Tag Archives: McAdooiad



It makes no wake, no waves lap the shore ahead of its arrival –
For so swift is its advance, and so massive its bulk appears,
That were it to set a wave in motion, they would all be washed away.
It looms before them, still some distance off, but to McAdoo
It seems he might be flying into obsidian cliffs.

Consider a great thunderhead, first seen low upon the horizon
While you are picking strawberries.
And you think, no, it’s fine, I have plenty of time
Before the storm’s arrival… Time to search and pluck,
To fill my basket to overflowing

So you resume your task, admiring each luscious berry,
And then you look again, and the cloud is nigh upon you,
And the wind stirs, and the birds fall silent,
And you run to seek shelter – so was the ferry’s
Swift and silent advance towards the river’s shore.

The great ship stops its forward progress. Looking up,
They can barely see the prow, so high and far away it is.
Then with a great creaking the bow opens,
Fanning out into a thousand gangplanks reaching towards the shore.
It opens like a peacock’s tail, spreads out like a black cloak across the water.

“One coin is for when you embark, another for when you leave,”
Said the Guide. “Hold the biscuits – you’ll need them on the other side.”
“And the third coin?” asked Smith (A.) – the Guide in answer cleared his throat.
“Ah,” said McAdoo, reaching into his pocket. “Thank you for your help.”
He handed the Guide a coin, which he accepted with a bow.

“It has been my pleasure,” said the Guide. “Now – Watch your step.”
McAdoo turned, and walked toward the nearest gangplank.
Several shades moved in front of him, several fell in behind.
He turned, concerned for his companions, but the Guide waved him on
He saw them all behind him, lining up amongst the spirits.

Slowly the queue moved forward. Ahead of him he saw a brief flurry
Of motion, and it seemed that something fell from the gangplank
Into the dark but shallow waters below.  A shade emerged,
Walked back to the shore, and resumed its place among the crowd,
There to wait, thought McAdoo, for another millennium or so.

Then he was at the gangplank’s end, before an inscrutable face.
“Welcome, mortal,” said a voice. “Your presence has been anticipated.
Payment, please.” He handed the wraith his second coin, and stepped aboard –
And found himself astride a small rowboat. He stumbled, pitching forward,
As the tiny craft yawed dangerously under his weight.

“Sit down,” said the old man at the bow. “You’re rocking the boat.”
McAdoo sat, bewildered, struggling to comprehend. “The ferry -”
“Come now, McAdoo,” the old man chided. “Do you not know
That though all must take this journey, and many at the selfsame time,
Nonetheless each and every one must go through it on their own?”

“Charon,” breathed McAdoo. The old man bowed. “The same,” he said.
“There are none who cross but it is I who take them there.”
McAdoo looked about him, but only water, endless, returned his gaze.
“But this – this is your trip. Sit back, relax, let your mind be calm.
I cannot answer all your questions, but I can answer some.”

But even McAdoo, whose mind leapt like a leopard towards gazelles,
Could find no words to speak, or sort through the many thoughts
That clamored for attention in his mind. For there beyond the rugged bow
A shoreline’s shape he saw emerging, and knew it to be his goal,
And that he soon would step upon the well-worn shore of Hell.




A beach it was indeed – but like no beach he had ever seen.
For this is the shore that has no condominiums,
Where suntan lotion never sells. No brochure
Advertises that view, no agent (save Stavros) offers package deals –
And there is no romance to be found there, nor souvenirs for sale.

There must have been light, for he realized he could see –
But there was neither sun nor color. He took a handful of sand,
And watched it run between his fingers, black as coal.
He looked around, and saw his group arrayed about him,
Slowly coming to their senses. He stood quickly in their midst.

“My friends,” he said, “do not fear. Unless I miss my guess,
We have been spared that arduous trek
Once trod by Hercules and Orpheus, Dante and Aeneas.
Instead, our friend Stavros has sent us off in style
And let us take – shall we say – the express rather than the local.”

At this they heard a cry, and looking up, saw white-haired Stavros –
Standing, it seemed, upon a tall and distant cliff –
Though he might also have been in a hot-air balloon,
So little of him could they see as they strained to hear his words.
“Good to see you all made it through!” be called.

“I apologize for the nature of your trip, but I know your time is precious
And so I could not accompany you down the long and ancient way.
Remain where you are, and be not afraid – your presence
May cause some commotion amongst the shades,
But your escort will arrive shortly. Check your pockets – and again, farewell!”

Their wallets – gone. Passports – gone. Watches, cell phones,
All had disappeared – save for three gold coins, and several Milk-Bones,
Their pockets had been emptied. Alarmed, they looked to McAdoo,
Who had answers at the ready. “No photography allowed,” he said,
“And down here, believe me, reception is lousy anyway.”

“Your personal possessions are of no further use,” said a voice.
“As you already know, you can’t take it with you.” They turned as one,
And saw – a man? A boy? An ancient, long beard and all?
His form shifted, sometimes radiating youth, sometimes sallow age,
Sometimes both at once. Only his eyes remained constant.

“Upon your return to the upper sphere, your goods shall be restored,”
He said. “In the meantime, rest assured that they are protected
More securely than any vault on Earth could ever promise.”
“We thank you,” said McAdoo, and all the others added their assent.
“Where are we, and if it is permitted, may we ask who you are?”

“I may have had a name once,” he said, with something like a smile.
“But here no one ever asks for it, and in truth I do not miss it.
Here I am but one of many guides for the newly arrived,
Whom I escort to the shore you see before you, the banks
Of the Dark River – for that is where you are.”

And now their eyes had adjusted, they looked shoreward once again
And became aware of movement along the river’s edge.
Indeed, there was nothing but movement,
For the entire shore was densely packed with jostling shades
So tightly crowded that they seemed to overlap.

As a field of wheat ripples in the warm Midwestern breeze,
So did waves of motion play across that ghostly mass.
But there was no sound, no cries of “Hey! Watch it, buddy!”
Nor polite whispers of apology, as spirit nudged against spirit,
Slowly swaying along the obsidian shore.

“They do not yet know,” said their Guide. “They are as dreamers,
Or babies newly born, or surgical patients emerging
From Morpheus’ painfree embrace. As you are discovering now,
Other senses come into play here, senses deadened
Under the weight of flesh and air, senses that must be learned anew.”

He gestured to them to follow, and turned toward the shore.
“Stay close,” he said to them. “Answer no question, make no comment.
Be as they are – still, quiet, and patient. I will make a way for you.
Oh – but do guard your pockets.” So saying he walked ahead,
turning now and then to check their progress.

When young boys break into an abandoned house,
Their imaginations filling each room with dread,
They advance in a clump down the creaky hallways, not daring to breathe,
Their flashlights swinging wildly at every wooden creak,
Jumping out of their skins at the sight of the dead man’s cat.

So how did they manage, these mortal though powerful men,
Advancing through real and actual ghosts to that most final of shores?
I would like to tell you that they kept their cool,
Facing these specters with the same kind of bravado
They used on conference calls with investors.

And they tried their best, in truth they did,
But each one felt his knees give way, his heart race,
Felt fear like he had never felt – save McAdoo,
Who was too busy looking at the faces of the shades
To think about the fear he felt within.

“Oh Guide,” he said, sotto voce, so as to not disturb,
“How long have these shades been here, how recently have they died?”
“Depends,” said his companion, with a hint of surprise at the question,
“Some have only arrived this very instant, some have stood here
For much, much longer. Do you seek someone?”

“Oh – no,” said quick-thinking McAdoo. “My parents died
Some time ago, and I am certain that in this great crowd
Even were they present, I should never find them here.”
“Just so,” said the Guide. “A shade could wait here for millennia,
As passes Earthly time – but never know the difference.”

“Remember,” he said, “this is Eternity’s shore you stand upon,
The boundary between your time and timelessness. You still retain
Your sense of Time’s flow – but to such as I the truth is clear,
That all that happens or will happen there has happened.
Not everyone is willing or able to make this crossing.”

And now a great horn sounds, and the companions jump as one,
Sending ripples throughout the assembled ghostly horde.
“Fear not,” says the Guide, reaching out to steady them,
And to calm their quivering shoulders.
“That is the sound of the Ferry arriving – look, and see if you can see.”

From the dark grey fog, across the dark grey waves,
Their eyes discern an enormous shape emerge. A ferry – or a cruise ship,
Indeed, a ship much like to those they saw upon the Aegean waves,
But with a mountain’s bulk and height. A mountain, or a mountain range,
Perhaps, peak piled onto peak – but made all of black glass.



 The baklava was sweet as profit and twice as sticky,
And the ouzo and dark coffee flowed as the dishes were cleared
And the tables rearranged. The musicians struck up a tune
And the hosts gestured eagerly for the strangers to rise.
The waiters, smiling, joined their hands to demonstrate.

As a newborn colt first tries his spindly legs
And wobbles beneath his mother’s watchful gaze,
So did these men, first haltingly, then more assured,
Try the simple dances.  Slowly did their restraint dissolve,
Caught up in the spirit, the ouzo, and the bouzouki’s strings.

 Yes, soon they dipped and swayed like experts,
Stomping like true sons of the island’s shores.
Cries of “OPA!” ringing down the streets
The old men in the roadways, eyebrows raised
Exchanged amused and knowing glances. “Those tourists…!”

The dancing and the drinking, the drinking and the dancing
Carried on through unknown hours, until it seemed
That the very house might be loosed from its ancient stone foundations.
As the level boat deck, seeming solid, slowly begins to stir
As the storm approaches, so did the floor gently weave and rock.

But suddenly the musicians stopped. And when they stopped,
The dancers stopped.  And when the dancers stopped,
The deep bass rumble that had underlied their dance became a solo voice,
Taking on new meaning.  For now the house itself was dancing –
To a tune of ancient vintage, one written by Gaia Herself.

 “EARTHQUAKE!” cried Delaceur, and the newcomers
Looked about themselves in horror. The islanders had vanished already,
Alerted by some primal instinct – save for Stavros their host, who caught
The eye of McAdoo and serenely nodded, as if to say
“Ah yes – I believe your request has been granted.”

 A wave then passed across the landscape
A graceful wriggle, a sinuous crest
As a cobra when it raises itself to strike,
Or as the belly of the Lady Asta undulates
When she does the hoochy-coochy at the Monroe County Fair.

As that wave passed beneath the house of Stavros,
The ground rose, and the floor cracked across like an eggshell
And as the wave passed, the floor collapsed
Opening an unfathomable pit below. The lights went out,
But not before McAdoo saw the roofbeams and the plaster fall.

 Put a blind man with depression in a coal mine at midnight
And he would not see such blackness as yawned now beneath them
That blackness took them in, these men of wealth and power
It swallowed them like so many sardines, like minnows,
Like plankton down the gullet of a whale.

For how long he swirled down that sea of nothing
McAdoo could never say. The darkness took all, light,
Sound, thought, time itself… and then he was again.
He lay, it seemed, upon a beach – felt sand against his back,
And heard the gentle sound of lapping waves.

 “Ah,” he thought, “They saved me from the house,
They must have taken us all to the shore
Away from falling buildings.” Then thought of his companions
Brought his eyes full open, and set him bolt upright
To find his fellows, and gaze upon his new surroundings.


Excerpt from The McAdooiad: The Vale of Pundits

(In my epic-in-progress poem The McAdooiad, a political consultant leads an expedition to Hades to conduct a focus group there. While there, they are given a tour by the shade of someone who might be Mark Twain, or maybe Kurt Vonnegut, or possibly both. They travel to the section of Hell called the Vale of Pundits.)

“Hell has expanded since Dante’s day,” the guide explained.
“More than just nine rings – indeed, nine times nine sets of rings,
A great anti-amusement complex, a vast park of punishments,
Mall upon mall of maulings, subdivisions of sufferings,
For those who could not, would not, dared not repent.

“Construction continues, new Hells are designed, approved, erected,
But it cannot keep up with the influx of souls – hence your delays upon entry.
Still for all the mass production, for all the identical highrising rows,
Yet there are some who have rated their very own personal dooms,
who have crafted their eternal homes, which even now await their architects.

“Ah, we have arrived. Come, gentlemen, behold the Vale of Pundits.”
The huge conveyance rattled to a stop, its doors sighed open
And roughly spewed them onto a lofty platform.
Before them swam a frothy miasma of shifting positions,
A sight that made them dizzy and disoriented.

Like the froth of bathtub suds, when a young child empties
The whole container of Mr. Bubble beneath the faucet’s roar;
But also like a pit of lava, bubbling, erupting, red-hot heaving –
So did this jumble of enclosures appear
To the travelers’ bewildered eyes.

“Each of these spheres,” explained their white-haired escort,
“That you see before you, stands ready for its guest.
These are for those who sold their gifts to the highest bidders,
Who betrayed both their craft and their fellow beings
To deceive and divide, to satisfy the needs of the powerful.”

“Somewhere in this Hell … here, this one: see this vast, empty plain?
In its midst  there lies a table; behind, a comfortable leather chair.
On the table sits a great golden microphone, and an ashtray with a cigar.
There is a man who has condemned himself to sit behind that microphone
Forever, and smoke that cigar, and talk and talk and talk and talk….

“Trying to convince someone, anyone, that he does not belong there.
The microphone, however, will not be connected to anything.
Only he will hear himself, and he will hear only himself
But he will not even be able to convince himself.
Because no one could ever make him change his mind.”

“And here! Oh, look, you spinners of words:
For here is something you may perhaps find instructional.
Behold this scene, see these halls of mirrors?
Here shall languish a man, who mastered the art of litany;
The lie, repeated enough times, he made to seem truth.

“So every word here uttered, each sound made, shall rebound
Unendingly, to the eternal torment of those poor Irish ears.
But this is the bed which he himself has made.
Here, I can demonstrate…” and leaning close, the guide
Whispered one small word: “Benghazi”

Like the clanging of bells in a clocktower, as evening’s sun
Disappears behind the tenements, or the sounding of klaxons
That warned of impending bombers, the word
Fed back upon itself, building force without remorse or mercy,
Until the travelers thought their heads should indeed explode.

It lasted but a second, this great cacaphony, this
Tsunami of dreck, but it left them all grey faced and ashen.
“Tell me, Guide,” said Barychnikov, his beard trembling,
“I recognize these men of whom you speak. What of
That woman, tall and gaunt, who so delights in outrage…”

“Say no more,” the guide replied. “She of whom you speak
Has such great pain created, such revulsion caused,
With such carelessness and cruelty, with such deliberate malice,
That were I to show you the fate that she has created here
Your minds would go mad, and your hearts shatter.”

“One last ere we move on…” He turned with bushy eyebrows
Towards the churning mass, and one sphere moved to the front.
They saw a great rotisserie, a turning spit, above red-hot coals.
The spit was empty, but standing all around were monstrous,
Hungry, clutching hands eagerly straining towards the fire.

“Here shall soon reside a man, once powerful, a leader of the pack,
Who built an empire from falsehood and fright. Of great bulk
And greater ego, he forced himself upon the women in his employ,
Enslaving them to his appetites. So here he shall spin, if you will,
While he is groped, prodded, molested, and worse.”


or, A Focus Group in Hades


Sing out, O Kryptolia, O hitherto unknown Muse of hidden things!
Muse of secrets, of furtive plans, of whispers and rumors, sing!
Allow your humble servant to leak the tale of that perilous journey
The vote-gatherers took, the pollsters, the dizzy-spinning men,
To Hades, seeking the counsel of the dead.

It was McAdoo the far-seeing, McAdoo of the silver-templed head
Lobbyist, powerbroker, whose Porsche shone iridescent green,
Who caused the knees of Senators to buckle in fear or gratitude, depending,
Yes, McAdoo it was who rose at lunch, and the PowerPoint preso glowed
Behind him in the warmly paneled conference room.

“Come,” he said, “we who would know the minds of the electorate,
Who with our tools can discern the currents of opinion,
So that we can gain knowledge of interest to the powerhungry
And design for them the magic spells that bind their followers
And cast confusion into the camps of their adversaries…

“We seek to understand the hearts and minds of all who live
But there are others who know more than we ever could
Others no longer hindered by their own biases or interests
Others who vision exceeds that of CNN, or Fox, or al-Jazeera
For they have left this world and watch impassive from below.

“Know that next week shall I set out for the sparkling Aegean
There to conduct certain – shall we say, transactions
Which shall give me safe passage to the banks of the Lethe
There to conduct focus groups among the shades of the departed
And you can go with me – for only ten thousand dollars, double occupancy.”

What hubbub, Kryptolia, what buzzing, what flipping of phones
Did McAdoo’s words among the gathered suits create!
Like that swarm of cicadas, rising from near-score years of slumber,
Their wings darkening skies, their wings beating the air,
So did that conference room hum with the sounds of rearranged schedules.

And so indeed, as the administrative assistants had arranged,
Did private jets, corporate jets, jumbo jets, circling like seagulls,
Flit between the clouds above the Acropolis; and grey-eyed Athena,
Had she bothered to appear, might have smiled – smiled that rueful smile
That the gods put on when confronted with the follies of mortals.

And here now, goddess, show us the names on the passports,
As they are stamped by the customs personnel, watching their watchlists:
crafty Macgillicuddy – stout-voiced Herberts – Chen, of Hong Kong,
Liu who rarely smiled – Delaceur, ambition-driven, heedless of others –
Hendricks and Al-Gabir and Barychnikov, Smith (A.) and Smith (R.).

And behold, the great yacht Gorgon cruising among the Aegean isles
Where once sailed crafty Odysseus, proud Achilles, doomed Agamemnon,
Kings whose ships could serve as mere dinghies for this craft,
Whose banquet halls would perhaps fit upon its foredeck,
And whose fields would be hardpressed to supply its sumptuous buffet.

The Gorgon sought its harbor, a bay along an islet set upon the sea
Like a small emerald displayed on cloth of velvet blue.
Skiffs were launched, each ferrying half the touring band,
To the pier where their host, Stavros of weathered face,
Stood anticipating their arrival, ready to welcome them.