Ken Rumble

Pres iden t Le t te r s
Scantily Clad Press, 2008

with love to Violet

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I would like to thank the editor of From the Fishouse for publishing the third letter.

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Dear Mr. President, I am writing on behalf of my sorrow. Or rather, I am writing on behalf of my anger at the cruel, cruel world that never gives you—meaning me—what you want. But to be frank really, and I know you know this, I am writing on one half of the desk. But by desk, I mean such a complex set of facts and coincidence that to explain it all would leave little room in this letter for me to talk truly about the reasons behind the motivations that have caused my current activity. Tangentially, have you ever thought about that? That series of understudies and pulley operators who push buttons and pull levers and thus make our bodies go? Often I wonder from whom these men and women take instruction. The metaphysics of personhood are not my chief concern however; instead I am truly, despite these half steps and circuitous lunges, writing to discuss—writing to write may be more accurate as I hope to never hear a word of this uttered—to express my sorrow and —not or—my anger. Mr. Bush, please read my words with the feeling of compassion in your heart; it is true that I think your policies for this dear country which we love have led us on a fearful path. It is not your politics that concern me now—it is your understanding of the intricacies of the human heart. I, and others, call it the human heart, but I do not think the humanness of it has much to bring to its function. As I am sure you have also recognized, even focusing on the heart is problematic since the feelings one has that one calls a broken heart might better be described as it is in Chinese as the breaking of a man’s belly. I am not heart or belly broken; I am confused and at times unhappy. And while I mean to conduct myself professionally, I might also add that I have been frequently brought to tears like a small child to a tetanus shot. Let me address briefly an issue of no small import: this is a letter and thus should—unlike an oration—never be read aloud. And so, Mr. President, I continue. What has happened is this: I have left my lover of several years, or to be more precise, she told me to go and I left. I state both of these propositions and ascribe some higher measure of precision to one, but that is a value judgment on my part susceptible to the fogginess of human perception individual as such perception inevitably is. It is through this foggy province of perception that I seek passage. I do not think—though I think its opposite—that the current situation changes the past. As they say, what is done is done. I go on for such length because it is difficult for me to say what it is I mean, difficult to articulate that meaning to the cadre of underlings working to cause each of my actions,

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difficult also to discern meaning from the truth in something as simple as recent events, and further difficult to articulate my desires for the resolution of those events. In short, I want an easy and happy life. I want love and kindness to flow towards me as it flows from me. Am I to believe, because of these recent events, that I have not in fact been acting in a loving and kind way? Again, the mercurial nature of my understanding has delivered me a dilemma. Am I the man I perceive myself to be? Or, am I the man I perceive other people perceiving me to be? I hope there is a third answer. So I write to you, Mr. Bush, as my president, as the leader of our nation and as a figure of some authority. Please believe my entreaty is assembled with a sincere heart. I may think you a lesser man than the type that should sit in your office. I know, nevertheless, that you are a man with many more years in this world than I. It is to this man that I today write. Please disregard the stain on page 1—it is coffee I believe and had I had an abundance of paper I assure you I would not be sending you letters written on stained paper. Sitting here I find myself drawn to other activities. I might correspond with others than yourself, read a book, write a poem, catch up—and there is much to catch up—on the work for which I am paid. I believe, though, in this writing and in the possibility that were I to continue writing that I would find something of great value in the activity. I trust too that in your response I will find some comfort. It is hard to believe that I have filled two pages and have yet to tell you the name of the woman with whom I have been having relations and with whom I have ended those relations. Her name is June. I see, looking back, that I go on and on. Are these words merely a defense against some red-eyed fear that dwells within? Some interior boogieman threatening to snip the sand bags if I don’t keep strutting about the stage? It is difficult to say; if it is mere activity which holds value for me, I must wonder what value this activity—and I intend that it should—might hold for you? I do not know what to do and I fear the future. That is the sum and parts of it. I hope, trust, and depend on your ability to provide guidance. I reach for you here and now as a fellow citizen and man in need. Understand that the political battles, costs, and machinations of this era will pass largely without remnant. There is no pleasure we can stock up for future use; there is only this moment, and it is for this moment that I ask your assistance. Do not let my belief system cloud your willingness to help me, I beg.

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Your friend,

Ken Rumble

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~~~

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Dear Mr. President, Though I have not sent—nor of course heard a reply from—my previous letter; nevertheless I feel compelled to write you again. I feel as if this writing might not only ease the emotional difficulties I am currently facing, but that these letters might also help me to better understand that despite our political differences we are brothers, dough poured from the same bowl. So to be honest I have no new complaints and so no real reason for writing again so soon. And yet I find myself writing to you. Where it was that I was lost and have thus been so found in this present moment, I cannot say. My words suggest I was lost before writing you and that now I am found. I cannot deny that they are my words, that I wrote them and thought them, so even though it makes little sense, I must assume that somehow writing you frees me from some haphazard bin of lost and founds. Though puzzled, I am grateful. I must admit a falsehood that this paper and typing will not reveal. It is no longer the 10th of July. It is the 23rd of July, yet neither the paper nor type has changed. It is possible, as you may be thinking, that I am lying about one of the other of these dates—the matter aside of course that you will not read this, if you read it at all, until many weeks from now at a time no man or woman can as yet determine. I can only honestly assure you, Mr. President, that my desire for clear and true communication would be thwarted by mendacity. And yet, serendipity, I find that the difference in time—always a fact of any object’s travel from inspiration to realization—has provided me with a topic for this letter or at least a segue. Truly though, before I continue, I have had a reason for writing all along though my reason may not have been a part of it. I fear reason often abandons me of late. And yet,

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what is this reason, this logic upon which we base so many of our decisions? Reason, I suspect, is simply a tool of hindsight. I will make my concern short: I became smitten with a fair young woman: a dancer and kind. So when I wrote earlier that I had no new complaints I was not being entirely honest—I hope my current confession will balance the accounts of truth. And was it not an obviously silly falsehood? What is life if not a general complaint? A chance to have something to complain about? I know, friend, that you have heard complaints, complaints about the state of the war, complaints about your choice of nominee for the empty judgeship: it is not those political complaints which interest me now. Instead I am driven to wrench insights from the constant flow of stimuli that I experience—a string of stimuli that I may not be divisible from, simply a thread in the cross stitch of a sweater. Regardless I hope to pull out of this endless weaving some theories, some wisdom by which I can make my way from the present to the deathbed, simply put, happy. I trust, Mr. President, that you have been happy and that you have been unhappy, that you have, as the founders declared, pursued happiness. Mr. President, I did not pursue the dancer, did not go to great lengths to woo her. Was it weakness that prevented me? I have struggled for so long—truly I go from one activity to another in a ceaseless parade of action—struggled to determine the depths and breadth of one human’s ability to influence the will of another. Could I have convinced the dancer that we were meant for love indefinitely? Meant to join amongst the bedclothes? As the leader of our nation, Mr. Bush, I suppose you must consider this question on a daily if not hourly basis. And yet I find myself wondering about the relationship between a noun such as “day” or “hour” and an activity that claims some correspondence to that noun. Surely, even the measuring is at heart an activity as is the contemplation of that measuring. What then truly is a thing? Even some words are so-called action words! Is it possible that we live in a world without things at all? In that case, I cannot comprehend what we might possibly be. Nevertheless, I want certain things to happen and I seek to avoid others. It is not simply a matter of preference—I fear that I cannot continue to live under certain conditions. Why do I think my life is significant enough to consider its termination worth your attention? I do not know—I am, as always apparently, attempting to pour my internal dialogue into a public forum for the hoi polloi to take and leave as they wish. What do I imagine a readership might do to alleviate my condition? I had hoped that by addressing this missive directly to you, Mr. President, that I might grasp some extra measure of attention than I, admittedly, do not deserve. And so I am brought to the question of desserts—how can we contemplate desserts, the

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faith one might say in a future justice, when the nature of time itself suffers such constant debate? I make no claim to have deserved the dancer’s affection yet what gifts she made me of her time and thoughts made me hungry for more. Would that I knew how to consume without making waste. Mr. President, I must pause and apologize for my typing skills as they have no mouth with which to speak. I had hoped typing to you would improve those skills, but sadly I look back at this document and see that I cannot learn. It would not be a country so far from truth to say that I may have sought the dancer’s affection as one might seek out liquor to ease a heart’s poor rhythm. Was this my failing with June, about whom I wrote you previously? Was I interested only in what she could do for me, do around me to affect certain states of being, effects of which I had grown fond? Mr. Bush, do you know you love your wife? What then, as I trust that you do, is the place of personal desire in relationship? Where do your desires end and Mrs. Bush’s desires begin? I ask because I have desires I fear I cannot dismiss and I ask because I wish to have a family. Despite my stance against mendacity, even now I seem to avoid the issue that is truly at hand. And yet I find I can still barely articulate that issue to myself, my hand, or my head. I have lost my taste for my usual activities; I find little to propel me through the work ahead of me, and I have much to do. I feel, finally, on the verge of capitulation to what demon I do not know. The dancer loved another; I could not stay with June, and my life stretches before me gray. I wish to know—I need to know—how to effect the life that I dream of having, the life I thought I was living. I am alone in this world and frightened of its multitudes. I ask you to help me find a path through these wastes, you who guide our country, who has a family, a home, the confidence of your equals and betters. I ask you this not out of a sense of entitlement—I know I am not—instead I ask with the hope of tapping that grand well of goodwill for your fellow human beings that flourishes within you. Please demonstrate that I am not searching in vain by replying in earnest to this request I beg. With all best wishes,

Ken Rumble

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~~~

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Dear Mr. President, I hope it is as true for you as it is for me when I say that I have become eager for these epistolary moments—the precise number being largely insignificant and the number truly never being more than a number anyway—I became quite eager for these moments when I imagined that I had your complete attention. Yet I know not where this hidey hole is in which I keep this imaginary attention. Can it be said that the mind is a location? And if so, that it is a fixed or loose geography? It is, of course, silly to take the metaphors we use to describe abstractions, to expect these metaphors to manifest themselves in the concrete reality of tables and chairs, to think that your attention—as much as I desire it and please trust that I do—that your attention might be possessable. You have doubtless noticed that I write you today using pen & paper, yet as you also doubtless noticed, this method too does little to hide the messiness of my thoughts. Sloppiness must be a veritable part of me. Yet again I am forced to confront these metaphors that like windshields—clear and therefore useful—at times throw back blinding flashes of light to the viewer. I cannot even pause to consider the adjective “blinding” applied to light. Again I look back and see that—wrapped up as I am in the ductworks of philosophy— that I have yet to clearly state my purpose. I call it my purpose though it does not seem to be an object I can put down. I would—and I trust you feel this too at times—I would like to find my purpose and release it like a young bear I nursed back to health; I would like to be purposeless. But I must wonder—if, in our culture where the ceaseless parade of spectacle can blind, can present so many possible purposes, our culture in which our wealth of spectacle has left little spectacular—if the problem is that poetry itself has been

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left purposeless, and has this purposelessness served us? Yes, Mr. Bush, I am a poet. I suspect you are not surprised. I hope you do not hold with Plato’s dictum against poets—clearly he was a man with no passion in his heart, no desire to woo, no interest in the beauty he so rudely divorced from the world with his philosophy. It is not philosophy but reality when I write that June and I are divorced, and though we were never married by law, I feel our separation as such. We loved and now we do not speak. Mr. President, there are troubles in our world with which I know you are all too familiar. Oil, on which the whole world revolves, is running out. The day of seven billion approaches. Our people are confused, alone, and afraid—our sisters and brothers suffer and trust in no relief. Sadly, I remain undeserving of the kindness for which I ask, and sadder still, I ignore the shame asking makes me feel. And still I write you, you whose responsibilities are such that even enduring Atlas shudders to contemplate them; I write you with the sincere desire to learn what wisdom has been bestowed upon you by your time in time’s river, what eddies have brought you peace and what currents became clogged against what log jams. How do I turn the loss of a future, a lifestyle, of love itself, like an alchemist, into a charming narrative I might tell at a cocktail party thrown to celebrate a popular poet’s visit. But what are these stories we tell, we exchange like trading cards at a Saturday swap meet? And did you do that, Mr. Bush? Did you trade cards with other boys & girls? Regrettably, I did not. Is that lack the cause of my troubles? The match that set the fire that reduced my life to ash? Mr. Bush, forgive my self-obsession—I do, as you, worry for my fellow beings. Not only, as I have previously written, do I want to be happy; I also want to help ease the suffering so prevalent today. Yet, I realize sitting here in Brooklyn—Williamsburg to be precise—sitting here I realize that I have caused suffering—suffering for myself and suffering for those around me. Here though is another story of course. A story that labels me the culprit in an emotional crime. But as each story cuts away some detail and exaggerates some other, which stories can we trust? Which stories are not full of holes? Are not stories themselves possibly flawed beyond repair? I cannot say, it seems, without engaging in storytelling. Is it vanity to claim responsibility for my own or another’s pain? Does my claim invoke your pity or your ire? I do not know for what I am responsible—at times I wish I had more responsibility, dream that I have the ability to create certain events, ways of

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existing, fabrics of reality. I do not wish to be, Mr. President, a boat without a sail on the trackless ocean. I have told myself that you do not so suffer, that you understand our collective epistemological dilemma and that you act nevertheless with conviction and in accordance with a unified system of belief. And, while I find many faults with the results of your belief system—for example I do not support your willingness to engage in external military conflict—I truly admire your willingness to, as some say, make the hard decision. Meanwhile, I freeze at the sight of a restaurant’s menu items. And so, Mr. Bush, I find that what I seek is an end to the emotional peaks and valleys that have textured my landscape for too long. I seek a way to find and create the life I have sought, a method by which I could make decisions, fly from indecision on jet wings without fear and endless reversal. Mr. President, hear my words with kindness in your heart and share with me your wisdom, I beg. With all my best wishes,

Ken Rumble

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~~~

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Dear Mr. President, It is remarkable—and yet always remarking on the remarkable is less remarkable than the remark’s inspiration as you know—it is remarkable how objects—on which our great thinkers seem to be in perpetual disagreement—objects, the very doorstops of daily life, seem to continually spur action, activity, even from their passive state. And yet, what else would they do? They are merely objects, hunks of matter in a perpetual state of decay. Clearly my question is the result of unclear thinking, to think of the clouds that must be gathered in my head! Where is the southern wind of clarity? Yet I do not write you today to discuss the object/subject phenomenon, my internal weather system, or the passive v. active condition. I write instead today to seek—as a job hunter through the Sunday paper with his circles and crosses—to seek yet more advice from you. And I am puzzled to realize that I do not know what form this advice of yours might take? Without even bothering to think about whether and if I have the capacity to take such advice? Of course, where I would take this advice is a question best left to the sophists and their continual renegotiation of the terms—temporal and linguistic—of any debate with which they engage. And is not that word, “engage,” the word with which the French—with whom I know you have some difficulty—begin their sword fights? Yet—even as I type the conclusion to that sentence—I realize I am mistaken; the phrase, of course, is “en garde.” Mr. Bush, forgive me for not writing earlier—I realize that it has been many weeks since I last wrote you. I assure you that the delay has nothing to do with the current protest occurring at your ranch in Crawford. My silence is not a quiet form of resistance but instead the natural consequence of a busy and, at times, unruly life. And so it is to life that I once again return—that word that seems to mean so much when

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one is young, a word one disparages with age, a word one defends against rhetorical assault, a thing we never have enough of yet cannot exhaust quickly enough. What of my life right now, Mr. President? I risk your dispassion when I turn to this subject that is so central to me and whose distance from you may be insurmountable. Mr. Bush, I will be direct: you are aware of the metaphysical slip I have made in the paragraph two previous. What began as a discussion of a word that represents a thing transformed, by the end of the sentence, into a discussion of the thing to which the word refers. And such is always the dilemma—is it not? There was a thing I named “love” in keeping with our traditions. I followed the traditional steps, offered the traditional tokens—felt, as one does in the midst of a ritual, the approach of the spirit, the mingling of word and act; belief and reality appeared to me as one. I believed, finally, that I could remain in that state perpetually, that transcendent love was for me an open range upon which one might park one’s wagon and erect a handsome home with broad porches. And where now is that love I believed I had for June? That I believed she had for me? What has become of it? I am left with only the word, a ghost town of symbols etched in my palm. I had nothing, it appears, all that time, than my own desire for a love that could redeem me from the darkness that presses upon all men and women. As you have surely noted, I am suffering the ill effects of my long dalliance away from the typewriter; my typos mount. And now when I consider my love for June it is like a song on the radio that I hold in my head to cherish and consider like a philosophical question, and yet it is that song I cherish performed by musicians for whom I hold little respect. Mr. Bush, be assured that I do respect you, that my belief in your ability to help me is sincere. I realize that at times I may seem to be playing an elaborate ruse with these letters, that they may be mere liberal trickery disguised as genuine letters from the forlorn. I state adamantly that this is not the case. The heights of rhetoric to which I have occasionally flown are indicative of the difficulty of address. When one seeks to communicate clearly and with reason, with an awareness of the rabbit-warren that is an individual’s thoughts, such a rabbit-warren that one is hardly ever sure at the end where one has begun—without even considering one’s ability to recognize the end when it presents itself. In this case, stuck in the rabbit-warren, one must attempt through an accumulation of words to create a corral of sorts in which meaning—to which words, finally, only point—in which meaning may be loosed. It is possible too that I am merely layering words on the emotional trauma I have suffered, that my claims to truth seeking are a delusion, heat on the road to nowhere.

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I do not intend to indicate that I have no respect for June—rather, that I think of events that I once recalled with pleasure, I think of these things now and realize that the pleasure has been replaced by something else. Yet what are these things to which I continue to return like a letter with insufficient postage? I cannot change things. A rock reduced to rubble is still a rock. Finally, I see that I am simply actions, reactions. It is not, as I have hoped, love with which I am obsessed—it is rather a series of actions with many names which I associate with varying levels of pleasure or pain. And so even here my unhappiness may be at heart a simple matter of performance. And, if simply actors, should we not be able to choose our roles? Deny some and excel at others? And I wonder, Mr. President, if we are like actors and like actors at the mercy of a script, strutting and fretting our hour. If we are as actors then are we not perpetually alone? Reacting to cues without regard for whomever presents them? And even if we can at times write a portion of our own scripts, we cannot write the scripts of others. Our subjectivities communicate through the most fragile set of rituals, with each step subject to endless renegotiation from as many points in time as occur within one’s lifetime. Now if this is so, if we see and interpret the world from the narrow chambers of the coincidence of our lives, are we also without the ability to step beyond our own selves? To recognize a thing that corresponds to our word “real”? I often fear this is the case, fear that we are in fact without any connection to the absolute world of bricks and wind, let alone connected to any other single human being. Each man and woman is a projector, and no one shares a screen. And yet, Mr. Bush, it is with some feeling of contentment and love for my fellows that I report that I am happy. And so I close with gratitude. Mr. Bush, I do not know from where this happiness comes —it may be yet another act. Yet I am under no compulsion to question it overmuch. Mr. Bush, may you know joy, gladness, contentment, gratitude, a feeling of accomplishment, and the love of those for whom you have love yourself, I beg. With all best wishes, Ken Rumble

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Ken Rumble is the author of Key Bridge (Carolina Wren Press 2007) and an artist-in-residence at Elsewhere Artist Collaborative. His work has appeared in journals such as Talisman, Parakeet, Typo, Cutbank, One Less Magazine, the tiny, Alice Blue, and others. He lives in Greensboro, NC.

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