Poem of the Week / Apocalypse Approaching: Oh No, Not That Again

Henry Kissinger and Noah, yoked together by Simon Lichman as doomsday looms.

Vivian Eden

When Cold Wars Thaw

Simon Lichman

Superkiss opened the icebox
long enough for the thaw to overtake the world
which is a small place nowadays.
And as the Mississippi overran its course
Euphrates swelled and flooded Eden.

Noah's coming, called the animals,
Noah's coming. Dummies, can't you leave
your children, I said, two of a kind.
Oh no, not that again.
If they don't go, we don't go.

From the top of the Lincoln Memorial
Superkiss reviewed his work
calling to El Salvador in Chinese
Yeah! It is good.

Jetlag makes you weary.

(From Snatched Days (Elmer Books, 1984)

Both diplomacy and rain are in the air today, and both are sorely needed. They combine in this poem by Simon Lichman.

Born in London in 1951 and a Jerusalemite since 1971, Lichman founded and runs the Center for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage, which offers folklore programs that bring together Arab and Jewish school-communities (children, parents, grandparents, educators) in an atmosphere, he writes, “of serious learning and fun.”

This poem indeed mingles the serious and the fun in the character of Henry Kissinger, who is back in the news with the declassification of documents about how the United States let Israel go nuclear. This, at a time when relations between Russia and the West are on the verge not of a thaw but a meltdown.

Lichman explained in an email that the poem “was written in about 1980, inspired by the period when Kissinger was buzzing around the Middle East, etc., and there was a marvelous poster of Kissinger’s head on Superman's body.”

The history: As national security advisor to President Richard Nixon, in 1971 Kissinger set in motion detente between the United States and China; hence the echo in Chinese of “God saw that it was good” – though maybe it hasn’t been.

In 1973 Tom Lehrer called Kissinger’s Nobel Peace Prize (awarded jointly with North Vietnamese Le Duc Tho, who refused to accept it) “the award that made political satire obsolete.” Also in 1973, as Nixon’s secretary of state, he saw to it that the administration “saved Israel” in the Yom Kippur War.

When this poem was written, Kissinger was President Ronald Reagan’s envoy to various hotspots, including El Salvador, where America supported a repressive military junta. “Jetlag makes you weary” still applies to shuttle diplomacy, notably in the case of Secretary of State John Kerry.

In “Lives of the Poets” (1779), Samuel Johnson sniffed at “conceits” in the work of the 17th-century English poets he called the Metaphysicals: “The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions.”

Poets today, however, are fond of such conceits – as in the yoking together of the Mississippi and the Euphrates, of Kissinger and the Deluge. As for Noah, there is skepticism here about his program too.

*Musing: Who is talking in italics?

*Bonus: Stanley Kubrick has Peter Sellers do diplomacy.

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Vivian Eden
Rivanna Miller