Welcome to the third installment of the limerick project—which began in May 2017 with Pence, Trump and Comey. This part takes the collection from August 13 to September 3, 2017, with a new poem having been added daily. Part I (Pence, Trump, Mueller, Capitalism) covered May 16, 2017 until July 1. Part II (Injustice, Trump, Illness, Poetry): July 2 to August 12; 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.
¿Dónde hallastes vos ser bueno el nombrar la soga en casa del ahorcado? (Where did you learn that it’s good to talk about rope in a hanged-man’s house?) — Cervantes, Don Quijote, II 28
Steve Bannon, Mike Dubke, Michael T. Flynn
Become names on a list of the people not in
With the Mooch and the Spice and Sebastian Gork-
Ah Priebus and Higgins and Michael C. Short
And one Dahl and one Walsh and a McFarland (KT),
And Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey
Now back up the van for Trump and his kin!
§ Here Are the Top Officials in the Trump White House Who Have Left, New York Times, updated as of August 26, 2017, and thus ignoring Keith Schiller and . . . ?
A distaste or a regret or embarrassment
And so one draws and writes
And at least longs in the night
Of your deepest connections what would you lament!
Politicians like advertisers say what we want to hear;
With words, other symbols disguising their actual careers.
But what, I would ask, have you to date done?
Precious little good for much of anyone?
Voters are surprised when our hopes become fears?
§ This “limerick” had its origins less in the 2016 Presidential election than in a current vigorous campaign for the New York City Council seat in my district. There are numerous eager candidates, thirty-somethings from government and business. And each has her or his flyers which make much of their support for these or those good causes. They seem to know very well what district voters would like to see accomplished. But when I try to see what these people have in fact accomplished to date? Well, they’ve been to elite schools and some have worked for known elected officials or in city government. But as for examples of their implementing or helping to implement the sorts of policies they are now championing? Precious little or few. The New York Times and others are backing a candidate who worked previously lobbying the Council and city government more generally. Such experience could be useful, though we would want to know if he did any successful lobbying for the causes to which he is now attaching his name.
Much as I am continually impressed by Bernie Sanders’ talent for staying on message, for saying the right things over and over again, one might equally ask what his track record has been? This is not to say he is a fraud, but rather that public speaking and implementation may require two quite different sets of abilities. Certainly we would like to be inspired by good public speakers, and—as Trump shows in the breach—good public speaking can be a large part of the good some politicians can do. But we also need elected officials who know how to build coalitions, get things done. See, for example, this story on how the chair of the Washington, D.C., City Council, Phil Mendelson, was able to bring together his fellow elected officials and other stakeholders to reform the city’s tax code in apparently quite successful ways.
“I was not mean in the beginning,
Until I began trying to earn a living.
The jobs that for a mortgage paid
Required that I on others preyed.”
Hell remains the soul alone, beyond forgiving.
§ Cf., a Thoreau journal entry from August 7, 1853: “How trivial and uninteresting and wearisome and unsatisfactory are all employments for which men will pay you money! The ways by which you may get money all lead downward. . . . You are paid for being something less than a man.”
This limerick, however, was “inspired” not by Thoreau, but by a man who joined me in my building’s elevator. He had been visiting an apartment, and a look on his face suggested to me that he had been up to no good. Perhaps he had been trying to get someone evicted. There was a look in his eyes or in the bend of his neck or in the way he greeted me—a suggestion that he felt bad. I also still have in mind an article about how Wells Fargo employees coped with pressures from their bosses to take advantage of bank customers: Voices From Wells Fargo: ‘I Thought I Was Having a Heart Attack’, New York Times, October 20, 2016. As for the poor soul, well, there is a hell in not being able to forgive oneself, but also, as I may explore in another piece, in being unable—perhaps for good reason, perhaps in self-defense—to be unable to forgive others. (And if one begins there, unable to forgive others, one might well end up with the weightier predicament of being unable to forgive oneself.)
Of course Noah was pleased to get out of the boat,
But when he looked at the ruins along the coast . . .
“Life was, in a sense, easier for those who drowned. . . .
After all this rain, what lessons will be found? . . .
Either suffering exalts or we rebuild with false hopes.”
§ On my mind, tropical storm Harvey and Houston, including its refineries and chemical plants; and the Texas senators who—having, on grand principle, resisted providing federal help to the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy—now are calling for federal help; and Trump, who came to some far edge of the storm wreckage to make claims about the sizes of the crowds at his rallies and his TV ratings.
Said: “On top of how they help me survive,
Don’t my wings deserve a little more acclaim?”
“Well,” a curator in her bride did confide,
“It’s not just moths who try to play that game.
You know it’s beauty keeps the lot of us alive!”
§ Source: Sighting of a wounded male polyphemus moth which was clinging to a concrete wall in the interior courtyard at Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring, New York.
Truth, honesty and justice have had their historical hour,
Have been superseded by some new language of power.
Fake news and drug research – parodies of old forms,
Like courts where the rich make rule of law squirm.
The poor do others’ time, and bitterness, liberated, flowers.
§ Lines rooted in lines from Theodor Adorno, “Zur Dialektik des Takts” (On the dialectic of tact), Minima Moralia, 1951: “Hat doch Takt seine genaue historische Stunde. . . . ” Working from E.F.N. Jephcott’s translation:
Politeness had its precise historical hour. Now fallen into irreparable ruin, the convention lives on only in the parody of forms, an arbitrarily devised or recollected etiquette for the ignorant.
The US: the world’s poor keep embracing our dreams.
The Swiss: good infrastructure, hiking, strong currency.
Deluded, the US too many facts have ignored;
While Swiss discretion has proved its own reward,
Instead of hope, duty staunch, staunch community.
And sick lying on her couch seeing only leaves
Again in my home on nice rugs I lie,
But, far from seeing, with thoughts I am plied,
And miss not only Anne but less mindful diseases.
∩ More than half a year later I came across Sara Teasdale’s “Open Windows”:
Out of the window a sea of green trees
Lift their soft boughs like the arms of a dancer,
They beckon and call me, “Come out in the sun!”
But I cannot answer.
I am alone with Weakness and Pain,
Sick abed and June is going,
I cannot keep her, she hurries by
With the silver-green of her garments blowing.
Men and women pass in the street
Glad of the shining sapphire weather,
But we know more of it than they,
Pain and I together.
They are the runners in the sun,
Breathless and blinded by the race,
But we are watchers in the shade
Who speak with Wonder face to face.
Millions upon millions would like to believe
And priests use such desires their own to relieve.
Anxious to transcend too humble conditions
We zealously ignore the human composition.
Thinking too wishful makes much room for grief.
He assumed, as his mother had:
That after solitude had made its path,
Returning, he would be embraced
Find warmth among the human race
That solitude fears, of courage is aghast.
There once were some stories about one Louise Linton
Which popped up online with bright ads for Rhodes’ diamonds.
Thus while I was laughing at conspicuous consumption
I could max out my credit for a five-carat corundum.
The Times, Post and their news are not selling bubblegum!
§ “Corundum” is a stretch, the word coming from the Tamil word for ruby. The English word is used most often to refer to extremely hard gemstones, such as diamonds, but more typically rubies and sapphires, which can be used as abrasives.
Cecil Rhodes, a British businessman, mining magnate and architect of South African apartheid, formed the De Beers diamond company in 1888. Notwithstanding or because of his reliance on Rothschild funding and his competition with the Oppenheimer diamond merchants, to say nothing of his desire to exploit African workers and natural resources, Rhodes promoted Anglo-Saxons as “the first race in the world” (a line in his will). “The more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.”
De Beers has also been a leading example of how capitalism and monopsony go hand in hand (see also Amazon, Google, et al.). During the twentieth century De Beers, having merged its operations with the Oppenheimers’, came to control 80 percent of the rough diamond market, with predictable effect (high prices and profits). De Beers’ advertising campaigns also led to the current idea of diamonds as a symbol of love and commitment, rather than, say, of racism, colonialism and exploitation.
As regards Linton—since June the wife of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin—readers who have yet to get enough of her might see the Washington Post’s Treasury secretary’s wife stirred controversy before, with memoir of her ‘living nightmare’ in Africa. From that story:
Linton’s book, In Congo’s Shadow, described how, as an 18-year-old, she “abandoned her privileged life in Scotland” in 1999 to live in Zambia for six months, a period that she described as “a living nightmare.” She wrote about becoming a “central character” in the “horror story” of Congolese war of the late 1990s, terrified of what the rebels across the border might do to the “skinny white muzungu with long angel hair.” (“Muzungu” is a Bantu term often used to refer to wealthy white people.)
She added: “Now that I’m a grown woman living in California and pursuing a very different dream—as an actress and film producer—I know that the skinny white girl once so incongruous in Africa still lives on inside me. Even in this world where I’m supposed to belong, I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola.”
A nice, if aging expression: “Gag me with a spoon.”
99 (First Impressions)
To return to New York is to return to breasts
And the signs counting down the seconds that are left
The honking, exhaust and anarchy of the streets
And chilly air-conditioning, mix tapes and TVs
And overeating foods overdosed with sweets.
By Lake Geneva, after a swim, I read la Tribune and got some rest.
§ La Tribune de Genève, a daily paper. A reader has e-mailed to note that women in Geneva have breasts, too. Yes, certainly; however, while les Genevois are renowned for their discretion, we New Yorkers are “in your face.” And may, thus, also be more drawn to silicone.
Not the contents, but to the now succumbing.
Brains filled with information
Have no room for contemplation,
And so with sports, HBO and all our thumbing.
The Grenoble region daily destroys a tonne of meat
Which has spoiled—unsold, reached its date limite.
The animals’ friends might well complain
Hungry humans may be screaming in pain
As capitalism conveniently spews both grub and grief.
§ Date limite: sale or expiration date. Of course, as regards the quantity of meat destroyed daily, the Grenoble region, with less than 1 million inhabitants, can hardly compare to New York, Paris, and many another place. And my attention was called to the Grenoble statistic because there has been a campaign there to cook some of this meat before it spoils and distribute the food to the poor. French readers might see Grenoble : ils récupèrent de la viande avant qu’elle ne soit jetée et la cuisinent pour les plus démunis, France Bleu, 6 octobre 2015. A tonne = 1,000 kilograms = 2,205 pounds.
Of wolves and many others were we long well afraid,
Developed knives, guns and poisons, and built our barricades
Of which we can now boast to ourselves alone
While feeling some strange lack in our insulated homes
And while other species thrive thanks to beavers’ palisades.
§ As already noted in Limerick 77 (in Part II of the limericks collection), an article in the Tribune de Genève —L’embarrassant retour du castor—discussed how beavers’ dams create an excellent environment for a wide range of species.
Regrettable: Grenoble—its overdevelopment;
Its tender valleys, multifarious and resplendent
Now choked by infrastructure, facades and concrete,
Government, retail chains, computer spreadsheets.
For health and for beauty our imperiousness must relent.
§ In a sense I—a New Yorker, no less!—am picking on Grenoble, or its once beautiful valley, which is just one of thousands of similar regions around the world—places whose natural beauty and life force are being crushed under the weight and relentlessness of human development. Often such development includes the idea that human beings need parks or clean water and air, while also embodying the current lust for more and more stuff, just for us. And this, inevitably, means less and less for many other species and non-organic entities. The view from the heights of La Bastille across the Drac-Isère river valley and the agglomération grenobloise to the magnificent ridges of the Dauphiné Alps, Mont Blanc in the distance . . . it is at once breathtaking and sad. Beauty ruined, polluted, suffocated by human development. One can think of Chernobyl, and not only for the half-rhyme.
The meat of grasshoppers can be easily made
A little alfalfa and water, even less terrain.
For Sus domesticus and Red Angus you need rather more.
So you can well imagine how soon the working poor
In their fast-food hamburgers may insects find inlaid.
§ Sus domesticus = pigs. The source of this limerick is the latest story in my favorite newspaper, la Tribune de Genève, about how hamburgers augmented with insects—grasshoppers, crickets or mealworms—will soon be on sale in Switzerland. The Merriam-Webster dictionary informs me that mealworm is a name for the larva of a beetle that infests grain products but has often been raised as food for insectivorous animals, for laboratory use or as fishing bait. At left is a chart that the Tribune offered. Although it is in French, I think Anglophone readers will quickly grasp its message: it takes a lot less water, feed and land to produce a kilo of insect meat than a kilo of chicken, pork or beef.
It might be said that Amerindians, and particularly those living in dry, relatively infertile regions of the West, knew all this long ago. See “Some Insect Foods of the American Indians: And How the Early Whites Reacted to Them,” from the Food Insects Newsletter, volume 7, issue 3, November 1994. Other issues of the Newsletter, available online, include instructions on how to raise insects, their nutritional properties, recipes and medicinal uses.
Republicans are hardly the first en mode rétropédalage
Backpedaling toward slavery, civil war, le carnage.
The old Southern Strategy: let them eat hate;
Let the poor and exploited the undaunted castrate.
À Vichy, the liberal future—dédaigné, comme le courage.
§ Translations: en mode rétropédalage — in backpedaling mode. Phrase has been used in a Swiss newspaper to describe US Vice-President Mike Pence’s meetings with foreign leaders, meetings designed to try to dampen the leaders’ concerns about Trump’s tweeted intentions. Le carnage — the carnage. Dédaigné, comme le courage — spurned along with courage.
À Vichy refers to the regime established, with its capital at Vichy, France, after the German invasion at the outset of the Second World War. Instead of resisting the fascists and their rounding up of Jews, trade-unionists and other liberals, the regime collaborated. Wikipedia has proposed: “Vichy sought an anti-modern counter-revolution. The traditionalist right in France, with strength in the aristocracy and among Catholics, had never accepted the republican traditions of the French Revolution. It demanded a return to traditional lines of culture and religion and embraced authoritarianism, while dismissing democracy.” This, Jews and many others might say, is putting it mildly. The return to tradition and religion included deporting more than 75,000 French people, Jews, to death camps. The Vichy regime along with the French police participated in the roundup of these citizens.
Poor Socrates devoted himself to living the right life,
Which led to his great trial and premature death.
My heart-healthy diet, exercise and low stress
Has led me too early to arterial distress.
“The good” is an experiment, and failure’s midwife?
Just seventy-five self-absorbed years ago
With Allies the US united to raze the globe
The Nazis and murderous others were vigorously suppressed
Humane rights and humane structures were loudly professed
But now, allies the US needs its own savagery to slow
And—so?—considering life’s joys and shortcomings—love.
Love “fusionnel,” as the French would say;
When something in another my me melts away.
And so alone on a mountain path I think of you—love.
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 cardiologique 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. By mid-July I was being “re-adapted” in Geneva, Switzerland, returning home to New York in mid-August.
The illustrations are mine, not made to illustrate specific limericks, but, to add a little decoration.
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.
Click for pdf of ALL the limericks to date