Late Stage American Hegemony
Young hippies who rebelled
by getting high, growing wild hair,
and levitating the Pentagon
are in their sixties now—
hoping the Establishment
will survive long enough
to send them twenty-five years
of retirement checks.
I know— I’m one of them.
I sent LBJ a Mother’s Day card
in 1968 that said,
“Happy Mother’s Day, you mother!”
The FBI is probably still
interviewing my neighbors.
Hey, hey, LBJ!
How many kids
did you kill today?
Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!
The Viet Cong
is gonna win!
My friend Louie joined the SDS,
more radical than I.
He banged his head against the war.
Oh, Janet (wherever you are),
do you remember
your bloodied boyfriend, Louie?
Do you remember me
organizing a peace demonstration
by the squirrels on campus?
Johnson seems less evil now,
Vietnam offset by Medicare and civil rights;
most of his successors remind me
more of Nero than Augustus.
I’ve had a long time to watch
as everything that could have been
free, happy, safe, and true
was sprayed with Agent Orange,
fattened with corn syrup,
deceived by artificial intelligence,
or folded into collateralized obligations
for sale to the unsuspecting.
Some believe in progress,
others in a rolling ignorance
disguised at times by luck and vagary.
But always, history echoes and ricochets.
The barbarians are at Gate 57,
and the ghost of Edward Gibbon,
from his quiet resting place
in Fletching, Sussex,
has seen this all before.
If all it took
were a letter to the editor,
bombs would not be
If all it took
were a graduated income tax
everyone would have
If all it took
were breathing in
and breathing out—
Homage to Emily Dickinson (xxi)
When Grief has nailed the Shutters closed
And drawn the Curtains—tight,
The parlor fills with haunting Shades
Of spare—immortal Night.
When Grief ascends the empty Stair,
So heavy with the Weight—
Its footfalls roar like Organ notes—
At Cemetery’s gate.
When Grief has pulled the blanket up,
Let wooly eyelids down—
Convulsing sobs attune the Heart
When Grief inspects the morning’s Face
And finds it cruelly Bright—
Insensate eyes attempt to rinse
All luster from the Light.
After a year of chairing meetings,
microphone in one hand,
gavel in the other,
making proposals most of the others
would prefer to consider
(as I was often told)
from a different angle,
proposals debated at length
but seldom adopted—
because inviting change
would have offended
almost in a mortal way
the imperious dignity
of things as they are;
after a year of striving
for elusive consensus
from diverse talents assembled
for the purpose of peroration;
after a year of
increasingly dubious persistence,
questioning the value
of any attempt to lead,
of democratic process,
even of education or intelligence;
after such a year, then abruptly
resuming my former life
and staring at it like a stranger,
I purchased all at once
another twenty books of poetry.
As an adolescent
with his friends on a Saturday night,
the plans kept changing
because the movie was sold out
or the parents still home
where they had expected
to play beer pong.
His mother would always ask
where he was going,
but her ingenuous question
originated in some other,
more predictable world.
He might have thought
he was being educated in school
from Monday to Friday,
while the weekends offered
no more than random recreation.
But the older he grew
the more deceptive this looked.
He forgot almost everything
learned in classrooms,
after being hired, married,
mortgaged—that Saturday night
was the real education,
as life, in serendipity or crisis,
unfolds not like a syllabus,
a graduation ceremony,
or the quiet order of a fire drill.
The plans keep changing.
I am thankful this day that everyone else
is not exactly like me.
That would be a world
without youth; no beautiful women,
no quarterbacks would inhabit it.
No one would grow wheat,
fish the seas, make cinema or jazz.
All poetry would sound the same.
Even though no one would care
to wage war or start a pyramid scheme,
even though every vote by Congress
and the Supreme Court would be unanimous,
a drab, quotidian monotony would
march us like a metronome through time.
Worthwhile as individual,
I fail as human prototype.
Hospitals would close, students would know
as much or little as their faculty;
nearly every language would vanish.
The population of New York City
would approach seven billion
(about one square foot per person)
I would have nowhere to leave my kisses
except on the mouth of Narcissus.