This is the Ice Age. Ain’t over till it’s over. Greenland and Antarctic sheets still with us, last I checked.
Here under democracy—and longtime readers will know what I mean by under—things continue apace. It’s the Elizabethan Era in the Ice Age. Every so often I can thrill myself in a plus ça change kind of way by noticing that the unobjectionable frump on the English throne these days was the same one topping out in her chair just as Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary topped out on Chomulungma. C.S. Lewis was writing his odes to monarchy and the semitic-storm-god-as-Aslan—the Chronicles of Narnia—with the frump as his only visible manifestation of these splendid unseen realities.
When we lived in Wivenhoe on the soft right coast of England, earlier in the Ice Age, the frump came to town and there was a group of anti-monarchists chanting against the bland old lady. Blair was in the midst of his spree of war crimes, enthusiastically embraced in voteville by the English left with hardly a make-tea-not-war remonstrance from the lot. The anti-monarchists’ point was apparently that they’d like their PG Tips-worth of warblood from a less gaudily bejeweled sector of leaderville.
Alas, this Elizabeth doesn’t do anything exciting, as did the first one, who liked to shift her shift and swing her naked ageing breasts at her courtiers, so the story of the Queen in Wivenhoe begins and ends in the same breath. Every village has a queen, they say. All the poppies in the world couldn’t make Elizabeth the Second a heroine. Even her name is pre-loved.
Here on the south coast of the land they call Canada, the frump’s face, in lieu of any other body part, is on the twenty, but it’d take you at least that many days to cash an English check in the era of globalization in the Ice Age.
I should tread lightly here. Liam’s tae kwon do teacher suggested two days ago that my face is on the Canadian ten. I looked and there was some old geezer with a big nose. I desperately hoped that what the teacher meant is that all white folks look alike, but it was clearly time to suppress another memory. And I wouldn’t have remembered it if the old geezer hadn’t lurched out from under the frump just now as I checked the mugs on the paper bills. With my level of income as a writer, it’s lucky that I even have such heady denominations in the house.
Here on the south coast, everyone’ll be unpinning their Opium Wars blood-red poppies today, November the twelfth, I guess, like scraping the coagulations of a hundred-and-seventy years of platelets and heroin from exit wounds. I’ve been away from the land called the United States for so long that I’d forgotten they don’t wear poppies there until someone, I forget who, reminded me. So many forgettings.
The political unconscious: pretending that Canada’s aggression in the Great War, its willingness to kill teenage boys to satisfy the bloodlust of frumpy, inbred European leaders, did not resonate throughout that century, raising swastikas as surely as poppies in a field of dreaming.
Just for yuks I quietly denounced a packed traincar filled with poppy lovers the other day, using words like heroine and Afghanistan and China and opium and cowards and swastikas and such, and not one of the sheep-like people with their little scarlet affiliation badges of shame so much as offered a platitude about respecting the sacrifices of our troops. They’re all brave as long as someone else is doing the fighting. You know that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Yo, geezers with noses rule.
Let’s top that success with a vocab word. We need a word to describe the permanent ineffectual strivings of the democracy crowd—their flailing. Flailure will do nicely. A hundred-and-seventy years of flailure at the sign of the bloody poppy.
In the golden age of the first Elizabeth, the multitudes suckled at the breasts of leaderville. In California, I hear, Mr. Brown was out of town, killing Mr. Black. Now Mr. Brown is back in town, and leaderville, flailville, returns to its primal instinct of hopping on pop. The Mr. Browns you have with you always. He that hath ears, let him hear what the prophet says in the time of Elizabeth, in the time of the ice, at the end of all things, before the renewal.
In the midst of the city in the heart of leaderville, in the thrash of flailure, a tree will grow in a pothole. At the sign of the tree’d pothole, the poppies begin to die.
DAVID Ker THOMSON is a once-and-future prof at the University of Toronto. Dave.firstname.lastname@example.org