The Incentive of the Maggotby Ron Slate
In his prize-winning debut collection, Ron Slate seeks out the intersections of art, technology, and humanity with intelligence, wit, and fervor. His unique voice is informed by his world travels as a business executive. As Robert Pinsky writes in his introduction, Slate “brings together the personal and the global in a way that is distinctive, subtle,
In his prize-winning debut collection, Ron Slate seeks out the intersections of art, technology, and humanity with intelligence, wit, and fervor. His unique voice is informed by his world travels as a business executive. As Robert Pinsky writes in his introduction, Slate “brings together the personal and the global in a way that is distinctive, subtle, defying expectations about what is political and what is personal.” In Slate's words, "Is this the end of the world? / No just the end / of the language that describes it." Recently published in The New Yorker, Slate has been praised by James Longenbach for his ability to “make the known world seem wickedly strange — a poetry that is utterly of the moment, our moment, because it sounds like nobody else.”
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt
WRITING OFF ARGENTINA
This morning the peso is free-floating above the unstable world of Borges.
He knew Buenos Aires was not a city to die in. Geneva was that much closer
to the other world. When the system fails the theory of the system becomes pure
and the housewives of Buenos Aires gather outside Congress and bang their pots and pans,
and their husbands gather outside the courthouse and jangle their car keys, proudly to ask,
What have you done to our good life?
Brazilian joke: Why do Argentines run outdoors
when there's lightning? Because they think God is taking their photograph.
Borges asked, What man has never felt that he has lost something infinite?
When the economy falls apart, you feel that loss, plus your pesos deflate to illustrate.
Yesterday on the Avenida Borges,we lived in this world, but what were we like?
We took our dollars to buy leather coats at the shop of Esteban Umansky,
who gave each of us a hat and gloves.
The president himself attended
our reception, and the ex-president, now under house arrest for the millions
in his Swiss account. So the Argentines go to Switzerland to hoard and die,
and we go to Buenos Aires to shop and live.
When Borges went to Geneva to die
the Argentines thought it was some kind of poetic conceit. They were too cocky to see
he had given up trying to express himself.
Something great had been lost, some treasure.
He had decided all men are benighted.
This morning of the wrecked and plundered
I am all-seeing but my soul is blind.
I feel very much like myself.
In pursuit of a deal in leather, in pursuit of one's money in the shuttered banks,
we are forgetting how to be decently unhappy.
Learn from the global lenders, writing off
their bad Argentine debts. Their dual wisdom: First, understanding the loss. Then,
understanding there's nothing to be done.
I understand and I love my odorous coat
and Esteban made me a jacket as well at a price not to be believed.
THE FINAL CALL
Is this the end of the world?
No, just the end of the language that describes it.
So the end happens but no one says anything.
It’s a downturn, not a collapse,
an economist explains.
The pair of polite apostles ringing my doorbell are in no rush to die.
In the literature of the last days there are many typos.
Dead, dread, bread, take your pick.
Whoever is saying it's over refuses to specify demands, makes no ultimatums, it's just over.
What kind of language is that?
Analysts are antic with interpretation, think tanks are flooding with thoughts.
The global information network backs up the data, streams it up to one of Jupiter's moons.
The ram's horn heralds our coming from the hills.
We're enslaved by that sound.
We're called to hang-glide from hilltops into the open air where we verify and counterpunch.
Ah, another soft landing.
Though this time a rather large sheet of sky tangles and trails down after us.
Invented by the British to annoy the French, so said De Gaulle.
The Belgians are rude but live to please,
live by pleasing. Speaking languages.
Renting their houses.
They're not rude, they just drive that way.
We dress for dinner but the ambassador dresses down.
The western nations don’t understand each other.
Never to go to war with one another again.
Invented by the western nations to annoy the Chinese.
Our ambassador dresses down.
It's his wife's birthday.
Staff of eight lives to please.
Herbert Hoover saved Belgium in 1915 with seven million tons for eleven million.
Saved Belgium from Germany and England
who misunderstood each other.
Hoover believed in uncommon men.
The ambassador is an uncommon man.
He and others come to Brussels for reassurance, each voice will be heard, each nation will achieve the goal
of living off all the other nations.
A relation of men dominating men.
Now it's your turn, now mine.
The guards take a look under the limo and wipe for traces of ill intent.
The European conscience is as clean as Antarctica.
Tiny pyramids of chocolate, a dollop of chocolate inside.
We undress for bed, the ambassador
puts on his tuxedo pants, for fit.
I sign the guest book in the morning: First it was your time to please.
Next time it’s mine.
Copyright © 2005 by Ron Slate. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Meet the Author
RON SLATE is the author of The Incentive of the Maggot, nominated for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize of the Academy of American Poets. In over 30 years of business experience, he was vice president of global communications for a Fortune 500 technology company, chief operating officer of a life sciences company, and a co-founder of a social network for family caregivers. He lives in Milton, Massachusetts.
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