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Life During the Coup

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  • Norman MacAfee
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , May 13, 2006
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      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

      Norman MacAfee


      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.”

      September 11:
      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?
      A hundred.
      How many Iranians killed by Iraqis?
      A million.
      How many Iraqis killed by Iranians?
      A million.
      How many Israelis killed by Arabs?
      Some thousands.
      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.

      Miguel’s dream:
      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]

      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.

      (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.

      Thanksgiving 1967:
      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.


      Norman MacAfee
      55 West 11th Street, #8d
      New York, NY 10011
      (212) 924-8247; fax (212) 243-1532

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