Two implications of Bush’s proposal to beef up border security with National Guard troops:
The first is practical: it’s another instance of the militarization of civil society, which I had criticized in an earlier post.
The second is symbolic: by policing the border with troops trained for combat, Bush masterfully conflates two entirely distinct issues: immigration and national security. Illegal immigration is not a national security threat. (How many of the 9/11 terrorists were here illegally? None.) Framing immigration as a security issue obscures what it really is: a labor issue.
And what would happen if conservatives began treating immigration as the labor issue that it really is? They’d have to confront one of the contradictions of capitalism in the U.S.: we believe in “free trade,” in which corporations and products are free to move across borders, but not in “free labor,” in which the workers that produce those products for those corporations would be free to move across borders.
I recently found a poem I had written years and years ago, in July 1992, which I had absolutely, totally forgotten about. I wrote it in an undergraduate creative writing course with the astounding poet James Reiss. I’m not sure why, but Reiss generally liked my stuff. For an undergrad, I guess it was okay material. A few weeks after the class was over I was walking down the muggy streets of Oxford, Ohio, and Reiss drove by, shouting out to me, “There goes the Tungsten Wunderkind!”
Tungsten, now that I’m remembering, was one of my favorite words that summer, and Reiss knew it. The “wunderkind” was Reiss’s idea. For a while after that I fancied myself the Tungsten Wunderkind. Long after most young men give up the idea of becoming rock stars I harbored fantasies that Tungsten Wunderkind would be a great name for my first band. The one that would go on to fill stadiums around the globe, stop world hunger, meet the Pope.
But this poem here, the one I discovered in an brittle plastic binder in the back of a closet, Reiss didn’t like. I remember that too, now. Never mind the erratic meter and graceless lines, it was the closing stanza that irked Reiss. Too much like the end of Planet of the Apes, with Charlton Heston staring aghast at the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. Reiss pointed out the unintentional allusion, and I thought it was a compliment at the time.
I think I see now what Reiss was getting at.
Yet after September 11, 2001, the poem seems different. Definitely not better, definitely not redeemed, just different. I don’t feel prescient so much as in sync with Hollywood’s darkest fantasies. It’s still a bush league poem, but it’s a bush league world we’re living in.
in my dreams…
i raze the World Trade Center
down to its cornerstones.
first i heap the ticker tape
(IBM up five and a quarter,
DuPont down two and a half)
into a haystack.
then i douse the pile with
gasoline and light a whole
book of matches from TGI
Fridays and toss it in.
awake and leave behind
twin shivering spines
hunched over the harbor.