Life During the Coup
- Life During the Coup, written between September 2000 and March 2002, charts
events small and large from the trauma of the stolen 2000 presidential
election through 9/11 and its aftermath.
Life During the Coup has just been published by Omega, and the title of the
issue, “HereAfter the Coup,” was inspired by the poem.
To read it: go to http://www.howlingdogpress.com/OMEGA06
Because of some design questions, there is the slight chance that you might
not be able to open the issue. Here is the poem as it appears in Omega #6.
OMEGA, #6, April 2006
LIFE DURING THE COUP
Gore on Oprah. Favorite movie?
Local Hero. Novel? The Red and the Black.
What other career? Science. Hobby?
“I paint.” Who influenced you most?
“My art teacher in school.” Favorite quote:
“Those who are not busy being born
are busy dying.” Bob Dylan. Season:
spring. Rock group: The Beatles.
I wear Banana Republic clothes to now live
in the mother of all banana republics.
When America sneezes, pandemics
are unleashed upon the world.
The seven-day Christmas Bach Festival on
Columbia University radio station
goes on as planned. Ich habe genug.
We watch 2001 in the first days
of 2001 on our laser disc player.
Boy slips under turnstile, begins Bush II.
“Well, we’ll have another Gulf War,
and a recession, and I’ll just reuse
my old columns about his idiot father.”
Bush: “It sure would be easier if I was a dictator.”
I attend a performance of
Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied.
A cold and beautiful queen
will marry only the man who
brings her a magical flower
hidden in the forest. Two
brothers find it. One kills
the other, marries the queen,
and becomes king. Wandering
a poet finds a beautiful bone
and makes a flute. When he
plays it, it sings of the murder.
It is a bone of the dead brother!
The poet takes his knowledge to
the capital, and plays his song:
“The king is a murderer!”
The kingdom collapses.
On the subway, people are reading books.
I did not know it was Good Friday.
If God exists, he must be getting better.
On the street, I think, “If wealth is theft...”
then stop and look around... Everyone,
everyone is involved! Acchh! O wei! Oy vay!
Cold War: It was a world of two worlds.
I went through it in a dream, trying to
break through the illusion, the lies.
Bush is coming to New York finally.
The two Democratic senators
pose with him in lower Manhattan
in the brilliant sun. “How do you
like our beautiful city?” a reporter asks.
“Nice weather,” sniffs Shrub, snippy
at us voting two-thirds Gore.
I hear chirping. Inside the stoplight
live a family of sparrows!
The angels play only Bach in praising
God because she is Bach. They
only play Mozart for themselves
because they are silly (holy).
If we are here, having to destroy even by
existing—walk “like an Indian,” to
at least not scare everything to death.
August 11, 2001:
The world will never be the same.
Everything is now a lie.
They had done it.
No one could trust anyone again.
It was the jungle.
Things continued as before.
The 24-hour news cycle
spewed forth phony scandals.
The coup leaders overturned
treaties honored for decades.
You and I had to make a life
in this circumscribed world.
There would be much less for us now.
The beast had been unleashed and was
devouring everything in sight.
It was only now realizing its power.
We pledged to be together forever.
The moon lit our naked bodies
six times a month. The New
School’s Orozco murals shone through
many nights. I wait for the red-tail hawks
to come again. People with will but no
intelligence won. If we follow the hawks
high up up Sixth Avenue then east to
roost on the Chrysler Building’s eagles,
my love, for four or eight years,
we will be, alas, four or eight years older.
Once we are there, we will peer in
at the empty ballrooms of the 1930s.
They will fill with people from Diego
Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads—the old
ogres of Wall Street, played by the coup
leaders, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld.
Quetzalcoatl with his giant wings will
smash though the windows and devour
some of those, but not all, alas, who
have everything but do not share it.
All the world’s artists will follow Q
on a star stream through the jagged windows
and dance on the bones of the oppressors.
Allende and Neruda and Pasolini
and Welles and Sartre will
live again. They will go through
the pockets of the wealthy dead and evict
the landlords even if they call themselves
anarchists (with inherited property!).
September 4, 2001:
Arthur Waley’s biography of
eighth-century Chinese poet Li Po:
“The Ming T’ang (Hall of Light)
was a magic building symbolizing
and giving power over the universe.
Ancient monarchs were supposed
always to have one, and the Confucian
Classics contain many indications
as to how a Ming-t’ang should
be built, but the different passages
are always at variance.” The original
Ming T’ang was really a small
thatched hut, but the new T’ang
ruler built it 300 feet tall, and it came
to symbolize overweening pride.
Soon the country was torn apart
by a terrible civil war. I think of
Bush and his missile shield,
the abrogation of treaties, etc.
In her fifteen-year reign she also
instituted the requirement that
bureaucrats be good poets.
Which in its turn inaugurated
a golden age of poetry. Of course
the two greatest poets, two of the
few we still read, were not rewarded
by this system. Tu Fu kept failing
the exams, Li Po didn’t even take them.
September 10. I read Gary
Snyder: “In Avatamsaka/Hua-yen/
Kegon thought there is an
enlightened condition of the universe
that is ‘all phenomena interacting
multidimensionally without obstacle.’
In Japanese this is jiji mu-ge.”
We are getting ready for the day.
It is one of Miguel’s late days,
so we slept late. I am about to vote.
The phone rings. Paty calling from
Mexico City: “Are you all right?”
“Yes, how are you?” “Turn on the TV.”
One tower is burning. A plane hits
the second. It is happening.
It is happening a mile south.
Outside, the most beautiful day
of the year. Woman in business suit
walks by covered in ash, making
hair spiky, Butoh Laurie Anderson.
We walk to Avenue of Americas,
and see two dust clouds that minutes ago were
towers. A river of people pouring
north, no one knowing what is happening,
if there will be more. I see a very tall man
walking south, the only civilian going
toward the site: Ramsey Clark, who opposed
the Gulf War as I did. He who has
grappled with the meaning of the world
as few others have or could have.
Outside the post office, closing, a black man
is saying, shaking his head, “I try to have
love for everyone...” I look in the eyes
of those I may never see again.
Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all of my days, and I
shall dwell in the Village forever.
Days pass. I am confused in thought, word and act.
Soon, we begin thinking the unthinkable.
Bush let it happen to New York,
which he hates (“Nice weather!”).
He hates democracy. He let our
guard down so the terrorists could strike.
Bushites stole the election.
They destroyed our democracy.
Now they are throwing us
into war and depression.
In Dante’s time, in Florence,
the Guelphs would destroy the towers of
the Ghibellines, who would retaliate.
We may be at the end of days.
If we are lucky, we may be at
only the end of industrialism.
If not, the animals will take up
our song, the birds will eat
our glowing carcasses and sing,
“We miss you but you are dee-lish!”
How many Iraqis killed by Americans?
A quarter million.
How many Americans killed by Iraqis?
How many Iranians killed by Iraqis?
How many Iraqis killed by Iranians?
How many Israelis killed by Arabs?
How many Arabs killed by Israelis?
Some horrible multiple of that
(ten times, as promised?).
Who sold them all arms?
People ask me what to do.
Force Israel and Palestinians
to make peace. Cut US
energy use in half. Wean
US from fossil fuels. Fund safe
sources of renewable energy.
Legislate conservation. Fund
research into new sources.
Withdraw from Gulf. Stop consuming
so much. Bring the perpetrators
to justice, but do not start
a war to do it. A world war
against terrorism is stupid and evil.
I saw the worst buildings of my generation crash,
I heard myriad souls rise in chorus in a flash...
their dust on our sills, our city.
Ned Rorem believes humanity is doomed,
because it has figured out ways
to destroy itself. But Ned, at
78, can believe that. Near to his
end, his world ends. I need decades
more to do what I was born to do.
Warning comes by email:
Beware virus with phrase “Peace
Between America and Islam” in title.
Two tall glass towers,
filled with water; one has
algae in it, the other fish.
The fish are trying
to get to the algae.
We decide that all
dreams are socialist.
The Towers went up.
The rich got richer.
The poor got poorer.
The Towers came down.
Firefighters and police died
pulling people from the towers.
Three books at one fireman’s bed:
Iliad, War and Peace, Moby Dick.
Financiers the firefighters
died trying to save were
wasting their lives, our lives,
destroying the world, the younger
ones brainwashed by Reagan
to worship Mammon.
Clinton: peace, prosperity,
democracy, empathy. Bush:
stolen election, broken treaties,
recession, environmental destruction,
coup, military tribunals, cruelty,
stupidity. I kept saying “How
awful” for hours after the attack,
out on the street, but I had been
saying that, too, about the coup
since December 12, 2000.
December 23, 2001. I try to get
the Bach Festival on the radio.
Static only. I call Columbia.
They’re broadcasting from campus
with a weak signal. A certain building
fell down, says the boy on the phone.
“Lucky me,” says Bush. “I
won the trifecta! War, recession,
and a national emergency!”
Christmas 2001 at 2001—
on big-screen Astor Plaza—
but projectionist can’t focus.
The mechanical perfection of
Kubrick’s art depends on
mechanical view of humanity.
The showing, really a performance
by projectionist, is a disaster.
In an attempt to reach out, we
phone Bush and ask him if he
saw 2001. He screams, “I don’t
remember! I was drunk for twenty
years for Crissakes” and hangs up.
We are trying to retake who we were
and what we were doing before 9/11.
Osama didn’t imagine the Towers
would actually collapse. He was
the most optimistic of his gang.
At most ten floors, he chuckled.
The two percent wealthiest
have declared war on the rest of us.
Their power is so vast that, I fear
for the first time ever, it could all
be over. If everything the Bushites
do is a lie, what can the rest of us do?
If they now kill us all, they can win.
The worst is not so long as we can say “the worst.”
March 18, 2002: for my 59th
birthday, Bush has taken away
constant air cover from New York.
Everyone feels more vulnerable again.
But we won’t really feel safe till there is
equal distribution of world’s wealth
and that won’t begin to happen until
Bushites get life in the slammer.
“The whole tribe is from one man’s body.
How else can one think of it?”
Ezra Pound, The Cantos. Pasolini
quotes that in Salò as fascists torture
and kill the young, and also quotes
Baudelaire: “The bourgeoisie have never
hesitated killing their young.”
Trying to understand Gilgamesh again.
Maybe that will help. They “went hand
in hand to the Euphrates, and washed
their hands in the calm river waters.”
How to live in a tragic world and be happy!
Knowing now for the first time
what it feels like, the American people,
or New Yorkers, or at least those below
14th Street may feel less like waging war.
I find a scrap of paper: Local Hero.
The Red and the Black. “I paint.” “Science.”
Hollywood is remaking 9/11, rebuilding
the Towers then destroying them, with
Tom Cruise as Giuliani. “Born with a face lift.”
There is America, and then there is
the other America. The United Fruit
Company, oiligarchs, Wall Street Journal,
Kissinger, Bushes, whose default is war;
and heroic America: Washington who
refused a crown; Jefferson who made
all people equal forever; Lincoln who
emancipated those Jefferson forgot;
FDR who saved us from fascism;
JFK who saved us from annihilation;
Carter who spoke of human rights;
Clinton whose default was peace.
Bush Justice Department
investigates accounting practices of
CNN parent TimeWarner‹
blackmailing CNN into
playing nice with Bush.
Village Voice publishes a cartoon
of Bush as a Hitler who is stupid.
New Yorker proves The Towers were
flimsy, built on the cheap. As they
went up, construction workers
shook their heads. It was all air
so the owners could rent more space.
The poet takes his knowledge to
the capital, and plays: “The king is
a murderer!” The kingdom collapses.
The Towers went up. The rich got richer.
The poor got poorer. The Towers came down.
2000 to Spring 2002)
[Copyright © 2006 by Norman MacAfee]
On November 16, 2005, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights
held a reception in the Mansfield Room of the U.S. Capitol to celebrate what
would have been the 80th birthday of Robert Kennedy (1925-1968). People
influenced by him spoke, including Senators Edward Kennedy, Barack Obama,
Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, John Lewis, House Minority Leader Nancy
Pelosi, Dolores Huerta, Robert Drinan, Michael Lerner. The event was
videotaped by C-Span.
FOR ROBERT KENNEDY’S 80th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
(read at the Mansfield Room of the U.S. Capitol, November 16, 2005)
I write this in Bush’s America
of torturing, Bush lying us to
war, Bush laughing at
the gap between the rich
and poor increasing.
No one knows what you
would be like today.
I am not a mathematician
so have no equations
to bring you to 80
and tell us what you
and the world would be
like had you lived.
I came to New York
alone to live my life
with you as my senator
and I hoped my president.
June 1968: I had no TV,
was writing poetry about
Vietnam, went to bed for
a restless night, dreaming of
anguished voices in subway tunnels
beneath Astro Place and woke to
a beautiful morning and
moaning in the streets and shops.
You were dying. The line was a mile
long for your Saint Pat’s requiem.
Alone in an East Village room
that fall I wrote the words
“nostalgia for the future,”
not quite realizing
they were for you.
Your words and thoughts that year
kept you alive these years.
You became the president
of the other America
that we have carried around
thirty-seven years. You became
the president of this other America
that we salute today, where
everyone has a job and some hope,
where there is but one class,
where we honor the arts of
“mercy, pity, peace and love.”
Peace to you, “warring soul
with your delicate anger.”
Peace to our bloody world!
[Copyright © 2006 by Norman MacAfee]
NORMAN MacAFEE’s most recent books are The Coming of Fascism to America (New
York: Bowery Poetry Club, 2006); The Death of the Forest (Amsterdam:
Blankert 2004), opera by Norman MacAfee to music of Charles Ives; and The
Gospel According to RFK: Why It Matters Now (New York and Boulder: Basic
Books/Westview 2004). Forest, a chamber variation on The Death of the Forest
directed by Beppie Blankert, will premiere in Amsterdam in 2007 then tour.
Norman MacAfee co-translated the poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini (Farrar
Straus Giroux 1996, Random House 1982), the letters of Jean-Paul Sartre
(Scribner, Penguin UK, 1993, 1994), and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables
(Signet 1987). MacAfee’s first book of poetry was A New Requiem (Cheap
Review Press 1988). “Life During the Coup” and “For Robert Kennedy’s 80th
Birthday Celebration” are part of a new poetry manuscript, One Class.
55 West 11th Street, #8d
New York, NY 10011
(212) 924-8247; fax (212) 243-1532
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]