Reclaiming “Cunt”

BY ANY OTHER NAME….

Every Friday on the PBS News Hour, veteran journalists Marks Shields and David Brooks take to the pundits’ table to offer their polite, judicious, Public TV- style commentary on the week’s events. On June 1, in response to Judy Woodruff’s question about the relative DE- merits of Rosanne Barr’s racist tweet and Samantha Bee’s javelin-hurl of the word cunt, David Brooks, always the gentleman touting the virtues of civility, bemoaned the degradation of manners. Shields, always the more colorful and opinionated of these two talking heads, leapt to the high moral ground, sputtering, “It is—what…Samantha Bee did, was nuclear. This is a nuclear word. This is a—this is the universal most offensive word to women that I know of.”  Reading the transcript misses the visuals: on screen Shields looked as if he was about to pop, like an overinflated balloon. He appeared apoplectic, his considerable jowls quivering as he shook his head in a palsy of righteous anger.

Now let me clear: the word cunt has stopped me in my tracks when I have heard it hurled as an insult. When I saw news clips of Trump supporters in shirts that applied the cunt epithet to Hillary, I wanted to rent a flame thrower. But watching Mark Shields fulminate in full  blown hyperbole about the absolute awfulness of this little noun, I found myself asking why he declares it the “most offensive word to women.” I rummaged around on etymology and dictionary sites, finding that cunt is a very old word used by Chaucer and Shakespeare literally and punningly (as in “country matters” in Hamlet). Some sites note that the word has not always been pejorative. After some web surfing, I decided I was less interested in the history of the word than in its effects, particularly on an old feminist like me. Why did I shudder when I heard the word?

Cunt means literally, according to various sources, female genitalia; some dictionaries say it’s the vagina; others embrace a fuller context of vagina and vulva. (So few young people, girls included, have a clear idea of the complexity of lady parts — vulva, big labia, little labia, clitoris, urethra, all before one gets to the vagina.) All agree that the word cunt refers to our genitalia, our “lady parts,” the terra too often incognita down there.

So why is cunt so vile a word as to earn Mark Shields’ epithet “nuclear?” Let’s analyze dispassionately. The word refers to female genitals. One could compare it to prick, but that word would not, I am sure, earn Shields’ opprobrium at the same level of disgust. Prick is a dry word that conjures up images of the aggressive penis in contrast its opposite, the even less offensive limp dick. Cunt on the other hand evokes from Shields and many others a cringe, a wrinkled nose, the yuk effect. Why? Because there is a long cultural history of revulsion and disgust associated with female genitalia and its functions.  Think about the most obvious –menstruation. Even today in the age of TV advertising for tampons, unthinkable when I was a girl, our then president-to-be expressed disgust when he made his “blood coming out of her wherever” remark during a debate. I’ll stick to what I know well here, but there are still religious rules and traditions that stigmatize a menstruating woman as unclean. So menstrual blood (and other seepages) may be an obvious source of disgust toward female genitals.

To call a woman a cunt, the most offensive insult according to Mark Shields, is to reduce her to biological destiny, to those tucked away body parts that pee and bleed and ooze and produce lubricants to facilitate sexual intercourse, which can, in turn, if one wishes and sometimes when one doesn’t, produce a baby. To call a man a cunt is to ratchet up the insult scale; calling a man a woman (as in “you throw like a girl”) is bad enough. Calling a man a cunt reduces him even further, to what lurks between a woman’s legs, hidden, interior, mysterious, female, and disgusting.

Is cunt worse than pussy or twat or any number of other slang terms/insults? It seems to pack a greater punch, a nuclear one according to Shields. The general coarsening of public discourse, so decried by David Brooks and others, has certainly led to a greater tolerance for words formerly banned on TV and radio. (Judy Woodruff noted that Samantha Bee had used a word “so bad we can’t repeat it here on the News Hour.”) Music lyrics, the internet and our current president have “liberated” a whole lexicon of previously taboo words and phrases. Still, some vulgar references to female parts retain the power to shock.

If cunt is a dirty word, it is because women’s private parts are seen as unclean, shameful even as they are desirable. The sexual and reproductive power associated with the vagina and its habitat is both seductive and repellant. Perhaps that power is also mysterious, threatening, fearsome. In Yeats’ poem “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop,” the old woman cries, “But love has pitched his mansion in/The place of excrement.” Talking to several acquaintance about why they remove by razor or wax all of their pubic hair, I often hear, especially from young women, that it is disgusting and nasty. When I point out, as I am wont to do, that the removal of pubic hair leaves them looking like pre-pubescent girls, they seem oblivious to the implications of that image. In this supposedly post-feminist age, women have the right to remove, alter, plump up, lift any part they deem inadequate or unattractive, I guess. I do wish, however, that they would be cognizant of the politics of such alterations. I mean, labiaplasty? Vagina rejuvenation? So many ways to make one’s cunt more beautiful, more virginal, more penis-friendly…and less natural.

Back to Samantha Bee and her now notorious use of the cunt-word. (Note, I am not playing the “c-word”game! A word is a word is a word. It gains or loses positive or negative power by the way we use it; its value either way is not lessened by expurgating all but its initial letter.) I am sorry that Samantha chose to use the word cunt in derogation of Ivanka Trump’s insensitivity in tweeting out the photo of her nuzzling her adorable child. In using the word as an insult, Samantha bought into and validated the ongoing cultural problematizing of the female body, specifically its genitalia. She perpetuated disgust for the female body. In choosing that word to do her dirty work, Samantha, usually feminist  in her consciousness, added her own brand of plutonium to the nuclear fuel that outraged Mark Shields to castigate feminists in general and the Me Too movement in particular, saying, “but I just found incredible hypocrisy on the part of the MeToo movement, on the part of a lot of feminists and a lot of liberals, that they have not been as harsh on Samantha Bee as they were rightly on Roseanne…” (What’s a week of cultural outrage without an attack on feminists from a white male pundit of a certain age?)

There is a similarity with a difference between Roseanne’s nakedly racist tweet and Samantha’s sexist name calling. Yes, I am calling out Samantha Bee’s use of the word cunt as sexist because cunt’s power to dehumanize and affront depends on the cultural feeling that a woman’s private parts are nasty, disgusting, and vile.  If Ivanka had any truly feminist smarts, she would have turned the insult on its head by embracing the word, by claiming pride in her sexual, generative anatomy that produced the adorable toddler in her arms. There is, however, no way to redeem Roseanne’s tweet that called upon a racist trope so widely available in our culture: African Americans as less than human, as ape-like. Both insults rely upon stereotypes deeply embedded in our casually racist and sexist culture. The difference I see is that one can redeem cunt from its power to disgust by reclaiming it as a powerful descriptive noun. There is no redeeming the verbal or visual image of an African American woman as an animal.

I am not defending Samantha’s use of the word cunt. She hurled it out there in the most sexist/misogynistic of ways. She validated its cultural baggage – nasty, smelly, disgusting, vile: that’s what the word has come to say about what lurks between women’s legs. She apologized; I don’t think she should be fired. After all, as Shields points out, the show was taped and approved before broadcast. Samantha did not blurt out the insult spontaneously.  Roseanne, the solitary tweeter, has a long history of racist remarks on and off twitter, not to mention her support of wacky and dangerous conspiracy theories. Samantha Bee, like many comedians, is no stranger to the shock value of vulgar language, knowing that it seems more outrageous, thus newsworthy,  when spoken by a woman. Since she has already staked out and gotten lots of publicity in the forbidden territory of cunt, I would like to see Samantha deliver a routine in which she reclaims the word; in which she takes us on a tour of cunt’s original meanings and explores why and how it has become such an incendiary verbal weapon. I’d like to see her repeat the word over and over, incite her audience, as Eve Ensler did with vagina, to chant it as a way of reclaiming cunt from opprobrium and misuse. Remember pussy hats? How they and their wearers reclaimed the word that described the female part Trump bragged disdainfully about grabbing? So perhaps, if we can knit the pussy into respectability, we can reclaim cunt from the bathroom wastebasket of contempt. After all, cunt at its four-letter core is simply a word for the collective “down there” parts that we often don’t know how to label. Cunt covers more territory than the more specific vagina. Cunt has a powerful one-syllable punch. Having typed it now many times, I feel ready to befriend the word. I think it will take practice for me to say it aloud, publicly and securely, as in “One’s cunt is a seat of pleasure and sometimes pain.” But really, readers, think of cunt as a useful addition to your conventional vocabulary. The next time some street corner tough or TBS comedian tries to insult or intimidate you by calling you a cunt, refuse to cringe or blush. Somewhere in this great country of ours, someone is, I am sure, working up an intricate crochet pattern that honors the irrepressible cunt.

 

PS: I want to laud Samantha Bee’s use of another all-too-seldom applied adjective –”feckless.” She called Ivanka a “feckless cunt.” Feckless means “lacking strength of character, weak, irresponsible.” Samantha could have stopped there, as in “the feckless Ivanka Trump.” I don’t think Ivanka or any woman should be attacked by equating her to her cunt, which, after all, is merely a collection of body parts, not a brain with the feckless will to tweet out an insensitive photo. Maybe Samantha just needs a better editor on her team of comedy writers and an online copy of the O.E.D.

 

 

 

 

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It’s the Patriarchy, Stupid!!

Patriarchy (n.)

Patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father”[3][4] and comes from the Greek πατριάρχης (patriarkhēs), “father of a race” or “chief of a race, patriarch“,[5][6] which is a compound of πατριά (patria), “lineage, descent”[7] (from πατήρ patēr, “father”) and ἄρχω (arkhō), “I rule”.[8]

Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men.[9][10][11] One example definition of patriarchy by Sylvia Walby is “a system of interrelated social structures which allow men to exploit women.”[12]According to April A. Gordon,[12] Walby’s definition allows for the variability and changes in women’s roles and in the order of their priority under different patriarchal systems. It also recognizes that it is the institutionalized subordination and exploitation of women by men that is the crux of patriarchy…

As an English teacher, I always discouraged my students from leading with a dictionary definition, as in “according to Webster’s…”Here I violate my own rules to open this blog entry with Wikipedia’s riff on the etymology and definition of the word patriarchy. I’ve avoided wading into this morass of alleged sexual molestation/harassment/inappropriate behavior because just thinking about living my 77 years in the body of a woman makes me tired. Several women friends have asked me to weigh in, so I can’t resist any longer. The reports that Senator Al Franken, a man I admire, has joined the long list of the accused, with a photo to prove at least part of his behavior, have pushed me out of silence. What I have to say, however, may disappoint some of my followers.

I begin with Wikipedia’s definitions because, really, this scandal is rooted securely in patriarchy, not in individual evil, as so many would have us believe. The idea of this “bad guy” or that “bad guy” is comforting because the answer involves ostracism, punishment, shaming rather than a radical change to how we see the world, how we govern our societies, how we raise our children. It’s the difference between the micro and the macro view.

As example, I refer to the number of indignant men seeking to distance themselves from the behavior of their more licentious peers. So many of them haul out their female kin, especially daughters and wives, sometimes sisters and mothers, as reasons for their horror and indignation. “As the father of a daughter…” is a preferred line. Ok, you say, what father wouldn’t want to protect his daughter from a sexual predator? Remember that not so long ago, fathers owned their daughters, married them off to men fathers chose, (a custom preserved in the ritual of fathers walking their daughters down the aisle, “giving” them away.) Patriarchal indignation speaks to the power men, abusers and saints alike, wield over the women in their lives and the larger category of women in general. Note the etymology quoted above. Invoking beloved daughters and wives  speaks to a particular and personal indignation not to the need for cultural change in the way all women are viewed. And it makes man-the-protector another icon of the patriarchal structure. Wives and daughters need protection; they are objects of both male predation and protection. I will protect my own, but I can, with impunity, assault yours. As another example, think about the way rape by conquering armies is still institutionalized in the violence of war.

The #Me Too campaign, one to which I added my voice, is a victims’ rallying cry; it says that all of us walking the world in women’s bodies have experienced the feelings of victimization or powerlessness because of some man’s (or many men’s) assumption that he can do as he pleases to our bodies. Every woman I know can testify to at least the catcalls and the crude remarks that become part of daily life after puberty (and sometimes, tragically, before.) #Me Too is a wake-up call, a threat, a bonding strategy, and an important moment. Many women call it a watershed moment, claiming that men won’t get away with such behavior in the future. I say good luck with that! When the dust settles and national attention is diverted elsewhere, the behaviors will resurface. Like gun violence, sexual violence resists institutional change because those in power don’t want to give up any of their power .

I will also argue that the public face of the #Me Too movement is class based. The raised voices are those of famous, mostly white women about their experiences long ago. Back then they say that their fear, their youth and inexperience, kept them from reporting, seeking help, resisting their abusers. Some women did resist, walk out; others participated, albeit unwillingly, in blow jobs in hotel hallways. I don’t see the famous women now speaking truth to power as heroes; a hero takes a risk; speaking from a secure financial and social place is not risky. I admire and applaud their willingness to out the abuse, but I cannot call them heroic. I am not judging these famous actresses, but I am asking what about the waitress today, the bartender, the clerk, the nurse’s aide or the nurse herself. Are these women going to report men who pat their rear ends or grab at a breast or leer while telling a dirty joke? And if she does report, is the bar owner, the restaurant manager, the head nurse on the ward going to respond in a way that changes the work conditions? Is she going to get fired? Refused promotions? Does she even know to whom to report? If the affront is of the dirty-joke, fanny-pat variety, she will be advised to shrug it off, carry on, stay out of the “bad guy’s” way. If she is assaulted and reports the assault to authorities, what happens? Think about the huge number of rape kits languishing in storage. The difficulty of prosecuting an unwitnessed act. The tendency to think women lie. She is not rich or famous, can’t afford time off from work or a lawyer; the press is not interested in her unless the attack is vicious enough to merit column inches or a mention on CNN. She says #Me Too and then what?

The #Me Too movement, credited to actress Alyssa Milano, was actually started by a lesser known, less glamorous black woman years ago. As reported by Ebony Magazine, “A plethora of articles credited Milano with igniting the conversation. As the movement picked up speed…, journalist Britni Danielle pointed out that activist Tarana Burke, a Black woman, began the crusade 10 years ago particularly for women of color. Burke is the founder of the ‘Me Too’ movement’, which aims to do exactly what the recent trending topic has done on social media: unify those who’ve been victimized by sexual violence.” Interviewed on a recent segment of the PBS News Hour, Ms. Burke eloquently explained the need for something to happen after one discloses in a #Me Too moment. (Coincidently, a young woman close to me said she had reservations about the #Me Too movement because she feared women would feel pressured to disclose and worried about what happened afterwards by way of support.) Ms. Burke has devoted her work to helping victims of sexual violence. In the history of the United States, patriarchal institutions, particularly slavery and its aftermath, have been particularly brutal for women of color. They continue to be often marginalized by white women’s movements today, in another example of the dangerous intersections of racism and sexism. (The Black Lives Matter movement, while not directly about sexual violence, is led by women of color and is the target of Justice Department investigations as a subversive group. No surprise there. )

So much of the coverage of this scandal dwells on the salacious details of each encounter, the position and history of the rich and famous perpetrators. But two elements of the story are glossed over:

1. We need to scrutinize the flattening of time that allows reporters to apply the rules, conventions and assumptions of today, a time enlightened just a bit by feminism, to earlier time periods. I think back to the 50’s/60’s when I came into womanhood. At the time, I, now a radical feminist, then a college “girl,” joined my peers in blaming women for what happened to them. The only believable rape was perpetrated by a stranger who jumps out of darkness. As women, we were responsible for how we dressed, how much we drank, how we behaved, how far we let a guy go. I hear the echoes of myself saying to friends, “Well, she had it coming, getting drunk at the dance.” I believed that; I had been taught that men were sexually dangerous and women had to keep them in check. Men in power were protected. Remember the idealized JFK; what we now know of his predatory behavior makes Weinstein look like a choir boy…almost! Reporters, aides, everyone around him, smart, educated people, accepted his droit de seigneur casually, with no pity for his victims. Many people still live culturally in the past:  fanny patters  like George H.W. Bush; victims who still accept what happened to them as “boys will be boys,” as Melania Trump famously commented when interviewed about her husband’s pussy grabbing boasts; a lot of voters of my generation who distrust women who speak out and consider the behavior of men “natural” or “no big deal.”  They may be the same people who protest when statues of Confederate “heroes” are taken down. We need to understand that some people get stuck in time; they act and judge actions from a  perspective many of us consider outdated and uninformed. I think my late mother would have been among them because she resisted the idea of victimization, valorized individual autonomy, and resisted her daughters’ feminism.

2. There has been a kind of moral equivalency assumed between, say, the behaviors of George H. W. Bush, the fanny patter/dirty joke teller, and Harvey Weinstein, the gross abuser/molester. If I were to analyze the specific behaviors we have heard about almost daily in the last weeks, I would set up a continuum. For purposes of illustration, think of the old George H.W.Bush at one end and Weinstein and Ailes at the other. On this line. we could chart degrees of everything from casual insensitivity to vicious rape and assault. Along the way we could parse every salacious detail, compare degrees of force and resistance, judge levels of criminality. I am not interested in that detailed analysis of individual behavior, however, because, as the #Me Too campaign illustrates, this problem is not solely one of depraved individual behavior. It is a problem of a swollen patriarchy that wields its power in many ways –legal, religious, educational, social – and permits all degrees of the sexual abuse of its power to be overlooked, trivialized, facilitated, excused and ignored.

Some readers will accuse me of minimizing the individual offensive, perhaps criminal, acts of this or that man. Not so. I think they all should be held to account for their thuggish, crude, gross behavior; they should be called out, censored, and appropriately punished. I do not think, however, that crude, vulgar sexual behavior,  automatically prevents a man in power from using that power also for causes in which I believe. I could not vote for a rapist; I could vote for a fanny patter if he was willing to acknowledge and mend his ways. That ethical seesaw will put me and those who agree in difficult political positions, especially on elections days. As a liberal, I am not alone; consider the ethical balancing acts that must have led Republicans of good will to put Trump in the presidency. Look at the supporters of Roy Moore who, despite a lot of evidence, remain in his camp. And, yes, you can look at me as riding this ethical seesaw because right now, knowing what we  know, I would not support removing Al Franken from the Senate.

Patriarchy is not, however, a partisan issue for me. As we have seen, sexual harassment and assault know no particular political party or inclination. Conservative and liberal men (and women, I guess. It won’t be long before someone comes out of the woodwork to report harassment or inappropriate behavior by a female boss; we already have seen men behaving badly with other men/boys, i.e. Kevin Spacey.) It’s not a partisan issue because while the offenses are committed by individuals, usually men, we all live under the rules and conventions of a patriarchal society. The patriarchy shapes every institution that controls or serves us. It controls and influences women, too.  Sometimes its very pervasiveness forces uncomfortable political choices that leave people on both sides open to charges of partisan hypocrisy.

The photo making the social media rounds of Al Franken leering as he gropes the breasts of a sleeping comedian travelling with him on a USO tour, is a classic example of what Laura Mulvey called the “male gaze” in action. Franken’s gaze and grope invite the culturally accepted “looking” at a woman being touched by a man without her permission or, indeed, even her knowledge. It is supposed to be funny; after all, they were both comedians whose humor was often raunchy, dependent often on the objectification of women and their bodies. Franken himself acknowledged that sexual vulgarity in his somewhat tortured apology. To Franken and those around him, it was “OK,” harmless and funny. At the time, Leeann Tweeden did not speak out or protest, even though she reports another incident in which Franken invaded her personal boundaries with an unwanted kiss. Both aggressor and victim were ensnared in the patriarchal culture that condones sexist and unwanted sexual behavior and makes the victim hesitant to report. Now, in an altered cultural consciousness, the victim speaks out, and Franken is left to acknowledge and apologize. As a “bad guy,” I’d put him somewhere in the mid-range of the continuum, neither as “bad” as Weinstein and Ailes but not as “forgivable” as old man Bush. But that’s not my point.

My point is that they –the assaulters – and we – women of the #Me Too campaign—are all participants, willing or not, in a patriarchal structure that has historically, psychologically, culturally condoned, ignored, permitted, and often facilitated such behavior on the part of those in power, usually white men. Given that assertion, can we claim, as many women have,  the #Me Too movement as a turning point?

Well, in terms of elevated consciousness it should be. Knowledge is allegedly power. People, men and women who want this behavior to stop, should be working to overthrow the patriarchy by insisting through legislation, and the reform of institutions such as church and school and workplace that we must ensure equality of women with men in all arenas. But guess what? I don’t think that will happen any time soon because power is hard to give up and sharing power is regarded by those in power as losing power. So we make token gestures in the direction of equality. And then our Republican legislators (and this is partisan) demolish legal efforts to ensure reproductive freedom, equal pay, subsidized child care, Title Nine protections, etc. etc. These same conservative lawmakers will call for sexual harassment training, which in my experience usually emphasizes how harassers can protect themselves without attacking the cultural norms that preserve the objectification of women and the dominance of misogyny. It is worth noting that we have a resident president who falls pretty far along the sexual assault continuum and shows little sign of acknowledging his sins.

I stand sadly in front of my bookshelves, looking at titles by Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich, Gerda Lerner and so many other scholars and activists who have eloquently unveiled the history, psychology, and religion of patriarchal sexism. Writers of color such as Toni Morrison, Henry Louis Gates, Audre Lorde who have sought to explain the tragic intersections of racism and sexism. And then I run my mind over the names of the famously accused: Cosby, Weinstein, Moore, Ailes, Weiner, Clinton, Franken, Bush, et. al. I remember my idealization of the Kennedy men and how the press protected them.  I look back over my #Me Too moments, remembering that white women got credit for inventing this form of protest in which I, a white woman, participated. I think of Paul Ryan, still in thrall to the cruel and crude ideas of Ayn Rand, whose books’ heroines idealize rape as a natural and potent expression of love and power; I think of what we  know now of the Kennedy “boys’” predatory behavior… and my mind sighs. Yes, it’s complicated.

Do I think that revealing the names of men behaving badly on a continuum that stretches from nasty words to actual rape will result in the destruction of patriarchal institutions? Ask me if now I think that high schools will stop imposing dress codes that problematize women’s bodies, allegedly to prevent men from distraction and bad behavior? Will the Catholic Church ordain women? Will other conservative denominations cease citing the Bible as the reason women must be subject to men? Will legislators stop passing laws that control women’s bodies by denying them reproductive freedom? Will we see laws that guarantee equal pay, decent child care, accessible and affordable medical care that erases the disgrace of the Unites States’ high maternal mortality rate? Will we allow attacks on Title Nine because we assume that many women lie about sexual assault? Will convicted rapists receive shorter jail sentences than  black men convicted with scant legal representation of drug possession?  Will we see equal representation by women elected to our local, state and national legislatures? Will we elect a woman to the presidency any time soon?

I think not.

#Me Too is important; consciousness raising is always important. But what happens next is more important. Yes, let’s punish the “bad guys” in a non-partisan way, especially those whose actions broke laws. If we elected them to office, let’s demand that they go beyond apology and use their power to help move us toward the erasure of patriarchy as the (largely) unwritten law of the land.  Let’s not make moral equivalencies that conflate a pat on the ass with a rape in a hotel room. At the same time, let’s acknowledge that all such behaviors are rooted in the abuse of patriarchal power, male hierarchies and Capitalist conflations of fame and fortune with sexual impunity. Let’s change the assumption that they [the white patriarchs] rule to we [women and men, white and of color] rule/govern equally.

PostScript:

I watched the nightly news on CNN and PBS. Wolf Blitzer was busily validating my critique by asking Sen Blumenthal if the charges against Al Franken equaled those against Judge Moore; if Franken should be expelled from the Senate, if the charges against him were true, etc. (Since then  the drama heated up as allegations surfaced that Roger Stone has something to do with charges against Franken. Convenient distractions. What no one is talking about is the systemic, institutionalized patriarchal culture that seeks to avoid scrutiny by dwelling in the devilish details of each alleged affront. I am pretty sure that many male senators, congresspersons, their staffs and aides are on their metaphorical knees praying that their transgressions on the playing fields of sexual intimidation, harassment and assault are not #Me Too’ed by some emboldened woman out there. And their more virtuous or controlled or courteous colleagues are, I am sure, bathing in smug self-congratulation, pretty certain there is nothing lurking to dirty their linen in public. I also imagine a few lonely voices crying in the patriarchal wilderness, mine I hope included, saying that the bigger issue is not the individual offender. (Remember:  I am not suggesting said offender is not responsible for his actions.) The bigger issue is the culture that allows offenses to occur, followed by complicit silence sponsored by fear or boys’-club loyalty. We need to change the institutions, the systems, the whole damn white-male dominated culture!!!! It is the patriarchy, stupid!!!

No Cordelia in Trump’s Cabinet

Watching the circle of craven sycophants, aka the President’s cabinet members, compete to outdo one another in paeans of effusive praise for their toddler-in-chief, I could not help but wonder if English teachers all over the country were reminded, as I was, of Act I, scene 1, of Shakespeare’s King Lear.  Commanding the presence of his three daughters in the public space of the court, he requires of each that she declare her love for him as the price for such portion of his kingdom (He is dividing it up prior to retirement from kingly burdens.) as he deems the declaration of love deserves:

Tell me, my daughters,–
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,–
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?       

First Goneril and then Regan produce hyperbolic declarations of devotion and love

Goneril:

 Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;               
(1.1.56-59)

Regan:

Sir, I am made of the self-same metal that my sister is,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short.                                                            
(1.1.71-74)

Lear smugly accepts and rewards these avowals before moving on to ask his beloved youngest daughter Cordelia, “What can you say to draw/ A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.”

Cordelia answers, “Nothing,” going on to barely explain, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty/According to my bond; nor more nor less.” (1.1.93-95)

As I watched the replay of Trump’s cabinet members, invited to say something about the accomplishments of his administration in front of the media, this scene played itself out on my English teacher’s memory screen. But there was no Cordelia refusing to utter puffed-up blandishments, so blatantly insincere that I was embarrassed to be witness to them, even coming from cabinet officials for whom I have little respect. Cordelia refuses to pander to her father’s vanity.  Starting with Vice President Pence, who declared his connection to Trump the greatest honor of his life, one after another of Trump appointees declared his/her gratitude and pride in serving this amazing administration led by this outstanding man. Reince Priebus offered the most fulsome response, his paean including the pseudo-religious “blessing given” by Donald Trump, as if from some Olympian height. “On behalf the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people,” the White House chief of staff said.

No Cordelia there to interrupt the chorus of obsequious adulation. If I wanted to extend this comparison, I might invoke the ghost of James Comey, the man who refused to pledge allegiance and loyalty (love?) to Donald Trump; but that perhaps remains for a brilliant dramaturge such as Oskar Eustis to incorporate into a relevant production of King Lear. Although he’d have to take liberties with the text, I can imagine Comey as a Cordelia figure, both of them honest and, truth be told, a bit self-righteous.   Of course Cordelia ends up dead and I would not wish such a fate on James Comey.  Eustis’ controversial Julius Caesar, now playing in Central park, is currently dealing with the withdrawal of financial support from corporate giants Delta Airlines and Bank of America because of its rendering of Caesar as a Trump look-alike (sort  of) with an affinity for long ties (Oh, don’t tempt me here!), a Slavic wife, and despotic power.  Remember, Caesar is assassinated, so to the corporate oligarchs who rule this not-so-democratic republic, the play must seem a Democratic/liberal plot to hide the fact that Trump won the popular vote. Remember that Shakespeare served under an absolute monarch, that his plays were subject to official censorship, and that the assassination of a head-of-state, good or bad, could not be presented as a positive feat. I suspect those who see subversion in the play have neither seen it nor read it all the way to the end. Maybe in their sophomore year in high school, they weren’t paying attention to their English teachers.  Maybe they lack a sense of irony or even of humor.

Trump’s story, no matter where it ends, can never be a tragedy.  Trump is no Lear, no grand, frail, flawed hero capable of recognizing his flaws.  I do not believe that Trump is capable of honest recognition of his ego-driven folly and foolishness, his need for constant praise.  He will never, I suspect, cry out in honest self-assessment, as Lear does when he begins to see the damage he has wrought,

I am a very foolish fond old man,

Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less.

And to deal plainly

I fear I am not in my perfect mind.”

(4.7.60-64)

Trump lacks the majesty of tragic hubris; his ego blinds him to the possibilities of honest self-assessment, of redemption.  He may suffer reverses of fortune brought about by his own prideful errors in judgment, but I doubt he will ever see himself, rather than the Democrats and leakers of either party, as responsible. Trump is as shallow as a vernal pond, as vain as Narcissus, as psychologically naked in public as the monarch in Hans Christian Anderson’s “The King’s New Clothes.” He is mindlessly cruel both to strangers and those close to him, loyal only to his own appetites, and heedless of the hurt and humiliation he disperses like contaminated seed. He will never be able to declare, as Lear does on the edge of mad regret, in the insightful and empathetic speech I love most in the play:

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.                             
(3.4.28-36)

Lear learns compassion, caritas, and humility. He realizes that he is not the only sufferer, in fact hardly a sufferer at all, compared to those enduring poverty of body and spirit. Through his suffering and his consequent consciousness of self, he emerges as the tragic hero of a great tragic drama.

I can’t envision Donald Trump looking deeper than his own skin to recognize the suffering that he and, under his leadership, the ilk of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Tom Price and Ben Carson and Rick Perry and Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, are inflicting on the least among us. His story will not reach the heights of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. It is more theater of the absurd, occasionally funny but mostly Godot-goofy, Brecht-bitter, Sartre-sardonic – at least from an audience’s view. To Trump himself, his reign is an amazing spectacle of the superlative, theater of the rococo, the vulgar and the vicious. To this viewer, his little drama is neither ennobling nor elevating. It’s not even sad enough to be considered pathos. I’d call it a national embarrassment with potentially dangerous consequences.

I swore off ranting about Trump a few weeks ago; hence the blog-silence. I had begun to feel the fatigue of constant outrage, indignation and disbelief. Instead I read poetry: Yeats, Auden, Brodsky, Wisława Szymborska, Anna Akhmatova, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde.  They expressed indignation, anger and apocalyptic terror so much more elegantly than the talking heads on TV or the columnists of the New York Times.  Today’s televised replay of the cabinet of toadies bowing and scraping before the petty wanna-be tyrant, competing with one another to lick even the dirty sole of the master’s boot, heated my simmering umbrage to a pasta-cooking boil. Silent no longer…at least for now.

Every day someone posts an article on Facebook assuring us like-minded users (Of course, we see only the like-minded on our own pages along with the ads for anything we have ever coveted on line.) that the end is in sight, that impeachment or indictment or implosion of government is surely at hand, like the “sly beast slouching…” so often referenced. Then another day passes and Trumpkin is still on the throne, still twittering like a mad wren, still proclaiming accomplishments the likes of which no one has seen since perhaps George Washington’s day. I ask myself: is the outrageous becoming the new normal? People post that love will conquer hate. I think that I don’t think love has much to do with our current national dilemma. I think action has to challenge hateful legislation and language and lies. Writing is action, even though it requires no elbow grease or shoe leather or dangerous provocations of authority. Words are what I have to send out into the marketplace (good capitalist diction!) of ideas. Sharing the page with William Shakespeare helps keep me humble. Sharing citizenship with the likes of Donald Trump makes me wistful for the days when my ancestors were still living in Quebec, speaking French. I remind my adult grandchildren to be sure their passports are in order. I am writing checks to Planned Parenthood in lieu of birthday gifts. I am not hopeful but neither am I totally without hope, not when I have poetry and drama to terrify and console me. I will let Auden have the last words, from a poem he came to reject but that continues to inspire me.

From “September 1, 1939,” last stanza.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Thoughts on the Morning of a 77th Birthday.

You awaken slowly, slats of light through the blinds, the vague realization that you are alive again, that it is another day again, that soon you will move your limbs into the motions of getting out of bed. Into this bleary foggy early awakening comes an intrusion, an interruption of the ordinary: it is your birthday, your 77th. You are, says the calendar, 77 years old today. The number is indifferent and stunning.

When you rise, you know, there will be messages on the devices –the IPhone, the Kindle –because, even in these late years, you have adapted, in an elementary and limited fashion and despite daily frustration, to the technology of instant communication. While you still experience a little frisson of anticipatory energy when you open the mailbox in the lobby and find therein a “real” letter or card, as opposed to the endless flyers, catalogues, and bills, you have learned an appreciation for e-cards and e-gifts certificates and cyber-greetings. You seldom resort to such greetings yourself, at least not as the only acknowledgment of occasion, still retaining your title as “Hallmark Queen” and helping to keep the US Post Office in business.

You will rise as a 77-year-old woman, having lived long enough that events of your past experience are now “history” in the textbook and classroom sense of the word. You will rise into a broken world, your own country and many others still at war. Your life began in 1940 as WWII raged; you have a vague memory of sitting on the porch steps of the house in Buzzards Bay with a cooking pot on which you were banging, with the grown-ups approval, a metal spoon – war’s end. You came into your own first wave of political consciousness in the McCarthy-red-scare era. Influenced by your father’s views, you learned to speak of “pinkos” and “fellow travelers” with patriotic scorn. You remember the Rosenberg executions. You have a cocktail napkin autographed to you personally by Richard Nixon, whom your father, district manager for Western Union,  met while handling communications for Nixon’s campaign tour of New Hampshire. You will leave for college in 1958 as a conservative and graduate in 1962 as a liberal, the civil rights movement having replaced your father as authority on justice. You will hope to change the world.

And then you will fall in what you think is love, fall pregnant when you are sure that can’t happen, get married because there is no real alternative, have three children in 17 months (a singleton and twins), move from Maryland to Connecticut to Kansas to New Jersey, there to stay through divorce, raising your children into adulthood, growing in your career as an educator, writing a bit, getting published a bit, gaining some limited recognition in your field, growing older alone, sometimes lonely, sometimes not. Then after 30 years, early retirement, too early perhaps, and a move to a small town in the Adirondack mountains, there to interact every day with grandsons and every summer with Manhattan grandkids. And then to Utica, here where you are waking to the realization that you are 77 years old.

Old age is strange place –not Byzantium, for sure, pace Yeats. The strangeness is exacerbated when one lives, as you do, in an apartment complex segregated by age –one must be 55 to live here; many, perhaps most, residents are older. The appearance of children, guests, arouses in various residents, either sentimental delight or irritation. There are many dogs here, and they, too, evoke similar responses from the residents. There are fewer couples than there are women living alone –widows, divorcees, and just plain single women. There is a comfortable, safe, secure flatness to this world of old people. Their conditions illustrate the fickleness of fate: the active ninety-year old with all her faculties intact; the woman in her seventies who sometimes can’t find her apartment and roams from building to building until rescued by a friend, those of different ages dependent on walkers and scooters and other people to move about. You know you should feel grateful for reasonably good health, having done so little to maintain it. You know you should not eat so much chocolate. You don’t drink alcohol any longer –at least there’s that.

This birthday morning you realize again that you didn’t change the world, that you never really got to emulate Joan of Arc whose name you took at confirmation, that you now understand too well Stephen Spender’s lines:

What I expected, was

Thunder, fighting,

Long struggles with men

And climbing.

After continual straining

I should grow strong;

Then the rocks would shake

And I rest long.

 

What I had not foreseen

Was the gradual day

Weakening the will

Leaking the brightness away,

The lack of good to touch,

The fading of body and soul

Smoke before wind,

Corrupt, insubstantial…

 

You have lived your life in literature; books have limned the life you dreamed, the exit lines you wanted for yourself, the plots you wished to inhabit. Poems spoke for you, the poems of others better than your own. The hardest realization this morning, this 77th birthday morning, is that your life, like that of most people, has been small, average, relatively insignificant. You are supposed to take heart from the fact that your children, now in their 50’s, live decent, independent lives; that they have raised children whom you love and who give you moments of joy. But you also know that the greater number of people you love –three children, then six grandchildren—the more anxiety, pain and disappointment you can expect. Your expectations, for self and others, is often too high. The “gradual day” can be long and colorless, bland and lonely.

Now you understand King Lear as you never did when you taught the play many times years ago. Not so much the selfish Lear of Act I, but the mad Lear on the heath and wandering alone afterwards, deranged by the realization of his own insignificance, powerlessness and selfishness.

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this!

Like Lear, you have realized how little care we have taken of the less fortunate among us, how the current administration will strip the poor even more naked, how powerless you feel at this realization. Later, Lear, bending over the body of his finally beloved daughter Cordelia, begs someone “Pray you, undo this button.” you understand this plea now, very well, as a prayer to be unclothed from one’s flesh, to be free to die unencumbered by the trappings we wear to cover the pathos of mortality. In “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Albert Camus, the man for whom you would have become a camp follower, speaks of “the hour of consciousness,” that allows us to consider Sisyphus happy despite his endless, repetitive struggle to push that rock up the hill. You have been conscious, as Lear becomes and Camus explicates, of the absurdity, the randomness, the essential smallness of a human life. The consciousness began as youthful aspiration –to be Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Cady Stanton; as time, with its relentless pounding away at illusions, went on, you began to realize the limits of your own courage and vision. You settled into the middle class and safely bordered life of career and suburbs and literature. Now in old age, you see it all too clearly, the long sadness that comes of consciousness, loss of faith, depredations of age, the simple fact of mortality.

Yesterday you heard from a young man whom you encouraged to write poetry and who thanks you for mentoring him into the life of the intellect. He called to tell you he has been accepted into a prestigious MFA program in creative writing. He will be a poet, and he credits you for inspiration and encouragement. There have been a few such young writers whom you, like so many English teachers, have mentored into the confidence to write and publish poetry. You realize with a mix of sadness and pride that you are a better editor and mentor of emerging poets than you are a poet yourself. That the poems you write lack verve and energy even when they “work.” But you have been unerring in spotting a potential poet or novelist. They have acknowledged you in autographs and acknowledgments. You love to read their work.

Is that enough? As the end comes nearer and seems both inevitable and perhaps desirable, is it enough to know you have influenced young people, that you have raised good children and influenced the raising of grandchildren, all of whom love you? Is it enough that you did not change the world, lead an army, earn an obituary in the New York Times? You ask yourself as the sun stripes the comforter you huddle under and your cellphone chimes as a message comes in, probably a birthday greeting. Perhaps it has to be, you think, it has to be enough. Every life you have touched has also touched and changed yours.  Perhaps that really is enough. Time now to get up and make a day of this one, your 77th birthday.

Republican Cruelty

Samantha Schmidt in the March 7 issue of The Washington Post reported, “In an attempt to deter illegal immigration from Mexico, the Department of Homeland Security is considering separating children from parents caught crossing the border, Secretary John Kelly said Monday on CNN. The proposal would result in detention for the parent while any accompanying children would be placed in the care of the government or sent to live with any relatives in the United States.” Explaining his reasoning to Wolf Blitzer, Kelly said, “I would do almost anything to deter the people from Central America getting on this very, very dangerous network that brings them up from Mexico.”

Every day elicits from me another gasp as the Trump administration demonstrates over and over again a complete lack of human compassion or even of attempts to understand the cruelty of their various proposals: to destroy healthcare for the poor, to deny women coverage for reproductive health, to question why men should have to pay for insurance that covers prenatal care, to suggest that the poor don’t really want health care, to suggest that the poor should give up expensive cellphones so that they can pay for health care, and on and on.

I have tried to read and listen, tried to figure out what goes on inside the heads and hearts of the men (and they are mostly rich white men) as they gather to discuss and plan ways to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, all  in the name of saving money and demolishing “big government.” I struggle against hopeless cynicism and despair, not only about Trump’s administration and its proposed policies but also about my faith in the basic goodness of human beings who hold positions of power.

Kelly’s statements about separating parents (mostly mothers) from their children in the name of deterrence left me literally wordless. I couldn’t help imagining a conference room full of Homeland Security officials calmly discussing Kelly’s proposal. Of course we don’t have the transcript, but I try to imagine what was going in their heads as they seriously considered ripping traumatized refugee kids from their equally stressed mothers. These women are trying to protect their children by escaping from countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras where the dangers of gang-related violence, forced gang recruitment, extortion, poverty and lack of opportunity make the dangers of fleeing to seek asylum pale in comparison.

Having survived a perilous journey from countries where they lived in imminent danger from ruthless gangs and corrupt governments, probably having been further traumatized by the craven coyotes whom they paid to guide them to the illegal border crossing, having made it through hunger and thirst and even sexual abuse, they arrive on American soil only to be forcibly separated. This inhuman move on the part of U.S. government agents would supposedly deter other mothers from attempting the perilous journey with their children.

How can humans being actually consider such a proposal? How can a room full of federal officials seriously discuss with one another an idea so counter to everything we supposedly stand for, to the family values the Republicans like to trumpet, to the universal concept of sanctuary? How can these officials, part of an administration whose leaders claim a Judeo-Christian heritage (with an emphasis in this administration on “Christian”) propose and defend the idea of separating children from their mothers, turning them over to government agents or relatives and immediately deporting their mothers? Where in the Gospels, in the words of Jesus, in the larger ethos of human compassion can they find justification? These women seeking asylum represent no threat to our safety. This proposal, however, represents a threat to the ethical center of  American ideals.

I want to hope that at least one voice in that room full of Homeland Security officials spoke up to suggest the essential wrongness, the immorality, the cruelty of this proposal. When asked if he worried that public opinion might be outraged, Kelly said he would do anything to stop this flow of traffic.  The Washington Post referred to “Barbara Hines, an immigration law expert, who argues that it shouldn’t have to be a choice between detention or separation — families should be released from the beginning. She also argued that such a policy change probably would do nothing to deter women from crossing the border illegally with their children.”

“The experts have established that when people are fearing for their lives, what is going to happen at the border is not going to deter them. The women that I’ve seen over the last two years are fleeing for their lives,” Hines said. “They’ve gone through such incredible trauma in their home countries.” Separating them from their children, she said, would be “unthinkable.”

The Washington Post article also quoted the American Academy of Pediatrics, a credible source of wisdom about children: “Federal authorities must exercise caution to ensure that the emotional and physical stress children experience as they seek refuge in the United States is not exacerbated by the additional trauma of being separated from their siblings, parents or other relatives and caregivers.”

I assume that some of the officials in the discussion with Kelly are parents, fathers, maybe some mothers (although I cringe to think of any mother agreeing to this proposal).  Kelly himself raised three children, one of whom died in action in Afghanistan, so he knows the grief of losing a child. How many others in that room have children whom they love and cherish? Why is it so difficult to demand of people in positions of power that they seek to understand and perhaps, although it may be asking too much of the rich and powerful, to empathize with the least who seek to be among us? What elements of power and comfort deaden human feelings or defend the old argument that reason must override sympathy; that promoting fear of the other makes us safer in the long run? Or even more cynical, Kelly’s suggestion that concern for the safety of the fleeing mothers and children justifies making object lessons of those who have already made it to what they hope is safety?

I just don’t understand. I realize that there are so many other outrages: the denigration of the truth; the blatant misogyny of a president who claims he respects women; the attempts by a party that valorizes the importance of the individual over government to strip women of control of their reproductive freedom; that talks up motherhood and family values while stripping the poor and middle class families of health care; that parades the nanny-supported motherhood of wives and daughters who go “to work” in designer outfits. I am outraged daily by all of these assaults on reason and emotion.

I am, however, particularly outraged by this particular story. I am not even sure that this proposal will be enacted. I hope it is not; I hope there are people in power who will share the outrage I and others feel. I make this story the topic of this blog because it seems to me a potent, pathetic example of what is happening in our country today. I am no Pollyanna. I understand that politics are not usually informed by high moral standards and that moral views can differ, as they do around the abortion issues. I just can’t stop thinking about that conference room full of Homeland officials listening to John Kelly propose this draconian measure. I can’t stop hoping that someone stood up and cried out in protest at the very idea of ripping children from their mothers just as they begin to think they are safe to claim asylum in the land of the free and home of the brave. If anything will push me over the edge into a morass of cynicism and despair about my membership in the human community, implementation of Kelly’s inhumane and cruel proposal to rip apart the bond between mothers and their children certainly will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Woman’s Response to President Trump’s Exploitation of a Widow’s Grief

 

When Shakespeare’s King Lear demands that his daughters tell him how much they love him, Goneril and Regan comply with effusive, insincere declarations of devotion, their eyes on the territory Lear is dividing up among his three offspring. Cordelia, his youngest and most beloved, responds sincerely, “I cannot heave/My heart into my mouth.” She refuses to be manipulated into dishonest flattery. Of course Lear, a selfish, egotistical old man, furiously disinherits her on the spot.

I was reminded of that scene last night during the President’s address to the legislature. In a maudlin, hypocritical and dishonest rendition of the death of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, President Trump directed attention to Ms. Owens, the grieving widow who sat beside Ivanka Trump in the visitors’ section. Ms. Owens was obviously and understandably distraught as she struggled to maintain composure, to contain her tears. Of course most of the assemblage on both sides of the aisle rose to offer long sustained applause, while Trump, his thin-lipped smirk stretched smugly, pickerel-like, across his face, clapped and nodded. “Ryan is looking down right now, you know that?” he assured the widow, then quoted General Mattis saying, “‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy.’” Then a stroke of rhetorical hyperbole: “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.”

Immediately after the speech, some talking heads on PBS and CNN agreed sagely about the emotional power of the moment –the widow’s gallant attempt to stay strong, the dramatic sustained response of the audience. One or two suggested that Trump had exploited the death of the Navy seal, our “hero” of the moment; but most bought into the televised drama.

Today, as I read the news and scrolled through Facebook responses to the address, I note that several voices bitterly denounced the few legislators on the Democratic side who chose not to stand for the ovation. I am writing this because I know I would not have stood, would not have applauded. In no way am I seeking to trivialize or denigrate Ms. Owens grief, nor will I criticize or comment on her willingness to attend the event as the President’s guest. As background we have read about her father-in-law’s refusal to greet the president when Trump and his daughter went to pay respects to Owen’s body as it arrived at Dover Air Force Base.  “I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” Owens said. He asked that his son’s death not be used to hide the truth.

Ms. Owen’s grief is real and her struggle to maintain her dignity brave. Perhaps the wave of applause and the president’s words comforted her and validated the canard that her husband did not die in vain. Ryan Owen’s father’s grief and anger are no less valid, however, given what we know (or don’t know) about the success of the mission. People grieve in different ways, to which they are entitled.

I understand, however, those who did not stand. As I watched the televised display of enforced patriotic feeling and human sympathy, I was angry and embarrassed. Trump wielded Ms. Owens’s grieving presence as a cudgel to force a public reaction that validates his claims of a successful mission that justified an American hero’s death.

There was, of course, no mention of the nine children killed during the botched mission. American lives matter; the children were collateral damage.  Trump insisted again that the raid secured valuable intelligence that will save many more lives; there are convincing reports to the contrary. The appalling truth is that Trump’s exploitation of Ms. Owens’ grief created a tsunami of sentiment that obfuscates rational critique. Perhaps those Democrats who refused to be manipulated into ringing applause realized that Trump was hearing approval for himself, his decision to approve the mission, and his pledges of safety for the American people. As he nodded and looked from side to side to survey who was applauding, that self-satisfied smirk widened. The most telling signal that Trump remains obsessed with the size of demonstrations of approval came as he bragged, as though he were citing crowd or poll numbers, “ And he’s [ Ryan Owens] very happy, because I think he just broke a record.”  That remark is exploitation taken to its callous extreme: suggesting that record breaking applause can make a dead soldier and his grieving widow “happy.” To those who chose not to join the cast of Trump’s melodrama, I say they acted with personal integrity.  Sometimes one cannot heave one’s heart up and out in response to an emotionally manipulative demand from an emotionally stunted and dishonest man, however elevated his status.

 

 

 

A Valentine Poem

Valentine in the Snow

 

What if I fill a bucket

with paint or blood

pull on my tall boots

and wade out

into the back yard

where thigh high snow

gleams whiter than white

dimpled with rabbit tracks

freckled under the feeder

with hulls of sunflower seeds?

 

Carefully I’d tip

the bucket to pour

like maple syrup

a thick and steady stream

with which to draw

into the snow

a huge lopsided heart

with a little curled flick

at its bottom vee.

 

I’d have to walk

my way all around

the perimeter of the scarlet

that could be seen

by passengers on planes

and birds en route

to the feeder

the chickedees and red polls

and one cardinal one day.

 

I guess no one would see

me splash my crimson cry

against the black and white

and endless winter

Even so I think I’d lie right down

in the center of that heart

a performance artist

shivering out a message

in the Adirondack snow.