Petty Frogs on the Potomac
"Two thumbs up!" — Jefferson and Lincoln
"Obscene!" — Jesse Helms
"Wonderfully funny!" — Anonymous
"Blasphemous!" — Pat Robertson
"What's all the fuss about?" — Bill Clinton
"Commie pinko propaganda!" — Joseph McCarthy
"Give 'em hell, Hairy!" — Rana Catesbeiana
"Garbage!" — The Republican National Committee
"Trash!" — The Democratic National Committee
"The author should be strip-mined, clear-cut, and boiled in oil!" — The Congressional Lobby
"Gripping! Riveting! Pivotal!" — Newt Gingrich
"Hiss!" — Ariana Huffington
"Satire? Isn't he a columnist?" — Dan Quayle
"I don't mean to be a stick in the mud, but there's a serious message here." — Pat Paulson
"What, me worry?" — Alfred E. Neuman
There is such evil in the slough
even the cows have forgot their moo.
Years ago, my brother Joe began a poem with these lines. The poem is lost; neither of us kept a copy, nor could we recollect much about it. Yet the lines pop to mind with increasing frequency these days.
You and I and all the bottom froggies share a swamp where we're supposed to have the last croak. But more and more, conniving toads are in control. Their toadies, and the petty frogs we send to represent us, make a mockery of our froggy legacy.
The Founding Bullfrogs must be squirming in their murky tombs to see the sorry state of things.
The swamp is being drained of all its worth, to gild the lily pads of bloated toads who toss a trickle-down of crickets to their toadies and the petty frogs who prance about with sticky-tongued impunity.
"Petty Frogs on the Potomac" is born of one frog's feelings of frustration.
It was written originally as a performance piece, with a narrator, Greek-style chorus, and any number of players. It's an easier read in this form, but feel free to stage it with a few froggy friends. [If you would like a copy of the script, leave a brief note under comments, and I'll send it as an email attachment.]
And please, play it for laughs. If we make the petty frogs aware the whole wide swamp is cackling at them, maybe they'll pack the toadies back under their rocks, where they belong, and stick the toads.
And Zethus, conquered Thebes and built a wall
Around by charming stones to heed the call
Of Newt, the Magic Lyre. When Xenophon
Cried, "Newt's the One!," the pillared Parthenon
Resounded, "Root for Newt!" The Newt stood tall
And turned his rivals green: "A Newtie Doll
For every polliwog! A hop to Babylon
To Shop-Until-You-Drop!" And, like a faun,
The myth persists: The Newt has done it all.
Here's one to send you to the Wailing Wall:
"Julius Newt's across the Rubicon!"
By opening your eyes, you see that those
Who croak the loudest have the most to hide.
They keep their fierce fires burning deep inside
And cloak their motives with their fancy shows,
But any frog who braves their thunder knows
They turn transparent as a virgin bride
When lightning strikes, their bleatings amplified,
Their miens vainglorious, their feigned repose
Made comic by their paucity of clothes.
They see themselves as saints, beatified
By trial. They're never fully satisfied
Until they've pulverized their froggy foes.
Newt, the galoot who humbles Halcyon,
The fabled bird that stills the stiffest breeze
And settles waves while nesting on the seas.
Newt, the brute who persecutes Oberon
With trolls and orcs and demons, dusk to dawn,
And brings the King of Fairies to his knees.
Sir Francis Newt, who hops ashore with ease
To claim the land he names New Albion,
Since, clearly, natives fear his gonfalon,
And he holds, in the Royal hand, decrees
Ordering him to find and freely seize
Whatever jolly fits his galleon.
Hypocrisy boasts allies by the score
In frenzied beds. Their dalliances thrust
Deceit to depths where charity and trust
Retreat like wide-eyed creatures swept before
The flashing talons of a raptosaur.
The meek and frail fall victim to their lust
Like fleas, as do the multitudes nonplused
By appetites like these. They play the whore
With those who make the game a tug of war,
And scorn cupidity's reward — disgust.
The few who rage against their greed combust
Like fragments from an errant meteor.
The questions flit about my tattered fringe
Like fruit flies round a melon rind: How fast
Should laws that touch so many frogs be passed?
Is what we're seeing something like a binge
Of stickies downing flies without a twinge?
Does conscience weigh when social change as vast
As any seen across the swamp slips past
Without debate? Will petty frogs impinge
Upon the meager hopes of those who cringe
In froggy homes and soupy ponds, harassed
By woes? And will some crazed iconoclast
Become the hub on which our futures hinge?
They've taken leave of common froggy sense.
They're breaking to components what comprised
A whole, the concept of a centralized
Authority beyond the cagey congruence
Of petty frogs in tiny ponds, immense
As giants in the eyes of flies, despised
By every gnat they've tyrannized
With sticky-tongued impunity. Laments
For lost ideals aside, incompetence,
Like cancer, spreads, its artifice disguised
In cryptic masks until, metastasized,
It taunts us with its bald-faced impudence.
A house is like a jar of marbles: hold
It upside down and all the balls fall out,
Including those you'd dare not live without,
Your best old cat's-eyes, worth their weight in gold.
So why do archconservatives withhold
Support for rights? And middle-roaders pout?
And liberals bewail their vanished clout
As if denied a birthright? Pigeonholed!
Each time the froggy populace is polled,
The bully boys and nasty upstarts rout
And pelt the petty frogs with rocks, and shout
Until they get their way. The story's old.
Remember Newt's exploits with Charlemagne
And Alexander? Hannibal? The glow
Of elephants' breath in torchlight, the snow
Waist-deep over the Alps? (Recall the reign
Of King Louis The Newt, who poured champagne
Down Marie Antoinette? The haute château
Where he lost his head? Just outside Bordeaux?
There went a Frog Prince!) Remember the Maine,
And the glorious, short-lived war with Spain?
Remember The Alamo? (Mexico
Does.) (Remember Pearl Schwartz? Your answer's no?
Newton Capote as Lionel Twain?)
You know, the scene where Newt the Patriot
Tells us what it's like to be sacrificed?
Remember the left-leaning poltergeist
Exorcised by Fra Newt? (What hath God wrought?)
Remember Lochinvar? Sir Newter Scott?
Faithful in love? Dauntless in war? (Zeitgeist.)
Disciple Newt, who gave comfort to Christ,
The Prince of Peace? (Newt Iscariot?)
Newt Lindbergh? Lucky Lindy? The pilot?
Newt Ruth? The Bambino? Newt Gretzsky? (Iced.)
Newt Nixon? Newt Reagan? Newt Bush? (Thin-sliced.)
Newt Lancelot? (Remember Camelot?)
A Foucault pendulum completes a swing
And hovers motionless before it starts
The other way, and though its motion charts
A circle endlessly, the plummet's sting
Is felt upon a point. The battering
Of palace walls resounds as pounding hearts
Pour through the breach and scale the rock ramparts.
Defenders hole up in the parapets, or sing
To spare their feathered nests a plundering.
The à la kings repaint the à la cartes —
The poor, the ill, the elderly, the tarts
Who taint the arts, the young — as underlings.
This latest reign of frogs, immersed in frills
On gilded lily pads from birth, aligned
Across the swamp with others of their kind,
Croaks up an end to all our mortal ills:
"Obey the Bible. Pay the Army's bills
On time. Protect Old Glory. Next, unwind
The bureaucratic tangle (underlined).
Put loonies on the street with imbeciles.
Make welfare mothers swallow bitter pills.
Get every froggy off the feed bag. Find
New ways to glorify the undersigned.
Downsize no matter who the Contract kills.
Return control to tiny ponds. (Whose frogs
Are hard-pressed with their sticky tongues far flung
To pick the crickets from the swarms among
The reeds as is, and deal with waterdogs.)
Undrape the landscape. Turn the trees to logs.
Encourage every frog to smoke. (And mock the lung
Disease reports.) Give rivers pause, hamstrung.
Leave reproductive rights to demagogues.
Throw scraps and bones to snappish golliwogs
To shut them up. Make sure the Anthem's sung
In English, every froggy's Mother Tongue.
And don't get caught in bed with polliwogs."
There's more to what our petty frogs have planned:
"Disown the ozone hole. Befoul the air
With rhetoric about the need for prayer
In schools. Give rogues the upper hand
By elevating every weapon ever banned
To godhood, right up there with laissez-faire.
(Another day, another billionaire...
Another hundred thousand froggies canned...
Another fifty million forced to stand
In quicksand.) Have a juicy love affair
With one who's powerless. Play solitaire
While flocks of snowy egrets stalk the land."
There is a saying in the south of France:
Tip a cup upside down and the milk spills...
Tip it back and it's empty. Daffodils
Die when severed from their bulbs. A romance
Built on trust turns hollow when arrogance
Flares after a lie strikes flint. Bitter pills
Taste better when sugar-coated. But what fills
The void inside when discontinuance
Is swift and vengeful, and insouciance —
Like a many-headed beast whose gaze chills
The swamp, and whose acid breath distills
As a hard glaze — throws happiness to chance?
So, petty frogs on the Potomac vote....
The Skipper grips the helm as overhead
Dark storm clouds billow, and, with arms outspread,
Resolves to keep the Ship Of State afloat.
A wild west wind besets the burdened boat.
The compass spins. The radio goes dead.
The helm responds: "Right rudder, all ahead!"
Aghast, the crew jumps down the Skipper's throat.
(And thwacks his epiglottis good, to quote
One unnamed source.) The petty frogs all shed
A crocodile tear. The bully boys turn red
As beets. The upstarts, to a tadpole, gloat.
The Skipper, seasick, pitches, rolls and yaws
About the bridge, though now the sea lays calm,
And only scattered mines, a random bomb,
The rats descending through the starboard hawse
And frog torpedoes give the Skipper cause
To mimic John Paul Jones: As the Bonhomme
Richard blows to bits, he summons up Mom
And Apple Pie, Old Glory, Santa Claus...
The Tin Man skipping off to visit Oz
To cop a ticker...Scarecrow, there to palm
Advanced degrees...and Lion, king of qualms,
To find the guts to use his teeth and claws.
The Ship Of State is rudderless, adrift.
Its sails are draped with Spanish moss, its hull
A mass of barnacles and kelp. (A gull
Once circled round the trail of jetsam, sniffed,
And caught a thermal updraft, soundly miffed
That such a ship as this should thus annul
Tradition ferried from the Greeks without a lull:
That birds be served some heady trash to sift.)
A petty frog armada closes swift
And sticky-tongued. The flagship hoists the skull
And crossbones. Then, as crew and Skipper mull,
A thick and sentient fog drops like a gift.
The petty frogs on the Potomac feel
A dash of gratitude when fog pervades,
Concealing how their Naughty Newt parades
Completely out of suit when forced to deal
With issues common frogs consider real.
The loyal legions toast The Newt's charades,
The most the swamp has witnessed in decades,
With cups for cunning, artifice and zeal —
At once, the frog who plinks the glockenspiel
Behind the band...the frog who masquerades
As god...the frog who leaps the barricades
And leads the peasants storming the Bastille.
Newt's clipping service is years in arrears.
Some of the newspapers smell of decay.
Their headlines highlight the news of the day:
Newt Bly waves 'bye to Bounty mutineers.
Newt Roebuck agrees to merge with Newt Sears.
Newt Rockefeller makes crude oil deals pay.
Newt Kipling pens The Road To Mandalay.
Newt Earhart takes off; airplane disappears.
Newt Rogers hires Sons of the Pioneers.
Newt Ellington wows fans at Monterey.
Newt Heston plays Guess Who in Passion Play.
(And who plays Newt, the Magic Lyre with ears?)
The petty frogs are led by toady friends
To see themselves as grander than they are.
Each polliwog is polished like a star
Of sterling worth, whose fame ascends
Proportionate to what a toady spends
To bend and keep the polly popular.
(Like stealing from your mother's penny jar,
Perfection, practiced, pays its dividends,
As when a friendly toady recommends
The petty frogs who hop to Zanzibar
To learn if natives like their caviar
On Melba toast or plain. So much depends....)
The toadies kiss the frogs and make them croak
Afresh for every cricket they bestow,
A trick to show the polliwogs they owe
Allegiance to a higher toad — a joke
That's lost on most. (This touch of the baroque
Evokes an aging generalissimo
Whose quaking fist waves his manifesto
While all about him, hosts of froggy folk
Go on about their lives.) A native oak
Emerges from its acorn embryo,
And in old age finds nests of mistletoe
Adorning winter limbs like puffs of smoke...
And so the story goes. The strong survive;
The ones who chew their tongues are left to fate,
Brushed off by petty frogs who dominate
The swamp. They and their toady friends contrive
To toss fresh crickets to the toads who thrive,
The ones whose sticky tongues reciprocate
When petty frogs return to ponds to mate,
And only toads can keep their hopes alive.
It's something to behold, they way they drive
Their passions home. Their croaks reverberate
Throughout the swamp. (Their toadies infiltrate
Opposing camps, and otherwise connive.)
The victors toss their crickets down like flies,
And quick, hop back to more familiar banks
Where they can skip and jump, and croak their thanks
To friendly toads, and drop their alibis.
They bow before the toads, and lionize
The haughty deeds their Naughty Newtie spanks
Opponents with, the sticky campaign planks
Their fearless leader peerlessly applies
To froggy bottoms. Yet (to euphemize),
Despite the rows of frogs arrayed like tanks,
Their sticky tongues aligned in tidy ranks,
The "cricket population" multiplies.
But back to what the petty frogs desire:
The archconservatives in charge are bent
On baking cakes for this constituent
Or that. While toadies fan the oven fire
And dabble in the icing, they conspire
To mix a batch of aggregate cement
Intended for the concrete battlement
(Complete with sticky moat and razor wire)
Where they will coax the left-wing choir
To croak in right-wing harmony, their sole intent
To serenade the toads — a sentiment
They're sure the Founding Bullfrogs would admire.
Their right-wing paradise? A lily pad
Where Papa rules the roost with iron fist
And velvet glove, and Mama, who gets kissed
Each morning at the lip as dear old Dad
Hops off to work, is left with myriad
Responsibilities: The shopping list,
The needs of polliwogs who all insist
On helping Mom. Their upturned faces add
To Mama's bliss; they never let a sad
Or mean thought cloud their eyes. (The feudalist
Sees moral order swimming through the mist
Where duty grips, and rules are iron clad.)
The moderates bake bread and break it down
To bite-sized bits (the chores are left to aides)
To check for arsenic and razor blades.
(The former tends to turn the bread nut-brown.)
You know them by the way they frump and frown
Like alligators in the Everglades,
Alert to pounce on any frog who wades
The murky waters wearing cape and crown,
The guise of Right. (Is that a proper noun?)
They hunker in their middle-road stockades,
Defending compromise against brigades
Of palace guards egged on by Newt the Clown.
Liberals bake biscuits (hold the applause)
Over a fire of sawdust logs, from scratch,
Where petty left-wing (lesser) frogs play catch-
As-catch-can. (Pause while Naughty Newt guffaws.)
They lick their wounds, and while they grasp for straws,
The Ship Of State replots its course to match
The Newt Armada's con, with stops to patch
The sails, and tend to blemishes and flaws.
The battle crew turns to, its last hurrahs
A murmuring, and battens down the hatch.
And everywhere the Skipper steers, they snatch
Inglorious defeat from victory's jaws.
Perhaps we ask too much, the way we tack
The Skipper to an artificial yardstick
We as common frogs, each a bailiwick
Of deep and complicated needs where black
And white wear myriad shades of gray, hack
To splinters when deeds belie rhetoric
And swagger. It's simple arithmetic:
We are the sums of ourselves, bric-a-brac
Stacked on shelves. It's the Liberty Bell's crack
That makes it whole. Wisdom doesn't come quick:
We fill a photo album click by click.
Maybe it's time we cut a little slack.
A team fails to score if the quarterback
Hobbles to the bench for every play pick
Broken by holes in his line, prey to trick
Defensive ploys, linebackers who shellac
His scrambling pads, down after down, each sack
A new lesson in pain. A heretic
Held in a medieval dungeon tub thick
With ice cannot be blamed if cardiac
Arrest compounds his woes. The maniac
Whose electroshock therapy drove sick
Frogs insane would applaud the right wing's stick-
It-to-'em tactics. (If they're ducks, they quack.)
There's more to what conservatives conceive:
They see a perfect swamp where frogs abound,
Where every froggy family boasts a mound
Of muck to hibernate beneath, reprieve
From sticky toil on lily pads, a leave
Of absence (without pay, of course) when downed
By flu, or when a froggy friend has drowned,
And services are planned. (A make-believe
Existence right-wing toads and frogs retrieve
From dreams in boxes six feet underground,
Where petty frogs are sticky-tongued and round,
And all the pretty polliwogs naïve.)
They see a swamp society where toads
Ensconced on satin pads propound the rights
The petty frogs proclaim as plebiscites
From bank to bank, concoct the cricket codes
They click to signal friends, and hone the goads
They heft to prick the skins of troglodytes
Who dare raise sticky doubts about their sleights
Of hand, while toadies tap the mother lodes
And drain the swamp of riches — episodes
Whose impact on the mass of frogs invites
Defiance. (Polliwogs in shiny tights
Dance forth before a sticky mess explodes.)
Conservatives consider toads supreme.
They see, in their ideal society,
The populace divided into three
Unequal parts: On top, afloat like cream,
The upper crust, the swells, their jewels agleam
Like light bulbs on a Hollywood marquee,
Their skin aglow, as thin as flattery,
Their narrow eyes ablaze with self-esteem.
They flick their sticky tongues as in a dream,
And munch their cricket chips, and lick their Brie,
And toast that paradigm of liberty,
The get-rich-quick insider trading scheme.
They ride in chauffeur-driven limousines,
And send their tadpoles packing off to tour
The moors. The toads spare no expenditure
To keep their churlish green-age libertines
With rakish horns, their budding bug-eyed queens,
Atop the froggy heap until mature
Enough to hop into the sinecure
Each earns, with crickets for the unforeseens,
By nature of a toad's almighty genes.
(A toad begins a meal with soup du jour
And ends with a remarkable liqueur,
While bottom froggies scarf down refried beans.)
The petty frogs on the Potomac hang
At second tier with vested toadies, fall
Guys tied to toads. They have the wherewithal
To live in style, the force to clap and clang,
And throw pies filled with custard and meringue,
When foes provoke a froggy free-for-all,
But when a member...trips...on protocol...
Or sneezes (euphemisms all), the pang
Is felt throughout. The petty frogs harangue.
The toadies murmur, "Time to disenthrall
The polliwogs, and ease off alcohol,
And hope our sticky deals don't boomerang."
The right-wing petty frogs who hold the reins
Use euphemisms as their hand grenades,
To clear machine-gun nests of renegades
Whose froggy names the Naughty Newt profanes
The way a preacher calls upon the cranes:
"Yea, up and swoop down like the Ace of Spades,
And beak the suckers through!" (My accolades
To all you frogs who exercise your brains
And holler, "Whoa!" You break the chains
Attaching you to sticky-tongued crusades,
And swamp-eutrophicating escapades,
And icky, mucky, petty frog campaigns.)
The Naughty Newt and company lay claim
To all the high ground round the swamp: They own
The rights to God and country, flesh and bone,
The match you scratch to set your heart aflame,
The sticky pit stops on the path to shame,
The food concession in the Twilight Zone,
The family portrait (vastly overblown:
A photograph you cherish for its frame),
And all of virtue save your precious name.
Meanwhile, the Skipper blows his saxophone,
A riff made tricky by its muted tone,
And waits to hear the overdue acclaim.
The Skipper plays: My Funny Valentine...
Where Have All The Flowers Gone...Blue Skies...
Blowin' In The Wind...Love For Sale...Green Eyes...
Deep In The Heart Of Texas...You're So Fine...
Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs...The Days Of Wine
And Roses...We Shall Overcome (surprise
Me)...The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise...
New York, New York...Love Potion Number Nine...
California, Here I Come...Tonight You're Mine...
Tell Me No Secrets, I'll Tell You No Lies...
And My Heart Cries For You, Sighs For You, Dies
For You. He ends the set with Auld Lang Syne.
(Better that than One Toke Over The Line.)
I'm reminded of Thumbelina's date
With destiny, how a toad stole in late
And hauled her off. She was quick to decline
Marriage to the toad's ugly son. "Resign
Yourself!" croaked the toad. She slipped out the gate
And fell in with a mouse. "You're an ingrate!"
Squeaked the mouse, when she refused to confine
Herself to a deep hole with no sunshine,
Married to a blind mole. (She didn't hate
The mole, just the whole thought.) At any rate,
A bird she'd thawed plucked her from the brine
And carried her, singing, to the Fairy King,
Who married her. She blossomed, being one
Low born, and now the Fairy Queen. The sun
Turned her wings iridescent. Her Fairy ring
Gleamed.... You're asking if this has anything
To do with the Skipper's plight. A ton.
Answers spill from the works of Tennyson
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams. The king
Is the good we trust will follow ill. (Sing
Praises to the bird!) Thumbelina's run
From toad, field mouse and mole is a lesson:
The one succeeds. Here's where we see right-wing
Like a Clouseau bomb fuse: Whereas knights stun
At jousting tournaments, their lances spun
At the tips with lamb's wool, petty frogs bare
Their points and go straight for the throat. (Voltaire
Wrote of prayer that he had uttered but one:
"Make my enemies ridiculous." "Done,"
Said God.) Washington crossed the Delaware
For the reason some scale peaks: it was there.
He and his ragtag troops were under the gun
To sting King George. The war was far from won.
He could have stayed home in his rocking chair
And puffed all winter on a quiet pipe,
But his love of liberty proved way too great.
These are things the Skipper needs to relate
To, on a gut level, and forget the hype.
To transcend petty froggery, you swipe
A page from Keats: Give Truth and Beauty weight
Among your goals, and don't triangulate
Too hard. Xenocrates' stereotypes,
Scalene, the hunchbacked, froglike guttersnipe,
Isosceles, the flaming reprobate,
Equilateral, the stunning playmate,
Should be barred from the boat. The tripe
Some frogs with beans for brains call research!
One mid-road frog grumps: "Triangulation,
Last time I looked, rhymed with strangulation."
The petty frogs in charge sit on their perch
And croak, and otherwise try to besmirch
The Skipper's game plan and reputation.
One aide gives a slapstick imitation:
(Pope observed how some froggies go to church
Not for doctrine, but for meditation
With the pipe organ. This congregation's
Hellbent for election. Step left, John Birch.)
The toads who play the petty frogs like lyres
Dole crickets out — enough to nauseate
A self-respecting bottom frog, and grate
On his nerves. Sometimes, even the live wires
Come up short, but what are a few misfires,
Brushes with masses or the fourth estate,
When all it takes to set the matter straight
Is a plump cricket, if a frog inquires.
What they live for is (why a toad perspires)
How much their stocks and bonds appreciate,
And when to expect a pay-off (rebate).
That's the breed of toad that never retires.
Their values neither are nor were the rule.
They pander to a narcissistic thirst,
And tip the bowl until their bellies burst —
A lesson neither learned in Sunday school
Nor gleaned around a froggy swimming pool,
But some toad's private pond, where, interspersed
Between hors d'oeuvres and drinks, and unrehearsed,
The host holds up a frog to ridicule
And all a frog can do is play the fool.
The lesson's clear: You fight, you come in first,
You win, you get expenses reimbursed,
And if some toady boasts a bigger pad, you drool.
The petty frogs on the Potomac, bold
As brass, anticipate a right-wing rout.
They shine their footlight images without
A thought, their pay-to-play house oversold.
But where discerning poker players fold
When face to face with double-dealing doubt
(The way an upland farmer faces drought),
The right-wing wheeler-dealer froggies hold.
They lick their sticky lips until they're told
To greet consensus with a rousing shout,
And roll the dice. And not a frog craps out
Until the Naughty Newt's last crap is rolled.
The Newt, caught by a copperhead, promotes
Twelve Steps To Froggy Renewal: "Milk PACs
Daily, with both hands. Use rods and blackjacks
Where marks cannot be seen. (Wry anecdotes
Abound.) Go fishing only with cutthroats
Who build, but would not live on, cul-de-sacs.
Give the devil his due. (And no wisecracks.)
Avoid polliwogs in lace petticoats.
If you use poisons, know the antidotes.
Ignore frogs who drive old-model Pontiacs.
Make sure fat toads are first in line for tax
Breaks. Know your nannies from the billy goats
With the forty-millimeter ack-acks.
Keep tight wraps around your secret dealings.
Don't let emotions cloud your deep feelings.
And whatever else you do, don't leave tracks."
(Hotshot Newt, Ace of the Airwaves, attacks
And scores. The petty left-wing frogs, squealing
Like pigs, take cover. The Skipper, reeling,
Commands the crew to "crank up the old fax
Machine and deal the pug a blow!" His flacks
Fall all over their modems, appealing
To his level head, all the while steeling
Their nerves: the Bulldogs beat the Razorbacks.)
Slithering through the swamp, The Snake muses:
"Courage is knowledge, to quote Pericles,
Of what not to fear." (Like Xenocrates
And his triangles.) "There's no way Newt loses
If his proud, chivalrous spirit fuses
With his actions." (Thank you, Demosthenes.)
"He is without blemish." (Simonides.)
"His speech is pure honey." (She peruses
Homer; sincerity fairly oozes
From her pores.) (Someone asked Diogenes
The proper time to eat: Toads, when they please
[Much like the gorilla, when he chooses],
And common bottom froggies, when they can.)
Back to The Snake: "It was Thucydides
Who first praised the frog who's brave, and sees
Beyond his sticky tongue to Elysian
Fields, despite danger." (And for glory: Fan
Mail and live interviews.) (Thucydides
Redux: "Great is the frog whose enemies
Grope for a handle on his tax cut plan.")
"Newt's where the buck stops." (Harry S Truman?)
"Newt's a scrupulous frog." (Diogenes
Looked for one.) "We need Newt's epiphanies
Now." (Like Prospero needed Caliban's.)
"Idle frogs are evil." (Hippocratic goo.)
"We saw, before the Reign of Newt began,
Liberal frogs enacting laws which ran
Like drinking songs." (Aristophanes, who
Also tutored: "You can't teach a crab to
Walk straight.") "Newt's cut the fabled Gordian
Knot, like Alexander before him. Scan
His Swamp Civilization Plan anew.
This is a revolution, not a coup.
Leading it means more than using Grecian
Formula, eye makeup and Thespian
Gestures, like one unspeakable Yahoo
We could name." (Her venom turns frogs to stone
Quicker than Medusa's eyes.) (Let me take
Time to say this about Newt and The Snake:
What gives me pause, besides the megaphone
And soap box, is Plato's plague on high-flown
Populists who press bottom frogs to make
Them champions, promising a clambake
When the Skipper and crew are overthrown.
"Tyrants," he wrote, "spring from this root alone."
Gullible frogs go to bed with Mandrake
The Magician and wake with a fruitcake
Whose first act is to order a gold throne.)
"Plutarch foresaw a second Hercules.
As a Big Thinker, we were quick to nail
Newt down: It takes a wise frog to unveil
A wise frog." (Recognize Xenophanes?)
"Divine signs light the future." (Socrates.)
"Turning the Lyre and handling the Harp pale
Next to taking a sticky, soupy swale
And making a great swamp." (Themistocles,
Who also wrote: "He who commands the seas
[Ship Of State] owns the whole bucking fantail.")
"We tell Newt where he, if we're to prevail,
Should stand. He moves the world." (Archimedes.)
"Cheer! We're victorious!" (Pheidippides
Had news to shout about, like the stripper
Who won big bucks over a stuck zipper.
This news hangs like a sword of Damocles.)
Now, to wind down the Greek thing: Sophocles
Had nothing but contempt for the Skipper
Who steered the course deemed best for the shipper.
(We all have our blessèd philosophies.
I'd throw Jacks in the cage with Androcles:
The Victorian rake, Jack The Ripper...
The postmodern painter, Jack The Dripper.
Let's once and for all time have done with sleaze.)
So, here we have the toads on top, their nest
Secure. And then the toadies, counterfeit
Pretenders, masters of the perquisite,
Who practice on the petty frogs, obsessed.
And next, the petty frogs. (Who've retrogressed,
Of late, from diplomat to hypocrite:
The Fokker ace who downed the Messerschmitt
Explained it was an ill-timed weapons test.)
The bottom of the pie holds all the rest,
The way a bird cage lining topped with grit
Provides a platform for the infinite
Accumulation of the dispossessed.
Across the swamp you're apt to hear the twang
Of froggies from the West...a southern drawl,
The way they make one syllable of Y'all,
And call a thing a thang, a spring a sprang...
Down-Easter yups...and city hip-hop slang.
But more and more, like catboats in a squall,
Barred from the havens where the toadies loll,
The bottom frogs toss left and right, and bang
About, and curse the tides. Before, they sang
Of love when woes beset the swamp. Recall
The Great Despair? The War To End It All?
Today, they lash out, flashing claw and fang.
Like privateers aboard Old Ironsides,
The Naughty Newt and company command
The swamp, and seize, as contraband,
A generation's worth of giant strides
Toward hearing what the bottom frog confides,
And sharing grief and happiness firsthand,
And helping those who need a boost withstand
Assaults on citadels where hope abides.
(So long as Newt's agenda coincides
With what rapacious right-wing toads demand,
We'll see the health and welfare gaps expand
Apace with homelessness and suicides.)
How strange that frogs who want the Ship Of State
To float forever strive to see, disguised,
The vessel they profess to love, capsized.
(The Naughty Newt would like to navigate,
And like a nasty upstart, he can't wait.)
The Founding Bullfrogs revolutionized
The swamp. What Newt and Company, advised
By toadies, picture on their dinner plate
(Prime cuts) comes after they indoctrinate
The mass of common frogs with euphemized
Accountings for the froggies victimized
To keep inflated toads afloat, their weight
Enough to sink a dozen battleships.
(The petty frogs in charge are Looney Tunes...
Their deeds, The Creature From The Black Lagoon's.)
Aboard the Ship Of State, in mid-eclipse,
Solemnly the Skipper tolls: "Read my lips."
The crew, dazed, anticipates picaroons,
Freebooters, barroom brawls with brass spittoons.
Then, with a grin: "Send out for chicken strips!"
There are no guides to the Apocalypse,
But clues abound: the petty frog dragoons
Blaze flaming trails, like pockmarks on the moons
Of Jupiter, or lashes from bullwhips:
The clear-cut hills, their old growth stumps forlorn,
Their underlayment for all time destroyed.
Ghost towns. Mill workers, loggers, unemployed...
No place to go. (The timber toads are borne
In style to their next sales. More hills are shorn
Of trees once held in froggy trust. Annoyed?)
Silt-clouded streams where salmon once enjoyed
Clear spawning beds...where teeming fry were born.
Deep, soupy pits where gold, as from a horn
Of plenty, poured until its riches cloyed.
(The future? Something dreamt by Sigmund Freud?
O bottom froggies...bow your heads and mourn!)
When mining toads retreat, they leave behind
A witch's brew, a vast eternal pot
Stirred by a demon hand, its bubbling hot
Surface burping cyanide...incarnadined.
The petty frogs on the Potomac, blind
To what their licenses permit (the thought
Conjures a vision of an Argonaut
Oblivious to golden fleece), maligned
By bottom frogs whose rage is unrefined,
Croak, in their sticky tones, a polyglot
Of spurious rationales...tommyrot
About how toads know best for froggykind.
The juggernaut rolls forward in fifth gear
(The faithful throw themselves beneath the wheels
To fathom firsthand how Kingdom Come feels),
Straight for the Ship Of State, whose cavalier
Skipper buffs up the masthead's brass brassiere
And queries the crew on left-wing ideals...
What Camelot was like. (The crew conceals
Its mirth.) The Newt, guised as a brigadier,
Sounds the charge. The Skipper, as musketeer,
Gives his "One for all!" and "Nothing to fear!" spiels,
Complete with pom-poms, alley-oops and squeals,
And vows to fight. (How soon, as yet unclear.)
So. Welcome, friends, to Right-Wing Wonderland,
Where Eye of Newt forebodes, "Beware the Ides
Of March!" And Newt the Magic Dragon chides
The troops to "tie your neckties four-in-hand,
Don't use the 'N' word as a reprimand
Out loud, and wear clean sheets for daytime rides!"
A Gosh-And-By-Gollyland where bromides
Pass for truth, and toadies pack the grandstand
To watch Newt the Nimble do a handstand
And juggle with his feet as he divides
A fresh-baked cricket pie. (While he decides
Who gets a slice, his aides strike up the band.)
A Neverland where Naughty Newt, as Hook,
Takes Wendy to his ship to mend his socks.
They wind up watching Little Goldilocks
And The Three Newts. (The old G-rated book
Was deemed too dull for modern tastes. It took
A team of toady pros to pump its box
Office up. Today's Goldy walks her talks
And swings three ways.) The incensed inglenook
Is more than Wendy bargains for...a rook
(To use a semi-modern term). She balks,
And to the rescue flies the Silver Fox,
Old Peter Newt, who snickersnees the schnook...
And pats her fanny with his sticky hands.
The Newt who keeps her coming back, Pierre,
Is ticklish, soft as marabou, and fair.
He oozes guarantees, and understands
Why frogs as fresh as she must skirt the strands:
"To keep from squandering your youth, those rare
Euphoric breaths of truth, those bursts on bare
Limbs of the buds of spring." (Those countermands
Of swamp society and froggy glands.)
He slips her treats: a chocolate eclair...
A ride upon his appaloosa mare...
Ski trips to snow-encrusted hinterlands.
A Graceland where Newt Presley's fame lives on.
A place whose marvels never cease to please.
(Please put that last line in parentheses.)
See Naughty Newt's Electric Leprechaun,
The left-wing water-skipper, Obi Wan,
Defooted by Newt Vader. The Maltese
Toady, starring Newt Bogart. The Marquise
De Newt with Emperor Napoleon.
John Newt penning deathless Endymion.
Johann Newt knocking out the Viennese.
Daredevil Newt on the Flying Trapeze.
The Newt who left his heart in Avalon.
Marshal Wyatt Newt, who watches Tucson
Like a hawk, mowing down hombres who sneeze
At his badge. Gypsy Rose Newt, whose striptease
Wows, playing Little Nell, saved by Yukon
Newt of the Mounties, pride of Dawson. (Yawn.)
Sir Isaac Newt, who learns of gravity's
Allure while dreaming up hypotheses
Beneath an apple tree. Newt Audubon,
Whose eye for bushtit, cockatiel and swan
Is world-renowned. Wu Newt, ancient Chinese
Philosopher, who teach, "Antipodes,
Like Yin and Yang, disappear where Koi spawn."
Newt Schwartzkopf, darling of the Pentagon,
Saving the war machine from a tight squeeze
By straightening out our priorities.
(Cro-Magnon Newt brings home the mastodon.)
Newt Keaton, comic, looking woebegone.
Newt Chevalier, whose every little breeze
Seems to whisper, "You'll like my remedies.
Stairways to heaven. Where you've never gone."
Newt Kasparov, mating with king and pawn,
And mingling with chess fans for wine and cheese.
Newt Schwartzenegger, guised as Hercules,
Bulldogging Hydra, Ox and Amazon.
Jedi Newt Skywalker, laser sword drawn,
Facing the fiendish Mephistopheles.
Laureate Newt Schweitzer, fighting disease
Alone. (A keystone in the pantheon
Of demigods who wing in echelon,
Scoffing at pythons, tsetse flies and fleas...
But quick to make a date at Lake Louise
To speak on imminent oblivion.)
Archbishop Newt, sipping tea from Ceylon,
Recapping late news from the colonies,
While Her Majesty pets her Pekingese.
Robin Newt, splitting loot with Little John.
The model of a modern commodore,
Resplendent in his coat of navy blue,
About to take the stage by storm (tattoo!),
Appearing as himself in Pinafore,
A role made famous by Newt Barrymore.
The derring-do of Newt the Buckaroo.
Newt Custer riding forth to meet the Sioux.
The bullfrog downed by Newt the Matador.
Lord Newt on caravan with paramour.
The batting eyes of Newt the Ingénue.
Newt Flintstone yelling "Yabba-dabba-doo!"
As General Newt MacArthur wades ashore.
"Come one, come all, and give The Newt your ear.
Believe, and plunk your money down. You'll croon
At what you learn. You'll find out how (lampoon)
You, too, can launch a petty frog career!
You'll see what happens when you persevere.
The trick is simple: keep the honeymoon
On high, the crickets chirping. Importune
Santa Frog and his eight toady reindeer...
Excluding Rudolph, who's a Red (and queer)...
To scatter gnats to swamp-wide fans aswoon
Before your starry eyes." (A fey, jejune
Pitchman flicking ash from his belvedere.)
So much for right-wing shake-and-bakery,
The sugarplums, the fairycakes, the fluff
Of cotton-candy slough, the huff-and-puff,
The flimflam and the tacky fakery.
It's done with mirrors...magic...fantasy...
To entertain the bottom frogs and bluff
The few who shake their spears...who, like Macduff,
Refuse to use the dying light to flee.
The Newt may miss the juicy irony:
As storm clouds shroud the swamp, the toads who snuff
Liberty's torch leave trails of sticky stuff.
In a dark time, the eye begins to see.
"You are as much as you see," said Thoreau,
Gazing out over Walden Pond, his snare
Shimmering with iridescent wings...rare
A day as ever. "Nevermore," said Poe.
Today, it's Larry, Moe and Curly Joe
Running around in their long underwear,
Knocking noggins. If you, in your despair,
Must view wilderness, rent the video.
Don't be fooled: My Own Private Idaho
Is not a right-wing skinhead flick. I share
This because Gus Van Sant's from Portland, where
I'm from. He's the one with the studio.
Petty Frogs on the Potomac, © 1997
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