Ernest Hemingway’s State of the Union

Alexandra Reinecke, Art and Literature Editor

People say it is a bad time for America. A loud man with hair the color of a shoe-brush has taken power, and people are unhappy.

It is January and things have been bad since the tail end of the fall. I’ve already written something about it, but to tell a decent story is a most difficult and heroic process. It is the truest one I know.

If there is hope to speak of, it might be spoken in the English, and not the American dialect of the language.

People know the shape of danger. They know it as one knows a background one often ignores, the mountain-rage behind the family in the holiday card, but today they have come to see it. When I took my bread and coffee this morning another man said “It doesn’t translate.” I think he is right.

Later, at noontime, my son asked me about it.

“Poppa,” he said. “Who does it belong to?”

I did not reply. I was siting in the kitchen watching the birds on the porch. A crow bobs like an oil rig, I thought.

“Our country,” John said.

“Tired men,” I said, and thought of oil rigs. They were metal creatures in my head. Industrial giraffes.

“Like you?” said John.

“No,” I said.

“Like uncle George?”

“Tired is different,” I said.

“How, different?”

But I didn’t want to talk of such things. I reached for the mac and cheese bowl across the table. It was a good, sturdy table. The bowl was gray. It was the gray color of the oysters I remembered always having eaten at Finca Vigia, which had been a good period in my life. I thought how your good periods pass you, how a country’s good period leaves its land with only the fleeting memory of running. I thought about how all of America feels like a soccer player once another man has run past him with the ball, leaving only the swipe of his jersey’s color for the man to remember, only a biting warmth in the kicked-over shin.

John wore a white Hanes t-shirt on which were printed the words “Make America very good again.” The words were good words, part of a manly sentence I had written a long time before, but it had been a long time since I had remembered why I’d written it. It seemed to mean something significant.

I ate. The mac and cheese was good. I began to forget about it being a bad time.

“Dad,” said John.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“We should watch the news,” he said.

“Eat your lunch,” I said.

“I can’t eat my lunch,” said John. He didn’t touch his mac and cheese. He didn’t push it, but I knew he was angry. I guessed he might also be sad.

It was quiet in the room a while, and I watched the crows outside, bobbing like oil rigs. When John went finally to turn on the news, he turned it on without sound. I ate the rest of my mac and cheese and sat beside him. His shoulders were slanted a mean angle, away from me. I didn’t want to watch, but I wanted John to like me. I wanted him to understand me as brave. I cranked some salt granules into the bowl and picked at them with the fork. I looked below the television, where green bottles stood in a frank, martial row. It was quiet between us, and the screen was bright.

“We don’t have to watch it,” John said, after a while.

“No,” I said, “we don’t.”

John flipped to a baseball game.

“I know you, pappa,” he said.

We watched the game. The familiar scene of the game made me comfortable. It was quiet between us and we did not talk about the difference between the English and American use of the word “hope.” It was warm and pleasant watching the game. It was nice to sit and think about something other than it having been a bad time in America. John ate his mac and cheese when the second inning closed and I was glad.

As I watched the game I thought of a title for my story. It’s going to show how America has failed at making itself very good. It is going to be strong and tragic. I’m going to call it “The Sun Also Rises, But Only on TV.”