtual reality will sate
The mourning when we find it is too late.
At this pace, though, we’ll not live long enough
To rue just what we have and haven’t done.
The U.S.–D.P.R.K. thugs talk tough
Threaten to make things warmer than the sun
By blowing us to smithereens—the stuff
Of nightmares realized. A megaton
Of death that blows ten million to bits
Because these damaged men are having fits.
As ever, making worse the already bad,
The C-in-C mocks Tillerson at State.
Each time I’ve named a person who has had
A role in this farce, they find that the date
Of their appointment has elapsed. This lad
Is likely to go next—a bit too late
To save his reputation. Stick a fork (a
Tine or two at the least) into Bob Corker.
Before we know it, we’ll be off, once more,
To war, and—lo!—we’ll see the nation rally.
A trope as old as time, we’ll count the score
In bodies, and decide what sort of tally
We can call victory. Once more, the poor
Will suffer most from every bombing sally
That we set forth on. Once more, an erasure
Of unknown, nameless thousands in East Asia.
Will we step back and pause, weigh up the odds,
Think of a longer future than next tweet?
Or will we merely shrug and hope that God’s
A destiny for us? Will the drumbeat
Be too loud to resist? Will our squads
Square off against each other in the street?
Before year’s end will we love Uncle Sam?
Or find ourselves reliving Vietnam?
Canto XI: November 2017
It’s been twelve months since I cast my first vote
For president, and rose a sadder guy
The morrow morn. It’s been a year of note,
Mainly because the many reasons why
Shit happened are lethal to touch. No rote
Political response can quantify
The social pathogens that marinate,
Mutate, and spread within this wretched state.
A white man with a grievance and a gun
Has once more taken lives; bromides and prayers
Have been delivered; nothing will be done.
In days, another will stare through crosshairs
And murder more good men and women, one
Who wouldn’t hurt a fly. But then, who cares?
Let people kill themselves and think they’re free,
As long as I’m not in the mortuary.
Is the U.S. a beacon anymore?
Do people really reason if they arm
Themselves that they can even out the score,
Or at the least protect themselves from harm?
It’s like we imagine marching off to war
Means fewer maimed and dead. I’ll bet the farm
That we’ll be dodging bullets in the street
Fired by Nazi addicts packing heat.
Meanwhile, the calls for doing something fade,
No policies are brought up for debate.
No money is allotted, while the frayed
And broken kinfolk desperately wait
For some sign that they haven’t been betrayed
Again. To lessen just a bit the rate
Of death, might Congress summon up the will
To pass even an unimportant bill?
It’s not as if we didn’t get how sick
And feverish we were the last eight years.
The self-congratulation and the shtick
Of the ’08 election—when the tears
Of everyone would dry (as if a quick
Volte-face could undercut systemic fears)—
Proved premature and arrogant: they rested
On self-indulgence that had not been tested.
We get the politics that we deserve:
The folderol, the pettiness, the lies,
The stupid pieties, failures of nerve,
The grandstanding, the cutting down to size,
The odium, the donor-lobbies’ verve
In grabbing what they can, the faux surprise
At felonies and graft. One antidote?
Getting one’s fat ass off the couch to vote.
This month this obvious fact was proven true,
When Democrats came to the polls en masse.
Electors voted for contenders who
Rebuked the casual malice of a crass
And stupid vagabond, without a clue.
From every region, gender, shape, and class
They came: they even voted for (Hosanna!)
A black man to be mayor in Montana!
It’s true, one should admit that these successes
Don’t demonstrate the Democratic Party
Is ready for primetime. No random guesses
Or fiendish cleverness of Moriarty
Are necessary to conclude that stresses
Of life with 45 led to the hearty
Rebuff of the G.O.P. through the land.
That’s something Democrats must understand.
We’ve now learned that the bankrupt D.N.C.
Was last year in hock to Clinton’s campaign,
Which shows how center-leftists fail to see
That power matters, yes, but the terrain
Is broad, and each municipality
Offers the chance for candidates to gain
Proficiency and skills, and put a dent
In the great reach of any president.
Yet, when I hope the net is closing in,
The sands of time are (at last) running out—
That Deep Throat’s gargled, and will soon begin
To tell us where the money is; that Doubt
Has sunk her claws into his orange skin
And scrapes away his ego’s mildewed grout
That keeps the rot concealed—we let him find
Another way to stupefy the mind.
I watched last month as that milquetoast Jeff Flake
Denounced the president. The Arizonan
Hardly caused any senators to shake
In their expensive, tasseled shoes; no Conan
Was he, cutting a swathe; more a cupcake
Than poisoned pill deliverer. To phone in
A quasi-resignation counts as mettle
Only when you have really grasped the nettle.
Since then a pallid cavalcade of geezers
Have said they’ve had enough. Their worried spouses
Have sternly called back home these would-be Caesars
To sit on boards and eat lunch at clubhouses,
Rather than be the febrile buttock-squeezers
Who guide their fingers up their interns’ blouses,
And, leaning closer, give themselves permission
To press on them the size of their ambition.
In Hollywood, each day a smart white guy—
A self-defined tastemaker and cool dude,
Who knows when to zip or upzip his fly,
Is learning that he also can be screwed
Without a chance to ask the question Why?
His nolle prosequi preening attitude,
Has been seen through: he’s not a streaking comet,
Just someone who makes each who meets him vomit.
I wish I understood the mad belief
That it would be sage (either as a prank)
And just good-natured fun (or a relief)
To take your plonker out and blithely wank
In front of other folks. Is such a brief
And sordid, desultory thrill—to spank
The monkey and hasten your ruination—
Worth seven seconds of ejaculation?
Like most men I possess an average willy,
It does what it’s required to do (per norm).
But waving it about in public’s silly—
Do these men really envisage a swarm
Of people competing to pop their chili
Into their mouths and gobble up the warm
And fragrant juices? It could be stupidity,
But this ain’t courtship, it’s insane cupidity.
Who thinks a fourteen-year-old is fair game
No matter whether they’re a girl or boy?
When I was that age, I could barely frame
What gay or straight meant, what desire or joy
My body might respond to, or what name
It could be given. Therefore to destroy
A fragile sense of self, use as a tool,
And exercise one’s power, seems too cruel.
These men seem to assume that every room
Awaits with bated breath their entry to it;
That without them the flowers will not bloom;
No plan is worthy for they have seen through it;
That everything’s around them to consume,
And nothing valuable unless they do it.
No one can quench the vastness of their greed
Or fathom the presumptions of their need.
I’ve also felt the urgency of lust,
How it can shut out logic and self-checks.
But I’m not one who wonders when his bust
Will sit within the Pantheon; or expects
Women to faint with glee (or burst with lust)
At just the thought of engaging in sex
With me; or thinks a woman’s secret garden
Moistens at the mere notion I’ve a hard-on.
È vero, it’s an exercise in power,
A chance to show who’s tops, who’s grabbed the rings
(And breasts and crotches): the man of the hour.
The genius who’s walked with tsars and kings,
His insights fall like petals in a bower
Upon his grateful acolytes: what things
He promises! What wit, what style, what grace!
Who cares he told you to sit on his face?
Now, I received the sort of education
That led me to conclude that when I spoke
A reverent hush would fall upon the nation
And what I said would (usually at a stroke)
Calm souls and crises. The ensuing ovation
(Long and inherently deserved) would stoke
The embers of the coldest hearts. And me?
I’d smile and nod with polished modesty.
So in the panicked, half-assed, bland confessions
It’s easy for me to see calculation:
Of how the consequences of transgressions
Might be considered; how a declaration
Of sorrow and regret and promised sessions
Of treatment might soften an allegation;
With the result, after an apt duration,
Tearful, remorseful rehabilitation.
No shit! The bully-in-chief, Big Kahuna,
The biggest pussy-grabber of them all
Sits in the Oval Office (O Fortuna!):
Letting his vulgar, clammy fingers crawl
Into the Constitution’s each lacuna.
Probing for weakness, grubby hands now maul
Each tuck and fold of Liberty’s green shroud
To prove how generously he’s endowed.
And yet it matters not—not yet at least—
To those who voted for him. They’ve now moved
Beyond his empty promises; have ceased
To hope their lives will ever be improved
By anyone. Instead, each day they feast
Upon his diatribes; the primal, grooved,
Well-trodden lines of grievance and indictment:
One half is entertainment, half excitement.
Because of that, I wonder if he’ll bore them;
They’ll tire of the claptrap, turn the channel
To other pastimes that they see before them.
In desperation, will he duck and flannel,
Cajole or flatter, whine, moan, or implore them,
Calling them out as losers as they impanel
A jury to impeach him for his crimes:
The very best and very worst of times?
Bob Mueller has moved in on Manafort,
The dodgy, self-enriching, wheeler-dealer.
We sense they’ve got a strong case, of the sort
That turns a wiseacre into a squealer,
Especially if he’s induced to short
More serious charges by sending a feeler
Or two out that might meet Bob Mueller’s wishes,
By pointing him to much, much larger fishes.
They got a guilty plea from Papadopoulos
Some weeks ago. It’s likely that he’s worn
A wire for rendezvous in the metropolis,
In hotel suites and back rooms, and has sworn
To spill. Not since Pericles on the Acropolis
Poured forth upon Cimon his righteous scorn,
Have citizens felt dispositions hearten:
Perhaps Mueller will ostracize this Spartan!
Talking of which, he’s found a new occasion
To talk up Russia, Putin, and defame
Americans in government. The evasion
About his business dealings, and his blame
For fake news on the media make persuasion
Much easier that there’s a hidden shame
Within the Russian story. And I feel
We’ve not heard the last of Christopher Steele.
The Steele dossier is the Brit spy’s report
That colored De Sade’s views in Canto IV;
Of girls, stained sheets, and squalid deals, the sort
Of stories that were laughed at as folklore,
Just oppo propaganda. Manafort
And other witnesses may underscore
How much of Steele’s drip-drip-drip revelation
Checks out, and where next heads the investigation.
Steele may lay bare another stupid fecker
Who let John Thomas piss away his brain;
Who had to prove he had the longest pecker,
And thus poured his career down the drain.
Along the way, he’ll do his best to wreck a
Home, child, administration, and campaign,
Because he had to show that, though a prick,
He was, and will remain, the biggest dick.
The danger is that he’ll collapse the state
Before they get him to resign: call out
His base to march on D.C.; throw his weight
Behind Steve Bannon’s talk of coups, and flout
Each law and custom; publicly berate
Those who “destroyed” him; and (in sum) cast doubt
On our institutions. In this way,
Vladimir Vladimirovich will hold sway.
Canto XII: December 2017
Wounded and dazed, we’ve made it through the year.
We’re still alive, though threatened every day
By tweets and tantrums. A low-level fear
Thrums in each resident. Meanwhile, away
From sight, the undocumented disappear
And covenants fall into disarray:
Each news chyron displays a media pasha
Uncovered as a groper or a flasher.
Have we learned anything we didn’t know
In January? Have we changed at all?
Are the divisions of a year ago
Merely more visible, or does a fall—
A single, shocking, overwhelming blow—
Await? Will finally the toxic pall
Suspended over us evaporate,
Or will a nuclear blast annihilate
Korea and us? Will honesty and facts
Have any purchase? Will the mandarins
And pundits on the right who made their pacts
With this unstable boor repent their sins,
And recognize that sometimes one man’s acts
Are so repellent that they outdo “wins”
At any cost? And should we fear that beckoning
For all of us will be a day of reckoning?
Perhaps. Perhaps the endless Sturm und Drang
We live within is really but the quiet
Before the psychic ground cracks with a bang
Or slowly sinks beneath us. Though a riot
And protests may break out, the well-heeled gang
Who planned the heist won’t cop it. They’ll deny it
Was anything to do with them, and state
That all they’ve tried to do is make us “great.”
Mike Flynn has pleaded guilty—he who claimed
If he’d done one-tenth of what she’d committed
(Referring to she who could not be named
Without an epithet), he’d be outfitted
With ankle braces. Well, we can’t be blamed
For hoping counterfeiters are outwitted
For once; and more—that Flynn will tell the G-man
What’s needed to ensure that he’s a free man.
It’s mooted that young Jared will be next:
He of the dimpled cheeks and vacant stare.
It’s hard to imagine that he isn’t hexed
Simply by being so close to the lair
Where growls the wounded, maned one. What pretext
Will he devise so that each son and heir
Is punished for their deeds on his behalf,
And he can lay the fault on zealous staff?
It’s striking how this young administration
Has cycled through so many of its own.
Disgraced, resigned, let go—each abjuration
Predictably ends with them being thrown
Out on their ears. A small consolation
For former staffers is they’re not alone:
A veritable army of the banned,
Could march on D.C. and raise their right hand.
If Jared’s sunk, what will Ivanka do?
Will she accept her husband’s going to jail
To save her daddy’s skin, or look into
A plea so that the family brand won’t fail
If father is impeached? Will she smile through
It all as she hammers a well-pared nail
Into her pater’s coffin? Then, as boss,”
Will she make more gold of the empire’s dross?
You sense beneath the placid insipidity
A mind that’s busy making calculations;
Appraising pros and cons with some fluidity,
Surfing the tidal waves of allegations
With poised and carefully disguised avidity.
No doubt her measurement of fluctuations
In Dad’s appeal will reap their rewards:
He’ll sit in prison, while she sits on boards.
And if not she, perhaps Melania Knauss?
What sweet payback is bubbling in her head
For all the jibes she’s suffered from her spouse?
What murmured, half-confessions in their bed
Might she disclose? What compromising grouse,
Suggestive clue, or insight might she shed?
If she could safeguard her share and her son
Then what tidbits she’ll spill before she’s done!
Is she concocting plans behind those shades?
Are her glossed lips sealed by more than Botox?
Does she squint at him as his aura fades
Because she’s grasped how soon her fly-blown fox
Will feel the hens’ revenge? The sad charades
Of standing by your men although their cocks
And fingers wander . . . what might be her plan
To, in one gesture, stick it to The Man?
Is it fantastical to think each lady
Will move in concert when the time is right
And grab him right back? Could he be afraid he
Has lit the fuse that one day will ignite
A blaze that can’t be doused, and every shady,
Illegal exploit will be brought to light;
That even those who’ve studiously ignored
The nightmares will say, “Throw him overboard”?
The strategy so far has been to pour
Contempt upon the accusers, and berate
Those who’d even consider that Roy Moore,
For instance, is not someone whom the state
Of Alabama should cast their vote for,
Or a man whom you’d like your kid to date.
Why let a little thing like child predation
Stand in the way of Judge Moore’s elevation?
The times call for more female leadership
Given how many men have feet of clay.
A few slimebags and supercreeps may trip,
Yet they’ve not fallen yet. Meanwhile, their prey,
Exposed to trolls and bots are left with zip
But pleas for something like closure one day.
“Refute, dispute, impute, mute” show hardliners
You can survive assault charges on minors.
How touchingly naive we are to think
That such reports would make the G.O.P.
Reject or force a candidate to blink
And step aside! Since Clinton (he not she)
Did much the same and charges didn’t sink
His re-election or presidency,
Then why not parse, deny, and wait it out?
The playbook worked: when in doubt, then cast doubt.
Meanwhile, the lives of silent desperation
Continue: raddled, riddled bodies found
Collapsed in the men’s toilet at the station
Or near the fields the kids play on; or drowned
In one of the small creeks; a sad oblation
To consecrate the unforgiving ground
With poppy-blood, which stains its vivid red
Like scarlet letters on the living dead.
You see their sleepless nodding on the street,
Bent double, swaying gently in the breeze,
As if they are examining their feet
Or strange plantations of exotic trees;
Curled up on benches, or seeking the heat
Of subway vents so that they do not freeze:
Contracted pupils, bodies limp and slack,
The telltale signs of the half-death of smack.
This is one thing that all of us now share:
Communities across the U.S.A.,
Flooded by this expression of despair,
Call for assistance, someone who will say
Their pain is heard and not another prayer;
Who marshals resources that will convey
To areas of blight good jobs and hope
That’s truly federal in cash and scope.
Another thing we share is our rage.
Facts, policy, and history are infested
By false equivalence. Each Facebook page
Is splattered with fake news: myths we’ve invested
With totems and taboos we use to gauge
How furious we should be—until they’re bested
By even more frenzied denunciations,
Colored by arbitrary execrations.
And I’m as guilty as the rest of them:
My arms carving the air, head in my hands.
With rolling eyes, I bellow (specks of phlegm
Upon my lips) that no one understands
How wretched things are, how we must condemn
All those who voted for him. My demands
For “something to be done” aren’t acted on.
Conspiracy! Betrayal! All chance gone!
These fever fits, however, bring no closer
A resolution that delivers healing.
For every downer—something even grosser
That has me gasping and all senses reeling—
Another person gets a rush-filled dose, a
Much-wished-for righteous lift, without a ceiling.
For hits of joy or rage, who would avoid a
Mainlining of such endless Schadenfreude?
And that, it’s true, is what he’s hoping for,
On which his presidency’s predicated.
That it is him we worship or abhor
Is all that matters: we must not be sated,
Indifferent, or dulled; we must want more.
Whether we are dejected or elated,
He’ll act without restraint so he can train us
To focus on him, let him entertain us.
In his convention speech, he made the claim
That he alone could fix what had gone wrong
With the U.S. Just mentioning his name
Would make forgotten men burst into song.
No longer would we feel a sense of shame
At being left behind, or (in vain) long
For a lost past. He would reverse the date
And bring us to the prelapsarian state.
Most of that rambling speech was plainly crap.
One thing was true: he was, and is, the fix.
We’re all hooked on him now: each day we wrap
The tourniquet of news around us; pricks
Inject plague-ridden cocktails of foul pap
Into the sickened body’s politics.
We spend the days and nights strung out and wired;
Loathing ourselves for what we’ve most desired.
Unable to think outside the addiction
We cannot see the way the crooks and thieves
Are stealing what we own, selling the fiction
That, since at some time everyone deceives,
Nothing is not for sale, and that conviction
And continence are dumb. He who believes
The weak will be rewarded, strong brought low,
Is a failed, lyin’ loser and a schmo.
In this way, he has made us in his image.
Petulant, easy to offend, and tribal,
We turn debates into a form of scrimmage
Where questioners are pounced upon, and libel
Is summoned up on those with but a slim, midge-
Sized disagreement. Or we throw a Bible
At anyone who doubts, so we can scuttle
What’s thoughtful, measured, reasonable, and subtle.
No one is guilty, no one innocent.
The high road’s potholed and the moral heights
Have been bulldozed and razed. Meanwhile, cement
Has been poured on the common ground; the nights
That once beheld a bright dawn are now spent
In fitful, sleepless tossing. While the lights
Of faith that once illumined us are dying,
Extinguished by the endless, endless lying.
He’s made us all as crazy and untethered
As he is. Madcap days pass in a flurry
Of tweets, alerts, and blogs that must be weathered
And not reflected on; a kind of slurry
Seeps into our mind’s groundwater, blethered
And toxic filings that scar and burn, worry
The conscience, spirits blanch, leave souls abraded:
A dump where freedom’s soil is degraded.
Coarsened, obsessive, guzzling down the junk,
We splutter to the ending of December,
Aware that, though it may indeed be bunk,
We’ll beg that next year’s one we will remember
Not as the nightmare that was this one. Drunk,
We’ll toast the future, as the final ember
Of these twelve sad months at last fades away
Leaving us bitter ashes, cold and gray.
But it’s from ashes that the phoenix rises:
More women now run for a seat in power.
If nothing else, we can expect surprises
If not each minute, surely by the hour.
If Bob Mueller is fired, or arises
A crisis where the usual pout and glower
Is not enough to hold forces at bay,
Then the old hound dog will have his last day.
By this time next year it could all be done:
His office, future of a free world, life!
He could be lying in jail or the sun;
He could be shacked up with a brand-new wife
In Florida, pardoned by Pence. More fun,
A new House could be sharpening the knife
To slash at backroom deals, graft, and sleaze.
To which I say, “Oh God. If Only. Please.”