The President on a Mountaintop, Vermont
Brio, he thinks. En masse, he thinks. The secret servicemen are scattered along the trail below, in trees near the summit, in cars at the trailhead. The President secretly thinks they should also be in helicopters, but apparently none of them thought he would actually achieve the summit. He looks over his country, the country he rules in that American way of ruling—he must be royal without seeming to be trying to be so. He loosens his tie, lifts one foot to wipe the mud off his Italian loafer. The staff photographer shoots several presidential shots of him being presidential, youthful and fit, the wind curling his tie, fluttering his suit jacket on a mountaintop in Vermont. “Okay,” his wheezing press secretary manages. “Let’s head down.”
The President Described by his Drivers
Driver One: “He dozes a lot. I’ll look up in the rearview, and I’ll see his head fall forward. Then he’ll snap awake, then nod off again. That can go on for an hour. I keep thinking he’s going to hurt himself, but then he hops out of the car at the next stop and gives a speech on energy or small business or what have you and he’s fine.”
Driver Two: “We’ll be waiting on the mayor of a small town or a dairy farmer or whatever and he’ll tap on the driver’s window and say something nice. Like my hair looks good up or you put us here right on time or thanks for navigating through that herd of cows back there. Little things. And he’s so good looking I lose my breath a little. I know it’s not me, it’s just his way–that attention to detail–but sometimes as I’m falling asleep I let myself think he’s sweet on me. The President of the United States sweet on his driver. It’s not impossible. You’re not going to print this are you?”
From Manchester to Burlington and not a coffee shop worth stopping at. The President tells an aide to tell his Chief of Staff to tell the drivers to hurry. They skip a roadside meeting with a local furniture craftsman in Rutland, leaving him standing on the porch of the General Store with all of his neighbors and friends. The man is dressed in overalls, his tool belt blossoming with the tools of his trade, surrounded by the rocking chairs, the tables and boxes he’s famous for. His wife sits in one of his rockers. The Rutland Herald’s reporter, pencil behind his ear, is poised to cover the event. The president’s motorcade rips past, ignoring the 25 mile per hour speed limit. The man stares after them, his befuddlement turning to disappointment to anger and then to embarrassment. “I told you, Vern,” his wife says. “Those big shots don’t have time for the likes of us.” “It’s probably a national emergency,” the man’s grown daughter says. They spend the afternoon searching on the internet for the nature of the emergency. Later, on the eleven o’clock news, the man’s daughter sees the president raise his coffee cup in Burlington, smiling for the cameras.
The President’s Dream, Burlington
“In the dream my driver, Michelle, everyone calls her ‘chelle, has driven the limousine onto a side road. It’s a dirt road. The rest of the motorcade keeps going down the highway, oblivious. Somehow they haven’t noticed that we’ve turned. ‘chelle puts the top down, which is impossible in real life, but there we are in the dream and it’s a beautiful day. October, but warm, the maples red and gold, and the dried leaves swirl and rush alongside the car as we drive farther and farther into the woods. Suddenly I’m beside her in the front seat. And then it’s like a movie; I’m just in little pieces of the trip with long gaps between them. Finally, ‘chelle pulls into the driveway of a small cottage-like structure. She stops and opens my door as usual. But then she pulls me into her arms and I’m kissing her. As this is happening, I look over her shoulder and my wife and the two girls are sitting in the back seat. I try to break away, but ‘chelle gets angry. She won’t let go. Then she does. My wife stands up in the back seat and pulls out a gun. She shoots me through the chest. I look down at the blood. This is a joke, right? I say to her. I am the president of the United States, the leader of the free world. This is very selfish of you, I tell her. Then I wake up.”
The President Discusses Vladimir Niezinski’s Philosophical Theories on a Moose Hunt
“For Niezinski, however,” the President begins, “poverty is mankind’s natural condition. The government’s role is to keep peace and protect its citizens while also providing the infrastructure to enable everyone to compete for goods and services on a relatively level playing field.”
“Stay low,” the president’s hunting companion urges. “And avoid stepping on branches that might snap and alert the bull moose that is grazing on arrowhead roots less than one hundred yards away, just beyond those cattails.”
As they come into the clearing, the President launches into a disquisition on the use of force in international affairs as an economic strategy that both improves the internal economy by quickening production and is a boon to international trade as it divides the international community into for and against and thereby produces beneficial trade agreements and temporary shortages.
“Fire now,” the guide says.
The president puts a shot into the trees beyond the moose, then another into a swamp maple to the left of the moose, harmlessly chipping at the bark. He trades rifles with the guide who takes the moose down with a perfect shoulder shot. Wordlessly, the guide trades rifles back just as the press corps crashes through the brush.
“Nice shot,” the guide says.
Next day, the guide is quoted in the Vermont papers. “Like hunting with Teddy Roosevelt,” he says. “His Niezinskian theories on the relationship between governance and the economy leave much to be desired, however, as he fails to account for the Herkian calculus which undermines the equivalence between government intervention and economic stimulus in times of international conflict. He’s a crack shot, though.”
On the return trip, the president stops at Orvis in Manchester. He purchases an outfit– waders, vest, hat, rod, reel, flies, etc. for $1234.79. His Chief of Staff does the same. They spend an hour in the casting pool out back under the watchful eye of David Grimsby, a crack guide and Orvis consultant. Eventually both the President and the Chief of Staff achieve something like a competent casting motion. They drive out to the Metawee River. The president clomps down to the stream, his various expensive clip-on thingies pinging and shaking and rattling. He steps gingerly off the bank and wades out to the middle of the narrow stream. Meanwhile, an aide rigs up his rod with a #12 elk hair caddis and delivers it to him. The president waves the fly around for fifteen minutes, ripping leaves off the streamside maples with his backcast, hooking his Chief of Staff in the ear lobe, occasionally splashing the fly spectacularly on the river’s surface. Suddenly, a local fifteen year old boy slips out of the bushes downstream with a full creel of trout. The Chief of Staff corners the boy, unrolls a hundred dollar bill, and emerges with the creel. The president drapes the strap of the creel over his shoulder, then slips a finger into a gill and lifts out a glistening sixteen inch brown trout. Cameras whirr and click. The president smiles.
The Wisdom Tradition
In Burlington, over on what the president’s Chief of Staff calls the sprouts-and-yoga-side-of-town, the president talks to a group of University of Vermont students at a bakery coop.
“In the Wisdom Tradition,” a girl with a shaved head, dressed in a white tunic, says, “knowledge is beside the point.”
The President takes his shoes off and sits on the floor with the students, trying to pull his feet into a modified lotus position. “But how would I govern without knowledge?” he says.
A young man emerges from a trance-like state. “The vibrations,” he says. “For example, one needn’t know who or what al Quaeda is to know what to do. Al Quaeda is a label, a generalization. Each person within that organization can be reached individually, as an individual making his or her own judgments. As president, you can open yourself to the vibrations emanating from deep within the heart of the world, without judgments or labels, and act upon this deeper wisdom.”
The Chief of Staff paces nervously, sipping his Chai and ripping off chunks of his gluten-free pastry.
Later, in the car, the Chief of Staff stares at the President, who seems lost in thought.
“Are you okay, sir?” he says.
“Huh?” the President says, lifting one finger to the rattling dome light cover, quieting it.
After hours of listening to muted classical music from the CD player the President suddenly speaks. “Let’s hear what kind of music the locals are listening to,” he says.
The driver switches over to the radio and searches through the stations. “Tell me when to stop,” she says.
Only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it mama tried mama socialists that’s what they are bottom of the third nobody out mansion on the hill down in the boondocks fifteen coaches long I’d rather be in some dark hollow—
“That’s it,” the president says. “Right there.”
where the sun refuse to shine . . .
The Jaguar of Becoming
The President wakes in a strange room. It is just before dawn, and the light coming in through the window is inadequate to see precisely what is pacing back and forth at the foot of his bed, but, if he had to guess, the President would guess that it is a very large cat. And the purring sound seems to corroborate his thinking. Seeing the cat, the President begins to remember his dream. The jungle. The ruins. Vined over, they were almost imperceptible at first. A cliff? The side of a building? Terraced gardens? A ball court? As he approached the ruins, a jaguar suddenly leaped atop the wall he was standing beside. The President backed off in fear. The jaguar, sensing his fear, leaped from the wall and knocked the panicked President to the ground. The President surrendered to the fear and withdrew into his mind. But when the fear subsided and he opened his eyes, the jaguar was nowhere. It felt—he now thinks as he watches the jaguar pacing in his room—that the jaguar simply melted into him, became him. Suddenly the jaguar at the foot of his bed turns and leaps through the window. The President rolls from the bed and hurries to look out the window, banging his forehead hard on the glass as he strains his eyes against the dusky pre-dawn light.
Against regulations, the President notes, Michelle is wearing a blue dress today.
The Ice Caves. The President’s Infinite Loneliness.
The Secret Service has combed the ice caves, removing all hikers. The President strides alone up the paths, past the duck pond and the souvenir shop, up into the rocks. He crawls through the caves, stops to lean his cheek against a cold rock, then clambers on, over boulders and along ledges, up ladders. Then he stops. High on a ledge, he stops. Gradually his breathing slows. He begins to hear the birds calling, the scrabble of a squirrel in the rocks, a woodpecker’s claws against bark, the light ticking of its beak as it searches the bark for insects, wind rattling the oak leaves. The thin whistle of a chickadee. He gazes out across the valley—the foliage red and golden, the thin alternately dark and silvered surface of the meandering river on the valley floor. What are we? he suddenly thinks, surprised by the question, to be hearing that question, now, when he should be past such questions or have an answer of some kind. But he has no answer. What are we? He hears it again and thinks of the meaningless plunging that is his day, the busy-ness, the thoughtlessness with which he moves from meeting to phone call to briefing to press conference. Overhead now, a raven calls, and he gives himself to it. For a moment. Now, he thinks. Here.
President with Bull Horn. Rodeo.
The two year old girl that his press secretary has decided will be a perfect companion, politically speaking, for the President today, is following him around, her parents just beyond the cameras’ view. She keeps saying she wants to see “da coon.” “Where’s da coon!” she says. “I want da coon.” Her parents keep coaching her, “Clown, honey. It’s clown.” All of this is very much complicated by the fact that the only black person for miles is the rodeo clown who is suddenly approaching the President and his little friend, who is now shouting “Coon! Coon! Coon!”
Someone quickly hands the President a bull horn and he begins his speech. “Great day for a rodeo!” he says. The crowd cheers, drowning out the little girl’s delighted shouts.
The Secret Service swarms the rest area, moving people out quickly. One boy, just about to enter the restroom, is squirming and squeezing his penis. A particularly brusque Secret Service agent hustles the boy outside, where he stands on the sidewalk sobbing, a stream of warm piss darkening his pants, running down his leg onto the sidewalk.
The President is oblivious to all of this, waiting in his car until the area is secured, squirming a little himself. Finally, he is cleared and an agent invites him to use the facilities.
He walks briskly up the sidewalk, but as he approaches the sobbing boy’s puddle, something happens. The president’s head is suddenly assaulted with images. He bends over, feels oddly embarrassed.
“Are you okay?” the agent asks.
“What’s happened here?” the president says.
“Sir?” the agent replies.
“What was done here?” the President almost sobs.
“We secured the area, sir. Sir?”
The President straightens and looks around, confused. Blue jays careen through the oaks, calling. A gray squirrel bounds across the tightly trimmed grass and flings itself at a tree, its tail flicking. All signs, the President thinks. But signs of what?
The Secret Service agent calls for assistance. Two more agents arrive and escort the President carefully to the restroom.
Random Quotations from Family and Friends Re: The President’s Childhood
“He was such a sensitive child. And shy! I never thought he’d be able to speak to a room full of people, never mind the whole world.”
“He went into the woods when he was 7 and came out when he was 18. I’m not sure he liked people, really.”
“I remember once when we were feeding ducks in the park. He was probably three, maybe four. There was another child there who was watching. He kept looking at this other boy, then at the ducks, then at the other boy. Finally, he gave the boy a handful of bread and led him over to where the ducks were. That’s what kind of boy he was.”
“He’d throw tantrums. He’d withdraw for days, just sulking. You couldn’t reach him when he did that. You just had to wait.”
“Smart as a whip, that boy was! You show him how to do something once, and he knew how to do it.”
“He was a loner. There was something special about him. You could see that right from the beginning. But he was distant, too. Introspective, I guess you’d call it.”
Childhood Memory Suddenly Thrust Upon Him
“Why now does this memory flare? My mother and I waving from a window. Tears in my eyes. I could feel my mother, her thick body like a wall I braced myself against as half my world, my safety, half of everything I was, turned to the doorway and was gone. We never saw him again.”
Belaying the President. Camel’s Hump.
Chief of Staff: “Nobody thinks it’s a good idea, but the President is insisting. So we’ve hired some local rock climbing guides—the best in the business according to our research, just to belay the president off the top of Crouching Lion Mountain. Or Camel’s Hump, as some of the locals call the abrupt cliff at the summit. It’s two hundred feet straight down. The guides say it’s safe, but none of us is certain. We are, however, quite certain that if something goes wrong, we’ll have some serious questions to answer before congress and the country. But it’s out of our hands, really. We tried to talk him out of it, but he’s a stubborn man. You don’t get to become President without a streak of stubbornness and he’s got more than a streak.”
President: “When I shoved off from the edge and started rappelling, I felt free. Free, for the first time in my life. I trusted the ropes, though I also trusted my fate. If I fall, I fall, I thought. I was pulled, drawn, and I yielded to that pull. Bounding off the cliff face, I let my mind let go of fear, let go of outcomes. I felt my way into the secret heart of the universe. In a way, I’m still there. I’ll always be there, suspended between heaven and earth on the thinnest of ropes.”
October Cornfield. Full Moon.
A breeze rattles the dried corn stalks, still standing. The president has left the car behind on the road from Dorset to Manchester. He has given orders that no one follow him, sending the Secret Service agents into a frenzy as they try to secure the area from the road. It is a cold, crisp night. The President relishes each step, the crunching underfoot rising to his ear as sharp and crisp as the night air. The full moon etches the field with light.
From the road, Michelle watches him admiringly, tall and lean and graceful, as he plunges deeper among the broken and half-fallen stalks, moving some aside to make room, to clear a path.
When he reaches the center of the field, when he feels like he’s beyond the human world, the President stops and stands, turning slowly under the moon-brightened sky. He can just discern the mountains to the west. To the east a few cars creep along the valley road. A few isolate farmhouse lights burn steadily.
Now that he has stopped walking, no sound but the slight buffeting of the breeze against his ear . And then, softly at first, he hears a small barking sound. Like a pack of dogs, maybe, he thinks, until it gets louder and he begins to hear it as a two part call. Geese, he thinks. And then he sees them, moonlight on their shoulders, flying south in a wide V along the western edge of the valley. Ha-onk. Ha-onk. Ha-onk. Then a breeze sweeps through the corn rubble, rustling the stalks.
On the highway now, he can hear the blat of radios, the blather of Secret Service agents. A lone patrol car has joined his motorcade, its red light pulsing. The human world, he thinks, as the geese pass over, great mystical beings in the darkness, pulled southward, relentlessly southward, in the endless night.
CHUCK CALABREZE’s poems and stories have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Left Facing Bird, Mad Swirl, Platte Valley Review, Countermeasures, and Indiana Review. He maintains his own YouTube channel with live performances and animated shorts athttp://www.youtube.com/user/ChuckCalabreze and blogs at www.voydofcourse.blogspot.com. After failing in his 2012 bid to become Santa Fe Poet Laureate, Chuck mounted a successful failed campaign to become, instead, the first Santa Fe Poete Maudit. He’s always “that guy” at group readings. You know the type.