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Published: Tue Oct 15 1974
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
AGNI 3 Politics Mental Health Spirituality
The Rulers

It is strongly suspected
That the Rulers of these places are, all of them, mad,
Or slightly cracked, at the least.

In their high tower rooms
They sit by candle-light, red-eyed, unshaven,
In dirty underwear,
On greasy beds.
They can think of nothing to do.
They do their exercises.
They squint at the Bible.
They can think of nothing else to do.

So they write incomprehensible telegrams,
Ultimatums blotted by hot wax and smeared ink
And, aiming at each other, they sail them
Out the windows on paper airplanes.
Explosions follow

But not always: they are too sly
To keep their word on every occasion,
They are too scared of each other
To act the way they brag is right,
So they practice strategy: they practice
Lurking in corners on dark nights with daggers,
And usually run home screaming at their own shadows on the wall.
They proclaim the coming of Reason.

That promise kept, Reason mounts his throne
And bestows his gift of electric light.
Then the Rulers dance around the throne, cackling:
Some brandish daggers and nooses, some are careless with matches,
The rest smash light bulbs against the wall
And crunch through broken glass all night long

Until, sleepless, each dawn, on edge.
Nibbling his beard,
Spittle dripping from his chin,
His palsied fingers
Barely able to grasp the pen, Reason tries
To write telegram after telegram,
But the message keeps smudging—

Then the wind roars in
And carries off the papers on the floor.
The candle goes out.
Reason screams in the dark
And the wind has a fit
Of non-stop explosions.

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Jack Anderson is the author of two books of poetry. He has also published a variety of works of dance criticism, which have appeared in Dance, The New York Times, and elsewhere. (updated 6/2010)

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