Poem for the Drunkard President


        “Today, after a battle, we marched back
        to our old positions in a heavy rain. We
        passed a drunk man asleep in the ditch.
        It was General Grant.”
                —from the letter of a Union soldier


Bracelets, jade, rubies, teak, silver chain armlets,
Topaz, smoking sapphire, diamond tortoises of gold,
Columbus glimpsed them behind the green hills before he died;

He died in chains in a dungeon, growling like a dog.
De Soto, misled by the Indians in Kansas, looking
For the Seven Cities of Cibola,
Was buried at night beneath the Mississippi;
Now we are buried at night beneath the world.

Little Crow died with skunk-fur bands on his broken wrists; 
A few died like him, dancing
In Texas on high scaffolds, or burned to death;
Hat Sutton died in Great Neck on a rope, 
And Black Jack tossed his life down, “Chosen for hell”;
MacKenzie broke up on the Labrador rocks;
They turned back to the sea in ambushes, in dance halls,
With cow skulls in the Snake River snows—

A sea where harsh and sweet is the same thing is where
These harsh men died, not in thrift and hope.
We all live in that sea, like a fish.
A fish is surrounded by water on all sides.
We live in the sea; a water where life is spent.
The sea-men know: the kept life is the lost life!
It is still true! What moves us in our tents?
The spectacle of Grant, lying drunk, in the rain.