The Barbarism of Rick Snyder: a Statement and Curse

The news is relentlessly grim, but there is no recent story that better encapsulates the barbarism we continue to choose as a country than the poisoning of the Flint, Michigan drinking water supply.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, aided by craven functionaries, cut public spending by replacing the clean Lake Huron water that had been the domestic water source for Flint, Michigan with the Dupont- and GM- poisoned water of the Flint River. Doubling down on the racist, class-oppressive carelessness of making the people of Flint consume this toxic waste, an act unimaginable for wealthier, whiter communities, Snyder allowed the water be treated with ferric chloride, a coagulating agent that would somehow magically make the meandering channel of old waste water that is the Flint River potable. Instead, it greatly accelerated the leaching of lead into the supply; hence, Snyder’s austerity-driven actions have resulted in exposing all of the children of Flint, not to mention the adults, to the dangers of massive lead poisoning.

Trebling down on the carelessness, the consistent response of Snyder’s government to growing community concerns were characterized by mockery, hostility, and energetic attempts to discredit the uncontroversial science supporting the public outcry. Snyder’s own task force report notes the tonal issues of the government response to the public – an obvious move to encourage the rolling of heads other than his own. Indeed, the director and the spokesman for Rick Snyder’s department of environmental protection have resigned. Snyder accepted the resignations and made his first statement expressing contrition, which, predictably, was slick but not very contrite. Rick Snyder is not sorry for his willful actions; he’s sorry “that this has happened.” He assures us that he “understand[s] there can be disagreement within the scientific community” and that “we will learn from this experience.”

The whole thing literally makes me sick, but not nearly as sick as it makes the children of Flint. Like most people who are not psychopaths, I feel an urgent desire to help children who are under attack, but there’s not much I can do. However, my skill set does include writing poems and sending emails, and along with a number of other beliefs represented by the flag I am nailing to the mast these days—from each according to ability and to each according to need; my world is my country; we are all connected, etc. —is the belief that art might have a civic function. So I have written the poem below, which I am distributing with a call for people to sign Michael Moore’s petition for the governor’s arrest, which can be found here:

For Venture Capitalist, Accountant, Business Executive, and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Who Successfully Cut Public Spending by Tapping the Toxic Flint River for Drinking Water and Poisoning the Children of the City of Flint: A Curse

Curse and invective are strangely missing from American poetry…[F]or the most part, our poets are public lovers and private haters. — Donald Hall

Here’s the deal, Governor:

I am willing to believe in an afterlife

in which you might find forgiveness

if that afterlife first detains you

twitchy and confused, not

adamantine-chained, but encircled

in industrial-lot razor wire, where we

will find you giving up, giving in

to reach for the one glinting glass

you get, chugging greedily the lead-

-steeped water, picturing your own

ganglia dying off like galaxies

but needing, needing to drink.

I am willing to believe in an afterlife

in which you are pardoned upon

the millionth time you convulse to vomit

but can’t; an afterlife in which you stare

frustrated, uncomprehendingly

at spreadsheet calculations of your wealth

now gone; an afterlife in which you,

red-faced, fatigued beyond belief,

are sorry. Yes, I would be willing

to abide redemption for you there

when your body-burden,

your toxic load has burned you

across enough weeks to equal

all the moments in the forevers

of the once full-blooming imaginations

of every child you served

the dark waters of Flint River here.


Jonathan Andersen is a community college professor of English. He can be reached at