An Aging Senator Returns
to the Capitol

Confused and more than half-way gone to Hell,
They wheel her in like some decrepit couch
They found beside the road. What ebon spell
Or awful drug could fortify that slouch
And stir those lips to slur some spoon-fed lines?
Perhaps corruption never truly dies;
Being machine, not man, its shape defines
The circuitry of patronage which lies
Beneath the throne, and so our senator,
Upon whose blood so many ticks depend,
Is not permitted peace nor dignity
In dotage, doomed to play conspirator
Instead until her empire’s squalid end,
While all pretend that power sets one free.



Shaun C. Duncan is a picture framer and fine art printer who lives in Adelaide, South Australia.

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16 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Amen! Direct shot taken, noted, and I am in full agreement! Well done, Shaun.

  2. Margaret Coats

    Shaun, this excellent Petrarchan sonnet displays many masterful touches. I admire the diction, alliteration, soundplay, syntax control, the conclusive final line, but most of all, perhaps, the rich little puzzle of words about the shape of corruption that leads up to the turn in the middle of line 9. The suggestion of a circuit board beneath the throne is electric, or I should probably say, electronic. This is beautifully done with a bite (byte?).

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Margaret. Leading up to the turn, I worried that I wasn’t going to be able to cram everything I needed to say into the sonnet form, so I’m particularly glad you enjoyed that cluster of lines!

  3. jd

    Good poem followed by a good exposition by Margaret. Thank you both. Love the use of “ticks”, Shaun, one of our own little devils and another excellent visual “like some decrepit couch”.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you for taking the time to read it, J.D. I wondered if “decrepit couch” would come off as mean spirited, but these people really are a part of the furniture so it seemed appropriate. By contrast, “ticks” is probably too nice.

  4. Htos1av

    Masterful use of diction to send a message of continuing danger. Well done!

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you for taking the time to read it and for commenting, Htoslav. It is a dangerous situation and not enough people appreciate the gravity of it.

  5. Monika Cooper

    You spotlight a decrepit and broken system in your flattery-free portrait of an aging senator. An “empire” of some sort is circling the drain here: while we watch and wonder.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Monika. I elected not to mention Feinstein as she’s something of a stand-in for the broader empire and obviously she’s far from the only, nor even the highest placed, decrepit geriatric in the heirarchy. There was something about the sight of them wheeling her in though that threw the whole situation into horrible relief for me.

      • Monika Cooper

        Bizarrely, despite these moments of “horrible relief,” so many people still elect not to see the situation. So we need the spotlight of a sonnet here.

        Poets get to choose which currently famous names to preserve in the memory of the people. Your choice here makes sense. As I see it, you were taking the senator’s predicament as symbol of a bigger tangled (and disintegrating) web now beginning to catch its own weavers.

        I can imagine this poem being read when her name is forgotten.

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    I can’t add anything to the praise that this sonnet has received. But one thing: if this poem should go on to be reprinted many years hence, it would be good if it had (in an epigraph, perhaps) a mention of the name of the actual senator being discussed.

    Many persons who are well known today, like others in the distant past, will soon pass into general oblivion. Several 17th-century poets placed the name or position or some other clear indication of whom they were writing, usually between the poem’s title and the text.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Joe. I went back and forth on whether to name Feinstein in the title or not and in the end decided against it because I didn’t want any partisan politics or perception of being merely a personal attack (though God knows she deserves it) to distract from the deeper issue I hoped to raise. I also thought that maybe I could dust it off and slap a fresh title on it to capitalise on the next occasion like some other hacks do. Adding an epigraph is an excellent idea though.

      • Priscilla King

        Thank you for not naming Feinstein–or Biden, Fetterman, McCain toward the end, Pelosi, Reid, McConnell, Hatch, Thurmond…Trump, likely, if reelected. Kennedy, quite possibly. Clinton, all but guaranteed. So many of these people’s whole lives have been about politics and trying to carry on being 40 forever. Their aides and voters don’t mean to lash them on until they drop. It’s so inspiring to see 80-year-olds doing 40-year-olds’ work–right up to the day when they can’t.

        It does seem a bit mean-spirited to mention when old or disabled people falter in public…but…I think Biden might have been having fun at first, but it’s hard to believe he’s still enjoying his job. Congress is less stressful than the White House, but still…

        Reading the poem and not the comments, I was all set to type, “Yah! You like to fight with old ladies? Fight me if you dare!” but there is a real problem beyond that level. I don’t think it’s good to set an arbitrary retirement age. Many people *want* to die doing their jobs. Teenagers can need wheelchairs for a few weeks. People in their twenties have been known to become ill or die. Nobody can really promise to be fit for four years of stressful work. I think, at least, after one or two public falters an individual might be well advised to work from the premise that there will be more falters and more serious ones in the future.

  7. Shaun C. Duncan

    Thank you for commenting, Priscilla. For me the issue is less about the age of the individual than what it says about the office if positions like Senator, or indeed President, can be safely filled by people who are clearly suffering from cognitive decline. Fetterman is an excellent example of this in a younger person. I wouldn’t usually comment on American politics, because I’m Australian and it’s really none of my business, but it strikes me as odd that more Americans are not asking questions about who’s actually running their country these days.

    • Monika Cooper

      Yes, in some leaders, age is a tremendous asset: “A young man’s eyes flash fire; an old man’s light.”

      (From “So Boaz Slept,” a poem by Victor Hugo.)


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