culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Monday, January 19, 2004
The Silence of Cheney: a poem. While reading Mark Leibovich's profile of Dick Cheney in the Washington Post yesterday, I realized there was a
poem lurking in his reportage.

So, with some cutting but without reordering, here is his poem, a meditation on the silence of Dick Cheney:
The Silence of Cheney
by Mark Leibovich

Cheney doesn't like to talk
unless he has to.
He sits for long stretches of conversation,
holding his fingertips
together at his lips,
peering over his glasses.

When he does speak,
it is in a brisk cadence
and often in partial sentences,
as if to conserve every word.

He has no use for self-revelation,
yours or his own.
He is impatient
with small talk and niceties.
"Not enough hours in the day"
is his recurring platitude
for anything he deems wasteful.

Cheney relishes quiet and solitude,
the better to absorb information.
Excess words can bloat and complicate.
Information escapes.
And you never learn anything
when you're talking.

Cheney is the one known for disappearing,
into a "secure undisclosed location."
("There are a few of them, actually," he says.)

Few people know where he is much of the time,
where he resides at night.

Only that he's somewhere.

And powerful.

And if he feels your pain --
double gosh forbid --
he's certainly not going to say so.

Cheney rarely gives interviews.
The media has changed
a great deal, he says.
"As an institution.
Kind of thing where it's almost impossible
to catch up with a bad story.
Factual errors."
He mentions Lexis-Nexis, search engines,
24-hour news cycles, cable news.
"Nobody goes back to check the accuracy,"
he says.
"Can be frustrating."

He likes to ask questions,
pointed and at times rapid-fire.
This is a variation on silence
in that he does not explicitly express his views
or divulge information.
He just acquires.

You hear Cheney cough.
You see Cheney's lips move.
If you're standing close enough,
maybe you'll hear a quick mutter.
But it's next to impossible
to decipher his words.

Cheney then retreats to a corner
and digs his hand into a bag
of Werther's hard caramels.

Cheney deploys his quiet
to great, sometimes intimidating effect.

Cheney is ardently unsentimental,
especially in business settings.
He is not prone to teary speeches,
elaborate goodbye ceremonies
or, for that matter,
thoughtful reassurances.

Cheney stares at his shoes
as he makes a slow walk from Air Force Two
to a group of servicemen and their families
in a hangar at McChord Air Force Base.
They are hoisting camcorders,
raising toddlers up
for a better view of the
balding adult
in a navy blue suit.

Cheney has a long-standing curiosity --
obsession, some have said --
with catastrophic scenarios
involving biological,
chemical and
radiological weapons.
This long precedes Sept. 11, 2001.

In his skull
resides the nation's most chilling intelligence.
Lynne and their daughters never ask about it.

Is this too much information
for a man
with a sick heart?

Cheney was found best-suited
to being a funeral director.
His voice is soft and even,
like an airline pilot's.
When shaking hands,
Cheney grips hard for a split-second
then pulls away quickly,
as if he's touched a hot stove.
You can't hear what Dick is saying.

At one point, Dick is posing
with Staff Sgt. Denise Caspers.
Their hands rest awkwardly
on each other's backs.
But the camera keeps misfiring.
Cheney endures this
for several seconds.
His face is frozen
in a smile,
his hand limp
on Caspers's spine.
His body slumps
until a replacement camera is found,
and he is finally delivered.

He is professorial
but hard to hear.

Cheney has much to share,
except that he doesn't.

He is asked if he will write a memoir.
The question elicits a slight wince.
But he's not thinking about it.

An aide hands him
a folded piece of paper,
which Cheney looks at and closes.
He runs two fingers across the fold
to reinforce the crease.

He looks at the paper again.
"I gotta call I gotta take,"
the vice president says.
He excuses himself and
the moment fades to silence.
There was also this somewhat less poetic passage:

"One of Cheney's favorite recent books is An Autumn of War, a collection of essays published by historian Victor Davis Hanson in National Review after 9/11. Hanson, a scholar of ancient Rome and Greece and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institute, believes that bloodshed is a natural condition of humanity. Evil exists in the world and the evildoers need to be met head-on."

Evil exists in the world, but those Iraqi WMDs apparently didn't.

Tough luck for the silent Dick Cheney and the 512 dead US soldiers, their grieving families, and the thousands of Iraqi civilians whose disprove Cheney's silent theories with their tears and their lives.

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