McDowell County

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What do we mean when we say that Bernie would
have won? We mean that when the news laments
the politicization of capital collecting rents
on common properties and public goods,
while clutching pearls over punching guys in hoods,
though simultaneously dragging our senescent
fast-food addicted moron president
for some absurd point of decorum he’s stood
on its stupid head, what remains in West
Virginia are towns where everyone is dying
from the planned catastrophe of economic
disinvestment: franchised, but dispossessed,
they know it’s politics; he isn’t lying;
un-ratfucked, he would’ve beat the insult comic.

/pol/ite society

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This is the future that liberals want: a cool
return to norms after the tan excrescence
is excised. Peace? Well, purity of essence.
Articulate. Harvard Law or a comparable school.
Personally dedicated to the rule
of law. A paragon. A recrudescence
in an empire seemingly sunk in convalescence.
Judicious. Stylish. Not a raving fool.
Across an ocean in a dusty town a boy
who’s barely past a cracking voice is set
to marry a girl he’s only recently met.
He vacillates from morbid fear to joy.
He’s droned and bleeds to death at evening prayer.
The liberal president pretends to care.

The True Fairy

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My means for critical evaluation
all center on the fable of a little wooden toy
whose earnest desire to become an actual boy
mimics my own self-serious adulation
for a truth as narrow as a lawyer’s accusation,
all causes shorn of context, which I then deploy
to accuse Achilles without Helen of Troy,
Ulysses’s fandi fictor reputation
divorced from his desire for his wife.
Truth is never beautiful; it lies
on a vast ocean like a raft of floating turds,
a shifting host for dull, bacterial life,
an effluence of human compromise:
the foul excreta of silly nerds.

Killer Kings on an Etruscan Cup

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You can’t visit Paris anymore.
There are no tourists in churches; only priests.
The Bois de Boulogne’s full of wild beasts.
They’ve shuttered the Louvre and closed department stores.
The Porte de Clignancourt has lost its whores.
Boulangeries use dried, pre-packaged yeast.
They’ve burned the last copies of A Moveable Feast,
drawn the shutters and locked the courtyard doors.
A bateau mouche without a captain’s run
aground against the Île de la cité;
the willows in the Square du Vert-Galant all weep
with joy to see an unencumbered Seine
now swell with fish and swans. Each Paris-gray
morning quiet and slow as a dreamless sleep.

Pilgrim’s Progressivism

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The leaks are real. The news is fake. The sky
is blue. Love always lasts. The dead return
to life at night. The fire will not burn
the true believer’s flesh. The pig can fly.
Use whiskey when a teething baby cries.
No matter what good wages workers earn
they can no longer save enough; they yearn
only for the slightest ease, which we deny
them, spouting instead our stupid incantations:
be enterprising; learn new skills; a man
no longer works to live, he loves his work
and works unto his soul’s attenuation;
pays tax to keep the drones in distant lands;
becomes, faute de mieux, at last, a jerk.

The Art of the Bona Dea

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When he is thirty, Caesar comes upon
a bust of Alexander Magnus and
laments his rather lacking personal brand;
Alexander’d conquered Babylon,
while Caesar suffers Clodius’ carrying on
in a bad frock, soon revealed as a man.
He calls his aides. Please help me understand
how some horse-loving twink in chaps had gone
by now from Greece to India and back,
built self-named cities, fought with elephants,
stymied at last by the sheer immeasurable size
of the globed earth and encircling sea, you hacks.
Torment was the thought of irrelevance:
unmade by age, conquestless, Caesar dies.

We Defile Augury

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capture

I call my own shots, largely based
on the pigeons that my priests release, observed
through a single narrow window as they turn and swerve.
The world we think is ours is interlaced
with the realer world of the bored, immortal race
of gods, who’ve little else to do but serve
each other fruit, and get on each other’s nerves.
Yet their gestures do create all time and space.
Why the bird thing works, we cannot know,
though I am assured it can inerrantly
predict a harvest’s weight or revenues
from tax, a war’s conclusion, how much snow
will clog a pass. All popularity
depends upon the augurs that you use.

Resident Chumps

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What I felt when Donald Trump won the presidential election last night was weirdly akin to what I felt on 9/11—yes, that 9/11: not terror at a catastrophe whose suddenness and magnitude were unprecedented in the history of the world, but rather sad, weary recognition of a smaller, more acute disaster whose antecedents and precedents were all too obvious, an inevitable result—I won’t hesitate to use that word—of a long series of choices that we’d made. I didn’t predict the hour, and I was very, very surprised when it arrived. But I wasn’t shocked.

We are in for a long and unproductive argument about whether or not Trump’s victory represents the revenge of the economically forgotten against the managerial political class or the petit-bourgeois revolt of classic fascism or some stinking eructation of the perpetual sin of American racism. I think it is at once all and none of these things. All of them are symptoms of the deliberate disorder of an unequal society in which the power, wealth, and influence—the real power, wealth, and influence—accrue endlessly to the same tiny sliver of the population, leaving hollow communities in the wake. Even people who are doing well by American standards—I am personally doing very well by American standards—are mostly doing so at greater personal expense to themselves and their families, their friends, and their communities.

This isn’t meant to be a defense of racism and sexism and homophobia and all the other sins against identity, which are evil and wrong. But just as we recognize that terrorism, which is evil and wrong, has roots in the deliberate policies of the American government, so are we obligated to recognize that the persistence of prejudice, even as it tilts into violence, is not the result of some inexplicable defect in the innate character of human beings, but the savage, misdirected lashing out against nearer, vulnerable targets when the real enemy is so impossibly powerful and distant. Wrongs have explanations; they even have reasons.

I didn’t know Trump was coming, but I knew a Trump was coming when I saw the response to the financial crisis. There are plenty of other ills of the American empire, but that was so viciously unjust and so close to home. (I anticipated a Trump as long ago as high school, when I saw what America had done to the old coal town where I grew up, but that was just an inchoate dread that turned me into some kind of political radical.) Sooner or later, I thought, all the useless pablum about everyone getting a bachelor’s and learning to code while the Blankfeins of the world walked free, prospered even more than before, would bring this upon us. It was like a magic spell. It was a misdirected prayer to a trickster god, and here we are living in the accidental fulfillment of our vain rulers’ stupid wish.

Sure Trump was lying—bullshitting is probably a better word, since I don’t suspect he tells untruths instrumentally; he just lives in a collapsed distinction between true and false. But he acknowledged the material circumstances of the country out there, all those people, poor and middle-class alike, who are outside of the communion. Is their rage pathological? Yes. But he had the wherewithal to diagnose it and turn the endemic into a contagion. It got him just enough bodies. Meanwhile, a vaccine existed. The mildest—I mean, the mildest—sort of redistribution would have done it. Instead, we said: go be a programmer, as if everyone could, as if that would do anything for the people who’d still remain in Uniontown, PA.

I happen to believe our civilization will survive this. The Romans managed plenty of crises without collapsing; we focus on the ending only because it appears in retrospect the most spectacular. (In fact, it was slow and almost imperceptible to those who lived it.) Inertia is a powerful thing. I guess I counsel something like a cautious vigilance. I do however think we should stop pretending it’s all malice without cause. It’s shameful; it’s embarrassing; it will be dangerous, and we should be prepared. But no matter who they are, let’s not collapse on the old canard that they simply hate our freedom.

We Didn’t Start, We’re Fired

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soap

Blame millennials for the missing bar of soap.
But blame their parents for the rest of it:
the postwar settlement they turned to shit;
the rising seas; the flattening and declining slope
of income growth; the OD rate for dope;
George Bush invading Baghdad in a snit;
“prestige” TV; Armstrong’s hematocrit;
Fox News, CNN, the man from Hope.
Even the awful form of this complaint
is accidentally due to Billy Joel,
another boomer bastard: they’ve destroyed
the world in increments, but now they faint
at the minor foibles of the kids today, a whole
generation dad left unemployed.

Children and Air Conditioning

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His moral arguments are all consumer
choices he’s deliberately confused
with ethical dilemmas; he has used
the self-superior lifestyle choices of the boomer
generation, lame attempted humor,
and made-up anecdotes to disabuse
you of a non-position he’s infused
with the acute import of mortality, a tumor
grown suddenly huge, malignant, pressing on
the brain: it must be excised lest we find
the psychosoma is the journalist
projecting. Hey, dude. Get off my lawn.
The world’s an abattoir. Each day’s a grind.
Your job is not the reason we exist.