The weighty politician rose to address the floor –
Reserving his most withering looks for the members of the press
Who with truth had tortured him
With probity persecuted
Through many a legislation past—
And those who were there assembled would ever afterward recall
The speech as his finest hour.
Blehem, he said, prefatorily
I turn in this, my final utterance,
To those who have found me, ahem, “morally,”
Somewhat lacking in the past, as if
Capable of finding no flaw – for none is there
In the armor of my power or wealth
They had to invent a third thing
-- hitherto unknown --
whose want I never felt myself.
You speak much of “privilege,” in the press, as if
It were itself a guilty quality
As if it were rude in a world of suffering
To indulge too visibly in frivolity.
Stuff! For supposing I were to agree with you
Which, for the sake of argument, let’s grant
What – I ask you – about the greatest privilege of all
Beyond money or rule – Moral privilege, the kind by which
you seem to keep the rest of us in thrall?
Do you think the likes of me enjoy
Being ever in the wrong?
Is it such a pleasure to know oneself to be, in the obvious analogies,
One of the Pharisees?
You who say, “at least the memory of generations to come
Will condemn you, though for now you prosper”
Where, I ask, is your heart, your mercy?
It’s not very nice, is it, for me
To be the victim of history, and its contumely?
Don’t you think it's rather gauche
When you have all the arguments in your favor
To go rubbing everyone’s else's noses in
our comparatively ignoble behavior?
If the last shall be first, then I shall surely be
Riding far far ahead of you slouches
Since I have always used my position to speak
Against the interests of the poor and the weak
So when the last trumpet sounds
My record will be found
Black enough to merit forgiveness.
If a prophet is always condemned
In his own home town
Then I would seem to fit the bill, at least
Judging from the opinion pages
And what about you – with your sanctimonious rages?
You who haul me into
The harsh light of truth
Woe unto you! Ye nest of vipers!
Ye ignorant generation
You have had your reward – sitting there
In poverty and failure
And being so damn smug about it.
I who have
Known only worldly success and moral disgrace
I shall inherit the earth, win the race
Will win the battle and win the war
Shall have a kingdom that is not of this world
That matches this one, complete with trim
There was no need to go on, all eyes were on him
The press box was weeping
The senators on their feet, the pages cheering
Oh the courage it took
To speak truth to moral power
Proclaiming the signs of the times
The nearness of the hour
To be the suffering servant, or rather lord
The politician sat down, convinced he had uttered
On this subject at least, the final word
Had managed at last -- or rather, again
To be the voice
For the already heard.
A funeral, a festivity, or a family reunion have
A way of forcing back into brief conjunction those elements of one’s past,
which history and circumstance had briefly and implausibly joined
And later and wisely sundered: Southern – in my case – Old Money being the one
And me, the pair
Making now, as formerly, we find, an uncomfortable couple
Quite sure what to say to one another, or
Rather – one talks a lot, the other little
To pick up the thread
Of our discourse in the middle:
We’ve had rabbis over, I think, and Catholics but no
Non-Christians yet, certainly not those – wait,
Who are the ones
We’re fighting again? –
Oh that’s right, the Muslims, they’re called
We don’t allow
Any politics where we are
And people by and large know
Not to talk about religion
And anyway – Suddenly catching a glimpse
Of two fluently English-speaking members of the staff
Señoras! Ándale, por favor, pero con cuidado!
The instantaneous assumption
Of authority – nay, command
At a half second’s sight
Of Hispanic women he had not hired
Carrying a cooler for
An event he had not organized.
I freeze, of course
I always do
I wait in silence
Only the young man standing next to me
As Republican as the soliloquist
Has the presence of mind to interject
Can we help you carry anything?
To which they smilingly answer no in accent-less English
As they had smilingly answered the earlier bark in Spanish
I observe in myself
That unhelpful rage
That had slumbered within me from that young age
But bitterer now from the compromises of the years
Doing no one any good, save
The adolescent catharsis of political tears –
The catharsis my own – my interlocutor
Will carry on this way until the end of time
And others will be quiet, and smile
A wedding is a funeral
For everyone but the bride and groom
Its purpose to remind one’s friends
Of their progressive doom.
And Ah, for that unearned ecstasy
Of finding a really fine poem and knowing
That for once one isn’t straining
Convincing oneself, or peering
Up close at the page of oh-so-precioso Yeats
in mock piety
And truthful contempt,
Moaning to oneself,
As if someone were looking,
“Oh, hmm, it’s really quite clever, don’t you think?
Maybe it actually
For some reason I cannot tell?”
And Oh, for those unearned valleys between
When one fears the last was the final peak ever glimpsed
And for the knowledge that even in the sheerest delight of the former
One knows: it’s already over, and who can say
When the next one – if ever – will appear.
Oh my! I suddenly became less satisfied
With this precious selfhood of mine
Like a man collecting jars of honey
Who one day lets in the flies
Let them drink – I decide – Goodbye