Dear President Bush (appeared in Notre Dame Review)
We may have misread Oriental inscrutability together.
In your raucous school days, past the circle of the camera eye,
sullen spiders crept to the top of the jagged fence, and wavered in the wind,
a subject not worthy of a poem or a coffin –
so you chose only to watch, as did I.
Each day for you has been a day of rumors of changing weather,
but you square the spirit’s chancy legerdemain
with a haughty horseman’s stance all your own
(once upon a time mankind was fool enough to build gothic cathedrals).
I, as usual, watch and learn, my ignorance
magnified manifold as the ships come in,
carrying posters of dead sailors and their worthy admiral
fathers. Will you be my friend, will we serve mankind
gratis?, is the eternal question aspiring poets
must ask in the hours before dawn when a hesitant
interwar muse, choked with blue smoke and girdled spirit,
wasted from the first hour, dumb with degradation,
visits and revisits the traceable (simple arboreal) lines left on
blank unsigned paper. Will you be my friend, Mr. President?
I am alone, and have grown tired of reading
others’ tea leaves, of declaring oneness with sad mankind,
always suffering from nacreous self-destructive contagion (hence pearly memoirs),
always blowing its hard-earned wealth on lazy self-portraits
it knows were not originals even when first found.
I have grown tired of revisiting museums and brothels.
We know you like to compare far-distant apples and oranges
by way of signifying a return to the discipline of the gymnasium,
if not outright hazing and bondage, we know you return
books on time, decry therapy, and pronounce salvation
on the burnt Western deserts, because to ponder
our insignificance on this torn-down planet is false modesty,
as all the best prophets have known in their bouts of doubt.
It is time to put the old books to bed.
What have they taught us but self-hatred and guilt?
When did we ever plant a happy seed in a young mother’s womb
and expect it to return a payoff in similar coin –
surely not since the days of the plainspoken knights in hot burning armor,
refusing to see their reflection in the drying river’s unclear
waters, the mean hours of their universal crusade
passing them by, so that soon they would all turn into
self-reflecting Montaignes (penpushers and pedophiles). Mr. President, you’ve defeated
hypochondria, megalomania, paranoia, gluttony, gossip, and death,
with one hard blow of your weightless persona
(weightless because containing the weight of the earth),
and made the work of future psychiatrists and historians
passable play – you’ve made a man out of wandering Camus
and his joyless mountain-lifting, you’ve made an admirer
out of me (until lately a no-good fellow-traveler swift to leap
onto the grooviest bandwagon), as I’ve learned to distrust
the bookish mechanics of hate. Sooner or later these witches’ brews were bound
to overflow. What we’ve known is that you’ve lived
in our castle not as our king but as our slave,
expunging the blood from the libraries of wars,
and resurrecting compassion in a tangible, movable lump
as ready as the next fleshy morsel in mankind’s
planned dominion. You have freed all your slaves.