Thursday, November 10, 2016

Ballad of the Clairvoyant Widow

A kindly Widow Lady, who lived upon a hill,
Climbed to her attic window and gazed across the sill.

    “Oh tell me, Widow Lady, what is it that you see,
    As you look across my city, in God’s country?”

“I see ten million windows, I see ten thousand streets,
I see the traffic doing miraculous feats.

The lawyers all are cunning, the business men are fat,
Their wives go out on Sunday beneath the latest hat.

The kids play cops and robbers, the kids play mumbley-peg,
Some learn the art of thieving, and some grow up to beg;

The rich can play at polo, the poor can do the shag,
Professors are condoning the cultural lag.

I see a banker’s mansion with twenty wood-grate fires,
Alone, his wife is grieving for what her heart desires.

“Next door there is a love-nest of plaster board and tin,
The rats soon will be leaving, the snow will come in.”

    “Clairvoyant Widow Lady, with an eye like a telescope,
    Do you see any sign or semblance of that thing called ‘Hope’?”

“I see the river harbor, alive with men and ships,
A surgeon guides a scalpel with thumb and finger-tips.

I see grandpa surviving a series of seven strokes,
The unemployed are telling stale unemployment jokes.

The gulls ride on the water, the gulls have come and gone,
The men on rail and roadway keep moving on and on.

The salmon climb the rivers, the rivers nudge the sea,
The green comes up forever in the fields of our country.”

“The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke.”


So is there any sign or semblance of hope to be had today? Very little, I would say. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are behaving according to the basic nobility of their character, adhering to the principles and conventions of a democratic order that died on November 8th. We may do CPR on the corpse of American democracy for some time yet, and perhaps we may yet resuscitate it back to some form of continued life though it will never, ever be what is was before. But that thin reed of possibility is no excuse for blinding ourselves to what has happened: Trump is scum, and the people who voted for him are scum, or in the very best case, immoral fools.

The damage that they have done is beyond reckoning. I cannot begin to name it today. The simplest way to describe it is that our civilization has attempted suicide. The United States will continue to exist, just as Athens and Rome still exist, as physical places on the map, long after they ceased to be a dynamic force in human affairs. But America as an idea lies on its deathbed today. The pretense of normality will not last.

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