Poem: The Mourner’s Song

My poem “The Mourner’s Song” is in the new issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal.  Many thanks to poetry editor Jennifer Givhan.

The Mourner’s Song


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What’s the matter with Iowa?

I might as well admit that I’ve been on a personal news blackout since Wednesday. I don’t even want to know who’s in Trump’s cabinet, at least not yet. But I can’t help mulling over the results. So here’s what has been racing around in my head.

Remember the 2008 primaries? Hillary Clinton’s base was said to be working-class white voters, and she rode their support to victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania, especially after Obama’s famous gaffe about bitter people resorting to guns and religion. Then Clinton completely annihilated Obama in West Virginia and Kentucky, by margins of something like 45 or 50 points. These states are, of course full of uneducated white people.
I was not a Clinton supporter in 2008. In fact, I had been an admirer of Obama’s since before he won his Senate primary in ’04. But this year, I supported her over Sanders because I thought that she would have a broader appeal, that she would be appeal to the same people who came out for her in ’08 and who would be turned off by a socialist. Something went teribly wrong with that theory, and it turned out that, much as folks in rural Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia didn’t like Obama, in 2016 they had come to hate Clinton even more.
West Virginia was once a Democratic stronghold, and nobody was surprised when Bill Clinton won it twice. By 2012, it had flipped hard, and Obama lost it by about 30 points; this year, Clinton lost it by over 40 points, a mind-boggling margin. I don’t suppose any Democrat is going to win WV or KY or even Missouri for a while, but we’ll need to win more than 30 percent of uneducated white people to survive.
The scariest state for me is Iowa, which went from Obama +5 to Trump +10. How is that even possible? What sort of freak would vote for both Obama and Trump? It’s baffling, but I don’t think that all the people who voted for Trump are truly fans of his. People in the upper Midwest are not that fond of boastful, self-promoting trash-talkers; even our right wingers tend to be sanctimonious and wholesome nuts, not Vegas-style playboys. And indeed, Trump lost the Iowa caucus, finished 3rd in the Minnesota caucus, got whipped in the Wisconsin primary. He’s not beloved around here.
But he got the votes, and part of it is party loyalty, but a lot must be how people feel about Clinton.
So, what’s the deal with Clinton’s unpopularity? The explanation I’ve heard most is misogyny, and that’s clearly present in the way people talk about her, but it feels inadequate to me. Would any other woman have been equally reviled? If so, how have women gotten elected in other countries, including countries that are not famous paragons of gender equality? Right now the leaders of South Korea and Taiwan are women; Michelle (sp?) bachelet has been elected twice in Chile and Djilma Rusef was elected twice in Brazil, though she’s since been deposed. Angela Merkel has been the dominant politician in Europe for about 10 years…I’m just mentioning cases off the top of my head. Not everybody like Margaret Thatcher, but a hell of a lot of them voted for her.
Clinton’s gender was used against her in many shameful ways, and the same weapons will be used against the next woman who runs, but they will not necessarily be as effective, because the next one may not have the same sources of vulnerability. If you want to know how hard it was to be a will-connected career insider from a presidential family in this cycle, you can ask Jeb Bush. Remember that he was once the favorite for the GOP nomination, and look how his candidacy went pear-shaped; Clinton looks pretty successful in comparison. I still don’t entirely understand how she went from veteran pol with too many friends on Wall Street to devious master criminal, and how people could come to think of her as no more trustworthy than Trump. The media didn’t cover itself in glory this year, I know, but…
She is, of course, not as gifted a speaker as the last two Democratic presidents; that is setting the bar rather high, but maybe that’s the only way to win when your opponent is appealing to voters’ reptile brains.
I think most of us could feel the lack of inspiration this year, and some of that just comes from being the incumbent party, running for a third term. Fortunately the incumbent is pretty popular, but for whatever reason, “things are fairly good, let’s stay the course” was not a message that brought people to their feet.

There were some comments on Facebook Wednesday about how the election proved what a racist, misogynist country we are. It certainly showed that there are way way too many racists and misogynists in our country, but it should be borne in mind that it’s the same country that elected Barack Obama twice, and that Trump was not elected by a majority, or even a plurality of Americans. Clinton will end up with more votes than Trump, a million or two more, if California ever counts its effing ballots. The 4 million votes by which she will have won CA (I’m guessing how many are still to be counted) would be enough to flip a bunch of states, from FL to PA to MI, with Georgia and Arizona thrown in. I was as shocked as everyone else at how many Americans were willing to hand their country over to Trump, but it should be within our power to make the faschists an impotent minority.

I’ve seen some references to voters wanting ‘change.’ I don’t think this is a useful characterization of what happened, because the same people who voted for Trump apparently were happy with their incumbent senators and reps, including Rubio in FL, Toomey in PA, Johnson in WI, Burr in NC, Blount in MO, and Portman in OH. The people who wanted one kind of change showed up at the polls; the people who wanted another kind didn’t.
The surge in Latino turnout actually did happen, as predicted, though perhaps not to quite the degreee that some were hoping for. Clinton outperformed the 2012 Obama in several states with large Latin populations,: Texas, Arizona, California. The problem is, of course, that none of these are swing states, so the improvement had no effect.
I don’t see much evidence of the Latino wave in Florida or Nevada; maybe it was there, and was offset by poorer performance with other groups. Nevada has lots of uneducated white people, and a dropoff in the enthusiasm of African-Americans seems indicated by Clinton’s poor performance in North Carolina and Michigan.
The decades-long drift of educated white people toward the Democrats led Clinton to perform well, even compared to Obama, in places like Virginia, Massachusetts, and Washington state. This also probably contributed to her surprising performance in Georgia, which is increasingly educated as well as being the destination of significant reverse migration by black people.

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Lullaby for a Lab Mix

Roy White

Lullaby for a Lab Mix

The full moon hunts alone tonight.

He dreams his dreams in black and white,

but you may dream of what you like,

so close your eyes and sleep.


The squirrels have immunity,

they know that you are here with me,

but there’s nothing good on squirrel TV

so they curl their tails and sleep.


Those kids will stagger home before

their drunken shouts have turned to snores,

and they will not break down our door,

so close your ears and sleep.


Run now, run through pungent woods,

on silent loam;

hunt while you can with us, for soon

we must all go home.

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A Story to Lift Your Spirits

With Donald Trump soaring in the polls and the Democrats self-destructing in Philly, I needed something to pick up my spirits, and found it in this heartwarming story taken straight, so to speak, from the nightmares of Rick Santorum. I could wish for a more surprising ending, but that’s a quibble.
Oh, and the author is apparently a fellow Minnesotan.
A. Merc Rustad, “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps”

Episode #1 – How to Become A Robot in 12 Easy Steps by A. Merc Rustad

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Who is Sabrina Orah Mark?

“I, too, dislike it.” I’ve probably quoted that line before—it’s the opening of Marianne Moore’s “Poetry”—but it comes back to me whenever I hit one of those stretches where every poem I read bores me, where bad poems are still bad but accomplished poems seem no more than workmanlike exercises. There are the ostentatious line-breaks, the daring punctuation, the careful surrealistic images, or maybe the familiar lefty politics. Not that I’m asking for right-wing poetry, it’s just that sometimes the sense of fun and adventure and pathos seems a million miles away.

And then I run across something like this:


“The Oldest Animal Writes a Letter Home” by Sabrina Orah Mark


I had never heard of Sabrina Orah Mark; I’ve certainly never read anything like this. Perhaps there is some cultural background I’m missing, maybe some readers know what the “oldest animal” is or who Abigail and WB are, but I don’t really care. The dialect, if that is the word, doesn’t resemble any version of English that I know, and this is surely intentional, since using a real dialect would likely get the writer in trouble and deprive the weirdness of its purity.

To be sure, some of the grammar is rather childlike, e.g., the use of overgeneralized verb forms and reduplications that are reminiscent of familiar words like “drownded” and “hurted.”

Perhaps my favorite bit is this segment, with its fugal repetition (I am incongruously reminded of Celan’s “Todesfuge”), its crazily literal interpretation of the idiom “What I wouldn’t give…” and its sneaky pathos:

Once I looks up and That Mutter and That Fodder is floating bye in the green baskyt, and That Fodder is feedling That Mutter the most beautiful pancake the whirld has ever seeped.  Why does That Mutter and That Fodder not look done where I exists and giveth me a bite?  Once I looks up and That Mutter and That Fodder is floating bye in the green baskyt helded ups by the Strings of the Allmightiest Heavens, and what I would not giveth to be alpso in that baskyt isn’t even my hopes to be in that baskyt.  Here.  Taketh my hopes.  Except for the byrds, and the pancake.


I salute this poem with one hoofs in the airs and one hoofs on my hearpt.


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Two Poems in Wordgathering

My poems “The Sweet and Bitter Fool” and “Reefer Madness” are in the new issue of Wordgathering:


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Election Geekery

I was talking to someone the other day about choices for Vice President; the fact is, they don’t seem to matter much, but the VP nominee does have a small home-state advantage, giving their ticket a 2- or 3-point bump in most cases. So mostly it’s a good idea to pick a VP who won’t make you want to stick your arm in a garbage disposal, but occasionally it would come in handy to have one from a swing state.

Harry Enten at 538.com opined recently that we don’t know yet what the swing states will be, but they have in fact been extremely stable over recent elections. A swing state or battleground state is one that is close in a close election, i.e. where the vote resembles the national average. I took a look at the 2004 and 2012 elections (I didn’t want to overweight Obama), noting where each state fell in comparison with the national popular vote: for example, Obama won nationally by 4 points and lost North Carolina by 2 points, so NC gets a rating of R +6.

The overall landscape was so little changed in the eight years between ’04 and ’12 that if you shifted every state by 6.4 points (Kerry’s losing margin plus Obama’s winning margin), Kerry wins and loses exactly the same states that Obama won and lost. Virginia, to be sure, would be very close, and it has been on a long-term shift from a reliable Republican state to deep purple, but still, that’s a lot of stability.

The most striking change between 2004 and 2012 isn’t among the battleground states, it’s the move of the border South from ‘lean Republican’ to ‘wouldn’t vote for Jesus Christ if he was a Democrat.’ West Virginia went from R +10 to R +31, Arkansas from R +7 to R +28, and Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky all shifted by at least 8 points to longer wavelengths. Bill Clinton won all these states twice, and no Democrat has won any of them since, IIRC. There was a fierce debate in the ‘90s and up to 2008 about whether the Democratic Party needed to shift to more conservative positions, especially on social issues like gay rights and reproductive rights, in order to compete in the border South. That ship appears to have sailed, at least in Presidential elections. Kentucky is not coming back—instead, the Democrats have become competitive in the Southern states with more prosperous, better-educated populations, Virginia and North Carolina.

Another change that is smaller in scale but does involve swing states is the Democratic edge in parts of the Mountain West: Colorado has moved from slightly red to a pure tossup, and Nevada and New Mexico now appear to be leaning Dem, rather like Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Here is a list of what probably will be battleground states, ranged from those that lean so far Republican that they are barely battleground states to those that lean so far Democratic that they are barely in play in a close election.

Safe Republican States 191 EV

North Carolina (a marginal swing state, if it’s in play then Clinton is winning)

Florida (R +3) in both ’04 and ’12)


Virginia (Traditionally Republican, has been trending D and possibly should be flipped with PA)

Colorado (Tossup)

Pennsylvania (Has been slightly D-leaning, but apears to be drifting towards the Republicans)

Iowa (D +2) in both ’04 and ’12)

New Hampshire

Nevada (Used to be a true tossup, trending D as more people of color move in)

Wisconsin (D +3 in both ’04 and ’12)


New Mexico (another former tossup)

Michigan ((D +6 in both ’04 and ’12)

Safe Dem States 186 EV


From an electoral college point of view, the ideal VP would be from FL or VA or OH, but things are complicated by the fact that a sitting Senator would be replaced by the current governor,, and a VP nominee probably isn’t worth losing a Senate seat over. We have a Democratic governor here in Minnesota, and I think either of our Senators would be a reasonable choice, especially Amy Klobuchar.

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