Tuesday, November 22, 2016


(Photo by Saul Leiter)

A strange thing
has me
in its hand.

I feel a palm
consider my shape

how its arm
adjusts to the weight

I watch its knuckles
reflexively stretch

hear the sound
of history's give.

Bone on bone—
the bubbles

until I'm naught
but skin
with teeth.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Midnight in America

("Flag" by Jasper Johns)

The world is bleak today. It is one thing to mourn a person, it is a different thing altogether to mourn a country. To see your own grief magnified by millions, most of whom have more to lose than you do, and most assuredly will. 

We have survived dark times before. I remember feeling something like this in 2004, when Bush was reelected. But while we knew he wasn’t a good president, and that he was sure to do worse by us in the next four years, there was still the girding stability of a semi-functional American democracy there to guide our path forward and see us through to the other side. 

Barack Obama was waiting for us there. 

It is hard not to feel like the light has gone out. It is hard not to feel that we are living in a different America now, and traveling blindly. We elected a goon on Tuesday. We elected an unqualified, hate-spewing demagogue whose sole selling-point was that he was authentically evil instead of merely moderately bad. We did this clear-eyed and soberly, ignoring the woman who was imminently more prepared, more credible, more deserving of our faith in her, because some of us felt she was too experienced, too calculating, too tainted by “scandal.” 

The media told us this. They told us so many times, it turns out a lot of people believed them.

My own parents believed it. 

My father, a lifelong conservative, hated Trump, but he hated her more. This is what he screamed at me on the Sunday before the election—his face beet-red, finger jabbed at my face—when I tried to talk him out of his vote. He believed she was more of a threat to our institutions than the orange clown who said, through all his words and actions, that he was. He voted for this charlatan. My mother did, too. I will never forget it. They can attempt to rationalize that decision to their graves. My mom reassured me that they have more life experience to make such a choice—in other words, we liberals are naive chumps to believe that people don’t leech off of government, that people aren’t inherently looking for handouts and shortcuts instead of dignity and opportunity and fairness in their lives. I am not reassured. Conservatives may have more years under their belts, but they stubbornly refuse to stretch themselves and see the people floundering on the margins of their vision. Their myopia is unrepentant, their self-delusion catastrophic. 

But by all means, let’s lower taxes for the lot of them. 

How bad is this? I would do anything in the world to have George W. Bush back in the Oval Office right now. That’s how bad. 

As for Barack Obama…I can’t. I just can’t. We failed the man. We failed him so hard, and so spectacularly, that my eyes—dry from a kind of benumbed sleeplessness—have started leaking again. We failed Michelle Obama. Their legacy won’t be erased entirely—their example will remain in our minds like a childhood we wish we could return to—but the impact of this conman’s election will be devastating to the good, hard, painstaking work they’ve put in the past eight years.

Millions will lose their health insurance because of our failure.

The Supreme Court could be lost for a generation. 

Climate change will accelerate past the tipping-point.

The privatization of Medicare and Social Security are being quietly negotiated in back rooms. Paul Ryan’s honing in on the right, Orwellian language to sell it to the American people, his bland, boyish face the perfect shape of banality and evil. 

Banks will grow too big to fail again. 

As for foreign affairs . . . I shudder to think. This man? In charge of matters of war and peace? No no no no no no no.

And then there’s the matter of our civil liberties. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion. Freedom from hate and bigotry. Freedom from fear. 

The silver lining in all this? People are awake. People are staggeringly, stupidly awake. The best of us, anyway.

But the darkness is here. It is swimming through our veins. We are living it now. 

I have new eyes today. They’ll need to adjust fast to their surroundings. 

I'm done with the privilege of my own illusions. I'm sick of them. 

I'm ready to see, and fight. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

4 More Days

(finding the path to 270)

Just an anecdote, as we grind through the last few days before the most important election of our lives: 

Our son told me that his sixth grade class went around the room yesterday, telling what they were grateful for. I'm not sure what the context for this was, but I know the talk quickly became political, which shouldn't be a surprise, since our children have been as caught up in all this as we are. 

A couple of the kids said they were grateful for America. One of them seemed especially fervent and, according to our son, rather scolding about it. In other words: you'd better be grateful for America, because we're the greatest nation on earth, etc. 

Which: okay. But also: that's too easy, isn't it.

When it was our son's turn, he said he was grateful for his family, his house and his dog. Then, he added (in a small voice, I'm sure, and with his eyes cast down, because he's rather shy): I'm grateful for America, too. But I'm sorry we're going through such an awful time right now. 

He didn't say he was grateful for Hillary Clinton. (Someone did. Another scowled.) Instead, he acknowledged a greater truth: it is possible to love one's country and hate what's happening to it. Not just hate it for your own sake, but for everyone's. Even the people who disagree with you. 

Patriotism has always come easy for Americans, at least since I've been alive. It's been easy enough for people to fly the flag and reproach others for not loving that symbol the way that they do. It's been easy to take boring things like journalistic integrity, tolerance and civility for granted. It's a wake-up call when you see those norms fly out the window, and not enough people seem to notice or care.

There's a tear in that flag. The threads are showing. I think a lot of us feel it. And, even if my candidate wins on Tuesday, I have no confidence it can be repaired. That's what this election has meant to me. That's what it has so miserably laid bare. How much I love my country. How much I fear it, too.

I am proud of our son for what he said to his peers. I think if we're going to be saved, his generation is the one to do it. 

I just hope we can wait that long.