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April 24, 2019

3/20/2019 2:42:00 PM
The Reused Muse: Satire in Past Voices
By Jeff Balch


The next three columns are based on The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri. Dante’s Comedy, narrated in a colorful and musical Italian, unfolds over several days culminating with Easter in the year 1300. Guided by the Roman poet Virgil, Dante first descends through many levels of hell, then ascends past many levels of sin, finally achieving redemption in multiple celestial spheres.

His tale is a trilogy – Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso – with each of the cantiche containing more than 1000 interwoven three-line stanzas, all reflecting his Trinitarian beliefs.  But there’s more to Dante’s Comedy than Christian allegory.  While exploring spiritual themes in depth, he also finds time to rebuke or mock the scoundrels of his day.

What follows is part one of a short trilogy leading to our own Easter on April 21.  It lacks Dante’s Christian allegory, Virgil’s guidance, and Italian musicality.  But it does mock some scoundrels.

“Unfairno” (With Apologies to Dante)

Midway through the Trump administration

   I found myself on a shadowed road, lost,

   paralyzed, feeling fractured as the nation.

Ah, how to describe the unfairness and high cost

   of polarization to our democracy –

   all factions dismayed, most feeling double-crossed.

A selfish and collusional plutocracy

   had eroded the soil of a hopeful flower;

   the public garden sprouted rank hypocrisy.

Lost and in the gloom, devoid of power,

   and sensing doom, I was not exactly shocked

   to see looming ahead of me... Trump Tower.

Above, light beckoned. I felt almost mocked

   by invitation, then I saw stairs rising –

   but noted instantly the path was blocked.

A snarling cur – or was it three? – surprising

   to see one dog’s body, yet triple-headed:

   Ivanka, Eric, Donnie. Mesmerizing.

 

These three huge yapping heads I deeply dreaded    

   were the offsprung salivating fierce adherents

   assigned to guard ’gainst foreigners unvetted.

Three Trump-snouts snarled canine interference:

   “The sire dictates that very few come near!

   We do not, arf arf, grant top-secret clearance!”

Turning, I saw a basement path was clear –

   with churning gut I passed beneath a plaque:

   “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

As one who dreams, but in the dream, on the rack

   of nightmare, ever eager to be waked,

   so I spiraled down that passage into black.

And in the depths I saw the souls who’d snaked

   their way until they pulled the topmost levers;

   but here their fate would balance what they faked.

The hypocrites, for their corrupt endeavors,

   were here requited for their fraud, and knew it,

   just as the conscience from the crime dissevers.

 

The high-pollutin’ EPA chief, Pruitt,

   was moving sewage with uncovered hands

   because, in life, he’d said “Protection? Screw it.”

A fierce taskmaster gave him fierce commands:

   a six-foot rodent, very hairy, scary,

   who growled “Obey, or else I’ll chew your glands.”

One level down, the Energy Sec’tary –

   in the very post he misrecalled (brain-cramp)

   in mid-debate – the dubious Rick Perry.

The Texan loved the oil, the atomic lamp,

   but here the rodent-with-the-whip was boss

   as Rick ran treadmills to crank out one amp.

The Education Secretary, Ms. DeVos,

   like Rick did not boast mental megawatts;

   the smile shone brightly but the mind was moss.

New gems for every meal, and none ersatz –

   but here she wrangled urchins on the dirty sand

   while gazing seaward at her former yachts.

 

Mr. Mnuchin, you will understand,

   was nmoneybags, and all our cash he carried

   with lofty air, at once elite and bland.

Down here he’d be forever justly buried

   in shiny pennies, ninety million cents –

   mnuptial costs for this man three times nmarried.

And with who officiating but VP Pence,

   of reputation mega-chaste and prim;

   but here below he evermore repents:

now doomed to dine in chambers warm and dim

   with women not his wife... They writhe as well,

   as they are all compelled to dine with him.

A shadow entered murmuring – none could tell

   the cryptic meaning, hence it was Ben Carson,

   the housing chief and nutter nonpareil;

this cross ’tween pseudopolymath and parson

   conveyed the sense he’d dabbled in disablers,

   maybe tetramethylethyldihydroxylarsyn.

 

But who had enabled those corrupt enablers –

   the Pencelike, Carsonesque, Mnuchish cases?       

   I now reached the lower level of the fablers.

A clever lie can sprint a million paces

   before the truth begins to lace its shoes –

   and the foxy fablers tangled up those laces.

The Hannitean talking Heads served up harsh views

   that their Tuckered fans were eager to devour

   after Rushin’ radio and troubled news

selling freshly-baked resentment by the hour

   with a side of rage or dollop of complaint:

   a mighty meal to feed reactive power.

But here, the Heads were tempered by restraint

   and human doubt, a diet that contracts

   the fear, and helps you see your foes just ain’t.

And now below, in penitential acts,

   they sat deferential as they were all compelled

   to acknowledge vital and benign things: facts.

 

Imagine the don has now at last rebelled

   against the base, despite the fearsome shocks,

   and in his fading days the shocks are quelled.

And the balance of our vernal equinox,

   when day and darkness freshly equalize,

   is great again, and heaven’s gate unlocks.

Nope – he’ll market heaven as a brand one buys,     

   all glitter-gold and armored shiny cars

   with chrome reflecting never-dimming skies –

 

and the only stars he’ll love are TV stars.

(To be continued...)





Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Comment by: Kathleen Ludwick

This is amazing! Hats off to Balch and Dante. What a team! Can't wait for parts two and three of the trilogy.

Thanks!


Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Comment by: William Camp

(Alexander) Popish wit here. Though it seems our satire is never dark enough for the times, and never in the end actionable or instrumental, let us look forward to a broader sampling. Perhaps a Dickinsonian or Ginsburgian pastiche?

The fact that the orange-man weirdness of He Who Shall Not Be Named will require in the end an even stronger protest--a refusal, a new sort of howling rage--matched with an active movement of prosecution and de-election remains.

The intelligence of Balch's re-writes--the intertextuality, the playful scansion and the rescue of the classical canon--are all welcome. Keep them coming. Work toward an opus?

WAC




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