The Business of Power


From the Archive

Rembrandt’s Trumpeter—emphasize the first syllable, if you wish.


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I don’t need to come right out and say why Peter Leight’s poem “The Business of Power,” from our Spring–Summer 1978 issue, appeals to me at present. Just to see the words “business” and “power” sharing a line is probably more than enough for you to get the gist. I’m not going to raise an eyebrow at the “lumps, muffs, stomach folds, pendant chins” that comprise the bodies of the ruling class, as Leight describes them; nor am I going to note that a phrase like “showcasing girth” is so sickeningly relevant right now as to make one wince; nor will I sally forth and deliver my long thesis on the lines “they mask their puissance and assume a cheapness that ensures / acceptability,” because you know what that thesis is—we’re all living it. So here, then, just read the poem: it may as well have been written two minutes ago, and I fear we’ll be saying the same after another thirty-nine years have passed. It begins, 

Even in Rembrandt’s portraits,
they don’t look like a ruling class,
and their wives are no less pronounced, prizing money not blood, merit
rather than patronage, showcasing girth as though business

set a standard of living
they merely adhered to. Rembrandt
put them in chairs, money conversing with beauty, but they’re standing
(in the commercial sense) as exponents of the solvent,

if common, misconception,
that with their lumps, muffs, stomach folds,
pendant chins, unfinished outer layers, and the predilection
for airless, well-choreographed virtue one sees revealed

in their business-like poses
they are merely ordinary
and unremarkable citizens …

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