Calvin Trillin writes a wonderful brand of satirical poetry. The Nation and New Yorker - for whom he's been an inexhaustible source of commentary, describe him as a 'verse columnist'. His critics nitpick and would charge him with focusing on doggerel but they completely miss the point of the Plympton-like populist intellectual.
In many ways his work reminds me most of the agitprop of Anthony Burgess, not the popular Clockwork Orange side of Anthony Burgess but more the Burgess of Enderby, of Byrne , of Dead Man in Deptford or of Nothing Like the Sun. Namely, this is a poet eccentric, insightful, playful and not afraid of dipping into low-brow pop culture. And like any good poet or columnist he can touch a nerve in four lines or less. In any case, when he's inspired he hits all the spots. Herewith his latest op-ed piece:
A war in nine stanzas
We chose, in this millenium's first test,
Between two lesser heirs, who, at their best,
If they'd been born as sons of other pops,
Might hope to be elected sherrif, tops.
(At school, Bush was a dunce, there's no denying.
Young Gore did not stand out - and he was trying.
A frat-house honcho, Bush reprised that part;
Young Gore portrayed a piece of chain-saw art.)
In Florida, the fate of these two lads,
Appeared for days to hang on hanging chads.
'Twas Tilden-Hayes it put one in the mind of.
And then at last the Bush heir won, or kind of.
When job and Wall Street numbers both declined,
The pundits in the capital opined,
"If Bush the Second doesn't watch his step, he
Is going to be second one-term preppy."
And then, as many briefers had predicted,
Bin Laden and his terrorists inflicted
A mighty blow. With our own planes they smote us.
At first the president seemed not to notice:
While reading to a class, he didn't quit
When told the second tower had been hit.
Befuddlement was on his face writ large.
Then someone must have said, "Sir, you're in charge."
Though nothing showed Iraq had played a part,
That's where Bush hoped or swift response could start.
(then terrorist could count on what we'd do:
Attack us, we'll strike back, though not at you.)
We toppled first that band of Afghan loonies
Who'd let Bin Laden hide out in their boonies.
The Taliban were smashed in one fell swoop.
Bin Laden, though had plainly flown the coop.
Bush then forgot that name, and said, "In fact,
Iraq's the place that has to be attacked."
The war, Rove thought, with this one course correction,
Could still endure until the next election.
Bush said that our security was based
On getting this Saddam erased posthaste.
In crimes Saddam's C.V. was hardly lacking.
Though that was true when he'd enjoyed our backing.
But now he had these weapons we'd forbidden,
The White House said; we knew where they were hidden.
One saw Saddam Hussein, George Bush implied,
Behind that awful day our people died.
And therefore, Condeleeza Rice allowed,
The next attack might be a mushroom cloud.
And it could come so soon, so said the Bushies,
We had to act as once to save our tushies.
"To war!" the neo-connish hawks all said.
(They'd nested in the space in Bush's head.)
Saddam was Hitler, circa '39,
They said. It's up to us to draw the line.
Though they'd been draft evaders to a man,
They talked as tough as cowpokes in Cheyenne.
Iraq will pay the reconstruction bill,
And one by one, the Arab countries will
Democratize as fast as they are able,
Like dominoes that snap up from the table.
For us to fight to right what needed righting
Was right, they said, though others did the fighting.
As power for the good, we were exempt
From rules of war: the U.S. could pre-empt.
Old allies who did not see things our way
Were soon dismissed as weasels or passé.
While making fun of duped U.N. inspectors,
Hawks brandished facts from Chalabi's defectors.
And so we conquered Baghdad and the rest,
As Bush would on a flight deck soon attest.
He wore his flight suit for that panorama -
The suit he hadn't used in Alabama.
But what we'd set to righting went so wrong
It stirred some memories of the Vietcong.
Unduped inspectors came to realize
That Chalabi had fed us lies. Surprise!
There never was a flower-petal shower.
They saw us as an occupying power.
While we paid Cheney's cronies to rebuild,
Iraqis cheered to see our soldiers killed.
Insurgent forces and our troops still battled
As Jerry Bremer and his crew skedaddled.
For him Bush spun the spin that he could muster -
The sort of speech last used for praising Custer.
With kidnappings and bombings on the rise,
Our partners started saying their goodbyes.
And even Colin Powell has now confessed
The coalition seems less coalesced.
The older allies we had roundly dissed
Decline our invitations to assist.
No domino's snapped up as hopeful token
The Middle East is fixed. It seems more broken -
More anti-U.S. hatred than before,
More fresh recruits to fight a holy war.
In Europe, though, most people take the view
The danger's not from Muslims but Bush II.
The weapons that we went to war to get
Have not, as Bush might say, been found just yet.
And even Bush no longer seeks to blame
Iraq for when the towers were aflame.
You don't need clairvoyance to intuit
This war's against a man who didn't do it.
The man who did is laughing up his sleeve
As parents of our fallen soldiers grieve.
Although we live in color-code dread,
Most voters like the way he's fought the terror.
And Bush, when asked, could not recall one error.
File under: Iraq, literature, poetry, politics, war, trillin, satire, rogues, burgess