Sunday, January 22, 2012

Virginia bred presidents (Month of Poetry #22)

I expected maybe the Mormons.
Or the man trying to sell Foxtel
(to who my grandmother had once replied
“Oh no, we’re quite happy with Telstra, thanks”)
But it was him, shuffling and frayed
around the periphery, as if every edge
of him from hat to boot had split ends.
He asked if I would like to hear his theory.
Mindful of my looming tax return and
mountain of matched-up socks
I invited him in: “I’m extremely interested.”
In squalor steps he bird-footed down the hall
nestled himself on my couch and fluffed up
what he had forseen. It was a vision of
the Old Dominion. As the southern outpost
of a Middle Atlantic economy, he detailed,
we were in a prime position to capitalise
on the untapped assets of presidential births.
Eight politicians later, his hair frilled out
ecstatic and diamond beads of sweat etched
his face with trails of fanatic grime.
Virginia bred presidents, was the gist of
his words gone since. “I never talk to children:
I believe. In their artistic instinct lies a power
that, if harnessed, could make America’s
greatest leader since your great-grandpappy
was a twinkle.” A flash of brown-rimmed gum.
He smelled of mass-produced roast dinners
and overused mattress. A roll of papers
scruffled from his pocket, slashed with
arrows and flecked about with scrawl.
“I took it to the government on a number
of evenings. I tried every night to be as
unfunny as I could, and all I found was
their laughter.” He coiled his wire fingers
around my wrist, and stood. “I will trust you
with this. Keep it until I come to you again.”
A flash of saggy tweed and my front door
clicked shut, soft as an apology. When
I looked down I found the scroll of revolution
pressed between my palms.


This poem is based on suggestions from four people:

@ernmalleyscat: "I'm extremely interested in squalor." (J.D. Salinger, For Esmé – With Love and Squalor)
@facelikethunder: "it was a vision of the Old Dominion as the southern outpost of a Middle Atlantic economy" (Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency)
@timsterne: "Since I never talk to children, I believe in their artistic instinct” (Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet)
@matchtrick: “I tried each night to be as unfunny as I could” (Stewart Lee, The "If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One" EP)

The American state of Virginia is nicknamed “Old Dominion”, but also “Mother of Presidents”, as eight U.S. presidents were born there. That seemed as good a starting place as any for a poem.

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