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Scott Cairns


This is the abomination. This is the wrath …

—W. H. Auden, For the Time Being

If, on account of the political situation, the press
has become an increasingly incredible source
of quite palpable frustration, if certain
of our neighbors have become objects
of suspicion, or have become, themselves,
both irritable and suspicious, if our leaders
address their glib monologues with relative success
to the conspicuously inattentive, if the language
of the tribe has been reduced to far fewer syllables,
and the eyes of the tribe tend to glaze over at the first sign
of a subordinate clause, that is our due. We have long
desired that our confusions abate, regardless.

If certain travelers are now subject to untoward
scrutiny, if their baggage, clothing, and orifices are all
equally fair game, if the poor of other lands fail to figure
in the calculus of the launch, and if our own poor
alternate between suicidal rage and suicidal obesity,
if the water carries a taste of tin, and our daily bread
contagion, these too are just deserts. And yes,
the pattern established by our lately narrower range
of variables has attained the look and feel of permanence.

We have voted, and have agreed not to be reminded
of the impractical illusions of an earlier time. Who can blame us?
Who would dare? If we prefer the spoiled child's temper
to actual courage, prefer the pride of the cock to anything
smacking of humility, if we prefer what we call justice
to the demands of mercy, what is that to you?

The kingdom has come. We appear quite taken with it.
For the time being, God's will has acquiesced to our own, at least
in this, the kingdom of anxiety, the only realm we care to know.

Scott Cairns is professor of English at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is the author most recently of Philokalia: New and Selected Poems (Zoo Press).

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