The third volume of The Trumpiad (Book the Third) is ongoing. Book the Second (for the year 2018) is available for purchase as a printed book, an ebook, and audiobook. This volume, which covers January to December 2018, delves more deeply into the personalities that live in or contributed to the swamp: Melania, Kim Jong-un, Robert Mueller, Stormy Daniels, Vladimir Putin, and others.If you need to a refresher course to what happened in 2017, Book the First is also available as a printed book, an ebook, and an audiobook. As with Book the First, proceeds after costs of Book the Second will be split between Vine, a farmed animal sanctuary in Vermont, and New Alternatives NYC, an organization that helps transgendered homeless youth in New York City. If you don’t wish to purchase either volumes, you can read the entire set of twelve cantos for Book the Second on this page and for Book the First on this page.
Canto I: January 2019
Canto II: February 2019
Canto III: March 2019
Canto IV: April 2019
Canto V: May 2019
Canto VI: June 2019
Canto VII: July 2019
Canto VIII: August 2019
Canto IX: September 2019
Canto X: October 2019
Canto XI: November 2019
Canto XII: December 2019
Canto I: January 2019
The same old news curses 2019,
A shutdown’s furloughed workers without pay.
Congress is deadlocked, he recycles spleen,
And Brexit grows more likely by the day.
I fantasize we’ll soon bask in the sheen
Of sunnier times. Until then, a display
Commends itself to my imagination:
Another farce of misrepresentation.
The mise-en-scène is at a country house
In 1912, before it fell apart:
Long driveways, open lawns, the flap of grouse
Escaping from the guns. Let music start:
A genteel orchestra, some Johann Strauss.
The skipping beat matching the beating heart,
As by themselves or coupled up, each actor
Performs their role: hero or malefactor.
Outside, the shadows of midsummer dusk,
Murmuring echoes of an old romance;
A silken glove across a cheek, the brusque
Riposte to slighted rectitude; a glance;
A hand wiping a beaded brow—the husk
Of power lost to destiny and chance;
The flash of fireflies, like motes of dust
Caught briefly in the warm zephyrs of lust.
By the gazebo, thwarted lovers kiss.
Their fingers intertwine; their words are brief.
Too much opposes them: this transient bliss
A prelude to a life with no relief.
Propriety and property make this,
This fragmentary joy, exquisite grief.
From now on they will count the hours to death,
For though they breathe, they draw their final breath.
The twilight hides a melancholy man,
Whose hurt, scarred soul his guardedness outlives.
His boyish passion is long cooled; the span
Of time has curdled faith. Yet he forgives
The innocent their ardor; for age can,
He knows, distill the essential self, and sieves
The kernel from the chaff. To be awake
Demands that you all passion must forsake.
The exiled mourn and pray for retribution;
Their retinue sings songs of winter rain;
The jester mocks the wish for restitution,
And hopes that wit can compensate for pain.
The honest yeomen may lack elocution
Yet these retainers will be housed again.
And thus the whirligig of time brings round
The pastoral of loss and marriage found.
Meanwhile, the old magician breaks his staff,
Believing that enchantment’s gone to pot.
Technique’s usurped amazement, telegraph
And telephone destroyed what he had wrought.
His charms and spells foretold their epitaph
When he believed they’d never be forgot.
He conjured worlds but, at the very end,
Nostalgia proved to be his only friend.
Within the banquet hall, champagne on ice,
The tintinnabulation of rich laughter,
The transient flare of fading paradise;
The shimmering gowns and tapered necks that draught a
Perfume of money and the sacrifice
Required to relentlessly chase after
The effortless disdain of true nobility:
Its sprezzatura, ennui, and fragility.
A short announcement, chairs are re-arranged;
The floor is cleared, the band packs up and goes;
The canapés and demitasses exchanged
For port and cigarillos. Any woes
That scour the soul, or however estranged
The socialites may be, are mere sideshows.
The King and Queen have come. The piece will start.
The royal couple speak a while apart.
“Hippolyta, my love, whose noble mien
Once stilled the puissant breast of Hercules:
Leader of women, fearless warrior queen,
Prepared for us are new festivities.
Now is the moment when we change the scene
From matters of the state to revelries.
Unburden reservations and let fly
Thy discontent, as spirits soar on high.
“Sit next to me, Hippolyta, I fain
Would have thy company, while we enjoy
This fellow, monstrous strange, who doth complain
Most violently about a curious toy
(For that is what it seems fevers his brain).
It is a wonder that, like a schoolboy,
This rude mechanical should strut and bawl
About what seemeth nothing ’cept a wall.”
“Husband-to-be, it was bruited abroad
That such a one exists. You say ’tis true:
Yet scarce can I believe it. Is’t not odd,
O Theseus, that such a one should hew
So closely to his theme? Is Reason flawed?
Hath Moderation, which restraineth rue,
Suffered a usurpation, and is Choler
Enthronèd to harangue and sulk and holler?”
“Hippolyta, I know not if he feign
This mood or is possessed. But it is said,
That of a night he howls as if in pain.
‘O Wall,’ he yells, ‘I would rather be dead
Than not complete thee.’ In this fearful strain
He rents the silence of the House. ‘To bed,
My lord,’ his wife doth simper; yet he sobs,
Screaming of spectral mobs and phantom jobs.”
“But soft: he comes! O let my heart not fail
At such a fearsome sight! For like a lion
He doth reverberate and thrash his tail,
And toss his shaggy mane. Even Orion,
That mighty hunter, dare not hope prevail
’Gainst such a beast (truly Nemea’s scion)
If by his thunder thou wouldst judge his force:
I mean to say the opposite, of course!”
“’Tis the most piteous sight I’ve seen thus far:
For he who’d be a lion is an ass;
And when he thinks he’d cause the rough Tartar
To affright, or rugged Moor to water pass,
Or fire-breathing Musselman or Tsar
To flee to yonder hills or crack like glass,
He merely his defectiveness displays:
For where he thinketh that he roars, he brays.
“For in his sad delusion he doth shake
A mane that verily is a thin spool
Of aureate tincture: King Midas wouldst quake
At such as he; and e’en Narcissus’ pool
Couldst not reflect such pride: a grave mistake!
For that glisters is not gold. This fool
Conceives that the apparel of a king
Confirmeth that he is the real thing.”
“Too true, i’faith: And yet—O sight supreme:
Hath ever such a creature worn such ears,
Except as it might be within a dream?
They should hark to the music of the spheres
So sizeable are they. Ne’erless, they seem
Only responsive to deluded cheers.
The facts do leave his senses dulled and sore:
When sooths are told, his falsehoods soothe him more.”
“Quiet, he speaks.” “O Wall, O mighty Wall,
You are the best, believe me; I should know,
I’ve built a few—and you’re the best of all.
So potent and so beautiful, you show
That you’re the tops because you are so tall,
And thicker than a plank of wood. Although
I shouldn’t boast, though I would bet Beijing
Has never built a bigger, better thing.
“O Wall, O lovely Wall, whose mighty flanks,
Rise up to pierce the membrane of the sky.
Your rigid, concrete sections sunk in banks
Of tender yielding soil strongly belie
That I am weak. To you, I proffer thanks:
For your erection will exemplify
The dominance of my ascendency
And thus reflect most pleasingly on me.”
“Methinks the gentleman protests too much,
My Theseus, or thusly compensates
For some perceived inadequacy or such
That troubleth him. For, by my troth, he weights
This wall more as one would a woman’s touch
Upon a man, and therefore demonstrates
He knoweth not what of he speaks, for we
Demand respect, not mere carnality.”
“I know whereof you speak, my lady, thou,
An Amazon, art martial in the ways
Of war, as love. Thy stern-eyed stare and brow
Didst slay my heart, and though to my dispraise
Thou wert a gift from Hercules, I trow
Thy kindly visage indicates thy gaze
Hath softened from that righteous contempt
With which no man should ever be exempt.”
“Beware complacency, good sir, for love
Is not a thing bestowed but held on loan.
The iron fist within a velvet glove
Shapes tenderness, tests what is poorly sewn.
The couples’ minuet, the pull and shove,
Demands a balanced step lest we be prone
To stumble, without proper give and take.
Oh, peace: the creature doth more heehaws make.”
“My little hands will stroke your bricks and mortar,
Nostrils inhale the scent of wet cement;
I’ll bury in the joints a spoil-sporter
Who thought they could persuade me to relent.
I’ll make sure every Democrat supporter
Will pay for every panel: each red cent
They cough up will confirm that I’m the boss,
You’d have to be a dupe to double-cross.
“O Wall, how long have I waited to see
You symbolize my straddling of the land:
A barrier that will stop the refugee
And migrant, to whom we won’t lend a hand.
In the flat blankness of your masonry
You shutter and preclude, rebuff and strand.
As long as I can stare at you all day
I can pretend my woes are far away.
“No chink must be allowed, nothing neglected—
Nothing that carries plague or infestation.
No hint of germs or any of the infected
Should set one toe within this spotless nation.
Block off the entrances that are connected
To the other side. Thwart everyone suspected
Of being out to get me is the call.
And that is why you must protect me, Wall.”
“Hippolyta, I think I hast divined
What doth perturb this persecuted yokel.
This edifice that occupies his mind
Is his buttress against chaos, a focal
Point, metaphor, and figure. ’Tis a kind
Of base protection that shores up his local
Support but undermines the place of reason,
O’erthrows his sense, and turns it into treason.”
“How can it be, O Theseus, that the seat
Of government is thusly held for ransom?
Is’t nothing but an old man’s reckless snit,
Or petulance because he isn’t handsome?
Are not such gestures proof he isn’t fit,
And shouldn’t his kinfolk or allies plan some
Immediate intervention, lest in twain
He cleft the state, not to be whole again?”
“These times, indeed, are cause of consternation.
For how the wounded lion roars: his beef
At disappearing muscle, and frustration—
To him this forms the bedrock of belief
That his way is the best! This lamentation
To us is sound and fury, a motif
That runs through every era’s tune this truth:
That age rages against the hope of youth.
“For this is now no country for old men,
And still the agéd won’t give up their claim.
That generation still remembers when
It pointed fingers at, assigned the blame
For what was wrong to, others. That was then,
And now they find that they are just the same
As the corrupted who once led the masses:
They were the lions; now they are the asses.
“They thunder, ‘Build the wall. Let time stand still.
Pull up the drawbridge and hold back the tide.
Retreat into the bunker with your will,
Ensure thou art sufficiently supplied.
The end is nigh, the bells hath rung, the bill
Is due, and—lo!—the enemy’s outside.’
To us, these are the rants of the insane,
Yet Birnam wood must come to Dunsinane.”
So, Theseus. The King and Queen arise,
The howling man is ushered from the court.
The guests depart under the darkening skies,
Uneasiness has undermined their sport:
No happy ending or wondrous surprise,
Or tragic resolution to report.
Extinguished is the mansion of all light,
And curtains fall on that midsummer night.
Canto II: February 2019
Meanwhile, in Blighty, land of hope and glory,
Traditions, parties, institutions crumble.
The sausage-making has become more gory
Than even Bismarck could have dreamed of: tumbrel
And snare drum punctuate the age-old story
(Much clung to in the breach) that Brits may stumble,
But decency and honor will not fail:
It may be a close thing, but we’ll prevail.
Yet here we are, a matter of a few weeks
Away from Brexit, and a more vile mess
You can’t imagine: every aspect reeks,
Infects, and sullies. In the gutter press
The editorialists part their arse cheeks
And dump their foul intestinal excess
Into the upturned mouths of those who read
To fill themselves with crap, not what they need.
Amidst Love Island’s bronzed and vapid dreamers,
X Factor wannabes, the WAGs, and fools
Who populate the tabloids, are schemers
Who call Remainers “sell-outs,” “traitors,” “tools
Of Brussels.” These, the patriotic screamers
Believe the English God and public schools,
Will, freed from Europe’s heavy-handed yoke,
Regain its former glory—what a joke!
There’s Boris Johnson, clownish upper-cruster,
His rumpled suits and blond tresses askew:
He likes to imagine he’s a man you’d trust: a
Defiant, manqué Churchill, a true blue,
One Nation Tory, smug and full of bluster.
His deviousness and ineptness few
Would question. Yet, both lazy and affected,
He nonetheless thinks he should be respected.
Like his U.S. blond brother, he’s unashamed.
Like him, his private life’s a total mess.
Like him, he finds a way not to be blamed
For each debacle, faux pas, and distress
That he visits on all. Like him, he can’t be tamed
By decency, hard work, or politesse.
This trumpery somehow gives him authority
With a not inconsiderable minority.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is clever, there’s no doubt.
He too has placed his bets that authenticity
Will over his old-fogeyness win out
Among the voters. English eccentricity,
Especially with toffs, still has some clout:
The tugging-forelock sort of class complicity,
That flatters you you can improve your station,
As long as old Etonians run the nation.
Nigel Farage and David Davis—prats
Who like to boast they’ve been around the block,
And know a thing or two—walk round like cats
Who’ve drunk huge vats of cream. Their poppycock
About how Brexit will mean bureaucrats
No longer will hold Britain back is chock-
A-block with balderdash, as if their rabble,
Could organize a single game of Scrabble.
Blokish insouciance and rank disdain,
Incompetent confusion and verbosity,
Have always been the methods of these vain
And deeply shallow men. What a monstrosity
That they would sell the future just to gain
Political legs-up! What an atrocity
That people should consider them the leaders.
But then these fools are always lucky bleeders!
They’re always failing upward. Slick and trite,
Their preening sophistry passes for wit.
They love to claim they’re champions who will fight
For “ordinary people,” but they quit,
Or scatter like cockroaches in sunlight,
When someone calls them out for their horseshit.
Before long, they’re handed another post:
Their only task is who can screw up most!
Corbyn’s no better. Stubborn, uninspired,
And clinging on to power (just like May),
He’s likewise lost his party, which required
A leader who could lead. They both display
A bloody-mindedness mixed with the tired
Old nostrums of the right and left. The Day
Of Judgment will soon offer its conclusion:
These two were victims of their self-delusion.
As one, these vanguards and the self-appointed,
New-minted tribunes of the people spout
Their flagrant lies. It’s like they’re treble-jointed,
So freely they twist facts, turn inside out,
And flip things on their head. So, now anointed,
They fancy they stand on the last redoubt
Between a splendid future or great past,
Or vice versa. None of it will last.
It will not last because it is not true:
It once was—when world atlases ran pink,
Enforced by gunboats, industry, and new
Artillery that fired at each Chink
And Darkie who dared fight back. Very few
Would question “Free Trade” when they’re on the brink
Of slaughter, losing everything, addiction.
Since then, we British have enjoyed the fiction
That everywhere we went, roses were strewn
Before our feet. Benighted peoples wept
In joy at quoting Kipling. You would swoon
As well if you were forced to be adept
At ceding cash, land, clout to each buffoon
Who aimed his gun and forced you to accept
That being ruled was good for you? Their lot
Was to make sure Great Britain wasn’t forgot.
It didn’t last—empires must fade and fall:
Exhausted by defending every border,
Or lacking people who believe it all
(The altruistic humbug). Soon disorder
Invades the Motherland, begins to crawl
Across the shires and sleepy ’burbs, toward her
Most sacred sites. Then, in a conflagration,
The “project” is destroyed to save the nation.
Britain’s decline, of course, was more discreet:
Some lines drawn on a map, the lowered flags,
Royal salutes, the gathering of the fleet,
And tearful memsahibs packing their bags.
Or that’s the myth we tell ourselves: the elite
We chose remained in charge to act as drags
On any persons who might have the thought
That they or their homeland could not be bought.
The fires that destroyed the British Pax
Were sparked in Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun,
Gallipoli, and Amritsar; the cracks
Widened by Mau Mau, Suez. One by one,
The ever-loyal subjects turned their backs
Toward the Empire upon which the sun
Would never set. Instead (an act of stealth),
The stolen-from now had the Commonwealth.
Remove the Commonwealth and the E.U.
Within which the U.K. can strut the stage
And claim its status, what is left to view?
The U.N. and G7? I would wage
A bet that after Brexit very few
Among the sovereign states will care to gauge
Their deeds by what Great Britain says. The shift?
G.B.’s a little island, cast adrift.
The U.S. knows it can command the heights
Of any new trade deal. The PRC
Likewise retains the upper hand. What rights
Or standards Brits may seek to guarantee,
Will be abandoned so the leading lights
Post-Brexit can inform the bourgeoisie
That, though each deal in truth is no great shakes,
We’re free at last to make our own mistakes.
Is this what people want—a throwback to
Grey fish and chips, stale crisps, bingo, warm ale?
Or pebble beaches, deckchairs, and beef stew;
And footie down the pub as you inhale
Smoke from the dying fag ends seeping through
Your clothes and hair? The Sun and Daily Mail
Injecting you with prudish prurience
Under the guise of “good old common sense”?
What really do the Brexiteers believe
Will signify the country’s Age of Gold?
Who’ll pick the crops or staff the wards, receive
The rude complaints, or wash the cold
And filthy toilets, hold the hand and grieve,
Or wipe the wrinkled bottoms of the old?
Who’ll fix the sink, stitch up the broken heart,
Who will repair what has been torn apart?
“Fear not!” (They say.) “We will bestride the earth!
A nimble, never-ending source of skill.
At first it may be tricky, as a dearth
Of fresh investment, low-cost labor, will
Mean businesses will close; the lowered worth
Of pounds and pence and property will chill
The already cool economy. But that pain,
Will merely make us truly strong again.
“That is the bulldog spirit: when confronted
With enemies who want to do us harm,
We’ve stood as one. Undaunted, we have blunted
The mightier powers, and without alarm,
Kept calm and carried on. Sure, we only stunted
Attacks until we could an ally charm
To fight for, we mean, with us. But that’s how
We always did it: Why start changing now?”
That was the case when troops fled from Dunkirk:
Britain was on the brink of being invaded.
Churchill hoped that his rhetoric would work
To buy time so the U.S. was persuaded
To join the war—or Hitler’d go berserk
And open up an Eastern Front. Hope faded
Through ’41 until the German army
Launched Operation Barbarossa—barmy!
And when the Japanese attacked the Yanks—
Double relief! For now the Soviet power
And the U.S. could usefully send tanks
Against the Axis forces, and allow a
Beleaguered Britain to give tired thanks
For being saved at last. Though Eisenhower
And Zhukov had men and materiél,
They let the British play with them as well.
The trouble is that when the U.S.A.
And Soviets brought the Nazis to their knees,
The British thought that it was really they
Who pulled it off. “Excuse me, if you please,
Boris and Uncle Sam, you did O.K.,
But we were first. While you were ‘Let’s appease,’
By staying neutral or signing a pact
With Hitler, we spent two years being attacked.”
Once more, the myth of plucky little Britain
Punching above its weight was resurrected.
Once more, we claimed our “natural” right to sit in
The rooms where The Big Issues were dissected.
Once more, our “rightful” place was underwritten
By how and what we spoke. And thus protected
By the U.S., the ashes of a past
Were blown upon and briefly glowed at last.
These are illusions. Many an Asian power
Is now resurgent; Russia sets its traps.
The Turks don’t care about Our Finest Hour,
The French and Dutch and Germans deem us saps.
America retreats (its mood turned sour).
And while each John Bull type stands up and claps,
Reserves, investments, and assurance slip
Away without even a toodle pip.”
Perhaps we’ll hang with Norway and the Swiss,
And claim the moral high ground, stay impartial,
And have great social services. But we’d miss
The chance to see brass bands, parades, and martial
Displays of the armed forces; take the piss
At “lesser” lands of the invaded. The harsh’ll
Declare that we’ve become the new Fredonia,
Allied with Iceland and North Macedonia.
Canto III: March 2019
Bob Mueller (he of stoical propriety)—
Whose silence speaks more fluently than Tweets;
Whose guarded manner and well-honed sobriety
For two long years have kept us in our seats;
Whose leak-proof counsel rebuffed notoriety,
The obloquy directed at elites,
And provocation—has reached the conclusion,
Regarding Russia, there was no collusion.
Or so we’re led to think by AG Barr,
A helmet-headed white man in a suit,
Like Mueller. All the news we know, so far,
Comes from his four-page letter. I’d dispute
The need to see the whole thing (re: Ken Starr),
But we need more than this to let the brute
Get off scot-free (or merely with a warning)
For inculpation, cheating, and suborning.
How rich it is that month in and month out,
Mueller has been belittled and defamed.
His public duty has been questioned; doubt
Been cast on his procedure; he’s been blamed
For each indictment he’s brought forth. The lout
Who’s done this? The guy who should be ashamed?
The head of state! The very man he scoffed at,
Is he to whom he should present a doffed hat.
Mueller is noncommittal on obstruction
(Or so we think), which means . . . well, I don’t know.
I guess one has to make one’s own deduction
Of what were questions, hints, or threats. Although
He mayn’t have ordered it, the blast and ruction
And the theatrical, absurd dumb show
He stages each time someone might suspect him,
Fools no one but those who want to protect him.
Moreover, he is so flagrant about it!
It’s not some master plan that he’s unrolling.
He doesn’t hide: in fact he loves to shout it
From highest rooftops. The disgusting trolling,
The winking, outrage, walk-backs leave no doubt it
Will never matter as long as the polling
Shows that his base thinks no one is above him,
And, what he really wants from them: they love him.
Consider, if you will, the Pharisees
Who thunder as the (a)Moral Majority.
They’ll cede his avarice and lust, the sleaze
And sloth, as long as it is his priority
To give them judges who will, by degrees,
Return them to what they deem God’s authority
Over the U.S.A. and its democracy,
By channeling a sinner’s rank hypocrisy.
At some point, virtue will be deemed a sin,
And modesty a weakness of the mind.
Abortion will be banned, unless you’re kin,
In which case . . . “Well, there’s someone we’ve assigned,
Who’ll ‘handle’ it.” As long as there is skin
Upon your dick, your creed won’t be maligned:
Unless, of course, your faith is up for capture:
For votes, arms sales, big money, or The Rapture.
Meanwhile, the thieving scum who raid the coffers
Where widows’ mites are dropped in humble trust,
Trawl dioceses looking for better offers
So they can join the reverent upper crust,
Who go to church to network. He who proffers
A tax-avoidance scheme is of the Just:
For lost sheep are best gathered by the priest;
Collected, they are handier to be fleeced.
And so the “pious” bow their heads and pray
That their portfolios and investments rise.
They call for peace for all, but ensure they
Allow the NRA to weaponize
Each citizen. “Earth is the Lord’s,” they say,
But they pollute the air, the seas, the skies.
They claim they hold a Reverence for Life,
And yet they thrive on death, conflict, and strife.
What saves us is his rank ineptitude,
His rigid, wounded, self-obsessed malignity.
In sum, he turns a win into a feud
And stamps upon the slender shoots of dignity
That had begun to sprout. He gets unglued
So easily that anyone’s benignity
(Should one bestow it) he’d consider bait.
How it must hurt to be so filled with hate!
By now, the assumption he causes commotion
To hide some brilliant, nefarious scheme
Does not obtain—the sort of helpless notion,
That in the anarchy detects a gleam
Of logic, and amid the self-devotion
Assumes he has a slightly bigger dream
Than ornamenting his self-advertisement,
His brand, his dynasty, and aggrandizement.
At some point, I imagine, the report
Will find its way (redacted) to the press.
We’ll get to read of sordidness—the sort
Of scuzzy deals and kickbacks that obsess
Good-governance types, but which are like sport
To ordinary voters. Their success
Is now so bound up with him that no sin
Carries a cost as long as each can win.
Indeed, what happened doesn’t really matter;
They don’t care if the Russians interfered.
High principle? The rule of law? Don’t flatter
Yourself that these things count: They disappeared
Decades ago. This superannuated satyr,
This self-important, fatuous Bluebeard,
Merely encapsulates the deviant norms
He throws aside in daily Twitter storms.
I thought that he’d be gone by now—I did:
I thought there’d be a pale to go beyond.
I thought that we would find a way to rid
Ourselves of him, or somehow we’d respond
More resolutely, or we’d slam the lid
Upon his silly rants; that he’d abscond
When his compadres were jailed or indicted,
Or flee his sad administration, blighted.
It’s not that he’s not done enough to prove
That he’s not fit for office, or has grown
In gravitas and aptitude. Each move
He’s made has carbonized or overthrown
Some obligation. It is still his groove
To hit down, mock, insult, betray, condone
Opprobrium upon the dead or living.
And yet he carries on without misgiving.
At every step, he’s been either supported
Or not condemned by leaders on the right.
Either through silence or wildly contorted
Methods, they’ve sought to shuck their oversight
Responsibilities. They have cavorted
In their own cynicism, left a blight
Upon what’s left of honor and restraint,
And ripped up decency as merely quaint.
But then right-wingers have always been rougher
Than any liberal. They love to claim
The so-called moral high ground: yet they’re tougher
On those who flirt with moderation; blame
The left for each infraction; and then buffer
Their own for doing precisely the same
Or much, much worse. They have the unnerving knack
Of praising those they’re stabbing in the back.
His secret (though it isn’t really hidden)
Is that he doesn’t care (although he does);
He’ll do exactly what he wants, unbidden,
Since he adores the frenzy and the buzz.
Yet, like a mule, he’ll let himself be ridden
By stronger men, and relish it, because
He thinks by waiting on them idiotically,
He’ll ingest their respect and chops osmotically.
But then again, I could just be mistaken;
That, blinkered, like the press I’ve gone astray;
That every expectation is forsaken,
By verities that can’t be wished away:
One is that faith in him will not be shaken
No matter what he does or he might say:
He’s tapped a primal, atavistic need
That won’t run dry, wherever it may lead.
A need for someone tough who will take charge;
Who’ll make you feel you’re special, and you’re right.
Someone who’s not afraid to live life large;
And hint you could, too, if you stand and fight.
A man who’s in your corner, who will barge
His way up to the front; and take delight
In shocking others, simply as a joke;
Who’s filthy rich, although he’s always broke.
Who cares if he is rude, knocks heads, breaks rules?
An omelet requires broken eggs.
The folks in Washington are simply fools
Who think they’re smart, when they are just the dregs.
He’s doing what he said. He ridicules
Both parties for their pompousness; which begs
The question: “Why’s it he who’s C-in-C?”
May in fact be, “Why didn’t they pick me?”
And that is that. The invective and the crowing
Are surface noise his fan-base disregard,
Like boos and hisses at a game. The throwing
Of pointed slights is fun. It’s no holds barred;
This ain’t beanball or crochet. Elbowing
And counterpunching are part of the hard,
Essential strategies of politics:
“You grow your carrots; we will keep the sticks.”
As long as the economy keeps humming,
And people feel their interests are protected
(They say), then may the swagger keep on coming,
The shamelessness is what got him elected.
If the Establishment can’t take the scrumming
Then let them leave the field of play, ejected.
We want a boss who’ll do the dirty work,
So what if he’s a narcissistic jerk?
Thus, his supporters: How to contradict them?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter what they think.
They clearly don’t believe that he has tricked them,
Or that he is a toady and a fink.
Of Democrats, they love that he has licked them
When they assumed that they were on the brink
Of having him impeached. He’s stronger now
Than ever; he’s defeated them—and how!
And yet, as much as he is vindicated,
The Southern District of New York awaits.
His businesses are being investigated
And he might still sail into dire straits.
He might find he is not as insulated
From past behaviors or former Playmates
As he had thought. These might not be impeachable,
But no one’s trust or fortress is unbreachable.
He will conclude that the report’s a sign
That he’s untouchable. He’ll fret and stew
About the enemies and traitors, whine
Some more, and then hotheadedly pursue
A policy that Democrats assign
As their main goal next year to attend to:
His triumph barely lasted one full day,
Before he told Barr, “Kill the ACA.”
With one rash comment, like Bela Lugosi
The ACA fight rose up from the dead:
A move that must have thrilled Nancy Pelosi,
Now that impeachment has been put to bed.
His team of strategists aren’t virtuosi
(Each a.m., they must check Twitter with dread).
The G.O.P. must now pretend a “plan”
For healthcare can be found to please the man.
In some ways we are lucky the report
Was published when it was. It means there’s time
For Democrats to say “amen,” and sort
Priorities and candidates (the slime
Will be thrown soon enough). The Supreme Court
And climate change, much more than any crime
He may have done, should occupy attention
(And other policies that I could mention).
Beyond that, it is vital the campaign
Is not waylaid by who is “woke” enough.
What matters is what truly is germane
Without the interference of the stuff
That’s catnip to the right. You may complain
That candidates aren’t perfect: but, well . . . tough!
I swear I’ll wrap my hands around the throat
Of any purist who won’t deign to vote.
So, let’s get real. Focus on the prize,
And let the bawling baby suck his lolly!
Right now he’s riding high, but my surmise
Is that he’s never very far from folly.
Consider this a blessing in disguise:
Buck up! Stand tall! Be rid of melancholy!
The list of candidates is still expanding;
They’ll make their cases while he is grandstanding.
The next few months, I may devote to them—
Perhaps explore their policy positions.
I’ve had enough of fury, gasps, and phlegm.
Indeed, I need to restock my munitions
(Poetic that is), mount each apothegm,
To be deployed in forthcoming editions.
It looks, dear friends, as though there will be more:
I’ve now resigned myself to a Book Four.
Canto IV: April 2019
Mueller’s report has landed with a thud
Upon the tender body of the state.
I thought it would, at least, have spilled some blood,
Or brought the axe down on his addled pate.
Instead of fireworks, it is a dud!
Met by a people wearied by the fate
To which they’ve been consigned: for it appears,
That he will win another four more years.
I’m not myself: forgetful, fraught, distracted,
I’m wandering around as in a daze.
What do the bits say that have been redacted?
Will Mueller testify and so rephrase
His statements to declare the villain acted
Against the law—and in so many ways?
Will he point to a pathway to remove him?
Or will he cave and modestly reprove him?
Distraught, I fall into a fever dream.
I call to mind the ghost of Maureen Dowd,
Whom I evoked in Hades. A bright stream
Of light dazzles my squinting eyes. Aloud,
I question, “Is it you—whom I esteem
For your honest appraisal; who’s not wowed
By the elite’s consensus, and who knows
What’s happening under my very nose?”
“Good grief, not you again!” moans Madame Mo.
“I thought I’d made the situation clear
When you annoyed me two long years ago.
I said back then that you would have to peer
Out of a different fishbowl, Martin Rowe.
You’d have to reach beyond your social sphere
And learn some lessons from those whom you scorned.
If you did not . . . you can’t say you weren’t warned.
“Can’t you see that in the great scheme of things,
Mueller’s report is but a hefty tome:
A fantasy—like sorcerers and kings;
As relevant as life in Ancient Rome?
Call him a puppet; ask who pulls the strings:
All you are doing is blowing the foam
Off your soy latte. Robert Mueller’s case
Is something that will never move his base.
“Why should it? Job growth at an all-time high,
Inflation low, and wages rising, too!
Who cares if he occasionally tells a lie?
The underlying truth is that they knew
Damn well his faults, and just what kind of guy
He was, before the presidency. Few
Would make it in New York without being tough:
He’d fight for them—and that was quite enough.
“So what if he is callous, calls folks names?
We’ve all from time to time been sluts and dicks.
They understand DC’s not fun and games,
And their man knows how every dirtbag ticks.
He makes them feel good, usefully reframes
Each battle into ‘us’ v. ‘them.’ He kicks
Harder when he is kicked—they like that style:
The more he does, the more he makes them smile.
“The liberals are so easily incensed,
So quick to jump on chairs when they see mice!
The social justice warriors rail against
The ordinary things that give life spice.
They call them racist, sexist: they’ve dispensed
Their judgment without ever thinking twice
About shoes that they’ve never had to walk in:
And yet they will be talkin’, talkin’, talkin’.
“That’s why despite each Twitter eructation,
The toadying, the coarseness, and profanity;
In spite of each amoral calculation,
The obfuscation, faux outrage, inanity,
The shallowness, the thuggery, and vanity:
The attempt to try him won’t go very far
Not while, as AG, he has William Barr.
“How useful William Barr is to the bully:
The suit that covers his naked ambition;
The sheep whose coat is thick enough and wooly
To hide the predatory politician;
The mouth that swallows his ejaculations fully
And licks his lips at each nightly emission.
What better servant than this owlish flunky?
The organ-grinder has his dancing monkey.”
“Barr’s sanitized each blatant execration,
Has flushed away his verbal diarrhea,
Whitewashed each criminal abomination,
And at each sin chanted Ave Maria.
He nonchalantly flaunts his cooptation
As if obstruction was a great idea,
The exercise of which (his one regret),
Was that he hadn’t thought to do it yet.
“But now he knows: there are no consequences.
True hucksters won’t be hauled across the coals.
The con men, frauds, and fiddlers of expenses,
Won’t be denied the chance to reach their goals.
No matter the misconduct or offenses,
They need not worry: for when the bell tolls
They’ll know it’s not for them. There’s no last straw:
For they’ve decided they’re above the law.
“Why be concerned with decency or candor
When you can fool a sucker every minute?
Why tell the truth when obloquy and slander
Is the whole ball game—and can help you win it?
When each Autolycus, Oswald, and Pandar
Is licensed to play morons like a spinet,
Why care for custom, principle, restraint?
It’s only losers who’ve a patron saint.
“He’d swore that he’d uphold the constitution.
But no one cares if he obeys the law:
A job and cash will hold off prosecution
Whether in DC or in Arkansas.
‘Keep them distracted’—that’s been the solution
For robbers and magicians. ‘Then withdraw
Whatever you can get away with.’ Reason?
Dissimulation’s the handmaid of treason.
“The trick, of course, is to ensure some minion
Is there to take the fall when they get near you.
As long as your court of public opinion
Holds someone weaker, someone who will fear you,
Someone more venal, over whom dominion
Can easily be had—then, while crowds cheer you,
Those peons go to prison for your sins:
Thus, everybody (but the lapdog) wins.
“For what is loyalty? Why have a code?
Like Falstaff, you’re concerned with Number One!
The noblest soul on whom the gods bestowed
Their grace and favor: show them how much fun
That could be had if they simply borrowed
From your old playbook, and they’d up and run
To catch some of the action: No sagacity
Can ever match the attraction of rapacity.
“Should Democrats try for impeachment, then?
Or would it merely mobilize the base?”
I ask. “Do you think that a few good men
Within the Senate could turn, and erase
The shame that grips the nation? Is a trace
Of honor left within the viper’s den
That is the G.O.P. or is it plain?
That it evaporated with McCain?”
“I wouldn’t bet on them,” she says. “There’s Mitt,
But there’s no evidence he’s grown a spine—
Perhaps Mike Lee, Ben Sasse. . . . Yes, I admit,
They’re not profiles in courage. There’s no sign
That Collins or Murkowski will commit,
And all the rest are his. The steep decline
Can be measured by Lindsay Graham’s hokum;
Sometimes I think I simply want to choke him.
“He’s got them by the balls, and they all know it.
He squeezes them and they sing like a choir.
Their tactics (or whatever) are to show it
Is all a feint and that the real liar
Is Clinton (Mrs.); and what lurks below it,
Is that rogue agents planned (and still conspire)
To undermine and terminate his sway:
And they will make this claim day after day.
“I’ve been around DC for three decades,
I’ve seen the petty hatreds come and go.
Most of them are a version of charades:
The fury false, the righteousness for show.
But Bill and Hill . . . man, all the fusillades
The G.O.P. has launched at them; the low
Things they’ve accused them of—it’s an affliction,
Obsession that’s morphed into an addiction.
“And, yes, the Clintons—sloppy and hedonic—
Have stoked the ire, thrown on tons of fuel.
But they bring out the frankly histrionic
In rightists, whether Brahmin or cesspool.
One reason for their fury (so ironic!)
Is that they know the Clintons can be cruel:
As tough, unyielding, ruthless in the field
As them—and that, like them, they will not yield.
“Their hate, is, thus, a perverse admiration:
A sense that in these two they’ve met their match.
Lacking ideas and charm, their inspiration
Was to find one birthed in the Clintons’ patch:
A showman, one who could be the fixation
Of media types, and who’d easily hatch
Conspiracies and memes, and die-hard fans:
Let “Clinton” beat Clinton—such genius plans!
“Well, that’s my theory. Nothing justifies
How keen he was to perjure and obstruct.
If it was anybody else . . . the flagrant lies,
The filth that daily pours from his bile duct
Into the state. . . . I truly sympathize
With those who think, in principle, we’re fucked
Unless we draw the line and take a stand:
No one’s above the law in this fair land.
“But principles won’t win in 2020,
And decency won’t earn a single vote.
Don’t ever listen to the cognoscenti
(Like me): we always sound the same old note.
What is your plan to guarantee that plenty
Of the Obama lot who switched, or wrote
Him off as weak, come back into the fold?
Now let me go, please—this is getting old.”
She vanishes, and I am left alone:
Alone to think about what she has said.
Have we completely every option blown,
And is impeachment really, truly, dead?
Won’t somebody step up with a backbone
And venture where Republicans won’t tread?
And dare we hope enough of us remember
All that he’s done (and not done) come November.
O Robert Mueller, what have you denied us,
By so completely pulling all your punches?
With what enchantments you could have supplied us:
Like petals falling from the sky in bunches,
Or Schadenfreude welling up inside us,
Or such delights that three-martini lunches
Bestow! You could have landed us in clover,
By telling us his presidency was over.
Of course, I don’t mean you’d have been so crass
To shout, “You’re just a crook, a stooge, a thief!”
I didn’t think you’d spank him on the ass,
Or raise your middle finger to the Chief,
Or turn, unbelt your pants, and expel gas.
But, as per Clint Eastwood with Lee Van Cleef,
I thought as Blondie you would grab the prize,
By finally dispatching Angel Eyes.
Instead (God damn your civilized sobriety!),
You showed how Russia treated us as fools.
You enumerated every impropriety,
And how his operation broke the rules.
You laid out how, in infinite variety,
He got all those who worked for him (the mules
Who did his dirty work) to go and lie for him:
He thought they’d love nothing more than to die for him.
It isn’t over. The investigations
Of his whole rotten empire are advancing:
Subpoenas for his taxes, fabrications,
And all the filthy lucre in financing
His sordid schemes, skirting of regulations,
And all the bluster, pimping out, and prancing.
Perhaps a chink of light will break the gloom,
And lead the man quite rightly to his doom.
Until then, we’ve two-dozen Democrats
Running to take his place. Each has their gift
And it is early, but so many hats
In just one ring seems bonkers, and short shrift
Will likely soon be made of them. And that’s
Too bad: so, just before their all-too-swift
Departure from the scene, I’ll take the time
To ponder on their candidacy in rhyme.
Canto V: May 2019
Bring on the cavalcade of candidates,
The moderates, the leftists, in-betweeners;
The famous, unknown, and those whom the Fates
Determine should be taken to the cleaners.
I greet you all: for one, the glory waits;
The rest of you, either old misdemeanors
Or new mistakes will cause you to withdraw
Before we’ve even found your fatal flaw!
Another hat is tossed into the ring,
A gauzy video appears online.
A guy or gal for whom “Of Thee I Sing”
Refers to them—who’s been bestowed a sign
That points them to the White House, who will bring
Integrity back. . . . Then, a valentine
To family, America, and God.
And off to Iowa they gamely plod.
You’ve clearly got to be a tad demented
To think that you’re the one to beat the rest.
You give a thousand speeches in a rented
Hall and gymnasium; present your best
To the ten people in the room (augmented
By several staffers), have your moist flesh pressed
At countless meet-and-greets at county fairs,
Where no one knows what you have done, or cares.
The same old stump speech, endless photo-ops;
The babies spitting up on your two suits.
The fixed grin on your face, the whistle-stops
At factories and union halls; old coots
Who can’t hear what you say; the shameful sops
To local issues, countless flag salutes—
The flummery of the red, white, and blue:
When all you want is to say something true.
You analyze the horse race and the polls,
(Who’s up, who’s down, who’s new, who’s growing old):
You parse them like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Consultants tell you not to be too bold;
Don’t scare the voters; smile; ignore the trolls.
You wash your hands, but you can’t shake the cold
You caught in Concord. Yet you gird each loin
To head to Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
They whoop and holler when you stand on stage.
You tell them you will pay off student loans.
You say that there should be a living wage,
And detail your plan for empowerment zones.
Conjure the future, evoke a Golden Age—
Each way, they wave their signs, hold up their phones.
You ask them to sign up or volunteer;
They shake their heads and then they disappear.
It must be that adrenaline kicks in,
To fool you in imagining you’ll do it.
You tell yourself that someone has to win;
You have a chance as long as you stick to it.
You call the donors, half-believe your spin,
Hope that your spouse will somehow suffer through it,
And pray that one by one they fold before you,
And then, you mutter, they cannot ignore you.
You try to still the inner voice that sighs,
Perhaps you’ll land Interior, even State—
Or at the least a pundit job. You’ll rise
Within the party, be a heavyweight
Who’ll have the clout to choose . . . maybe the prize
Will be yours next time, or you could dictate
Terms to the winner. . . . Concentrate, you rasp:
Success this round still could be in your grasp.
So, in the circumstances, I salute you,
I wouldn’t do it, even if I could.
Of course, if you hold on, simply to suit you
Or your big donors, long after you should
Just step away, then I might have to shoot you!
It wouldn’t do the party any good
To have the spoilers take up precious space.
We need to focus on the national race.
There’s twenty-three of you (at time of writing),
I can’t even recall some of your names.
At this stage, should we choose someone exciting,
And risk it that they might go down in flames?
Or should we opt for someone less inviting
Who might be practiced at playing the games
You need to win? Jujitsu and hardball,
Boxing and chess: you have to know them all!
Let’s start with ingénue Pete Buttegieg
(Another of the candidates I’ll mention).
If nothing else, his name gave him an edge,
Or, at the least, had placed him in contention,
And offered his campaign a chance to fledge,
Before he stalled in his rapid ascension.
His wonderful iambic nomenclature
Suggests his is a true poetic nature.
He likes to roll his sleeves up, does Mayor Pete,
Speaks several languages—even Norwegian!
On most days, you’d walk by him on the street
Yet his outstanding aptitudes are legion.
He plays the piano; is a vet; is neat,
Well-groomed, polite; and hails from a region
The Democrats will need to win next year,
Or hopes of beating him will disappear.
Pete’s problem may be not that he is gay,
Or Christian (or not Christian) enough.
It’s not that he can’t handle an affray,
Or that he doesn’t know how to act tough.
The old dogs may not yet have had their day,
But though he’s young, he’s not a piece of fluff.
It’s that his decency won’t match a man
Who’ll be the Death Star to his Alderaan.
Right now, his tractor-beams are orientated
On Mueller, and ensuring that his tax
Returns are not subpoena’d . . . or located;
His shady deals, dodges, illegal acts,
And other “dark side” stuff, and the related
Malfeasance are kept hidden lest the cracks
In his façade at last begin to open
(That’s what I am reduced to finding hope in).
Like Luke, Pete Buttigieg may have schematics,
And might locate the exhaust port to the core!
He’ll trust the Force (as well as aerobatics)
And make sure that this evil man no more
Can end life on this planet. The fanatics
(The drones and clones and troopers) may adore
His malice, but this lord may meet his end
Confronting the young mayor of South Bend.
It may take someone out of Indiana
(Who isn’t Pence), and just a little corny;
Unlike Lola at the Copacabana
(A washed-up showgirl) or that louche and horny,
Weird Uncle Fester, he’s Americana:
No flimflam, nothing X-rated or porn-y.
It’s like out of the dung has bloomed this flower:
I hope he’ll not be plucked within the hour.
Of course, we have that glad-hander Joe Biden,
Who forms a kind of contrast with that stinker.
Joe is the sort of guy you could confide in,
Although he may not be the deepest thinker.
We know he’s prone to gaffes, and he’s a dyed-in-
The-wool insider, a hook-line-and-sinker,
Been-there, done-that safe choice. It’s true, he’s tested:
But are we sure that he cannot be bested?
For in the end, they’re not so far apart,
These vain, old white guys, full of their baloney.
They have no trouble holding court: they start
And don’t shut up. If someone says, “You’re phony!”
They sulk. As far they’re concerned, they’re smart
And must be heard—part of their patrimony.
When will that generation cede the podium?
Why do they crave the stage and our odium?
And then there’s Bernie, running once again,
His videos fill up my Facebook feed.
We know what he stands for—he makes it plain—
And much of it is clearly what we need
(A simple health-care system, to constrain
The malefactors of great wealth): a creed
That’s true now as it ever was. However,
I’m just not certain of Bernie’s endeavor.
He’s so one-noted, only bread and butter:
The pocketbook, and all that it contains.
Each sentence is attended by a splutter
(Of outrage, doubt, or the half-chewed remains
Of what he ate that morning). He’s no nutter—
And yet four years of the discordant strains
Of Flatbush Avenue within my ears
Would almost certainly bring me to tears.
The fact that Bernie thrives on discontent,
Of grievance that you cannot get ahead,
Because the undeserving and the bent
Have rigged the system and left you for dead,
Echoes too closely what this president
Loves to lay on elites and the well-read:
I’d like to hope injustice is defeated
Without requiring grudges be reheated.
More dulcet, with a voice that’s modulated,
Senator Warren was the first to jump in
The contest. She’s less superannuated
Than Joe, Bernie (or him), but any bump in
Her popularity was adumbrated
When she claimed she was Cherokee. She’ll stump in
Each hamlet from Fitzwilliam to Lyme,
But he’ll shout “Pocohontas!” every time.
She, too, avows that she will drain the swamp
And hold the upper classes to the fire.
On graft, racism, and perfidy she’ll stomp,
And (unlike him) she will not be a liar.
Like Bernie, she’ll dispense with any pomp
And unlike 45, she’ll be a trier.
And yet I sense she lacks the common touch:
And when she tries, she tries a bit too much.
I like Kamala Harris; she is tough.
She’s laser-like when she is prosecutorial
She moves quite well between the smooth and rough,
Is sharp and bright but not too professorial.
I hope she doesn’t lose her nerve, or cuff
Her acid shrewdness. Since time immemorial
A clever woman has been deemed a threat,
I’d hope that, this time, we will not forget.
Now New York City’s mayor’s running, too.
He was my city councilmember once.
I’ve voted for him several times, in lieu
Of someone more exciting. He’s no dunce;
He faced much opposition from those who
Never forgave his chutzpah or his bunce
In beating Christine Quinn, who should have won—
And would have but for the Afro of his son.
That’s only six so far! For Gillibrand
Also from New York’s in, as if another
New York contender is in great demand
From every voter and his/her grandmother!
There’s Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, and
Tim Ryan, Julian Castro (not his brother),
John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar,
And still I’ve not yet finished—not by far!
I’d let them have a decent shake, withhold
My judgment, ponder on their policies.
IMHO, the end’s not been foretold,
And every one of them has expertise.
But by the time my vote comes round, in cold
Cold February, only memories
Of moments in the limelight will remain:
He sounds familiar. . . . Who was she again?
Of course, the great exception to the rule,
Is he who now presides over us all.
A mass of candidates; an obvious tool;
A craven press in salivating thrall
To conflict; social media adding fuel
To stoke the blaze of discord and appall
The center, stirring up enough suspicion
To arm the Right with still more ammunition.
He also modeled swinging for the fence,
Eschewing lower office for the top.
He ran without fear of the consequence,
Because, in losing, he would simply swap
His failure for more wealth—a recompense
With which he was familiar. For each flop
That has defined his gilded life has led
Invariably to him earning more bread.
We’ve learned that for a decade in the eighties
And nineties, he squandered a billion clams.
Meanwhile, he claimed that he earned bucks with great ease
And was the most successful. Sure, at scams
And bullshit, he’s the best; the everyday tease
On what he’ll do he’s master of; the slams
And insults over Twitter—there’s no better.
It’s also true: he is the greatest debtor.
No one’s lost more and yet has gained so much;
No one unrulier, has more obligation.
No one has more depended on the crutch
Of family wealth, and yet his affectation
Is someone self-made. One who hates to touch,
Somehow has fondled almost half the nation,
Convincing them that he’s a common man,
Who lost a billion in a ten-year span.
Canto VI: June 2019
Canadian photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur visited Thailand in early 2019 to document what occurs in slaughterhouses there. On June 11, 2019, the Guardian ran a story about the conditions for the animals. McArthur took the photo (below) of a pig in a factory farm in Spain in 2009. It is entitled “The Pig I Hope Is Dead,” because, as she says in her book We Animals, “By now, several years after I took the photograph, this pig is almost certainly dead—as are most if not all of her children, whether male or female. My hope is that she died soon afterward, so she couldn’t experience any more pain or loss.” These photos are used with permission of We Animals Media. In May, the United Nations issued a report on mass species extinction. This reality is reflected in the second half of this canto.
A man raises a club above his head,
Gripped like a baseball bat before the thwack:
His muscles taut; the weight and light are spread
Across his shoulder blades and down his back.
Three other men, one of them wearing red,
Await the mortal, unconditional crack
Upon the bony temples of a boar
Sprawled on all fours upon the slickened floor.
The soccer shirts worn by the two young men
Hint that a subtler game is found elsewhere.
It’s true the pigskins sprawled within the pen
Are also easily kicked. Perhaps each share
A wish to find a field. But they, again,
Discover they are trapped in a nightmare
That only lets them briefly dream of pleasure;
Before they mark the beat of the last measure.
The ocher, russet, brown, orange, and peach
Contrasted with the teal, blue, black, and gray,
Evoke the autumnal colors of a beech
Against a painted barn; the soft decay
Of leaves upon the soil; with hope that each
Will be replaced with life another day,
When spring returns. This fall displays a fall
That won’t see one life be reborn at all.
An older man is naked to the waist;
His flaccid arms and belly hang in space;
The biceps sag (for age won’t be erased).
His nipples droop; beard-stubble lines his face.
He seems a man who’s no longer in haste
To force what will inevitably take place:
He’s on the brink of leaving it behind—
His only contact with this? Bacon rind.
This man clutches a crimson metal bowl,
The knife in his left hand expects its turn.
The humans are impassive, for the goal
Of sanctioned executioners is to spurn
Emotion lest it flood the withered soul.
No matter if the stomach starts to churn:
The greasy bludgeon, wet with soap and brine,
Must come down hard upon resisting swine.
The pig opens his mouth and starts to scream;
The notched ears twitch; the eyes close up in pain.
Beneath his torso froths a bloody stream
From which he tries to scramble up: the stain
And scars upon his flank; the wrinkled seam
Of hocks as hooves slip on the concrete drain.
And through the doorway, glimpses of the rest,
Who of their lives will soon be dispossessed.
This animal, like millions done to death
In abattoirs and shambles round the globe,
Is one whose parting, terminated breath
Follows a blow across the frontal lobe,
And then the cut. Of course, the shibboleth
For “happy meat” eater or xenophobe
Is Western stun and bolt guns will allay
The agony: their ending “one bad day.”
Yet is not this dispatch more honest, truer
About what we believe or think is right?
Aren’t each of us a dulled, indifferent viewer
To violence that happens in our sight?
Don’t we imagine we’re not a wrongdoer
When we let someone else put out the light?
For when has mercy ever counter-weighted
The pounds of flesh that leave us satiated?
The barrels fill with offal everywhere;
The smells and stains seep into every skin.
The piss and shit are something that we share
Whether we’re blessed, luckless, or drenched in sin.
Confronted with mortality, we scare
As much as those we deem supper or kin.
For in the end, when our course is run,
We are alone; we will die one by one.
The sow sits on the stone and metal grate;
She’s barely old enough to birth her young.
Her world was, is, and will be this (a state
Of absolute confinement)—one among
Millions of others just like her await
Each litter stolen, until she is swung
By shackled legs, stunned, and her throat is slit:
Only her passing puts a stop to it.
How is it better that this sentient being
Is trapped within a filthy, barren cage,
Her babies taken from her? Is not seeing
Her brutal (non-)existence how we assuage
The guilt that gnaws at us? How very freeing
It is in this postmodern carnist age
To trust that industry and laws will keep
Us from the facts, ensure a good night’s sleep!
And so, conveniently, conveyer belt,
Electric prod, hoist, knockbox, scalding tank,
The depilators, strippers of each pelt,
And those who scythe each breast, back, rump, and shank,
And toss the innards of each beast who knelt
And begged for mercy—these we have to thank
For letting us bow heads and carve a slice,
In honor of God and their sacrifice.
Each minute, tens of thousands are suspended,
Their bodies disassembled at kill stations.
Each minute, just as many lives are ended
In unremitting mass eviscerations.
Each minute, our conscience is defended
By too convenient self-justifications
That, as we have the gift of personhood,
All that we do to them is rendered good.
This slaughter started before his election
And will continue after he’s been fired.
He is no worse or better; his deflection
No shallower or deeper; his acquired
Palate as opportune as a cross-section
Of ordinary folks. Only we tired
And irritating vegans break the peace,
In calling for the awfulness to cease.
Much worse for me are those who dare to claim
How much they love the animals they harm;
How deeply they respect them, how they name
Each one of them, and try not to alarm
Them as they load them onto trucks. No blame
Should ever be leveled at how they farm.
They brought them into life to celebrate it;
And they have every right to terminate it.
Or those who sigh the planet must be fed;
That life is cruel, or to each his own,
And other bunkum—as if the massed dead
Weren’t eating up the grain and soy that’s grown,
Producing waste that fouls the watershed,
Releasing odors and emissions. Moan
All you may want about agro-ecology,
But don’t deny you owe them an apology.
We made this sordid, excremental vision;
We chose these horrors, prearranged the pyre:
Each killing a deliberate decision,
Another body added to the fire.
Each second, a precisely willed incision,
Another corpse is tossed into the fryer.
And thus we pass the years on this earth,
And thus we quantify material worth.
But animals are leaving us. Their traces
Are disappearing from each mountain pass.
The species are deserting empty spaces,
And no more trails wend through the prairie grass.
No salmon follow scents back to the places
Where they were spawned; nor does a swirling mass
Of birds collect in autumn to fly forth;
And in the spring not one will journey north.
The animals are leaving us. Their eyes
No longer narrow in the underbrush.
The evenings are silent; when the skies
Lighten, no songs or chirrups break the hush.
The anthills are abandoned; butterflies
Fail to pupate, and pollen’s fragrant blush
Will not coat any bees nor feed a hive;
There are not any more of them alive.
The animals are leaving us. They’ve known
For centuries the outlines of their fate
At our hands. They’ve mourned the whitened bone,
Caressed the wounded skin, taken the bait
And gnawed their limbs off to escape. Each lone
Zoo animal has paced his tiny crate
And hoped for that day when the way was clear
To leave the stares behind and disappear.
The animals are leaving us. They’ve seen
What will come to us all—and very soon.
They’ve felt the ice melt under them, the green
Savanna turn to ash, and blue lagoon
Clog with effluent, plastic, or benzene.
They’ve felt the oceans change. The beaches strewn
With garbage, where once they arrayed their nest,
Became the graveyards where they lie at rest.
The animals are leaving us—departed
Before we even knew that they existed.
The organisms whom we hadn’t charted,
Whose lives we did not know, yet who’d persisted
Through age upon age: who’d swum, slunk, crept, darted,
Burrowed, or floated on the air, unlisted:
Why would one choose human signification,
When one would face instant annihilation?
The animals are leaving us. They’ve read
The writing on the wall. The gristly meat
That rots in our jaws; the vein that’s bled
So liberally; the license to mistreat;
The trophies stuffed and mounted, head by head;
The babies ripped from mom’s lactating teat—
They’ve understood too well what will await them.
They recognize how vehemently we hate them.
And so they’re leaving us. The soundless seas
Will soon contain no fish, while the crustaceans,
Shell-less will die off, too. No winter freeze
Will shape the icecaps; and the island nations
Will sink into the depths. Boreal trees
Will desiccate and burn, while permutations
Of temperatures will increase till the heat
Will lead to people dying on the street.
And so they’re leaving us. Why stick around
To feel our fury’s enervated gasp?
Why stay to watch who’s saved and who is drowned,
Whose fingers let slip an enfeebled grasp?
Why gloat when bloated bodies form the ground
Upon which other humans stand, to rasp
Their own cessation? Why stay and exalt?
When all are gone, then there’s no one to fault.
And so they’re leaving us to walk unheard
Through cinders, cracked beds, each forsaken city,
Reciting how such human-ness conferred
A special suffering, a unique pity;
How, as in the beginning with the Word,
So at the end: the epitaphs are witty.
But at what moment will we realize
No one is left to admire this demise?
No one to soothe the loss, or justify us.
No “other” who can tell us who we are.
No one who can with tenderness supply us,
No gentler kin or kind than us by far.
No one who hasn’t been extinguished by us
On this late planet, third closest its star.
No creature who stirs the imagination;
No one to mourn us after the cremation.
Another pig is brought onto the floor,
Shrieks pouring from her mouth. Her ululation—
Frantic, despairing, unanswered: “What for?”
She cries, “What crime? What is the allegation
That’s brought me to this place? When did the war
Begin against us? And what provocation
Did I stir up that you should thus betray me,
Beat me into unconsciousness, and slay me?
“Why persecute us? How have we offended?
That you should handle us with such disdain?
We could have just as easily befriended
Each other, helped each other meet the strain
Of aging. We, together, could have ended
The dissonance that occupies your brain:
You tell yourselves that you’re not cruel men,
Yet you love harming, again and again.”
Her lamentation stops: phlegm fills her throat;
Her eyes roll up; her legs buckle and fold.
The club comes down once more. In the remote
Recesses of our minds, where lies the old
Fiction that we are good, might we devote
A passing thought to she whose death, foretold,
Portend the passing of the oldest teachers,
And us—the murderers of other creatures?
Canto VII: July 2019
Last month, my valet Jeeves, the goodly swain,
Brought me the morning pick-me-up he brews—
Some rare distilment that each dulled membrane
Drinks in like nectar, sparking every fuse,
Lending some vim and vigor to each vein.
Once I had quaffed, I hailed the man: “What news?”
Steepling his hands, he said: “I dare to say
That we have seen the last of Mrs. May.”
“Good Lord!” I utter. “You mean the P.M.?”
“I do, sir.” “What the old girl is no more?
She’s pushing up the daisies? Cleared the phlegm
Just once too often? Reached the other shore?
Cashed in her chips?” He gives a brief ahem:
“She has not died, sir. Rather, on that score,
Her exit’s less dramatic, you will find,
Than your conceit would warrant: she’s resigned.”
Now, normally, such news would cause grown chaps
To gasp and call their brokers or imbibe
One of the stronger brews. But then, perhaps,
We live in such strange times that to describe
An ordinary day at Westminster and jotting scraps
And bon mots on the state no longer jibe
With a reality that’s more absurd
Than any for which one can find a word.
Not that I wasn’t sad for her, mind you.
It’s obvious that she was trying hard.
I’m not much of a worker, it is true,
But even I could see that she’d been scarred
By carrying on with what she had to do,
Surrounded by mudslinger and blowhard,
Assailing her as Dr. Moriarty—
And those were just the members of her party!
I cinch my robe. “Well, frankly, I don’t blame her.”
I take another snootful of the snifter.
“It isn’t that I’m eager to defame her
Or say ‘I told you so.’ I think they stiffed her—
Pretending that they weren’t trying to shame her,
Or sabotaging her so they could shift her.
A bigger bunch of boobs, I never knew:
And as you aware, I’ve met a few.”
“She was, indeed, ‘more sinned against than sinning.’”
“One of your own?” “I fear not, sir: the Bard—
King Lear.” “The sort of show that leaves you grinning?”
“The tragedy is held in high regard
But mirth is rarely present from beginning
To end: I find Cordelia’s death quite hard
To take.” An eyebrow rises just a tad:
Emotion almost overwhelms the lad.
“I mean, Theresa, could have learned a thing
Or two from Bingo Little, Freddie Widgeon,
And other Drones: a way to take the sting
Out of the tide of history; a smidgeon
Of carefree derring-do; a touch of zing—
Instead of making duty your religion,
And strong-and-steady nonsense that she spouted:
It’s no surprise the Tories were all routed.
“Bingo’s a dodo, but he is a brick;
Freddie’s an ass, but loyal to a fault.
They won’t surprise you, and what’s more they’ll stick
With you through good and bad times. Their gestalt
Is to put back the chum in chump. They’re thick,
But tons of fun: no angst or thunderbolt
Of insight or conviction will alarm you;
And that’s a guarantee that they’ll not harm you.”
“A most intriguing thesis. Are you implying
That this prime minister would have succeeded
If she’d been stupider?” “Well, Jeeves, I’m trying
To say that, on occasion and as needed,
It helps to be a good old boy. Relying
On Queen and Country somberness, as she did,
Turns off the ordinary punter. They’ll support
Someone who seems that they’re a jolly sort.”
“Well, in that case, sir, you will like the man
Who’s been elected to replace the leader.
He wears his learning very lightly, can
Be guaranteed to make much game of earnest, cede a
Statistic for a joke, and blithely fan
Some bigotry to amuse the casual reader.
Compared to him, you’ll find Mr. Fink-Nottle
Resembles not a newt, but Aristotle.”
“You talk of Boris Johnson, do you Jeeves?”
“I do indeed, sir.” “Well, we’re up the creek,
And no mistake about it. Who conceives,
Apart from him, that he’s the bloke we seek
To keep the UK in one piece; believes
One word he says? He changes every week—
Except his suits who’ve never met a press,
As comb his head? The man’s a total mess.”
“There is some precedent for such a fellow,
I think you’ll find, sir, across the Atlantic.”
“The fathead in the White House—jowls of jell-o,
And that ridiculous blond mop? Each hour, some antic
That causes nervous types to gasp and bellow?”
“Of him I speak, sir. Not to be pedantic:
But one led to the other. We have rulers
Who act as if they are primary-schoolers.”
“This is the very rummest of rum do’s,
Jeeves, but I can see what you might be thinking.
We’re now so bored, a talent to amuse
Or rile us up now dominates our thinking.
Good policies? Sound morals? Just refuse
To honor pledges; lie a lot (while winking);
And keep us watching, and these are the goods
To help us think that we’re out of the woods.”
“I fear you are correct, sir. In my calling,
Discretion is the modus operandi.
To act the clown would be thought as appalling,
The modest gentleman outranks the dandy.
Why call attention to your deficits? How galling
To be so desperate? The well-aged brandy
Offers more taste than carbonated fizz;
The steady hand more comfort than the whizz.
“And yet, it seems, the people have declared
That substance is less preferable than flash.
Someone who grasps the issues, a prepared
And solid public servant without dash,
Will never match a blundering, wild-haired,
And deeply flippant person, who would crash
Out of the European Union with no deal
As long as it would give him some appeal.”
I’ve never seen my valet quite so miffed,
And tell him so. His gaze levels on me.
“For members of your class, on whom the gift
Of wealth has been bestowed, the travesty
Of lost jobs, disinvestment, and the swift
Diminishment of opportunities will be
A column in the papers. For the rest
It will be an implacable stress test.
“What irks me, sir, is that he plays the ass,
As if his education were a right,
To be disposed of as beneath his class.
For those such as myself, who’ve had to fight
For access to the places through which pass
Men such as he with ease, his recondite
Yet shambolic pretensions are offensive:
No wonder, sir, that we are apprehensive.
“What’s more his laziness and off-the-cuffness
Speak volumes of his rank complacency.
The calculated bombast, windy bluffness,
Are tactics to conceal; the repartee,
The messy hair, the diamond-in-the-roughness
Are mere distractions from that fact that he
Lacks firm convictions and the strength of mind.”
He pauses. “I’m familiar with his kind.”
“Now, look here, Jeeves. Just what are you implying?
I know we share two alma maters: Eton
And Oxford. We find humor fortifying
And think it better on the whole to sweeten
The miseries that mark this world by crying
With laughter and not sadness. I was beaten
Resoundingly at school: when thus abused,
You’ve every right to choose to be amused.
“I mean no harm to anyone. I pay
A decent wage to you, and treat you well.
I let you take a lengthy holiday
And, though a Wooster, have been known to quell
My zest for snazzy togs. As my valet
You are aware you have no parallel
(For which I’m very grateful). But I stress,
That there are boundaries to my largesse.”
Jeeves blinks, not once, but twice, and heaves a sigh.
He’s never been so discombobulated
(At least not in my presence). “I will try,”
He says, “to explain why I remain frustrated
At Mr. Johnson, your response, and why
It’s not enough to be appreciated
For various expressions of servility.
By those who are a byword for puerility.
“The assumption, sir, is that you’ll always lead,
No matter your incompetence or vanity.
That even if a million bodies bleed
Because your bullishness leads to insanity,
You think you’re born to rule us: that your breed
Won’t know true justice because your urbanity
Will guarantee that were disaster to assail us
You’d be around to amuse us and regale us.
“God save us from clever, unserious men,
Who can’t be bothered to grow more discerning;
Who throw tantrums and toys in their playpen
Because they never took kindly to learning.
Their studied ignorance time and again
Allows them to bluff their way out; their gurning
A compliment to everyone’s complicity
In tolerating leaders’ eccentricity.
“My scorn is not confined to the nobility
Or upper-middle classes and pretenders.
My peers have been befuddled by docility,
Assuming that for arrivistes the splendors
Of leadership will come: that one’s gentility
Is best attained by status-quo defenders
Who show unearned respect for people who
Consider them ungracious parvenus.
“My fault’s been to presume somehow, in stages,
The playing field would finally grow flatter;
That wealth would trickle down; that our wages
Would be more equal; that it wouldn’t matter
Where one received one’s education; that sages
Would finally dismiss every Mad Hatter
Who clung to power: that honest perspicacity
Would, in the end, defeat bald-faced mendacity.
“I see that I’ve been woefully naïve.
That I, too, bought the bunkum and the blether.
I let my innocent wish to believe
In human decency—light as a feather—
Fight those who have long practiced to deceive.
I assumed that, in the future, a bellwether
Would point the way to truth: I was deluded.
In short, I was a fool, I have concluded.
“And, as a fool, then I must reconcile
My idiotic falling for each platitude
Dispensed by those who have no gift but guile,
Whose ludicrous and retrogressive attitude
I should have seen more clearly (that bland smile
And those cold eyes; the latitude
That we all gave them), with my supposition
That even jokers aren’t above suspicion.
“Therefore, I tender, sir, my resignation.
I can no longer serve you in this fashion.
Noblesse oblige, the deference of station,
No more deserve my energy or passion
Than does this country such an aberration
As Mr. Johnson. I’ve some bonds to cash in
And will retire to Shoreham-by-Sea
To open up a little B&B.”
“Good heavens, Jeeves, but this is insurrection!”
I say. “Just Bolshie talk. Who will prepare
The morning pick-me-up; make the selection
Of what a proper gentleman should wear?
Who will provide the suitable protection
Against Aunt Agatha? What man will scare
Away the brides-to-be from good old Bertie?
Who’ll have a useful tip for the three-thirty?
“Would higher wages, more time off suffice?”
“You miss the point, sir. I no longer see
Myself in bondage to a class whose vice
Is so transparent, and whose claim to be
The natural rulers of me cuts no ice.
Well-meaning though you are, you are to me
Someone I cannot stand to be around
A moment longer: I am Sussex bound.”
With that the blighter takes his coat and leaves.
Leaving me to dress myself and all that guff.
Monstrous ingratitude I call it, Jeeves,
I say to no one. I should call his bluff
And visit him in Shoreham—see how he receives
His lord and master, then. Enough’s enough:
When Jeeves departs, then England pales and fades:
All old Etonians: to the barricades!
Canto VIII: August 2019
Canto IX: September 2019
Canto X: October 2019
Canto XI: November 2019
Canto XII: December 2019