For Barack Obama: his second inauguration

A poem

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Paul Muldoon's “The Word on the Street (Rock Lyrics)” will be published in February. He is the poetry editor at the New Yorker and won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for “Moy Sand and Gravel.”


For Barack Obama: his second inauguration

First off, hearty congratulations
on having the backing of the nation
over Romney. It looks like “Mitt” is short
for intermittent, or something of that sort.
Second, “inauguration” is a word
that conjures up “divination by birds,”
Romans who tried to break the code
of what hens’ entrails might forebode.
As for the forecast I deliver?
Don’t be chicken-hearted! Don’t be chicken-livered!
I must admit I’m hesitant
to bend the ear of a President
for whom I have so much more time
than almost any of the dime-
a-dozen politicians
we track by their shifting positions
as targets may be tracked by drones.
In Congress as in combat zones
we point to the foundation stone
of plain accountability.
To defend ambiguity
or doubt is not to defend Doublespeak.
Let’s not mistake “mist” for “mystique”
or good old “blah” for the “oblique.”
Let’s interrogate the data
on trade embargos, blocking betas,
genetically modified corn
that never falls among thorns.
Where I come from, I’ll have you know,
we not only reap what we sow
but we’re also inclined to keep
some back for sowing what we’ve reaped.
Although I’m not long off the boat
I am a citizen. I vote.
And now I’ve voted twice for you
because I think you’re mostly true
to your word. When you claimed to put an end
to “extreme rendition” you meant to send
a message to those who sell us short
by treating water boarding as a sport.
Now you’ve secured a second term
you must again stand firm
against internment without trial.
You’d have to be in deep denial
not to lie awake at night
thinking of the historically “black” sites
in or around Mogadishu
and hoping such issues
will just go away. The debt ceiling
seems much higher when you’re kneeling
for hours with your arms outstretched
like an orange-suited Christus Rex.
As for the congressmen who’ve loused
up the Senate and the House,
our representatives who represent
little more than giving vent
to the mutterings of the mob,
have them all watch Inside Job.
Don’t shy away from executive action
when it comes to dealing with a faction
that’s up mostly for shutting something down.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown
unless you look to Mr. Putin
for ways to (gently) put the boot in.
They’ve got their work cut out for them,
those reps (and I mean Reps and Dems),
who preach state-building, nationhood,
the selfless seeking after good
to every warlord in the Stans,
the Taiwanese, the Taliban,
but cannot bring themselves to run
a country now under the gun
with any of that self-same zeal.
It’s no bad thing we’ve been revealed
to be fit merely to muster
the strength to fudge and filibuster,
no bad thing democracy is found
wanting, that our moral high ground
has run out with the fiscal cliff,
no bad thing we may no longer sniff
at other nations’ moral faults
now we’ve shown ourselves to exalt
“enhanced interrogation,” q.v.,
of our “high value” detainees.
Truth-twisting is our Trojan horse.
Now haute couture and torture are outsourced
perhaps we won’t ourselves feel forced
to teach the world how to behave
by sending in wave after wave
of troops. For if you must launch an assault
you might think of calling a halt
to letting school kids make their day
despite the response of the NRA
being semi-automatic.
Though poets aren’t now seen as vatic,
not seen as Roman soothsayers or seers,
I predict you’ll engineer
the downfall of those who plot
against you and take potshots
against your genuine attempts
to educate those who think they’re exempt
from anything that smacks of duty.
In the meantime, leave Djibouti
to its own devices. Try to cut short
the urge to sort
out the world’s problems. As for “ground support,”
forget the far-flung lords and serfs
and take more care of our home turf.
On the subject of doom and gloom
the elephant in the room,
of course, is that room for the elephant
above the rising tide’s almost as scant
as the attention paid to global warming.
That’s where healthcare needs reforming!
Unless it’s a full-throated apology
to the Choctaw or the Cree 
don’t codename anything “Geronimo.”
Open Cuba. Close Guantanamo
unless you want to see the stocks
fall about your hands and lock,
unless you think it cool
to expose yourself to ridicule
and set yourself in the ducking-stool,
unless you want a pillory
as your bequest. If you do bring out the artillery,
position it behind Hillary!

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