"The electorate tends to exist perpetually in the present tense, with little collective memory or foresight." Steve Kornacki, "W’s elevator endorsement trick," Salon.com (May 16, 2012)

A Mall and the Night Visitors
(with apologies to a made-for-TV opera with a similar-sounding name)

Late one night at the empty shopping mall,
A rent-a-guard patrolled (by the name of "Amahl")
Who’d learned a little English from his friends at school,
Who showed him — in the present tense — the only rule
Required to quote what he and others once had said
As if the past and memory had long-since fled.

“I go,” “I’m like,” “I’m all” they chat and blab away,
Gesticulating, but without the verb to say.
Whatever noise emerges from between their jaws
Seems rather disconnected from syntactic laws:
Some speech with no relation to an absent “time”
That means no more than "now” — explained in pantomime.

One night as he assiduously made his rounds,
Amahl began to think he heard suspicious sounds
Which filled him with a growing sense of creepy awe,
Along with spectral visions that he thought he saw
Reflected in the windows of the shuttered shops
Abandoned by their owners — current business flops.

The ghostly apparitions seemed to number three:
Obama, Bush, and Clinton, a collective "we"
Who come around whenever they have need of things
Like money, votes, and power on the scale of kings
From taxes on your wages and the things you buy
To lavish on their friend, some crooked banker guy.

"In case you wonder why we chiefly come at night,"
They said, "It's 'cause the things we do can't stand the light.
So now we come to scare you, not offer gifts
But, rather, to exploit you with our many grifts.
To do this we must keep you tired, exhausted, numb
From overwork and little schooling, drained and dumb."

"In debt and with no choice but to accept, and hence
Unable to escape the awful present tense,
Within the moment trapped, just do as you are told.
Your body and your mind we have already sold.
You're all like going "OK" as these words you hear,
Which means, from you, we parvenus have zilch to fear. . . ."

But then he woke up in his senior English class
And poor Amahl recalled that he would need to pass
A test this coming Friday written on a page
By someone more than several months above his age
Who sympathized with kids who have to work so late
But couldn’t conjugate a verb to change their fate.

Michael Murry, "The Misfortune Teller," Copyright © 2012-2021