FALLING OFF THE LADDER
Of depression now I sing:
hear the bad news that I bring,
falling arms of that great man
who says: “I hope, and therefore can!”
When you’re on the bottom rung
there’s one advantage: being hung––
I should be saying “being hanged,”
but grammar is not sacrosanct.
When you are writing poems, there’s
a license, and, besides, who cares?––
is not an option. In Nevada,
they’re all falling off the ladder,
while condos built Arizona
bring no profit to their owner,
and sunshine now in Florida
is to Floridians even horrider
that that in those in other states.
While they all fall like mortgage rates
that once we thought would never climb
because we bought them when sub-prime,
but turned on us like leaves in autumn,
we’re all now fishing at the bottom,
and soon won’t fish at all––most water
has disappeared. If you went shorter
than friends who said you should go long
you may survive, for you weren’t wrong,
Avant le déluge people ought,
of course, to have gone short,
but very few did this, oy veh,
and now their money’s gone away,
and from high ladders they are falling.
Bu I must bring you more appalling
news than what I’m given you already.
Our houses all like gingerbready
houses are now being eaten,
but, though we may feel we’re beaten,
our dreadful situation will
get worse, and though no blood may spill,
entire neighborhoods will die,
since no one more can falsify
the facts that once kept us afloat.
Old Noah had to build a boat
to save himself with Ham and Shem
and Japheth. We will not, like them,
be saved––we’ve got no ark.
The situation’s looking dark
not just in Arizona and
Nevada, Florida. This land
that stretches proud from sea to sea
now asks “To be or not to be?”
To whom does it belong? Of course
to China, since it’s gone off course,
and everyone is now on trial,
including those who’re in denial,
while they on others put the onus
of guilt, collecting still a bonus.
Securities now all have an edge
of guilt, and soon we’ll have to pledge
allegiance not to flags, but bailiffs
who’ll take our omegas and alephs
while we’ll on porches stand astonished,
prepared, we’ll say, to be admonished,
but really paper cracks we’ve made
with debts, while praying for some aid
to come not from the Lord, but China.
Will the last one on the liner
turn off the lights before the panic
begins, and people say: “Titanic!”?
Inspired by an O-Ed article by Frannk Rich in the NYT, February 22, 2009 (“What We Don’t Know Will Hurt Us”):
AND so on the 29th day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill. But the earth did not move. The Dow Jones fell almost 300 points. G.M. and Chrysler together asked taxpayers for another $21.6 billion and announced another 50,000 layoffs. The latest alleged mini-Madoff, R. Allen Stanford, was accused of an $8 billion fraud with 50,000 victims. “I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems,” the president said on Tuesday at the signing ceremony in Denver. He added, hopefully: “But today does mark the beginning of the end.” Does it? No one knows, of course, but a bigger question may be whether we really want to know. One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans’ reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly “changed everything,” slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked by the foreseeable. Obama’s toughest political problem may not be coping with the increasingly marginalized G.O.P. but with an America-in-denial that must hear warning signs repeatedly, for months and sometimes years, before believing the wolf is actually at the door….
For all the gloomy headlines we’ve absorbed since the fall, we still can’t quite accept the full depth of our economic abyss either. Nicole Gelinas, a financial analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute, sees denial at play over a wide swath of America, reaching from the loftiest economic strata of Wall Street to the foreclosure-decimated boom developments in the Sun Belt. When we spoke last week, she talked of would-be bankers who, upon graduating, plan “to travel in Asia and teach English for a year” and then pick up where they left off. Such graduates are dreaming, Gelinas says, because the over-the-top Wall Street money culture of the credit bubble isn’t coming back for a very long time, if ever. As she observes, it took decades after the Great Depression — until the 1980s — for Wall Street to fully reclaim its old swagger. Not until then was there “a new group of people without massive psychological scarring” from the 1929 crash. In states like Nevada, Florida and Arizona, Gelinas sees “huge neighborhoods that will become ghettos” as half their populations lose or abandon their homes, with an attendant collapse of public services and social order. “It will be like after Katrina,” she says, “but it’s no longer just the Lower Ninth Ward’s problem.” Writing in the current issue of The Atlantic, the urban theorist Richard Florida suggests we could be seeing “the end of a whole way of life.” The link between the American dream and home ownership, fostered by years of bipartisan public policy, may be irreparably broken.
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/22/09