What Comes Next

By Maxine Scates

Featured art: A Flowering Cactus: Heliocereus Speciosus by Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Life’s police car, lights flashing, on the sidewalk

in front of McDonald’s and two boys on the bus stop,

one boy moving quickly away from the other

who raised his hands and dropped his pack as the officer

approached, gun drawn. But how did the cop know

which one he wanted since both wore watch caps

and gray parkas and carried backpacks? He seemed

certain enough as he handcuffed the boy

then helped him into the back of the cruiser

his now gunless hand almost gently dipping the boy’s head

into what comes next, all we don’t see swallowing him, the

signal changing, day swallowing me until this morning

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Small Boy

By Joseph Scapellato

Featured Art: Pepita by Robert Henri

The small boy says to his big sister, “Why did we kill all the Indians?”

They’re in the basement playing a video game. Both of them are white.

“We didn’t kill them,” says his big sister, “our ancestors did.”

“Why did our ancestors kill all the Indians?”

“Okay, not really our ancestors because Dad’s family came in the 20s and Mom’s in the Sixties and the Indians were already totally dead by then, mostly.”

“Why did ancestors kill all the Indians?”

“But I guess you could say it was us, pretty much, because today we’re basically the same culture as the culture of the people who killed the Indians back then. And it’s ‘Native Americans,’ not ‘Indians.’ ‘Indians’ is ignorant.”

The small boy says to his angry stepmom, “Why did we kill all the Native Americans?”

They’re returning from the grocery store in hardly any traffic. Plastic bags stuffed with food rustle in the back seat.

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Someone Threw Down a Wildflower Garden in an Empty Lot in Newark

By Theresa Burns

Featured Art: Flowers in a Vase by Odilon Redon

And now, instead of staring at the weeds
and broken bottles from the train platform,
we’re taking in a scene from a Monet.
Asters, cosmos, little yellow fists
of something. All random and confetti.
I’m half expecting a lady in a high-waist
dress and bonnet to appear on a diagonal
stroll through its splendor, pausing
with her parasol so we can selfie with her.
Maybe she’ll hop aboard the light rail
to the Amtrak station, get off in D.C.,
step back into the painting she escaped from.
Who was the genius who thought of this?
What meadow-in-a-can Samaritan
got sick of passing the four-acre eyesore
on the way to work? Shook pity into blossom.
To whom do I write my thank you?
Mayor, surveyor, county clerk, church lady.
Who marched down to city hall, begged
anyone who would listen?

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Putting Girls on the Map

By Irene Keliher

Featured Art: Orchid Blossoms by Martin Johnson Heade

Only a few students competed in Kingston Junior High’s first geography bee  and nobody came to watch. We lined up in the band room submerged in our  flannel shirts, fidgeting, happy to escape sixth period. Pine trees pressed the  window. No one expected to win except me, though I wouldn’t admit it and  tried my best to look bored. I tucked my hands into my baggy Adidas jacket,  the only brand-name clothing I owned—I almost never took it off—poised to  triumph if I could answer the next question. Mrs. Raymond, chubby purveyor  of the world to our damp county, read us questions from a stapled packet  stamped National Geographic Society. 

“What world river has seen the greatest number of refugees cross its  shores?” She pronounced ref-u-gees in three careful beats and looked mournful, as if uncertain there could be an answer to such a question. 

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Mango Languages

By Linda Bamber

Featured Art: Still Life with Birds and Fruit by Giovanna Garzoni

—For Chris Bullock (in memoriam) and Carolyn Bernstein

In that world people are not discussing The End of the American Experiment.

Yo soy de los Estados Unidos. ¿De dónde es usted?
(I am from the United States. Where are you from?)

In that world people are not in a rage at their relatives for voting wrong and sticking to it.

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Buzz Can Happen Here: Sinclair Lewis and the New American Fascism

by Michael Mark Cohen

The exquisitely named Berzelius Windrip, known to all as “Buzz,” is the fictional politician and “Ringmaster Revolutionist” who ousts FDR from the Democratic ticket in 1936 and gets himself elected dictator in Sinclair Lewis’s speculative novel It Can’t Happen Here. No uniformed buffoon like Italy’s Il Duce, nor an awkward, vegetarian mystic like Adolf Hitler, President Buzz Windrip is a decidedly American kind of fascist.

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“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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