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Mugwump | The Nation

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Mugwump

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O beggar, bigwig, mugwump
                        —W.H. Auden

If you got to look it up, don’t use it.
A pity since we’ve all known one,
guy checking time cards, signing requisitions,
woman working her way center stage
of my worries. Every decision she weighs,
I’m on the balance, the bigwig.
Turns out, as from the mess of history
because the Algonquians
had no clue about Imperator
and Centurion and seeing no way
to excise dominion and ranks from the account,
giving Caesar what’s Caesar’s so to speak,
and Antiochus the Seleucid’s also, John Eliot,
to let his catechumens into the kindling of the lord,
his Praying Indians in Natick, Ponkapoag, Lowell,
rendered the smug of sovereign, war-lord, arrayer
in a single Wampanoag word, come down
as Mugwump, dated but still chiefly American
in its broad-brush picture of the nothings
who oversaw our stints at register or sink,
or the guy tightening the dirndl strap
on barmaid or mid-level manager
and CEO too. They’re fine, I figure,
with our menial seasons, the bosses
seeing us cross over—shrugs of resignation—v from knuckle down to knuckle under
and since acquaintance with the eternal
requires no minutiae, lives by mass or matins,
Mugwump serves their kind right.

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