Why I Wrote a Poem Imagining Donald Trump’s Attempted Assassination

Listen to Steven Heighton read “Fake News,” in which an American bodyguard imagines taking a bullet for his president

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The Walrus

I drafted this poem well before Donald Trump’s uncongenial relationship with the various branches of his nation’s security apparatus became common knowledge and daily news. In February 2017, I heard an Irish writer, in Cork, allude to W. B. Yeats’s famous poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Earlier that day, after reading the world news section of the local paper, I’d been thinking there might be presidential bodyguards who especially dreaded the prospect of sacrificing their lives on behalf of the current POTUS. (The same thing has perhaps been true, for different reasons, of bodyguards in the retinues of every president.) When I heard that reference to the Yeats title, the phrase that now serves as my italicized subtitle leapt to mind, and the poem followed.

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My one regret in publishing the result is that it means contributing a few more words to the runaway Trump conversation now monopolizing our discourse. It goes without saying that pathological egotists thrive on attention, positive or negative. Attention is the giant kale-green smoothie, the cellular tonic, the nocturnal plasma infusion that keeps them strong and always seeking more of the same, at any cost, to all our cost. To ignore such people is to destroy them; sensing this fact, they seek to make themselves unignorable. In a way, then, I’m caving to the desperate will of a narcissist by paying him the sort of exacting, laborious attention that a poem demands. Then again, if a poem is worth writing at all, it’s not a matter of choice for the writer.

Fake News
An American bodyguard foresees his death

Do I love my country less than I pledged,
since I haven’t yet brought the tent top down
on this circus? Head clown, I and the men

code call him, in small font, or else imPOTUS
though so far he seems all too robust. True,
top-story status beats any blood tonic

or drug; the powerful never kick the bucket
without a shove. But if some fanatic
does attempt to off him (snipe him, stab him,

body bomb him), my Navy SEAL–trained nerves
will trigger a textbook-expert tackle—
not of the perp, you understand, but the Oval

Officer himself. I’ll cloak him like a flak
vest of flesh, pin him down behind the podium,
block bullets with my skull, spine, sacrum,

who knows, while gamely the band finishes
“Hail to the Chief” and streamers go on showering
the crowd, their cheers sharpened to screams

as I bleed out, locked in his trembling arms.

Steven Heighton
Steven Heighton's most recent book is Reaching Mithymna: Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos, which was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Prize, and Selected Poems 1983-2020.