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This poem first appeared in the Spring, 2014 Issue of The Antioch Review.

 

 

Before 1901

By Arthur Vogelsang

The President went to Alaska to play cards
And drink strong, room-temperature whiskey.
The President was shot and lived for months
In a hospital, then died.  You know the one.
Another President was shot in 1865 and died about immediately.
 
Suppose I said these two who were shot were combined into one
So as to be a confusing moving and different target.
It would do no good.  Not even one would actually be saved
As my imaginary one is saved whose reputation was not sullied
By the recreational game of poker as a teetotaler.
 
It was and is OK to play cards if you
Don’t drink a lot of tepid whiskey at the same time.
 
In the White House you can drink room-temperature whiskey
But it’s a tossup if your reputation would be sullied
By simply playing Texas Hold ’Em with your pals
In the White House in the morning with of course no drinking.
 
So that’s it about the three Presidents—McKinley, Lincoln,
And the one I made by combining them
So as not to have infamy attached to me or to one of the two real ones—
I thought for a moment that I had saved one,
But no, not even the wrong one.
 
Also a third President was shot in 1963 but
I have not put him into a four-President structure
As we have seen too many pictures of the deed in pieces
Of skull detail, and it seemed a bad mix
And too much of a rhetorical stretch to combine
Three Presidents in one, making four Presidents
So as to avoid personal infamy, I mean me, and save two or one.

***

ArthurVogelsangImg2000Arthur Vogelsang’s six books include Expedition: New & Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2011), Twentieth-Century Women (University of Georgia Press, 1988), which was selected by John Ashbery for the Contemporary Series, and Cities and Towns (University of Massachusetts Press, 1996), which received the Juniper Prize. Among his awards are three NEA fellowships. Go to www.arthurvogelsang.com for more, including the unique online One-On-One Poetry Workshops.

 

©2014 The Antioch Review

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