This is the first series of the limerick project—which began in May 2017 with Pence, Trump and Comey. This series focuses on injustice and other illnesses, as well as on poetry (and Trump). Later series: Part II (Injustice, Trump, Illness, Poetry): July 2 to August 12, 2017; Part III (Animals, Capitalism, the News, First Impressions), August 13 to September 3; and Part IV (No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals): September 4 to . . . ? And check out various cousins: Oh, say, can you see . . . ; The only show left in town; or Despondent White House Criminals Should Look Up.
Far below is a brief explanation of what and how this series is or first was and of how and why it has been evolving. It may be noted that the project involves, inter alia, exploring the limits of (or deforming?) the limerick form.
Epigraph from Thomas Hardy, “Christmas: 1924”:
‘Peace upon earth!’ was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas.
A child from whom nourishing love is withheld
May to rougher relations find himself compelled—
Inveighing, gainsaying, affraying, foul playing,
A heart-warming friction thereby surveying.
Yet the first pain, and the emptiness, will not be expelled.
News: Too many examples on offer; one of the latest being Trump tweets shocking assault on Brzezinski, Scarborough. By way of response, the TV stars attacked co-penned a Washington post op-ed which might be said to have repeated the obvious: “America’s leaders and allies are asking themselves yet again whether this man is fit to be president.” Why is this a question? Why even a year ago could there have been any answer but no? A question about the US political system. (See Limerick 45 below.)
Can the reason be the specter of the still to come,
And thus I complete tasks formerly half done?
Like other fellow retirees—
No obligations; no hours free.
That stubborn weed—time—enjoys the sun.
If a system can elect a President incompetent and unstable,
Is the system for electronic times no longer suitable?
Or are we again learning—flaws fundamental—
Celebrated rights and checks less legal than financial,
With our public resources ever enriching the venal
And public-trust-worthy chiefs and lawgivers more rare than exceptional?
In a short Zeteo essay—Trump, de Tocqueville, Democracy, Materialism—published in the run-up to the devastating election, I explored what might be called de Tocqueville’s corner of this topic. A two-paragraph extract follows—the first graph is from De la Démocratie en Amérique (Democracy in America); the second mixes in some of my own commentary.
“[T]he natural propensities of democracy induce the people to keep from power its most distinguished citizens, and these individuals are no less apt to distance themselves from political careers, in which it is almost impossible to retain one’s independence or to advance without degrading oneself. . . . [Instead] it frequently happens that a man does not undertake to direct the fortune of the State until he has discovered his incompetence to conduct his own affairs. . . . In the United States, I am not sure that the people would choose men of superior abilities who might seek public office, but it is certain that men of this description do not come forward.”
De Tocqueville admits one exception to this rule: times of crisis. Extraordinary virtues arise “from the very imminence of the dangers. . . . [G]enius no longer abstains from presenting itself in the arena; and the people, alarmed by the perils of its situation, briefly forgets its envious passions.” De Tocqueville, who visited the United States during one of its populist moments, the era of Jacksonian Democracy, seems to have been looking back fondly at the countries’ Founding Fathers, people such as Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and (as legislators and lobbyists) Adams and Madison. But his sentences also speak clairvoyantly—about how immanent civil war brought to the Presidency Abraham Lincoln (and made of Lincoln a strong leader), and similarly with the Depression and Franklin Roosevelt.
I also continue to recommend William Hogeland’s Founding Finance: How Debt, Speculation, Foreclosures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation (University of Texas Press, 2012). From Chapter 7, “It’s Hamilton’s America . . . We Just Live in It”:
People who call Hamilton smart are understating the case. The whiskey tax was inspired, . . . And all of its mechanisms served the old [Robert] Morris purpose of “opening the purses of the people”: moving widely scattered wealth from the mass of ordinary people upward, to the few bondholders, cementing high finance to national government projects. The tax funded 6 percent tax-free interest in gold and silver for the bondholders. Many of them were the same industrial distillers, commercial farmers, absentee landlords, and merchant lenders whose enterprises directly benefited from the tax as well.
Not Freud’s sex but “Cold, hunger and the shame of poverty
Are more likely to affect one’s psychology.”
So Charlie Chaplin once wrote,
And even the rich sometimes know
How hunger’s gray . . . one good meal wipes away.
Is this limerick making two long (too long?) bridges—between the culinary wealth of France, the millions starving in Africa, and Chaplin’s wonderful My Autobiography, which I am reading in lieu of the news? As regards the African famine, see Jackson Diehl, No one is paying attention to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. As regards sex, Chaplin writes: “Like Balzac, who believed that a night of sex meant to loss of a good page of his novel, so I believed it meant the loss of a good day’s work at the studio.”
In Washington, Democrats, Republicans, embroiled
In southern France, fresh artichokes, roast garlic, olive oil
Grabbing, oppressing, hiding, impeaching
Cherry pudding, cheese, eggplant and peaches
The hatred of living; the fruit of the Earth unspoiled
With special thanks to Mon Bistot à Moi, son clafoutis et ses artichauts à la barigoule.
For Jonah, now 16, everything seems possible
Life (with news) has taught me obstacles
With pirates drunken we’re at sea
To share in the plunder—lies, loyalty
Exc’lence a charade; my son smiles at the carnival.
And not only humans—by Kochs’ heels are being crushed—
Without solidarity—I think of you less than me?
Yet still feel the greatness in our being able to be
Touched by suffering or smiling—as if “they” were “we.”
News: A friend e-mails me from the US: “You are so lucky to be away from our news. I can’t bear to hear what they want to do to healthcare. It will get worse.” (And again I have departed from the limerick form, as, in Switzerland, one might step down from a path to rinse one’s face in a stream.)
Forgetful of death we may indeed relax
I might pause in any city, believe any fact
Yet one whisper from the mortician
And everything becomes a question
Time is our truth—terrible and steadfast.
Alternative ending: With time we can only fight to the last
Addled by the heat they had a dream
Arms becoming bigger than the trees
Slowly backwards, they turned the Earth
Seeking an ecological, healthy rebirth
In olden times cooler—and technology free?
News: Canicule (heat wave) in France; Phoenix, Arizona too hot for planes to take off.
(Wherein Mitch McConnell trashes simple rules of decent limericking as well as some flickering hopes that human beings might actually care for the less fortunate or less venal.)
“We know your health care sucks.
Imagine, then, your good luck.
We’ll care for you much less
While our own taxes we depress.
You can be sicker, we can be richer.
The Indians were just the first to be crushed.”
News: What’s in the Senate’s secret Obamacare repeal bill: “The Senate is on the verge of unveiling a sweeping Obamacare repeal bill that would end Medicaid as an open-ended entitlement, roll back health insurance subsidies and strike multiple taxes from the Affordable Care Act.”
By aggressors ruthless, results unexpected
The lives of many countries have been deflected
From Russia we’ve been sent a feckless leader
As Germans once east sent comrade Vladímir
Extraordinary actions—sequelae long regretted?
Sources: New York Times opinion piece: Was Lenin a German Agent? by Sean Mcmeekin and What the Russian Revolution Can Teach Us About Trump by Ivan Kratsev. From the latter:
In the way Germany saw the Bolsheviks as instruments for achieving German war aims, Lenin saw Germany as an instrument for achieving his revolution. Something similar is probably true for Mr. Trump. . . . In an atmosphere of radical political polarization, leaders are trusted not for who they are but for who their enemies are. And in the eyes of many Republicans, President Trump may have the wrong character but he has the right enemies.
The story of 1917 may be instructive for President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin as well. Germany’s strategy of helping the revolutionary forces in Russia to achieve German geopolitical goals happened to have an unhappy ending: Revolution in Russia removed the country from World War I, but it spread revolutionary fever all over Europe — and even brought civil war to Germany. Mr. Putin’s Russia faces a similar risk. A recent report by a Kremlin-friendly think tank devoted to the rise of technological populism suggests that the populist wave in vogue throughout Western democracies could soon reach Russia — and become a serious threat to the country’s political order during the next electoral cycle.
Since S/He has reserved hôtel with piscine
For lyonnaise global sweating
(Far from Washington’s blood-letting)
Dommage que les Socialistes got creamed
Les nouvelles : Le PS subit « une déroute sans appel » . After the June 18 elections, the French Socialist Party had only 30 seats in the National Assembly, down from their previous 283! Meanwhile a heat wave has the temperature in much of France, Lyon included, close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Such heat waves, almost unknown twenty years and more ago, have become rather regular summer occurrences, presumably on account of homo sapiens sapiens increasing both the amount of carbon-containing gases in the upper atmosphere and the amounts of tiny particles in the lower atmosphere. Succinct explanation grâce à warmheartworldwide.org.
Lufthansa offers opportunities marvelous
To feel companies making robots of all of us.
Callousness, systems and rules
Hogtie both customers and crews.
We’re not just patsies or ciphers—we’re superfluous!
Was the ruling in Citizens United
To illusions a blow or an end of the fight
For some kind of democracy,
For some justice and equality,
For a fair share of this rich country plundered?
What matters is loyalty, not talent, we know,
And Trump the limits poignantly shows.
Of children and employees
It’s loyalty, loyalty,
Until under the next bus they’re thrown.
Down the avenues they flow, seeking some station.
Each in her bubble, his aggregation.
Thoughts move their minds;
They do not ask why.
Market share, you know, is a war of attrition.
News: Around 5 p.m. was riding my bicycle up New York’s Park Avenue, as many office workers, expensively suited and not, were making their way to Grand Central Station.
While we with terrorists have become obsessed
Drug companies’ drugs keep fouling our nest.
Alien threats hide inner distress:
62,000 opioid deaths
And the venal’s dependence on people to oppress.
News: Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever; Ohio Sues Drug Makers, Saying They Aided Opioid Epidemic) From the latter of these two New York Times stories:
The drugs were once used primarily for acute, or short-term pain, but over the last two decades, doctors have increasingly prescribed them to treat chronic pain, giving them to patients for months or years at a stretch. Drug makers promoted that change [Ohio is charging], spending “millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits”. . . . By 2012, the suit says, opioid prescriptions in Ohio equaled 68 pills a year for every resident of the state, including children. Defendants in the case include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan and others.
In the Senate, the people and justice were demeaned
And a jury considered celebrity aggressions
And a CEO was let go for more indiscretions.
I submitted my estimated taxes
As before in twenty sixteen.
On our leaky life rafts, steadfast they endure.
And what of such people—the honest and demure?
“But my life is worth . . . and our feelings matter . . . ”
Bailing and rowing, a few of them chatter,
While traitors and liars have all the allure.
Plato, the sophists with philosophers opposed;
Now we have lobbyists and lawyers in droves.
And few unafraid of the difficult questions,
Indiff’rent to loot—truth, money, elections.
Not cinching their ties; feeling air tween their toes.
He’s “a good guy,” Trump said of his Flynn,
A liar and traitor—a good partner in sin.
He’s “a good guy,” Mr. Comey replied,
Understanding too well—they three were combined.
In dreams another “good” holds goodness within.
More than concerned about Trump I can only be,
Yet Comey’s picture of himself I did not believe.
He seemed to love playing, an audacious double game,
With private meetings and notes to snare and win acclaim.
Might we have a new government—more duplicity-free?
The chiseling airlines, the landlords and bankers—
Government should temper business venality,
Nourish community and channel our bestiality—
Our agribusiness wastes, our greedy employers . . .
Comey, his police job wanted to keep,
Doing it well, his boss could have impeached!
And so fell he from the very tightrope
Millions with which struggle daily to cope.
It’s sad when gilded nets exceed their reach.
Perhaps CNN’s producers are aware
Of the connection between their news and Hollywood Squares
The journalists smiling in their boxes
Like Rivers, Lennons, Winters, Coxes.
(No zingers, cash or prizes—market share!)
Wikipedia on Hollywood Squares: An American panel game show in which two contestants play tic-tac-toe to win cash and prizes. The series debuted in 1966 on NBC. The board for the game is a 3 × 3 vertical stack of open-faced cubes, each occupied by a celebrity seated at a desk and facing the contestants. The stars are asked questions by the host, and the contestants judge the truth of their answers to gain squares in the right pattern to win the game. MeTV adds: “No game show was funnier than Hollywood Squares. Host Peter Marshall played the straight man, setting up comedians with juicy trivia and true-false questions begging for a joke.”
Or our vote-counting machines impeded?
The Vice and Chief Tweet selections
Rehash let’s in renewed elections.
(And before planet and NATO are defeated!)
News: Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election. The government contractor who made this information public, Reality Leigh Winner, has, inter alia, a name worthy of its very own limerick. According to a preliminary CNN bit on “Who is Reality Winner?”—
Winner is an athlete who loves animals, her mother said, through tears. She also said her daughter wasn’t especially political and hadn’t ever praised past leakers like Edward Snowden to her. “She’s never ever given me any kind of indication that she was in favor of that at all,” her mother said. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
Reality faces up to 10 years in prison for leaking classified information.
When lim’ricking our melting world changes,
Post Trump, neither Pence, nor Ryan dangers,
Con capitalism creeps away—
We relate in whole new ways!
If still haunted by an extinct strangeness.
There are accidents for which our personal actions are at least in part to blame
And accidents of which we just happen to be victims.
Wrong place, wrong time, quite accidentally.
(Or are we paying a blood tax duly levied on oppressors?)
Civilians not killed or maimed shudder and feel somehow special.
There once was a boy who liked reading
Instead of intravenous news feeding.
But then came the election
Like a viral infection,
And what’s left of his mind is receding.
To give the news nightly your views
Can give an insider the blues.
At first you’re so flattered,
To rule on what matters,
Till your words seem as made up as you.
“I can take a few more degrees,
If this puts under water
All these human monsters
Who care less for their children than me.”
If you of covfefe a limerick can’t make,
Your limericking license must be a fake.
This special code word,
More sad than absurd,
Means “shut the fuck up for God’s sake!”
News: Trump at 12:06 a.m. tweets to the world: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”
It’s hard not to thank on a Memorial Day,
The many who for US gave their lives away.
But the dominant and enlightened
Scorn violence (and are frightened).
Cowards strew flowers and more speeches than pay?
For appearances, ads, conversation—
The sad game has a name—dissimulation.
Should I too honest be,
What will people think of me?
To be Trumped is the fate of the nation.
A tol’rance for watching TV?
But professors, pols and journalists
For all your gossip guess analysis
We give thanks with all this poetry!
We and the Germans first sowed this disorder,
Imposing ourselves on Russia’s wheat-bearing border.
Now their flunkey’s ours, the White House ransacking,
And they with misinformation continue attacking.
A new kind of war, and our defenses are lacking.
(A new kind of limerick, too—or a grave departure from the form! At least it’s still somewhere between anapaestuous and dactylogical.)
Russians, we know, tried to swing the election
And met many Trump allies with little discretion.
About all we don’t know—
The specific quid pro quo
And the limits to Ryan’s corruption.
No matter what, there’s breaking news
And ads for drugs you probably shouldn’t use.
Caring, kind words softly spoken?
The family circle that was to be unbroken?
Après le drugged nous—le déluge?
(The well-known saying of Louis XV, “Après moi, le deluge”—After me, all hell breaks loose; or, for all I care, all hell can break loose—is actually a deformation or reduction of what Louis’s lover, Madame de Pompadour, originally said: “Après nous, le deluge.” After us.)
“Mr. President” melodious
Should the Pences move early
Many Trumps will be surly
And Russians no longer sui generous
Civilians murdered, a tornado disaster
Or, Bernie says, issues are what matter—
Inequality, student debt
Health care (lest we forget)—
A Pence’s goals might get lost in such clatter!
Renown is engendered, Anderson Cooper said,
By dissatisfactions racing to get ahead.
There’s no room at the top for
The well loved and the not sore,
Those grand for their children and happy in bed
“The Donald, I, have read your work,
Making my Mike a self-interested jerk
But he’s just a lackey,
And, in fact, he
Likes rubbing his nose in my dirt.”
The White House in turmoil, the Congress well fettered
But what to do with the Pences?
Their PAC, their moving expenses?
Ere justice be denied first you must delay her?
News: Pence Takes Steps to Build War Chest as White House Stumbles—“Political action committee registered Wednesday with FEC / Neither Biden nor Cheney had active leadership PACs in office”
The twenty-fifth amendment states
The impeachment need hardly wait
Just a vote of the cabinet
Saying Trump’s too out of it
And the House Mr. Pence levitates
Pence prayed to the gods of Mueller:
“Please find a way to make me ruler.
To Russians and abortion
I prefer discrimination and donations
And guns in the laps of preschoolers.”
News: Robert Mueller, Former F.B.I. Director, Is Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation. The name being pronounced « muller », perhaps Pence really wished to be made duller?
Obstruction of justice—impeachable offense
Very good for the friends of one Mr. Pence
Comey and Congress willing
The Oval Office they’ll be filling
Donald littering the forests of Smolensk
There once was a man named Pence
Whose life was held in suspense
If Congress would just act
History he’d redact
And the Koch brothers spring for the fence
(A reader has proposed that this could be the Koch brothers not springing but “sprinting” for the fence. A nice image and more comic for lacking in verisimilitude?)
About the limericks (the what, how and why)
This undertaking began on 15 May 2017 when I e-mailed a friend, Walter Cummins, saying that Vice-President Mike Pence’s role in the current Washington catastrophe interested me particularly, and I had half a mind to write a poem, perhaps Yeatsian—“But I, being VP, have only my dreams . . . ” Walter responded with a limerick! The rest is history (and the daily news since then).
When, in late June, I took a summer break from the USA, CNN and MSNBC, the ambit of these short poems—which began in May with just the Vice-President—began to expand. And then, when in early July I ended up spending 10 days in a hôpital cardologique in a suburb of Lyon—my chest being cut open and four arteries rerouted—the limericking took yet another and more personal turn, coming closer to the goal of “my” journal Zeteo: to combine the personal, the political and the intellectual.
The illustrations are mine, not made to illustrate specific limericks, but, to add a little decoration. Many were snatched from my drawing files and then computer manipulated in various black-and-white ways. This has also been allowing me to explore the possibilities for illustrating my next book: Art, Sex, Politics, due out from Serving House later in 2017.
William Eaton is an essayist, aphorist, poet of a sort, and the Editor of the intellectual journal Zeteo. A collection of his essays, Surviving the Twenty-First Century, was published in 2015 by Serving House Books. Readers of the present piece might also be interested in Ameraiku, or in Trump, de Tocqueville, Democracy, Materialism, or This is my poem for Terminal B.
For non-Pence-related limericks (including those of yore), one might see
- A Poetry through the ages website
- Some limerick-riddles from NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!
- Physics limericks from an American Physical Society contest.
It’s hard to beat the late Leigh Mercer‘s mathematical limerick:
A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.
Click for pdf of ALL the limericks to date