Yet Another Nursery Rhyme from Ayn Rand’s A Child’s Apartment Complex of Verse

Delousing scene. Detail of a painting by Jan Siberechts, Farmyard

There’s no such thing as Santa Claus,
No such thing as God,
No such thing as Old King Cole,
No Wynken, no Blyken, no Nod.

There was an old woman, sure,
But she didn’t live in a shoe.
She didn’t practice contraception;
That part’s certainly true.

She had so many children.
Her homelife was quite wretched
Because the Catholic Church insisted
She practice the rhythm method.

So now her children’s stomachs growl
Cramped in subsidized housing.
Instead of playing hide-and-go-seek,
They spend their days delousing.

There’s no such thing as Santa Claus,
No such thing as God,
No such thing as Old King Cole,
No Wynken, no Blyken, no Nod.

Things Come in Threes

Swallow Tail Butterfly among Lantana
click for sound

Until they think warm days will never cease.

John Keats, “To Autumn”

Like the faint semi-tragic scent of tea olive,
the epitome of ephemera, the butterfly flits
among lantana and disappears.

Hummingbirds hover; barred clouds bloom.
The retreating sun draws in its long shadows,
Then slowly dims the lights.

Bravo! Encore! Encore!
Four to six weeks the doctors said.
A sleepless night but then again the sun!

Excerpt from “Today, Oh Boy”

Today, Oh Boy is a comic novel that takes place at Summerville High School on a Monday in October 1970. From his homeroom, Alex Jensen, a rebellious student, has been sent to the Principal’s office for “disrespecting” the morning devotion, which, as the son of a liberal lawyer, he knows to be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Instead of going to the office, he has sneaked away from campus and driven to see a friend, a high school dropout, Will Waring, who lives in a carriage house behind his mother’s larger house There’s an anatomy midterm today, but Alex and his friend Rusty spent the previous evening at Will’s house listening to records instead of studying.

Second Period

Between Classes 8:55 – 9:00

     Mrs. Eula Lynne Laban, who has second period free, waits for Camilla Creel, lost and lonely, dawdling, packing up her things.  Camilla, a poor girl from out Booneshill way, is wearing a thin linen dress with an ill-fitting white sweater draped over her freckled shoulders.  “Come on, honey,” Eula Lynne Laban says smiling, her foot tapping nervously beneath her desk.  “Let’s go! Giddy up! I’m on a mission!”

           Camilla looks up and reluctantly smiles.  She suffers from an enormous overbite and is painfully self-conscious about it, her surprisingly weathered sixteen-year-old hand reflexively rising to cover her mouth.  Her hair is Irish orange, coarse, bordering on frizzy.  Camilla, who doesn’t remember her father, lives in an abandoned school bus that has been fitted with a pot-bellied stove.  Most of the seats have been ripped out.  She and her sisters sleep at the back of the bus on pallets in spaces divided by hanging blankets.  Her mother also sleeps on a pallet.  There is an outdoor well, so they do have water, but not inside plumbing.  Hurricane lamps provide light at nighttime.  She walks about two-hundred yards through the woods to the school bus stop where she boards a bus much newer and nicer than the one she lives in. 

     Outside Mrs. Laban’s door, the halls reverberate with the trooping feet of students: leather boots, sneakers, pumps, desert boots, tasseled alligator loafers, brogans, buckled square-toed slip-ons, motorcycle boots, dirty white bucks, penny loafers, Hushpuppies: squeaking, scuffling, stomping, clomping, gliding along their communal and separate ways. 

       Eula Lynne figures she just might as well wait till the exodus is complete before striding down to the office to follow up on Alex Jensen.   Nothing’s sacred to that boy – no, not even the sanctity of human life – if that filthy magazine was any indicator. It’s one thing to possess freedom of religion, she’ll grant you that, but no one has the right to mock other people’s faiths, and that’s exactly what that boy was doing.  Born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Doesn’t bother to even bring his books home from school.  She’s seen him walking towards the parking lot with not a durn thing in his hand.  Eula Lynne’s daddy worked two jobs to send her to Teacher’s College, her mama took in sewing, and she herself worked as a waitress all during school.  You can bet your bottom dollar she doesn’t take her education for granted.  What she really resents is that air of superiority that practically emanates from the boy, a palpable air of superiority. She can’t tolerate that smug, mocking smirk on his face. A face crying out to be slapped!

     Alex’s pal, non-smirking Rusty, is at his locker, struggling with the combination so he can ditch his history text and cop his anatomy notes.  He’s conceived this brilliant idea for an art project: a neo cubist rendering of the human digestive tract that will provide him with a clandestine opportunity to study for his anatomy test.  Miss Turlock will think it’s clever, even if she sees right through the ruse.  And who knows? The painting could end up being really cool.  The embodiment of utilitarianism, you might say.  His short stint in art class has demonstrated to him that he has no artistic talent, so he has decided to go the abstract expressionism route where ideas seem to be about as important as artistic facility, if not more so, but the thing is, now that he has his locker open, he can’t find his notes.  The bottom of his locker is, like, a salad of detached loose-leaf pages from various disciplines, a French quiz here (74), an English essay there  (A-), a history test below that (98), then a math test (76), and the most recent anatomy test (57).  His frenzied search sounds like rats in a wall, rustling, clicking.  Ah, there they are, wadded beneath an old Mad Magazine in the corner.

       Across campus the boys in shop and agriculture pay no heed to the distant bell.  Clad in coveralls or blue corduroy jackets, they measure cuts and loosen nuts.   Or plant azaleas and apply insecticides.  They cuss and spit Southern-style, talking bout fightin’ and 440 Overhead Busch cams and making money and football.   Giving peace a chance ain’t up their alley.  For example, propelled by red-hot angry blood, Jimmie Jo Bosheen’s heart thrumps like a punching bag.  He’s one of the shop boys, a claw hammer in his right hand, his oddly spelt Christian name(s) stitched in yellow on the grayish green coveralls, which also display a sewn-on Confederate battle flag, the Stars-and-Bars. Jimmie Jo has developed a raw inchoate hatred for hippies, one of them in particular.  Red-on-the-head-like-a-dick-on-a-dog. Whap, he pounds a nail.  That gotdamn dungaree jacket and that gotdamn way of walking what makes his hair bounce up and down, flaunting.  Whap.  Jimmie Jo’s been picturing how much fun it would be to give that boy a barbering.  Whap.  He ain’t positive, but pretty damn sure he seen him riding round in a hippie van along with a black boy with an afro big as a basketball.  Whap whap whap whap.

            Caleb Sanders, the A.M.E. preacher’s son, is making his way to pre-Cal, along with Jill Birdsong, Patsy Jenkins, Rozier Ravenel, and the rest of the talented math group.  They all skipped 7th grade math and took Algebra I in the 8th grade, so they’re on track to take Calculus their senior year – or they could skip math altogether – though none of them will.  They’re headed to college, maybe an out-of-state college.  Jill’s been looking at Davidson. Rozier’s headed for Sewanee, like every other member of the Ravenel clan dating back over several generations.  Caleb is a shoo-in at Howard, though he’d love to go to Duke, so he’s been practicing his S.A.T. on the side.  He lives in a black community called Germantown right outside of Summerville’s city limits.  His mama teaches third grade at Alston, “the separate but equal school” on the other side of the tracks.

    Camilla Creel, on the other hand, divides her classes among business courses and home economic courses, though Home-Ec is a waste of time because she already knows how to sew and boil a pot of grits (and pluck a chicken and clean a squirrel).  Second period for her is typing, something that she dreads because of her slow fingers and bad spelling.  She better hurry up or she’s going to be late, cause Mrs. Boatwater ain’t nearly as nice and Mrs. Laban.

     The Art Room is in a separate building that also houses the upstairs Band Room.  The Studio – as Miss Turlock calls it – boasts a large square space with rows of flat top paint-splattered tables and portable metal stools.  Of course, art is eclectically displayed: twisted torsos in clay, charcoal seascape sunrises, an impressive pen and ink rendering of Chartres Cathedral, a pasty-faced Joni-Mitchell-wanna-be self-portrait, squiggly psychedelic posters. There’s a pleasant sense of productive disorder amid the pervasive smell of paint.  Miss Becky Turlock is an unmarried thirty, and though she loves the kids, this year very well might be her last in Summerville.  Maybe a move to Atlanta, she’s not sure, somewhere more progressive.

     She takes her job seriously and never begins their time together without five minutes of communal instruction.  With only twelve students in the class, she can take roll visually, and only AJ and Rusty are missing, which might not be coincidental. There’s still maybe a minute before the tardy bell, which she enforces, because to her art’s as important as any other subject, and not being on time is one of a growing collection of her pet peeves.  She peeks through the narrow square window of the door and sees Rusty hurrying with a handful of papers cradled in his arms, and sure enough the wind snatches away one, so

            RRRRIIIIIIIIIII

Second Period 9:00 A.M. – 9:45 A.M.

                                            IIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG!!!

                  he pirouettes and chases the sheet of paper.   It’s comical, the taunting wind snatching the sheet of paper away right when Rusty reaches for it, again, and again.  The sight reminds her of Charlie Chaplin in a silent movie.

      Inside, Miss Turlock’s art students, perched at their designated stools around various tables, quietly chat with their neighbors.

     “Is AJ not here?”  Miss Turlock asks.

      Althea constructs a rueful smile.  “Well, he’s at school, but not here.”  Although born in Summerville, Althea sounds like she’s “from off,” her voice a bit affected, somewhat patrician, distinctly hip.

      “And?”

       “Mrs. Laban sent him to Mr. Pushcart’s Office.”

       A small clattering of communal gossip arises.

       Miss Turlock: “Uh-oh.”

       The door opens, and Rusty flusters in, actually sweating though it’s a crisp 62 degrees outside.  “Sorry I’m late,” he says, clutching the papers like keepsakes salvaged from a burning house.

       “What’s the latest on AJ?”  Becky asks knowing that they’re often partners in crime.  “Dunno,” Rusty says innocently, plopping the papers on the table, shedding his blue jean jacket. “But this I do know: Dey haff wayz of dealing wit peoplez like him.”  

         The class laughs, and Becky herself smiles. She resents the Administration’s heavy-handed enmity towards the counterculture, having seen Pushcart practically push  (pun intended) Will Waring into quitting school, sweet-natured Will, about as dangerous as a Vanilla Coke.  Oh, it’s okay for the shop boys to sport hate symbols and pummel each other right on the school grounds, but Lord forbid an art student don a black armband in a national protest against an immoral war in accordance with the rights afforded him in the Constitution of the United States of America. No, that just won’t do.

Rusty is sketching out the rudiments of his utilitarian masterpiece that 

he has tentatively entitled Progress Through the Guts of a Beggar:

Althea is sitting next to James Hopper, who is composing from an old postcard a startlingly precise and detailed rendering of the old Custom House in downtown Charleston. James has known what he wants to do ever since he can remember. Architecture, of course, is the most enduring of all the arts, and you don’t have to go the starving artist route. Despite all of the grief he suffers from the homophobes he encounters in his daily life, James, is arguably the best-dressed boy at Summerville High with his black silk shirt and black chino trousers and quite expensive black alligator belt and matching alligator shoes.  He’s the only child in a divorced family, a rarity in Summerville, and his mother spares no expense to make her son as happy as she can.  His father, whom he rarely sees, is in real estate in Atlanta and has a young new wife named Brandi whom James detests.

     Althea, who is a big Led Zeppelin freak, is mentally drafting her satiric rendering of a Friday pep rally, flying the spacecraft imagination through the constellation of her collective unconscious, seeking images from the Great Memory, ancient corollary embodiments of contemporary evil.

     A loud electronic crackling occurs.   The red light of the intercom flashes.  Never a good sign.  Every class has one, a rectangular speaker box mounted somewhere on the wall.  Another crackle.  It speaks.

            Speakerbox: Miss Turlock, Principal Pushcart.  Is Alex Jensen in your class?

            Miss Turlock: (looking up at the intercom, addressing it as if a person) No sir.  It was my understanding that he was there with you.

            Speakerbox:  Who told you that?

            Miss Turlock:  Althea Roebuck.

            Speakerbox:  By any chance is Rusty Boykin in your class?

            Miss Turlock (still looking up, still addressing the intercom):  Yes sir.  He’s sitting right here working on a drawing.

            Speakerbox: Send him to me, please.   Right away.

            Miss Turlock:  Yes sir.

            Speakerbox:  Crackle.

        All pencils, brushes, kneading hands have halted.  Rusty’s on his feet, a look of panic stamped on his face.  James Hopper glances at Althea, who is frowning. Rusty casts a rueful glance at his crude rendering of the digestive tract lying next to his open Biology II notebook with its hurried, smudged, barely-decipherable, and misspelled anatomical terms.  Then, he looks to encounter Miss Turlock’s sympathetic, blunt, open features. 

       “Run along, Rusty. You can leave your things here for now. “

      “Okay,” he says, oblivious to the students’ staring faces, oblivious to the clay torsos, oblivious to the smell of paint, oblivious to the splattered tile, oblivious to the silence.  He’s pushing open the door and stepping into the cool autumn air, oblivious to the yellow disc of morning sun suspended above distant loblolly pines.  He’s deep, deep, deep inside the auditory darkness of a cave of dread where an echoing voice catalogs his various crimes and misdemeanors: smoking marijuana; drinking beer; mocking (though behind their backs) administrators, teachers, students, the Mighty Green Wave, Congressmen, Senators, Vice Presidents, Presidents, television shows, movies, various deities; purchasing and hiding Playboy magazines to use as visual aids in acts of self-pollution; masterminding a high stakes scheme to run away from home; receiving stolen goods in accordance with the above-mentioned scheme; not living up to his potential. 

     The list goes on and on.

     As an elementary student, if he had been called to the office, Rusty might have feared that someone in his family had died or thought that he was being summoned to receive an award, but his name in conjunction with the initials AJ can only mean trouble.  He’s forgotten his signature walk, the freak flag flop, and leans forward, head down, oblivious to the pebbly paving beneath his Thom McCann desert boots.  In the thin cavity of his chest, his heart pounds like timpani as he reaches for the cold handle of the outer double doors.  The hall is virtually void, the only sound clacking heels, out of sight, dopplering into the distance.  His hand shaking, he grips the handle of the glass doors of the administrative offices, pulling outward . . .  

Too Much to Ask?

Of all the causes which conspire to blind.
Man’s erring judgement, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is PRIDE, the never-failing vice of fools.”

Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism”

Is it really, really such an odious task
during a pandemic to put on a mask?

In the Trump White House, no mask is the rule,
Targeting the base, those Kool-Aid mainlining fools.

Masks remind voters of the invisible dread
That’s left more than 200,000 Americans dead.

What dat? Sistah Karma done come a-calling unexpected?
Kayleigh and Kellyanne done been infected?

Along with Thom Tillis, Hope Hicks, Mike Lee,
not to mention Donald J Trump and the First Lady?

Do Lawd! White House itself got more cases than New Zealand,
a country of just under five million people?

So is it really, really too much to ask
in a goddamn pandemic to put on a goddamn mask?

Irony and Karma, A Comedy Duo for the Ages

Bansky

Okay, as I write this, President Trump languishes at Walter Reed Hospital battling a virus he claims was a “hoax” and would “magically disappear.” Four years ago, he mocked Hillary Clinton’s locomotion and coughing as she suffered from a short-lived bout of pneumonia. 

Ironic? Karmic? Or both?

I like to think of karma and irony as a sort of comedy duo, a married couple, Karma, the female more powerful and profound, and Irony as male, wisecracking, cynical.  They travel hand-in-hand around and around the crumbling empire of post-Modernism, she acting, he reacting, she detached, he involved.  It’s a symbiotic relationship that can help educate us about the benefits and perils of good and bad behavior, so it’s helpful to be able to distinguish one from the other, to discern their similarities and differences.  

Trump Mocking Hillary’s Pneumonia

Irony, of course, is often misunderstood, mistaken for coincidence, as it is throughout the Alanis Morrisette song “Ironic.” 

[Irony’s] like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid . . . 

Of course, precipitation on your wedding day isn’t ironic, that is, unless it’s a destination wedding in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica.[1] A free ride when you’ve already paid isn’t a free ride. The song “Ironic” isn’t ironic, which stupidly makes it sort of ironic. 

Bone fide irony is all about incongruence, the discrepancy between expectation and reality.

I sometimes run across the phrase “irony is dead” when a commentator is highlighting some blatant act of ignored hypocrisy. However, the failure of people to perceive the incongruences that create irony doesn’t mean that irony is dead; it merely demonstrates that irony is dead to them.[2]

Yes, Trump’s calling a disease that smites him a hoax is somewhat ironic, only somewhat because you might not be surprised that a foolish man who flips off science ends up regretting it. However, it is ultimately ironic because, unlike rain on a wedding day, getting ill from a virus you claim is a hoax is incongruent.

What’s not ironic is that Trump’s flaunting of safety protocols, like not wearing masks and eschewing social distancing, has resulted in his infection. That’s karmic. 

Karma,  कर्म in Sanskrit,  means action; karma’s all about cause and effect, as in the cliche “what goes around comes around.”  Is mocking Hillary’s illness the reason Trump’s now fallen ill?  Is it karmic? Only in the sense that it’s indicative of his modus operandi of defying human norms of decent behavior, of embracing a hubris that distorts his perceptions of reality, of cultivating a false sense of invulnerability. Actions such as these will eventually, as the vulgar say, “come and bite you in the ass.”

Irony is surprising; karma is not.


[1] Average rainfall a year 0.00 millimeters.

[2] I remember fondly Misahn Bootay’s response Donald Trump’s tweet proclaiming “The Democrat [health] plan would obliterate Obamacare” during the 2016 midterm elections:

“Not only is irony dead,” he tweeted, “but it’s grave has been dug up and it’s been dressed in gaudy finery and paraded through the streets like the decaying corpse of a medieval pope.”

Reactionary Conservativism and the Literary Arts

I wondered the other day is there’s even such a thing as “conservative poets” anymore.[1]

Well, it didn’t take me long to discover an anthology entitled The Conservative Poets: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by William Baer, who offers this estimation of the contemporary literary landscape:

Although it often seems that liberals and the radical Left have assumed complete hegemony over the arts, especially the literary arts, there exists a remnant of very talented American poets who create beautiful, serious, witty, moving, and diverse poetry from a conservative point of view. This unique anthology illustrates the wide range of these determined and sometimes defiant artists, who hope that their work will encourage more like-minded Americans to learn the poetic craft and pursue the literary endeavor.

By the way, Baer is a genuine scholar. Here’s his bio from Amazon:

WILLIAM BAER is the author of ten books, including ” ‘Borges’ and Other Sonnets”; “Fourteen on Form: Conversations with Poets”; “Luis de Camoes: Selected Sonnets”; and “Writing Metrical Poetry”. The Founding editor of “The Formalist: A Journal of Metrical Poetry” (1990-2004), he is currently the director of the Richard Wilbur Poetry Series, the poetry editor and film critic for “Crisis,” and a contributing editor to “Measure.”

Here’s a screenshot of the table of contents.

I tried to track down some of these poets, only to discover most had, to quote Richard Wilbur himself, “gone from this rotten/Taxable world to a standard of higher living.” The late Marion Montgomery’s “While Waiting: Lines for a Lady Suffragette, Standing on a Bus” certainly seems to adhere in some ways to an antifeminist’s view of what Montgomery might call the “fair sex.”

Ah, Lady. Ah. It is a stirring sight.

Franchisement by the gods is now complete.

You now have won the inalienable right

Of standing on your own two feet.

Alas, Montgomery checked out of this Motel 6 of Sorrow in the penultimate year of W’s second term, so it would not be accurate to name him as a conservative poet writing today.

Editor Baer in his preface admits that most of the anthologized poems’ conservatism lies in their traditional forms rather than politics, but adds, “Some, myself included, would even tend to see meter as a poetic representation of the provident order of God’s universe.”[2]

So I continued my search and found a website from 2016 called  Scholars & Writers for America. Beneath its banner this: “Given our choices in the presidential election, we believe that Donald J. Trump is the candidate most likely to restore the promise of America, and we urge you to support him as we do.”

Scrolling down my screen past names like Burton W Folsom, Jr., author of The Myth of the Robber Barons and Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute looking for a poets or novelists, I discovered, to my delight, at the bottom of the screen, Thomas C McCollum, novelist.

Here’s the second paragraph of text from McCollum’s website, from an article by Louise Cook, the editor of Absolute Marbella Magazine:

If one were to view all aspects of Thomas McCollum’s professional and avocational life, one might be very tempted to call him a Renaissance man–albeit with a strong entrepreneurial bent. Wisely McCollum leaves all such pretentions to others, preferring the doing rather than the talking about.

What follows is a most-interesting-man-in-the-world litany: Can-Am racing, bull running in Pamplona [Spain she helpfully adds], man-eating crocodile hunting, a golf-addiction, insurance sales, original pen and ink drawings street-corner sales, med-school matriculation, med-school abandonment, medical laboratory founding, medical laboratory selling, retirement to Marbella, Spain, “to live out all the fantasies of his youth. He has camped, safaried, and traveled to every continent on earth.”[3]

McCollum has published four novels: Whipsocket, Tainted Blood, Palmer Lake, and Uncle Norm.

Here are the first and last sentences from Publisher Weekly’s review of Tainted Blood.

Readers willing to suspend disbelief beyond belief may find McCollum’s first novel an interesting medical thriller; others will be dismayed by characters manipulated by incredible plot contrivances.

McCollum makes the medical details microscopically authentic, but too many standard diatribes against government agencies, characters who speak polemic as often as they do dialogue and a conclusion that’s painfully anticlimactic render a hot topic tepid. (my italics)

Now compare that MSM review to this one for Uncle Norm from Christopher Feigum, Grammy Award winner and Metropolitan Opera Singer:

“Thomas McCollum has delivered a book of operatic proportions…a tale full of intrigue that tempts us to explore the what ifs of life and the possibility of encountering one profound love. Whether he is delighting pygmies with donuts or sharing his smuggled discoveries along the way, Uncle Norm is a warm, comical hero deeply connected to his fellow lost soul in the Congo, Ottobah Cuguano, and their shared faith in everlasting friendship. As they strive to break down racial barriers and transform the world, their adventures amaze the restless traveler in all of us. This timely piece is a declaration that we each have the choice to leave behind a better place than we found.”

Oh, yeah.  There is also this snippet from of all places, Publisher’s Weekly describing Tainted Blood:  “an interesting thriller…McCollum makes the adventure microscopically authentic.”   Hmmm.  “an interesting thriller . . . microscopically authentic.”  Where have I seen that before?

So anyway, if you happen to be a Trump supporter who feels somewhat culturally isolated, there are indeed “conservative” literary artists out there working today, maybe not on the analogous level of Jon Voight and Bruce Willis, but they are out there.


[1] I don’t mean conservative in the old-fashioned sense of embracing traditional values and being skeptical of innovation, like Alexander Pope, but in its contemporary sense of someone rejects the Enlightenment and institutions of liberal democracy.

[2] Yes!

Abraham to kill him —
Was distinctly told —
Isaac was an Urchin —
Abraham was old —

Not a hesitation —
Abraham complied —
Flattered by Obeisance
Tyranny demurred —

Isaac — to his children
Lived to tell the tale —
Moral — with a Mastiff
Manners may prevail.

[3] Maybe one day he’ll write a novel called Safariing in Anarctica.