A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Very gradually, almost like an illusion, the heat waves that rolled over Vermont and scorched the roofs, and left us wilted like old hospital flowers, has given way to an almost mystifying solace of mild weather, with lots of short rains and cool mornings. I was expecting much worse. I was ready to suffer and to think of the weather as part of the dark curse that has settled over us in the last stages of Trump’s administration. He boils with rage, he shouts, he insults, he blames everyone and everything on his fading poll numbers, and I assumed this would account for the blistering weather to come. When it didn’t, when the temperatures hovered at about the mid-seventies, occasionally the low eighties, I had to look up from my reading and hear snippets of news about Joe Biden and his choice of a running mate. It was like a breeze blowing through the room, a coolness of the air that wasn’t supposed to occur, not with the same unalloyed satisfaction that I felt for the first time in years.
The press bubbled with enthusiasm; the editorials in the NY Times were cheerful, and the one or two writers who looked around for something to bicker about, could hardly grouse at length over Kamala Harris’ career as a prosecutor and AG in California. It was almost as if they were not really inspired to pick apart her reputation, or character. After all these many months of protests and protestations against police brutality and the use of Blackwater mercenaries to quell the so-called riots in Portland, it would be difficult for anyone to say that a woman of color was less than ideal, not the equal of some other possible candidate of the white race. It just wasn’t an idea with a vocabulary to articulate some fresh misgiving or suspicion. Instead, that emotion we had forgotten about called relief found itself insinuating its presence in our idle thoughts. I heard people say, “What if . . . ” and let their thoughts trail off as we supplied the odd upbeat sentiment that left us slightly dazed.
I’m still mired in doubt and rancor, of course. I see that the Postal Service being sabotaged by another of Trump’s apparatchiks, Louis DeJoy, a noted donor who pledged his willingness to destroy a service he has long detested as an arm of conventional democracy. The CDC is no longer a reliable source of information on the infection and mortality rates of state hospitals. And that the methane leaks limited under Obama are now given the green light under a Trump executive order. But the breeze wafts through the window and turns around like the skirts of some flirtatious angel. It is difficult to remain angry for long when the breath is exhaled by a nearby garden and the trees loom over you like so many men in tuxedos waiting to dance. What quiet joy pools in the bottom of my spirit, and rises ever so slowly into my consciousness. I am growing younger, my legs are eager to take a longer stroll in the woods, my eyes are focused on some unspecified expectation. What if . . . and could it be?
I think it is going to rain soon. The sky is dark, and I’ve turned on some table lamps and the little spotlight on the mantle. There’s a cheery, even buttery glow of light in the hallway, where another lamp is turned on. It radiates a kind of contented sigh of energy as I walk past. I want to caress its reassuring glow like a father patting the head of his daughter. You’ll grow up, I say to her, and live a good long life as soon as we can vote, as soon as we hear the election results. We’ll be okay, all of us, and the strange nightmare we can’t wake from suddenly removes its Medusa robe from our eyes and we can look out into the mosaic sunshine bearing down on us through the leaves.
I have my longings, and they are strung like the knots on a sailor’s rope as he counts the days to his shore leave. I want to eat at a restaurant and sip wine in public, and talk about the future. I want the earth to roll over and be caressed like a loving wife. I want the mountains to glow in their purple haze as we head into town for our shopping. I want the clouds to be part of some celestial Mardi Gras sailing over us. I feel the moon’s satisfaction as it waxes over the roof, and sails away to freedom behind the horizon. Even the tires are singing to me like Vienna choirboys tuning up for Christmas Eve. The rain will come and sprinkle silver dust over us, and anoint the tips of the flowers, and decorate the spider webs that are growing luminous in the late afternoon. I don’t hear a school bus, and I miss its grinding gears as it lumbers up the little hill in front of the house, but I know the kids are sprawled out with books and papers and are eager to hear that the schools might open in September. They’ve had a long, boring sojourn in their houses and want to hear some teacher talk excitedly about the weeks ahead. It will be good, and they will listen, and even apply themselves before the energy flags a little. I’m there with them, the old man seated in his invisible chair at the back of the room, smiling, envying their excitement.
I know the dark, resentful soul of the president is not yet done seeking his revenge on his rivals. He must know his chances for reelection are growing dimmer, and he has no room in his character for loss, for humiliation. He doesn’t believe in the democratic process; he assumed when he came to power that he could live the life of a despot and command his underlings to sacrifice all to his hunger for power. A terrible fear seizes him at night and doesn’t let him sleep; he must tap at his keys and send out poisonous doubts to the country, and expect that the press will dutifully repeat his distorted visions. He can’t ignore the weight of some impending fate that keeps settling its iron against his shoulders; he knows something is unfolding that means he will be denied his all-devouring dream of mastery. But if he can pluck at his spleen and milk its venom, perhaps he can get through the day. He can frighten his most passionate followers and make them quake with ardor and fidelity. He hopes so, because he has no ballast, no anteroom to retire to to salve his ailing spirit. He is painted on the surface of a piece of plywood, a ferocious looking tyrant whose jowls are red and his eyes bloodshot as he withers the ears of all those who hear him. He has no space behind the image, no back stair to retreat to to gaze at his father’s picture.
He is alone in the world, a tortured pair of eyes staring with dyslexic confusion at the writing that defines him. He can’t reach down from his chair and pet a dog, or open a favorite book to some passage that consoles him. He has no glass of brandy to nurse to ease his heart. He has no music to listen to, no oboe tripping over the notes of some Mozart melody before it submerges into the lush surf of violins. He has no friend to call. No window to open to let in the cool breeze that now ruffles my hair and leaves me grateful. He will get up and pace the room and try to envision a father who loves him, though he never heard such words while his father was alive. His red ties hang in the closet, long and fiery, like flames breathed out of an angry god’s tantrums. He wishes there was some small gift he might open just now, some inexpensive but endearing charm someone thought to give him that would help him forget who he is.
The sun has pushed aside the dark clouds and spread some carpet of gold silk over the western sky. I am glad to be illuminated by it. I let its warmth caress my forearms, and embroider my knees with little crumbs of manna. I am hopeful again, a man who has awakened from a long dream to find that heaven has opened its granary at last and spilled this nourishment down upon each of us, all of us. We will dine together and for the first time in a long while, laugh at each other’s humor.
Paul Christensen is a poet and writer who divides his time between Vermont and the south of France.
Copyright 2020 Paul Christensen