He is bilious, potty-mouthed, at once puffy and rachitic. He sways, eyes red and rheumy as September strawberries. Yet he is the Leader. We fear and adore him. When we were children, moping on the stoop, we shoved him a step above us. What keeps him alive? Layer on layer of spar varnish, reticulated eyelashes, a codpiece, shoulder pads, elevator shoes.
His plan: invade the Nameless Country, enslave the women, castrate the men. His plan: bomb the desert until it apologizes. His plan-–actually when he begins a sentence he has no idea how it ends.
His face is everywhere. Lofted on sticks, on T-shirts, on cell screens, in the mirror. We never knew we hated ourselves this much,
They say: do not judge your life before the last minute. This is the last minute. He waves vaguely. He seems to be groping for the mike. He pats his pocket. His fly is open. Above him clouds are passing at a tremendous height, at unimaginable speeds.
Always we thought the final moment would contain a second, a split-second, a nanosecond, and in the briefest, the humblest, we’d find the words to forgive ourselves.
For we are really very affectionate. We love Little Leaguers, Schnauzers, church bells, roped licorice. Yet when he starts to roar, when that red vein throbs, we thrill to his hatred, like sails in a homing wind, and this is the joy we were born for, the plenitude that you, reader, always denied us, seeing us as characters in a text. We are not playing. We are ready to die. If not for him, for the floodlit podium, the whipping flags, the empty blue space where the clouds vanish.
D. Nurkse’s next book, a verse re-thinking of the Tristan and Iseult legend, will be published by Knopf in 2017. His most recent, A NIGHT IN BROOKLYN, appeared in paperback in 2016.