The god of destruction has finally chosen the time
to reveal himself in his vast formless Picassian glory.
He treads horned and naked through the elegant rooms of the quiet Library,
braying, displaying his details for all to see,
beckoning the sad unaccompanied children
who have never seen such blinding whiteness in their lives,
and they follow him, entranced by his obvious power
from hall to hall as he instructs them thoroughly
in the arts of mockery and befoulment,
rewarding his favorites with ambiguous pats on the head,
and the statues crash down one after another, and he smiles.
They had never imagined such a big fair-haired camp counselor,
so pleased with himself, and pleased with themselves now, they bray
along with him, compete with each other into a dissonant chorus of brays,
while in a terrified closet the Librarian hides and prays.
Click here to read Steve Nickman on the origin of the poem.
Image: “Labyrinth VOL. Minotaur” by Guian Bolisay licensed under CC 2.0.
As the events of January 6th unfolded at the Capitol, my thoughts went from Herodotus’s account of the Persian Wars, to Euripides’ The Bacchae, to Elias Canetti’s description of the pack in Crowds and Power: “a group of men in a state of excitement whose fiercest wish is to be more.”
I remembered the calm of public school in southern New Jersey and how we students were taught about the different kinds of authority that all needed to be viewed with respect. But even in that context I recalled the child, born missing one finger, who was surrounded by a mocking crowd and whom I never saw after that day. I recalled the boarded-over swimming pool in my high school, closed years before by some authority who feared what mixed-race swimming might lead to.
For me the crowd in the Capitol became the undisciplined army of Trump who I thought of as the god of destruction. For me the painted man with horns became Picasso’s minotaur grown to the proportions of a massive Dionysus, encouraging the Bacchae to sever the head of Pentheus whose goal was to maintain social order.
The Librarian could be Nancy Pelosi, my father, my scoutmaster, my high school civics teacher.
By the next morning the poem had written itself.
- Insurrection, January 6, 2021 - May 14, 2021