“Poets…are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting; they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society… Social and linguistic order are not the sole products of the rational faculty, as language is ‘arbitrarily produced by the imagination’ and reveals ‘the before unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension’ of a higher beauty and truth. In short, poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”(A Defence of Poesy, Shelley)
“English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!'” (Of Refudiation, Sarah Palin)
Frankly I am sick of the blood libel being hurled at Sarah Palin. I don’t know whether it comes in buckets or baggies, but enough is enough.
Following the shootings in Arizona, it should be clear to anybody who cares about the English language, the future of democracy, and the subtle allure of pencil skirts over yummy black tights that what America needs, Sarah Palin is.
I used to admire her mainly because she knew her way around a moose and had failed, like many of us, at teaching our children good abstinence habits. Ever since I saw her grit when she wrestled John McCain for the microphone during his concession speech in 2008, she has been my uncrowned princess of the rough and tumble American Dream, a spacious and verdant field where every man hopes to train his plow, elbow deep in grizzly grease on a Saturday morning, but, by golly, soaped up, perfumed and ready for business at the Mat Su Family Restauarant LLC on Saturday night. I knew I wanted in.
That’s where Sarah and I met–the Mat Su in Wasilla, I mean, and where she asked me to become her official poetry and General Culture Advisor. “I can’t pay you anything,
she said, winking, “but there are perks. Can I call you Joe?” “Of course,” I gasped, almost overcome with surprise. “Can I call you Governor?”
Since then we have spoken directly by phone whenever questions about poetry come up. Not all that frequently really–until the shootings in Tuscon last week.
She told me that the Lame-stream media was at it again, only this time they were “pulling no prisoners,” and saying that she may as well have pulled the trigger. She said she was besides herself, mad as heck and smoking like a seive. Someone “would have to hang from the yardstick for this and they want it to be me,” she said.
I told her to calm down, catch her breath and tell me what she was wearing. After a few minutes she said that she had no choice but to grab this bull by the horns of the dilemma and run with it even if it meant eating humble crow.
She was planning to make a speech, and naturally wanted to hit all the right punches. Bristol was home for the weekend and was arguing in the background with Piper over how many smores to make for a camping trip to “Russia” as they call their back yard. Sarah shushed them saying that as the road unfolded before them and they confronted new horizons, yes even in the future, they would have to learn to get along whether it was skinning an elk or making cookie treats, and now Piper is learning from Bristol that no one will buy the eggs if they can get the cow for free. It’s life I said.
But then to business:
“Joe,” she said a little shakily, “I need to make a statement about this Tuscon thing. People are you know whatever pointing fingers and saying it’s all about things I have said. And I’m afraid this is just the tipping of the iceberg.”
“I’d do anything to help, Sarah:You know that,” I said. “I’m always here for you. Especially in matters of state. Just tell me what you need.”
“Ok, for starters, They say this is all about my rhetoric. What’s rhetoric?”
“That’s easy,” I said, “It’s the language you use for a specific purpose. For example, if you say in a public place, ‘This man is a wife-beater and should be driven out of town on a rail,’ that’s rhetoric.”
“Who?” she said searchingly.
“No, Sarah, that’s just an example of inflammatory rhetoric. I don’t know any wifebeaters in Marblehead. Maybe a few drunken sea captains in the last century. That’s just an example.”
“Then why did you bring it up? I’m talking about these people who got shot in Tuscon. I can’t very well say that they should be driven out of town on a rail. Some of them are dead for Pete’s sake. People will think I’m nuts.”
“Don’t listen to people Sarah,” I said serenely. “Driving someone out of town on a rail is a metaphor.”
“A metawhatchit?” she said.
“It’s a figure of speech–like saying lipstick on a pig. Remember that one?”
“Well, take it from somebody who tried, it’s easier to do that than get it on a caribou.”
In the background, Piper had decided that they would need at least one hundred smores and that they would give all of them silly African names beginning with O.
“No, Sarah, I mean when people are saying rhetoric caused this to happen, they mean language you used in the political campaign. Comparisons. They think you’re intemperate, that you use language without thinking about the consequences. Maybe–and please understand, this isn’t me talking–that you’re reckless. If a guy did get run out of town because I said he should, it’s a problem I caused. And some people might say that by putting Ms Giffords in a crosshairs helped to get her shot, especially when you made that don’t retreat reload comment…..”
“Listen, I don’t like where you’re going with this metaphor stuff. We talk the talk up here In Alaska. We keep our eye on the price and our finger on the trigger. And we don’t shoot that bridge until we come to it, otherwise we’re just, so to speak, throwing the house out with the baby.”
That reminded her that Trig had to be fed. “Todd,” she yelled in a soft way, “When you finish replaying Bristol’s concession speech on Dancing with the Stars can you put some smashed nannners in a pan on the stove.” Todd’s unmistakable voice in the background affirmed he would.
“I still cry when I think of it,” she said. “If her name had been Obeejobee Obama you know she would have come in first. But heck, I’ve raised my kids to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. When the going gets tough…”
“The tough get going, ” I said, trying to be helpful.
“You never make any sense,” she said. “I was just about to say you don’t bite the hand that rocks the cradle.”
I smiled. All I wanted was for her to go on spinning her magical web of words. Was I in love with her? Maybe.
Finally I said, “Sarah:you think in metaphors, beautiful images, almost snowflake-like in their intricacy and lightness. And no one can blame you for what you don’t mean literally. Just like my example of the wifebeater.”
“Well, up here in Alaska which is a great and worthy part of this sublime and scrumptuous landscape we call America, we shoot wifebeaters. We don’t want our dirty laundry coming home to roost. Anyway, Joe, I need some language. Some language that will let people know that when they say I caused the shooter to do this they’re barking up the wrong whatever. I need to drill that message home.”
“What’ve you got so far?” I asked.
“Well. What I said is that nobody worth heck would believe the trash these liberal pundunts are talking about me and my family and they had better shut up or they’ll find themselves on the business side of my Glock 19. But the ones on my side, I want them to know that just like this wonderfilled beautiful land we call home I have a heart as big as gold.”
“That is nice and direct,” I said. “It has punch. Especially the last part about wonderfilled. But, Sarah, here’s the problem: some people won’t know you’re speaking in metaphors. They’ll think you mean it.”
There was a long pause; Sarah was asking Todd if he had ever heard the phrase Blood Libel. “Nuh-uh” came a voice in the background.
“One other things. I want to work in the word blood libel. This person who got caught in the crosshairs, she’s a Jew right, so this is just another case of Jews trashing on Christians. I have to make that clear to my people.”
I paused. To correct Sarah is to betray her confidence in me, ruin any chance there might be that she could truly love me. I had to be careful–deft even. “Gabby Giffords is Jewish, that’s right,” I said, “but a blood libel refers to the legend that Jews used the blood of Christians in their preparation for Passover meals. It’s just a legend. But even if it was true, it wouldn’t make any sense–it’s like mixing a metaphor. I think it might hurt, to be honest.”
“Exactly. Mixing metaphors. That’s what we’ll do. Whaddya get from mixing: Cake, that’s what. You’re thinking just what I was thinking. It gets into the Jewish thing and the Christian thing in a good way that let’s people know that you can’t trash Christians just because you get shot by some rogue maverick crazy man. I’ve been taking notes and I think I’ve got it. Thanks for your help, Joe. It’s always nice to talk to you about these language things–helps me spew it off your chest and see light at the end of the rainbow. Anyway, I’ll get Todd to write this up and text you. Right now I don’t have two minutes to rub together.”
There was a click–the sudden climax of hopeless love and a busy woman. The message came about an hour later.
“I implore you to avoid casting aspersions on any individual or group for influencing alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision,…If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundunts should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.”
Brilliant. No matter how hard I try, she’s always ahead of me.