“Our American culture has no poetry written into its origin. We inherited our poetry—mostly hymns and heroic couplets—from England, and we’ve tended, since the onset of the Industrial Age, to regard the medium itself as superfluous or frivolous, if not dangerous. Whitman clearly perceived that our myth, our great national myth, has to do with power, success, money; and he attempted to supersede it with a myth of Democracy and of himself as Democratic Man. And the truth is that he died unhappy, believing that he had failed, that his country had rejected him. We still need to understand that a nation that alienates itself from the creative imagination has already begun to wither.”
A few years ago, a woman in Spain attempted to restore a nineteenth-century church fresco, but in doing so ruined it completely. The result is less Savior than surreal simian, the delicate portrait painted over with a crude, monstrous “face.” Since the election it has been hard to shake the feeling that reality has been made worse, unrecognizable, in precisely this way.
With a nexus of military bases — Camp Pendleton to the North, the Naval base to the West, and the Air Force base to the East, San Diego is a military city. I myself come from a Naval engineer father, who served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and for whom his military service paid for college. I also come from a line of Republicans; I’m one of the lone Democrats in my family. Like other politically divided families, this week was particularly tough and filled with tension.
Tangled against the river the red-gray thump of the feet of deer in the half-frozen mud and the sear of dry branches torn from the living, a yellow-orange strip of barkless wood on the trunk and the tender wet where the branch was torn crystallizing in the cold, and trees like a mesh of black oil.
In 1974, the year Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, my father, a man with rabbinic aspirations, was deep in his own pickle, indicted for conspiracy and fraud in the federal summer school lunch program. Nixon was brought down by Deep Throat, the pseudonym given the informant who passed information to Washington Post journalists about his administration’s involvement in what came to be known as the Watergate scandal. My father got off somehow.
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