It’s not in hope or praise I write these words
uneasy in their forecast. Born to privilege,
angry still to think his triumphs less
because of it, our President-Elect
prepares for power. The deals he made or trashed,
the towers he built, emblazoned with his trademark,
all that gold plate, gleaming—none of these
quite compensates for all the slights he’s known,
but now? The future is an unmarked page.
Unbowed and scowling even when he smiles,
he’s risen higher than he dared to dream
or we could stop. What’s next? The world wonders,
shocked awake, while he makes up his mind.
But, Reader, you know more. Words trapped in time—
That’s all a poem is. Who can really tell
if, years from now, discovering these lines
in some forgotten corner of the Web,
you’ll see them as I do, or differently?
A moment of transition comes and goes,
a pilot light that flashes into flame,
and as I write, time bears us toward events
soon to confront us all—old news to you,
because you’re there already, looking back.
Yes, time is good: its course enlightens us.
humbled, we reconsider and reflect—
But is it time to mourn, or wish him well,
this CEO whose tweets and coded speech
diminish rivals and divide us all?
No citizen or legal immigrant,
no child or migrant forced to live in shadows
wants to see a President disgraced,
perhaps not even one whose reckless claims
pervade the news, immune to evidence.
Perhaps he’ll finally reverse himself,
submit his wealth to public scrutiny,
and steady his restless eye, restrain the conduct
some dismiss as hearsay, nothing proved—
the idle talk of pageant dressing rooms.
Does all his bluster serve as a diversion
from his bold, strategic turn of mind,
our nation’s good his first priority?
Will prescience tell us more than precedent?
… Reader, my headlines are your history,
all questions posed and answered, doubts resolved.
If you could speak through time, what would you say?
That, years from now, the President-Elect
will be revered, our borderlands secured,
all foreign hacking proved benevolent,
and everyone so prosperous they cheer
or so dead broke, or dead, that they don’t matter?
Or will you guard some battered arsenal
against your neighbors, weapon close at hand,
kept warm before a bonfire of old books
remaindered from the past I live in now?
Extreme scenarios!…. But if I could
venture a guess quite likely to prove wrong
a few years, not a lifetime, down the road,
we’ll find the nation poorer, a little meaner,
the earth’s resources mined without regret,
whatever the cost, while factories close down,
more children bearing children of their own,
a corporate compass guiding us abroad,
at home more protests, rural poverty,
and one more life-sized portrait of the man
who looked down from his heights above the skyline
to embrace his destiny, and ours,
removed to storage from a White House wall.
Ned Balbo is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature in Translation fellowship. His third book, The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (Story Line), received the Poets’ Prize and Donald Justice Prize. His work appears in Ecotone, New Criterion, Rattle, New Verse News, and elsewhere. His most recent book is Upcycling Paumanok (Measure Press, 2016).
Original artwork by Debra Jenks.