The Song of the Hole in the Sky

written for the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump
January 20, 2017

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no truths:
That’s a motto I’ve tried to live by.
But up yonder there’s a hole in the sky;
And you want to hear how it got there.

I’ll tell you now—but don’t expect
The truth to put you easy.
It’s a tale with neither reason nor rhyme,
And never a moral worth learning.

Up on that cliff—see that rubble and glass?
It used to be a lighthouse.
We villagers built her to keep ships safe,
And we took our turns as her keepers.

Don’t take me wrong—we weren’t good souls,
Nor generous nor kindly.
But we took our turns and shared her light,
And her beam shone bright and ample.

Walking one morning where we walk now,
I saw a gang of sailors
Crowding high by the lighthouse rail,
Smashing her windows to pieces.

I stood on this beach and gaped and stared,
Not thinking how to stop them.
I called out loud to ask them why,
And this is what they told me:

“This house is a whore who pays no mind
To what kind of man gets her favors.
This house is a whore who shines her beam
Alike on the good and the wicked.”

“This house is no whore—just a thing,” I said.
“She’s made of rocks and mortar
And means no love, and means no hate.”
That put them in a fury:

“You’ve been to school and read your books
And think you’re better and wiser;
But you’ve not spent your life at sea
So hold your tongue, old lubber.

“Unless you’ve spent your life at sea,
You’ve never had to suffer;
You’ve never been jilted or hurt or wronged,
So hold your tongue, old lubber.

“You owe us your all—your food and your drink,
Your every joy and pleasure,
The love by your side, your child, your abode,
Your every breath and heartbeat.

“We freeze and roast and puke and drown
So you can sleep in satin;
Our arms grow hard and hands burn raw
To keep yours soft and wanton.”

The sailors pulled her lantern loose
And threw it over the railing.
It hit the ground right where you stand,
And smashed into pitiless splinters.

“But the rocks on this cape are sharp,” I said,
“And hidden away at nighttime.
Or don’t you believe in rocks at all?
Don’t you believe in darkness?”

“We believe whatever we choose,” they said.
“And you’d best believe what we do.
We’ve a right to whatever truth we like,
And you’ve got no right to say different.

“The polestar’s got nothing to do with north;
Just choose some gull to follow.
Poxes and scabs don’t come from whores,
But from your books and learning.

“To calm a squall, just whistle a tune;
For a waterspout, snap your fingers.
An iceberg melts with the wink of an eye;
Stir up a fair wind by dancing.

“We’ve been to the edge of this flat world;
Believe it because we say so.
We’ve seen where the ocean drops into space;
Don’t dare to call us liars.”

By then the sailors were smashing the walls
To rubble with their sledgehammers.
As they climbed down the spiraling way,
They ripped up the steps behind them.

“But how will you fare without the light?”
I asked them all. “You’ll surely
Lose your way, steering wild and blind;
You’ll break on these rocks and perish.”

“The light’s no good, it hurts our eyes,
It softens us, makes us feeble.
When we’re not cursed by that blinding glare,
The dark will surely guide us.

“The dark will be true, the dark will stand fast;
The dark never sleeps on duty;
Sailing this way, we’ll look out for the dark;
The dark will lead and we’ll follow.”

They finished their work and left this place
A pile of glass and rubble.
There’s a hole in the sky where the light once shone;
Sailors now use it to steer by.

Is the darkness true? Who am I to say?
The sailors said to believe them.
I’ve never sailed, don’t know what they know;
I’m just a foolish old lubber.

And yet I’ve slaved hard for my food and my drink,
My every joy and pleasure,
The love by my side, my child, my abode,
My every breath and heartbeat.

My heart has been broke and trod underfoot;
I’ve starved, and I’ve been cheated.
Through rotting teeth in its naked skull,
This world tells its lies forever.

And I’m sick of it all, my heart clenches with rage
At legions of apes and hyenas.
But how could I know what those sailors knew?
I’m only a foolish old lubber.

For the dark is strong, the dark stands fast,
And sailors faithfully follow;
And the hulls pile up on these sharp rocks,
And the salt air stinks to heaven.

The hulls pile up on these sharp rocks,
Chewed at by gulls and vermin;
The teeth of the surf bite fast and hard,
And the salt air stinks to heaven.

You and me, we’ve been to school,
We’re deep in books and learning.
The better, I guess, for the work we do now.
But why do you stand there staring?

There’s dead on the beach, more washing in,
And not a corpse fit to bury,
Nor sand enough in this whole wide world;
Keep stacking them high for burning.

© 2016, PlaysOnIdeas

st-george-lighthouse

Cape St. George Lighthouse, Jervis Bay Village, Australia

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When a Hoax Really Meant Something …

The Jamais Vu PapersFake news stories are all the rage these days. And yes, they can be hard to distinguish from real news. I have friends who were taken in by a recent story reporting that Arizona was implementing a gay-to-straight conversion program in its public schools. I wasn’t fooled by that one, but I have been hoodwinked by two or three others.

This may seem an odd sort of question, but … what’s the point?

Back in 1989, the legendary satirist and Yippies-founder Paul Krassner said to L.A. psychiatrist Hector Glasco,

People are jaded, because of this conveyer belt of information. I already forget what it was that I was so horrified about on the news yesterday. And I was horrified! But you develop an emotional callus to the horror. And a danger satirists can run into is to see the news just as grist for their mill.

jvV ebook 180

Krassner himself pioneered hoax news stories in his groundbreaking magazine The Realist. But his hoaxes always had a point—for example, his notorious obituary for Lenny Bruce, written two years before the controversial comedian’s death in 1966. As Krassner explained to Dr. Glasco,

I was hanging around with Lenny at the time, and there was almost a competition among police departments to bust him. Nightclub owners were scared. He was not getting work, and his work was his life. So it was as if he were dead. I wanted to pay tribute and expose that harassment while he was alive.

You can read the obituary in The Realist Archive Project. (Is this a great time or what?) There is nothing glib or superficial about it. It is, in fact, an excellent piece of journalism, and the most disturbing thing about it is how much of it was true …

There was a time when Lenny read a lot, from Jean-Paul Sartre’s study of anti-Semitism to the latest girlie magazine. He carried in his suitcase from city to city a double-volume unabridged dictionary. But in his dying days, he carried around law books instead. And he wasn’t as much fun to be with any more.

Or as Lenny explained it to Krassner,

I’m changing.… I’m not a comedian. I’m Lenny Bruce.

The hoax fooled plenty of people. It also moved and enlightened them. The same was not true of a later hoax, in which somebody else wrote an obituary of Paul Krassner. When Hector Glasco asked him about that …

So there’s a distinction between—what? Honest and dishonest hoaxing?

… Krassner replied,

Creative and easy. Having a point or being pointless.

The problem with many fake news stories going around is that they seem easy, uncreative, and pointless. Back when a hoax really meant something, Krassner even took the trouble of asking Lenny Bruce’s permission before publishing his obituary. Lenny cheerfully complied, but also asked,

What makes you think I’m gonna go before you do?

Paul Krassner turned 81 this year—as Groucho Marx once predicted, “the only live Lenny Bruce.”

An abridged version of Hector Glasco’s conversation with Paul Krassner appeared in Pat’s and my 1991 novel The Jamais Vu Papers. Now the full-length original version appears for the first time since 1989 in Jamais Vu VIEWS, available both in paperback and on Kindle.