“This Time I’m Going to Fool Somebody”: Willie Stark and the Politics of Humiliation

By Dustin Faulstick

Featured Art: The politician’s corner by Honoré Daumier, 1864

“Folks,” roars Willie Stark on the eve of his impeachment trial, “there’s going to be a leetle mite of trouble back in town. Between me and that Legislature-ful of hyena-headed, feist-faced, belly-dragging sons of slack-gutted she-wolves. If you know what I mean. Well, I been looking at them and their kind so long, I just figured I’d take me a little trip and see what human folks looked like in the face before I clean forgot. Well, you all look human. More or less. And sensible. In spite of what they’re saying back in that Legislature and getting paid five dollars a day of your tax money for saying it. They’re saying you didn’t have bat sense or goose gumption when you cast your sacred ballot to elect me Governor of   this state.” From his colloquial diction and insults to his collegial banter with   his own supporters, from his invocation of corruptly used tax money to his reference to the sacredness of the ballot, Stark identifies himself as one of the people. Before neurosurgeon Ben Carson or business moguls Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump, farm-boy-turned-lawyer Willie Stark was the ultimate political outsider.

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Take Me to Your Lady Leader

By Kristen Lillvis

Featured Art: Profile of Shadow by Odilon Redon, 1895

Contact, Carl Sagan’s best-selling 1985 science-fiction novel, tells of alien shape-shifters, wormhole-traveling spacecraft, and—perhaps the most fantastical element of the bunch—a female president. Yet Contact’s protagonist, Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, compares President Lasker to her predecessors with no acknowledgment of their gender difference, noting that Ms. President demonstrates an appreciation for science seen in “few previous American leaders since James Madison and John Quincy Adams.” Despite her tie to the presidential establishment—and regardless of Sagan’s attempt to make her gender unremarkable—President Lasker still fulfills the function particular to women world leaders in literature. Whether she erodes or extends existing gender stereotypes, the female president operates as a sign of the apocalypse or, at least, a harbinger of the unfamiliar, a reminder to readers that they have entered a world drastically different from their own.

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Of the People, for the People, by the Robots

By Christopher A. Sims

Featured Art: Triumph of the Moon by Monogrammist P.P., 1500/10

American fiction has its small share of memorable politician characters—Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men and Robert Leffingwell in Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent to name a pair—but there’s a strand of this tradition that is becoming more relevant in 2016: Artificial Intelligence politician figures in the work of two of our most prominent science-fiction writers, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick.

While SF traditionally serves as a space to explore futuristic ideas, Asimov’s 1950 I, Robot and Dick’s 1960 Vulcan’s Hammer can now be reread as prescient visions of the looming potentiality of an AI political leader (perhaps as early as 2024, if Joe Biden chooses not to run).

As the so-called “Internet of Things” takes shape and works to synthesize the physical with the cyber,  we can begin to speculate about how long it will be before AIs take over even our most complicated tasks, such as governance. But the genius of Asimov and Dick lies not in their depiction of the technologies that make AI leaders possible; instead, it’s in their assumption that we will one day, not too long from now, be faced with a critical choice between human and mechanical rule. That, it’s fair to say, will be a consequential election.

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How to Survive on Land

By Joy Baglio

Featured Art: Playful Mermaid by Henri Héran, 1897

Let me tell you about my mother, a mermaid: For years, despite her handicaps, she embraced land life in Okanogan, Washington—the drizzly winters and sun-soaked summers—with a steadfastness both impressive and exhausting. She read us stories with the ardor of a human mother; bagged our lunches; brushed our hair. For years, she was just Mom: Mom who snuggled up to us on the couch with a book; Mom who packed Tupperware containers full of watermelon and whisked us away to the town pool on humid summer days; Mom who cooked themed meals (Tuna Tuesdays, Waffle Wednesdays); Mom with her perpetual ocean smell and unruly laughter. Of course, there were harmless omens of her first loyalties: shellfish for breakfast, kelp pods strewn like confetti around our living room, the shrill whale-speak whines that filled our house in the mornings, our Nereid names and Mom’s insistence that my sister Thetis and I explain to every curious land-dweller our sea-nymph heritage. (My name, Amphitrite, means Queen of the Ocean, after all.)

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By Andrew Cox

Featured Art: Summer: Cat on a Balustrade by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, 1909

–For Jerry Lee (1934-2016)

There are bobcats in the neighborhood
Said the woman in the decked-out SUV
Do you have a whistle
As I walked off my grief in Texas
Where I came to see my mother die
And when I saw the bobcat
Come from the drainage system
And stare at me with black pupils
Drilling into those yellow eyes
I knew it wanted me to sit down and listen
Love your mother the bobcat asked
Not enough I said
I could have visited more
It said man hands on misery to man
One of your kind wrote that I think
Yes I said the poem is never enough Read More

Reno Redux

By Ansie Baird

Featured Art: Man holding a horse by the bridle by Dirck Stoop

My father flew to Reno, Nevada, sixty
solemn years ago to sue for a divorce.
I had no idea where Nevada was or
why my parents were divorcing.
In the mail arrived a shiny photograph,
my father sitting tall on a horse.
I had no idea he knew how to ride.
He carried a rifle across his lap and
on his head he’d set a cowboy hat.
He was smiling like all-get-out.
I had no idea what there was to smile about.

He stayed away six weeks, at some
dude ranch where rattlesnakes curled
and lurked in the underbrush. I lived
in a cluttered city house without
rattlesnakes or a father. My mother
packed up all our winter coats and boots
and sold the house. We moved into a flat.
After that, everything was touch-and-go.

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Certain Things

By David Brendan Hopes

Featured Art: Tinker with His Tools by Camille Pissarro, 1874/76

For the sake of my father, certain things
must be done in a certain way:
tightening of bolts, of nuts around threads;
coiling of hoses; firm, instant replacement of lids;
spreading of seed from the hand held just so,
in furrows dug to the joint or the knuckle, depending;
wash it when you use it, never put it up wet;
don’t be opening and closing the screen door
as if you were a cat.
Be grateful for a job, a meal, a leg up.
All that.
In the seasons set aside for such emotions,
of course I hated him.
All things, even hatred, wear away.
In the season set aside I became him,
doing what he did in the way he did it,
hiding the injured heart the way he hid it.
Waking so many hours before full day
from the dream
that something certain’s gone astray.

Poet and playwright David Brendan Hopes has surprised himself by publishing three novels in two years. These include The Falls of the Wyona from Red Hen Press; Night, Sleep, and the Dreams of Lovers from Black Mountain Press; and The One with the Beautiful Necklaces from Moonshine Cove.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

At the Threshold

By Marilyn Abildskov

Featured Art: Dilapidated House, 1811

She hesitates, then opens the unlocked door. The house is not hers. It’s nobody’s yet. That’s why she’s here. To walk on red tiles in the empty entryway. To see if there’s carpet yet in the bedrooms. To touch the smooth white marble fireplace that reaches the ceiling in the living room. To wander empty rooms before the rooms are filled.

Here in the entranceway of the new empty house she says out loud—hello hello—and listens for something, a spirit maybe, to say something back.

Nothing. Not even an echo.

From the kitchen window, she can see her home, the tip of a modernist triangle roof. In the distance, she can hear her mother playing the piano, lost in the music. Her shoes squeak against the floorboards of the hallway. No carpet. Not yet.

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My Good Brother

By Young Smith

Featured Art: Two Boys Watching Schooners by Winslow Homer, 1880

If I had a brother, he would be called Enoch or Ephraim—
a name alive with the wisdom of some long forgotten past.
Though older than me, there would be no gray yet in his beard.

There would be no lines on his face, and his full hair—
not thinning yet, like mine—would be brown as the wings
of a thrush. He would whisper Roethke in his sleep,

my brother Ephraim or Enoch, and his poetry would lift
the weight of old bruises from my eyes. He would visit
our father’s grave and feel none of my dark anger there.

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