Welcome to the fourth installment—a.k.a.
No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals
—of the limerick project, which began in May 2017 with Pence, Trump and Comey. This part takes the collection from September 4, 2017 to . . . ?, with a new poem to be added daily. Part I (Pence, Trump, Mueller, Capitalism) covers May 16, 2017 until July 1. Part II (Injustice, Trump, Illness, Poetry): July 2 to August 12. Part III (Animals, Capitalism, the News, First Impressions): July 2 to September 3. And check out various cousins: Oh, say, can you see . . . ; The only show left in town; or Despondent White House Criminals Should Look Up.
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.
Il n’y a qu’un homme qui ait le droit d’être anarchiste : moi, le Poète, puisque, seul, je fabrique un produit dont la Société ne veut pas, en échange duquel elle ne me donne pas de quoi vivre. — Henri de Régnier, Les Cahier inédits 1887-1936. (There is only one person who has the right to be an anarchist, and that is I, the Poet. Because I alone supply the product for which society has no use, and in exchange for which it does not provide me enough to live on.)
Of, say, the cloistered hours while in intensive care I lay
And worked on drawings and short poems to pass the time away,
I now have warm memories (and of a nurse)
And so of other trying phases and pleasures more dispersed.
In me that underground river, sentimentality, ever surges and remains.
With awards and cash and hits and our likes
We are so quick and so proud to recognize
The many names and causes and trendsetting websites
Of the already recognized.
More wonderful are humans who on their own
Can see and can dare say that some of the less
Less fashionably inspired we might learn how to know . . .
Though such people and work may feed on neglect!
§ These lines would have been left in my computer had I not found on a recycling shelf a copy of the theater and art critic Sheldon Cheney’s The Story of Modern Art (Viking, 1956, but copyright 1941). In the first chapter, which focused on Jacques-Louis David and the French Revolution, I came across these propositions:
- From Cheney: “an artist, a member of the least accepted group in society, the member who when he is most himself, most the genius, is most misunderstood, most likely to be stoned by the mob.”
- From David, translated: “In humanity’s name, in the name of justice, in the name of vital art—above all, for the sake of youth—let us put an end to all injurious academies; they cannot be permitted to exist under a free society of men.” [N.B.: After Napoleon came to power, David, named Premier Peintre de l’Empereur, came to dominate the Academy in France.]
This, we might say, provided a counterpoint to recent news that a distinguished and wealthy foundation was endowing yet another series of awards, in this case to artists whose work was viewed as addressing “freedom, justice and inclusion, and democracy.” Beginning to scan an alphabetical list of the first round of winners, I stumbled on Mikhail Baryshnikov (and then went no further). I could remember first seeing Baryshnikov dance at a theater in Berkeley in the mid-1970s. I was more than tremendously impressed! And for all I know, perhaps he has now fallen on hard times and is in need of a boost, foundation money and recognition. And yet . . .
We would seem closer here, and in the awards of so many other foundations, government entities, and so forth, to creating and reinforcing enclosures—trying to keep some us, our gang, in and well protected and well fed, while keeping the rest out—rather than to protecting genius artists from being stoned by the mobs (to include of the New York art world). And perhaps such attempts at nurture and protection are largely hopeless; genius artists simply are in conflict with their societies and their times. As in so many other domains, here, too, do-gooder-ism seems to be one of the ways we short-circuit our capacity to see life for what it is.
More iconoclastically, let me also use this moment to say that—more than of any of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers—I would admire the lone yet sufficiently prominent individual who was able to stand up and speak out in the midst of the clamor, urging us to count to 10 before we kept pressing Weinstein’s lumpy body and career to hold all the evil, perversity and confusion of sex and power relations in our culture. In this latter case it is through sanctimoniousness and a species of class warfare that we are short-circuiting our capacity to see life for what it is and ourselves for who we are.
Returning to art and prizes, allow me to close with an extract from Roy McMullen, Degas: His Life, Times, and Work (Houghton Mifflin, 1984):
In short, Italy was not a neutral, innocent place, not just a splendid museum combined with a beaker full of the warm south. It was a symbol of commitment to traditional Classicism and one of the devices, along with the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Paris Salon, by means of which the French establishment co-opted unwary youthful talent. It was even, in the worst of circumstances, a device that transformed potential creativity into pompiérisme, for although in fairness one should grant that the Prix de Rome occasionally helped to reveal a great French composer—Bizet, for example, in 1857—the extraordinary fact remains that during the entire nineteenth century not a single winner of the award for painting, with the very early exception of Ingres, went on to become an artist regarded today as major. The academy in the Villa Medici (aided, of course, by the rest of the system) seems to have inhibited any impulses toward originality.
Are infants, in fact, doing the wailing for us,
Announcing in restaurants, with ill-disguised disgust
How preferably much we would rather not be
Mired in such monotonous, cellphony company?
And strapped into low or higher chairs that we’ve long overgrown,
Our bosses, lungs and relatives more than ready to explode.
With all these big and little Trumps, clawing toward some top,
“Do you really think it better, Pa, for my yelling to stop?”
Capital forces every laborer’s hand
And every conniving mind:
Increase return in any way you can
And do it double time.
Only through government, can human society
Advance any other and more exalted goals—
Create more time for family, love and creativity,
More time for prayer, or—perhaps—more time to bowl.
Learning to rule ourselves is what these times demand,
Meanwhile in capital’s sweatshop we remain confined.
§ I can’t say much for the poetry, the music or sophistication of these lines, but this was a point I wanted to make before this limerick adventure reached its end (in less than a week!). The underlying theory is explored, from many an angle, in my 2015 Zeteo essay In Kant’s Wood. Hacking out the lines above have also reminded me of the British comedian Peter Cook’s Sitting on the Bench, which was part of the 1960s comedy revue Beyond the Fringe. Cook’s character in the sketch describes how he would have liked to have become a judge, but —“I never had the Latin.” So, on the basis of being able to write his name, more or less, he is “allowed right down” in a coal mine. It’s not so bad, the character proposes,
you’re given complete freedom to do what you like. You have an absolute free hand to do anything you like provided you get hold of two tons of coal every day. But the method you do it—you can use any method open to you. Hacking and hewing’s the normal ones. Some people prefer the hacking, some the hewing, some people do the combination. I’m a combination man myself, I do the hack and hew both.
So it is, I am proposing, in life under capitalism, and for all of us caught up in the system, be we coal miners, managers and investment bankers (and judges, Jeff Koons and limerick writers!).
But no! But I . . . ! People like me . . . ! (Of my social class, with my degrees, my rare talents, character, work habits.)
I can hear people objecting. It would take many more pages to go over, as many others more gifted than I have previously, the various ways that, even as we are reveling in what appear to be free choices, we are channeled and compelled by market forces—among others!. (A relaxed discussion of how we are compelled appears in Film Marxism: Tanner, Berger, Jonas, to include in its seventh endnote.)
The great, Kantian hope is that strong and savvy government can make richer and more various lives possible, and perhaps “save the planet” while we’re at it.
Wuddnt itta bin smarter
Fo the lection radder din after
Stooppin dem Roushins
Nd der colluders’nd treasons,
Instidda bein so proud uh doin what bedder?
§ Devising this little bit, I couldn’t help but be reminded of (and humbled before) the great vehicle of Civil War satire, David R. Locke’s Petroleum V. Nasby, with his lines like, “it is soothing to a ginooine, constooshnel, Suthern-rites Dimekrat to be constantly told that ther is a race uv men meaner than he.” For more see The Nasby papers: letters and sermons containing the views on the topics of the day of Petroleum V. Nasby (from 1864) or: The Stephen Colbert of the Civil War, New York Times, June 11, 2012.
If to homo sapiens a second chance were given,
Why not with avian music be contentedly smitten?
Our deranged species might (again) not last long –
Perhaps just the length of a few lovely songs –
Accompanied by a chorus of earthly thanksgiving.
10.11.17 (slight revision 11.19.18)
These poems their limit are reaching, and none too soon.
I’m sick of the news, I am sick of the goons.
Though this next civil war has but hardly begun,
And like on any war, some will make millions!
And many more will be overcome.
All the losers and winners, the millions and billions—old sad tune.
a na eht echt eh
if a god took language away
retrace recover deny erase
we seem so debased
dreaming taken away—bray—gray
And I guess I could agree with them. I was avoiding hazy
And they, perhaps, were not? And, ahem,
Wasn’t there also some disagreement about calling the spayed the spayed?
The once proud ship lurched away from the dock.
We had stayed behind, knowing it would founder on the rocks.
We had yelled and yelled, not that we were heard.
Others had been shot at because they were heard.
And so there was a great disaster, and we could not be shocked
Though of course we felt very sad for the ship and the many aboard
Though more for the duped than for the promoters and murderers
And what I almost forgot to mention is that, as we also expected,
When that massive ship, packed to the gills, and with God only knows what contraband,
Hit the rocks, it exploded with such force that those of us back on shore watching,
Or even on our televisions at home, we were not just knocked down, many were burnt
And maimed, crippled, in one way or another, and for the rest of our lives.
“Crazy. Sounds like a statement,” an old friend writes.
My lack of a cellphone, when he will meet my flight.
A statement, no, more like a question:
Is there a way to, with less congestion,
Live with my thoughts, the air, a friend, this night?
§ An artistic motivation for this poem was reading Thomas Hardy’s poetry; it being distinguished in part by his gift for incorporating conversation while retaining poetic rhythms and rhymes. For example, the first of the two verses of the monstrous, all too human By Her Aunt’s Grave:
‘Sixpence a week,’ says the girl to her lover,
‘Aunt used to bring me, for she could confide
In me alone, she vowed. ‘Twas to cover
The cost of her headstone when she died.
And that was a year ago last June;
I’ve not yet fixed it. But I must soon.’
In this regard one might also think of some of Robert Frost’s poems, particularly the dialogue poems in his 1914 North of Boston collection, a salient example being The Death of the Hired Man.
And each newscaster takes us back through the wrongs—
Crimes, gaffes, horrors, outrage—
Of previous casters, previous days.
Why does this country continue to allow this
Lummox (and worse) — President? We would like to think this
The only question. Though
Will we, when the current reality show
Ends, still be lying on our couches with our televisions on?
§ As regards the first question, I note with more than dismay that Trump continues to hold fancy fundraisers for his re-election campaign and legal expenses. That such events are, for him, worthwhile indicates that there are rich people who think that—in spite or because of the unprecedented disorder and corruption of the Trump presidency; its lack of legislative accomplishments; the damage being done to the image of the presidency and of the nation—they are getting their money’s worth from this President and would like to see him continue in office for quite some time.
And then there are the small donors. From Trump supporters eager to ‘drain the swamp’ help fill Republican Party coffers, The Washington Post:
The influx of cash from Trump’s base is helping the GOP amass a major advantage as the parties prepare to battle for control of Congress in the 2018 elections, with the Republican National Committee pulling in nearly twice as much money overall as its Democratic counterpart this year. . . .
“He’s got a lot of roadblocks,” said Adams, 70, a retired speech pathologist from Austin, who said she has given a few hundred dollars this year—including $75 in May, two days after the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. “It’s just to let him know we still care and that we’re still here.”
Adams said that when she donated to the joint committee, she intended for her money to go to the president.
“I tried to give just to him, because I think he knows best what to do,” she said.
From the Presidio the Pacific in its vastness thrills
While from Ocean Beach, San Diego, the water simply fills
The view, as you in your longue wooden chaise
Open and close your eyes, and the water says
Not much. The colors and the rhythms diluting the will.
§ One might also see the rather more savage Ode to Southern Californians (Their Race is Run?) and its gentle illustration.
For any potential enemies, little Donald was well prepared.
But for a job involving reading, hurricanes and despair,
And victims of violence, exploitation and neglect,
“Of me—Mr. President!—compassion they expect!
While I play with my tweeter and thoughtfully comb my hair,
Couldn’t there be others assigned for me to care?”
§ Impressive, more than distressing, how we are now being rocked from one disaster to the next, as if DT were cursed, which, of course, he is. As regards yesterday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, I second the disgust expressed by the Editorial Board of the New York Times—477 Days. 521 Mass Shootings. Zero Action From Congress—and a sentiment apparently expressed on television by the talk-show host and fellow parent Jimmy Kimmel: “This morning, we have children without parents and fathers without sons, mothers without daughters.”
The new customer—wooed and seduced;
The “regulars”—ignored or traduced.
Loyalty is of such great use
To those who the loyal abuse.
Grabbing’s so time consuming,
A certain lack of respect must be excused?
“But I only know how to be used for these purposes.”
Many a potential romance dies right there.
“Exploit me as others have or why should I care?”
Childhood too often restricts us to re-enacting hoary services?
Many Presidents, or their allies, elections results have falsified.
Many Presidents, pre-election, with foreign governments conspired.
We rightly accuse Trump of self-obsession, treason and other crimes,
But what of Nixon, Bush, Kennedy, Reagan, and plenty before their times?
We reserve Lincoln’s tired bed
for those who’ll stop at nothing
to get ahead?
§ It is hard, in the midst of the Puerto Rican tragedy, to work on limericks. Another approach: Puerto Rico, Mayor Cruz, Shakespeare.
Puerto Ricans were stranded and dying of thirst,
While Presidential tweets our racism nursed.
Planes full of water might have been deployed,
But with football players the President was annoyed.
To him there’s only one worthy person on Earth,
And thus, no one left to drive the hearse?
Background information is plentiful and includes these New York Times pieces from today: Trump Administration Is Pressed to Step Up Hurricane Recovery in Puerto Rico and Trump’s Deadly Narcissism.
With surgery they would reroute my heart.
I was not old, a father and science—smart?
“But my body is saying my time has come;
My arteries are full; my work may be done.”
Words before giving body and soul to the doctors’ arts.
The Senate would pass a bill that experts and voters hate
Trump would alienate allies to rally his shrinking base
Others (such as Hitler) have already shown
How, with capital’s backing, enough discord can be sown
So fury and business interests a whole country can deface
A business wants you to pay more than the costs it’s incurred.
Words like “acumen” and “profit” gild deception if not worse.
Which the media helps to hide by the trumpeting of scandals,
As if not business itself; just some bad-uns were the criminals.
While the “successful” must stop at nothing to fatten capital’s fat purse.
What matters most about this man Trump
Is that were he ever (deservedly) to flump—
“No worries,” we’re a lot more than covered
By all Trump’s thieving, deceiving, despising brothers
Incapable of governing or being governed by others.
Our K Street and Wall, our Main and our Pennsy—one vast sump.
Making his art is about all he can do.
And often it feels more than enough—
To theirs and to ALL, I reply with my stuff.
In my hospital quarters, well-nursed phrases are loosed!
131 (Donors are furious)
The Honorable Lamar Alexander, John Barrasso, Roy Blunt, John Boozman, Richard Burr, Shelley Capito, Bill Cassidy, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, Michael Crapo, Ted Cruz, Steve Daines, Michael Enzi, Joni Ernst, Deb Fischer, Jeff Flake, Cory Gardner, Lindsey Graham, Charles Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, John Hoeven, James Inhofe, John Isakson, Ron Johnson, John Kennedy, James Lankford, Mike Lee, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, David Perdue, Robert Portman, Paul Rand, James Risch, Pat Roberts, Mike Rounds, Marco Rubio, Benjamin Sasse, Richard Shelby, Tim Scott, Luther Strange, Dan Sullivan, John Thune, Thom Tillis, Patrick Toomey, Roger Wicker and Todd Young,
What don’t you understand? Your bill is overdue.
After all the contributions we’ve given to you
We want decent health insurance gone.
Government for the people is morally wrong.
Politicians who don’t help rich donors—expect to lose.
§ From the New York Times, Behind New Obamacare Repeal Vote: ‘Furious’ G.O.P. Donors:
WASHINGTON — As more than 40 subdued Republican senators lunched on Chick-fil-A at a closed-door session last week, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado painted a dire picture for his colleagues. Campaign fund-raising was drying up, he said, because of widespread disappointment among donors over the inability of the Republican Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act or do much of anything else.
Mr. Gardner is in charge of his party’s midterm re-election push, and he warned that donors of all stripes were refusing to contribute another penny until the struggling majority produced some concrete results.
“Donors are furious,” one person knowledgeable about the private meeting quoted Mr. Gardner as saying. “We haven’t kept our promise.”
The backlash from big donors as well as the grass roots panicked Senate Republicans and was part of the motivation behind the sudden zeal to take one last crack at repealing the health care law . . .
As for the Chick-fil-A, this from The Atlantic, back in 2015, Why Republicans Can’t Stop Eating Chick-Fil-A:
Since 2012, when the Atlanta-based fried-chicken chain came under fire for donating millions to groups fighting same-sex marriage . . . Chick-fil-A has become congressional Republicans’ fast food of choice, a culture-war statement on a bun. . . . Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a longtime Chick-fil-A aficionado, has the chain cater his birthday lunch party every year.
You can see, too, how questionable Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s Republican credentials are. Long before the current spate of bills to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), she was complaining to the Atlantic reporter: “We always have Chick-fil-A! I don’t mind Chick-fil-A every now and again, but you know, here’s my deal: I’m really trying to eat healthier.”
Chart giving the names of all the current Senators, Republicans and Democrats, with their phone numbers.
In a writer-loving culture I might be whisked
By helicopter! But this I don’t wish.
Only to be recognized and respected,
Quite equally, with each and every speck that
Existence has challenged and must in time dismiss.
There once was a lady from Greece
Whose breasts met in a darkening crease.
So many eyes fell in
So many heads began to spin
Greek wives had her bra size increased.
§ This limerick was created so as to not forgot the form’s roots in silly, bawdy inventions. As someone once wrote:
The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
“No nation on Earth has an interest
in seeing this band of criminals,’
The capo or his front man, perhaps, jested?
“with nuclear weapons and missiles.”
It seems the Russian-Koch-and-Mercer crew
Has bagged the Congress and the White House too,
And given their “suicide mission” and the warheads,
We seek comfort in old-fashioned principles?
§ The quotations are from Trump’s speech to the United Nations the previous day. As ever with Trump’s attacks, this one is, above all, a self-description. The sentences as reported by the media:
No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. . . . Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.
For more on the role of Robert Mercer, who over the past decade “has funded an array of political projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise” and been one of Trump’s biggest financial backers, see The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency: How Robert Mercer exploited America’s populist insurgency, from The New Yorker’s March 27, 2017 issue. That article includes the “array” quotation about Mercer.
There has been a good deal of reporting on the role of the Koch brothers (Charles and David H.) in the funding (with hundreds of millions of dollars) of right-wing candidates and causes. There needs to be more reporting. It’s rather more than unfortunate that major New York cultural institutions continue to prominently affix David H. Koch’s name to their buildings and publicity materials. David Koch has, inter alia, supported the abolition of public schools and Social Security, and he and his brother have been active in opposing attempts to address global warming and in supporting attempts to dismantle the nascent US health-insurance system (a.k.a. the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare). Why are the MET Museum and Lincoln Center, along with others, continuing to allow their prestige to be associated with—and thus tarnished by—this man and thus, too, by the causes he so actively supports?
Everywhere we see the signs: enough is not enough –
Billionaires cheat the government to fatten their stuff;
Famous writers are happy for products to shill;
For presidents greedy people foot the bill.
O daily the crimes rich and poor essay;
But what’s left of the news appears quite unchanged.
Gadgets notwithstanding, life continues rough;
There’s death! – I want more!! – enough is not enough!!!
Initially this limerick was to focus on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago scam, whereby he was charging the government—the taxpayers—us—$546/night/room needed by his staff during his frequent visits to the resort. There was, too, in the back of my mind the stories about the wealthy Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s unusual interest in using government planes for pleasure trips with his wife.
As for the writers, I recall being shocked, as others were, when, back in 1976, a picture of the playwright Lillian Hellman appeared in The New Yorker: she was shilling for a fur-coat retailer. I do not know if at the time she thought she most needed money, more celebrity, or something to do. And as for Bob Dylan doing ads for IBM, I suppose he might say that the money was worth less to him than the value of frustrating people’s expectations, the value of knocking himself off the pedestal we keep trying to put him on.
I have the advantages of having a pension and of not being likely to be asked to do any shilling. (Though—full disclosure—in my youth I posed for an editorial illustration in Essence magazine, I believe it was.)
The still curious might see, or see again:
- Mnuchin Inquired About Using Government Plane for His Honeymoon, New York Times, September 13, 2017.
- The first peek inside the Mar-a-Lago money engine only leaves us wanting more, Washington Post September 15, 2017.
If this day or tomorrow might be my last,
In what activities should I the time pass?
After giving my son one last kiss,
About 60+ years quickly reminisce?
Or might I just savor one almond’s taste,
So this very last day goes not to waste—
I’ll finally throw out all my youthful journals!
Or yell at a man for missing the urinal?
A French writer, aspiring, one evening discovered
Qu’une baronne mariée was seeking new lovers.
When door she op’d without chemise,
Deep in his pencil he felt ill at ease.
He bought a fresh bloc, novelized his pother,
And begged his publisher: no breasts on the cover!
Very, very liberally adapting a comment made by Philippe Labro during a visit to La Maison Française at New York University; a comment relating to the backstory of his early novel Un début à Paris. Qu’une baronne mariée = That a married baroness. Bloc = a pad of paper.
“If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence.”
“But not when Trump can be enjoyed at Ryan’ expense!
Not when he’s in bed with Schumer and Pelosi,
And the venal’s prospects don’t look so rosy.”
“But a magnanimous Trump just doesn’t make sense!”
First line is from an Ann Coulter tweet on September 14, 2017. For more, including Trump’s backsliding, one might see a Fox News Insider story, Coulter: ‘If We’re Not Getting a Wall, I’d Prefer President Pence’, which begins:
President Donald Trump on Thursday said he is working with Democratic leaders on a plan to protect illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” and he said he won’t insist on funding the border wall as part of it.
Coulter’s pro-Pence tweet was apparently broadcast at 8:48 a.m. Previously, at 7:05: “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?”
Btw: Poor Mike Pence. This whole limerick project began with thoughts of him, his ambitions and fate, and yet he hasn’t appeared in any of the limericks since #21. I am reminded of Tom Lehrer’s song about another Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey. The penultimate verse:
Whatever became of you, Hubert?
We miss you, so tell us, please:
Are you sad? Are you cross?
Are you gathering moss
While you wait for the boss to sneeze?
From meetings Kelly’s barred Omarosa
Her cv’s more implants than’er ponderosas
But she was a star of reality TV,
Was voted as evil as evil could be.
She’s more than earned her spot on the sofa!
New White House Chief of Staff Has an Enforcer, a New York Times story, states that Kirstjen Nielsen, new Chief of Staff (retired Marine Corps General) John Kelly’s longtime aide,
is also responsible for keeping Mr. Kelly’s no-fly list of aides he deems to be unfit to attend serious meetings, the most prominent of whom is Omarosa Manigault, the former Apprentice star with an ill-defined job and a penchant for dropping into meetings where she was not invited.
Edited excerpts from Wikipedia’s article on Omarosa, consulted September 14, 2017:
Omarosé Onée Manigault, often referred to simply as Omarosa, was a member of President-elect Trump’s transition team. In years past she had been a Democrat and had worked in the office of Vice President Al Gore.
Omarosa gained fame as a contestant on the first season of Donald Trump’s original American version of The Apprentice. She later returned for the television series sequel, Celebrity Apprentice, and appeared on numerous other reality television shows. TV Guide included her in its 2013 list of the 60 Nastiest TV Villains of All Time.
[T]oute ceste fricassée que je barbouille ici n’est qu’un registre des essais de ma vie, qui est, pour l’interne santé, exemplaire assez, à prendre l’instruction à contrepoil. (All the slop that I give out here is just a record of my experiences—in a life that, as regards internal soundness, has been exemplary enough—with resisting advice.) — Michel de Montaigne, “De l’expérience”
Against my will?
I might have just taken pills?
The doctors were bent on rewiring my heart
Which had thought to die in peace
And not by high-tech medicine be policed.
And yet, far from my son was I ready to depart?
And so intubated in intensive care?
Confess: To assert my will I did not dare.
Expertise the experts’ ends too well serves,
And each of us his half-truths dotingly conserves.
Then there’s the matter of the nuclear codes
In the hands of a President who confidence erodes
But wars and pollution have long shown
Death and destruction: humanity’s capstone
With toxic leaders and technology we routinely reload
As I have been re-reading Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days, a brief excerpt from “A Night Battle Over A Week Since” (May 12, 1863):
The night was very pleasant, at times the moon shining out full and clear, all Nature so calm in itself, the early summer grass so rich, and foliage of the trees—yet there the battle raging, and many good fellows lying helpless, with new accessions to them, and every minute amid the rattle of muskets and crash of cannon, (for there was an artillery contest too,) the red life-blood oozing out from heads or trunks or limbs upon that green and dew-cool grass. Patches of the woods take fire, and several of the wounded, unable to move, are consumed—quite large spaces are swept over, burning the dead also . . .
Then the camps of the wounded—O heavens, what scene is this?—is this indeed humanity—these butchers’ shambles? There are several of them. There they lie, in the largest, in an open space in the woods, from 200 to 300 poor fellows—the groans and screams—the odor of blood, mixed with the fresh scent of the night, the grass, the trees—that slaughter-house!
Two Epipremnum a curtain rod shared
Until their untangling a lonely bather dared.
The Pothos divorced soon began to mope.
They could not cry, nor could they hope.
Showering alone leaves us clean but impaired.
The conclusion of disaster’s poems
Hurricane, earthquake, election, divorce
The walls of the insecure v. destructive force
Over the debris of human lives cameras roam
This after Harvey, Irma, and the earthquake in Mexico, to say nothing of the floods in South Asia which have apparently affected 40 million people, killing at least 1,200 of them. See Karuna Ezara Parikh’s It is not Paris we should pray for, which begins:
It is not Paris we should pray for.
It is the world. It is a world in which Beirut,
reeling from bombings two days before Paris,
is not covered in the press.
A world in which a bomb goes off
at a funeral in Baghdad
and not one person’s status update days “Baghdad,”
because not one white person died in that fire.
Quite another limerick might be written about the US media and US hurricanes. Prior to landfall, desperate for engaging footage, the news networks make stars of the people who, resisting the appeals or orders of government officials, have decided to ride out the storm in their homes. And then, when the storm hits, should it prove less destructive than advertised, there is that feeling of disappointment.
Trump’s hair brush asked him, “Are you having fun?
Or do you wish this election you had not won?”
“Well, it does seem a President never stops being tried.
Into my life and my friends, all my actions they pry.”
“Before you were a criminal, and now you feel like one?”
The squirrel kept posing and for a quite reasonable rate,
But the drawing once done, she was less naked than irate.
To my almonds with salt she’d become so accustomed—
Curvy haunches, bushy tail—no longer so winsome?
Inhumanely, however, there’s no law suit (to date);
The artist, with his drawings, has – for once – escaped!
Based on personal experience.
Our know-how’s incredible; just a few things we lack
The list we know well; our solutions: zero
Insufficient means our technology to control
A peculiar incapacity to not massacre our own
Just a matter of time till the next nuclear attack
On a hill in Geneva, there is a seat high and green
With a view of the Alps, the city and its fountain.
For change there can be snow, or mist, clouds and light.
While here in Manhattan facades indurate govern our sight
And no more than in the Alps can other worlds have been.
This “limerick,” inter alia, recalls an idea of earlier days: that this project might include an exploration of possible variations on a poetic form (in this case, the limerick). Other examples: 113, below or 116, 117 and 122 and 126-28, 138 and 143 above; and 111 and 99 from Part III; and 79, 60, 57 and 56 from Part II; and 38, 30 and 20 from Part I.
Busy shopping, a mother – no comfort – infant bereft.
She has needs, too. Not by her child will she be oppressed.
She’s teaching, I suppose, life’s war of the wills,
Respect for the pushers of strollers, the payers of bills.
But long before shopping – even the rich need others’ largesse.
Would that this limerick could do more than it seems able to. There is the Winnicottian idea that infants, in a first stage, need to be able to depend absolutely on their caregivers and to be held securely, affectionately, by them, and not be asked to satisfy any parental needs, practical or psychological. Each child needs to feel, at first, that she or he is the center of the universe.
More in the limerick’s shadows, however, is a related political observation: some adults who in infancy depended absolutely on others’ care now seek to deny care to those, children and adults, who need food, shelter and useful training. And this denial—though justified as being for the good of the needy or of the society more generally—seems deeply connected to a desire to deny our own infant dependency. This is one of the sad, sick parts of the American myth of our rugged individualism. It blocks our recognizing or cherishing how for our communal and individual development we have depended—however savagely, selfishly—on one another. And hardly least the rich on the labor of the poor (or enslaved).
About Trump and related infirmities much is being said—
As before his fingers approached buttons for warheads
And before he could pardon his criminal friends
And erase progressive policies with the stroke of a pen
And not help the working classes but their bitterness spread—
As before destructive forces elected him President
Of a swamp we might call crazed, criminal, incompetent?
Which, with so many lying in it, has become our feculent bed.
And Jill for Jill will elbow Jack for Jack
And there will be classes to take!
And mornings to hate
The warmth of the sun fading on our backs
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