How to make something good happen: counsel for the perniciously officious politician


I could point to the ocean, the chickadees, the aspen trees,
tell you to consider the Carthusian monks
—you could learn something,
especially from the ocean.

I could tell you to listen to the silence at the entrance of a cave,
go to your knees,
crawl in
and watch the neat rows of bats hang like laundry.

You could take a tide-pool bath,
let the wisdom of water wizen your skin,
or sit cross-legged on the sand and gaze inward,
follow the capillaries at the back of your eyes,
down the veins, down the arteries
all the way to your heart, where,
hoping your return, a young monk sits waiting,
saying nothing, which is not  nothing,
doing the nothing  that is not-nothing.

I could go on giving examples,
hinting at true states fit for governance,
but the fact is:
seduced by the hubris of the grand display,
driven by the gluttony of a fragile ego,
you’ve become the serial deploy-er of pernicious policy.
Fact is, without study, in humility, “believe me”,
you can’t make anything good happen.
What you can do,
is leave stuff the fuck alone!

I’m not sure what effect poetry has, or has ever had on politics. Marginal I suspect, especially today, considering the broad cultural shift to the visual. And yet, to my light it continually begs to be written (even, as is the case here, if its best effort is to create a scene for a judiciously placed expletive).

Still, protest poetry, social justice poetry, is at least as ancient as the Old Testament (the prophets were not averse to use purple language). And of course there’s a rich history of the protest poem, particularly during the sixties (Dylan, Levertov, Adrienne Rich, Ginsberg etc.). What’s more, in Russia, poetry could get you killed: it was the poetry of Osip Mandelstam that so agitated and angered Stalin that he had Mandelstam’s life end in a concentration camp.

For me, all I know is that in a world moved to a frightening precipice by so-called leaders the likes of Trump, Putin, Kim Jong-ul, one is compelled to use whatever creative outlet they have to raise a flag, unsettle the craven egos of the emperors, speak some kind of truth to inhuman powers. Not that this will effect change, only that it is right.


  1. Thank you Stephen. …”where, hoping your return, a young monk sits waiting” I imagine he sits in all of us, waiting and hoping for us to refind him/her, the true power that would drive our lives, if we acknowledged and allowed it. And, I need your last paragraph about the creative outlet in response to deep wrong, “not that it will effect change, only that it is right.”
    Thank you.

  2. I expect that in the longer term, poetry will be as effective as protest marches and demonstrations, which only tend to harden staked-out positions.

  3. Any time a real estate agent has to tell you how honest he is, you wonder. Any time a politician has to say, “believe me,” you know you can’t believe him.

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