The President’s Lie

The President’s deceitful insistence that the death toll from Hurricane Maria is orders of magnitude lower than the Puerto Rican government’s official total of 2,975 deaths has me thinking about the following lines from The Teeth Mother Naked at Last,” the great anti-war poem by Robert Bly, published in 1970:

The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies,  
        the priests lie… .  
These lies mean that the country wants to die.  
Lie after lie starts out into the prairie grass,  
like enormous caravans of Conestoga wagons… .

And a long desire for death flows out, guiding the  
        enormous caravans from beneath,
stringing together the vague and foolish words.  
It is a desire to eat death,  
to gobble it down,  
to rush on it like a cobra with mouth open.  
It’s a desire to take death inside,
to feel it burning inside, pushing out velvety hairs,
like a clothes brush in the intestines—
This is the thrill that leads the President on to lie

        *   *   *

Now the Chief Executive enters; the press  
        conference begins:
First the President lies about the date the Appalachian  
        Mountains rose.
Then he lies about the population of Chicago, then he lies  
        about the weight of the adult eagle, then about the  
        acreage of the Everglades

He lies about the number of fish taken every year in the  
        Arctic, he has private information about which city is  
        the capital of Wyoming, he lies about the birthplace of  
        Attila the Hun.

He lies about the composition of the amniotic fluid, and  
        he insists that Luther was never a German, and that  
        only the Protestants sold indulgences,

That Pope Leo X wanted to reform the church, but the  
        "liberal elements" prevented him,  
that the Peasants’ War was fomented by Italians  
        from the North.

And the Attorney General lies about the time the  
        sun sets.

Bly’s poem was a scathing, too-true-to-be-surreal condemnation of Nixonian America. Reading it today, the poem seems less of a portrait of a bygone era, and more like a glance in a continent-spanning mirror.

45 America Nixon poetry politics Vietnam War

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