American Presidents

I have stared at them over meals,
And in between, for three months now:
A full gallery of American presidents
Assembled–on a paper place mat.

I can tell them apart now in any crowd.
I could greet them on a first-name basis:
George, James, Calvin, and Andrew,
Zachary, Rutherford, and Bill.

Nearly all the early presidents
Would be decidedly unelectable today.
Four of the first eight­the Johns, James, Martin–
Might join the Hair Club For Men.

It was Abe Lincoln who started the fashion
For facial hair. Nine of the next eleven
Had beards, moustaches, or sideburns.
It took Wilson to reverse the trend.

A serious look was de rigueur for presidential
Portraits: there are a few who look grim.
The smiles first appear with Herbert.
After him, they stretch into a grin.

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston. His second book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations was published by Palgrave (2000). He may be reached at

Copyright: M. Shahid Alam.


M. SHAHID ALAM is professor of economics at Northeastern University. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Macmillan, November 2009). Contact me at