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  • Dreams of the Presidents
  • Written by Charles Barasch
    Foreword by John R. Turner
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9781556437502
  • Our Price: $12.95
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Dreams of the Presidents

From George Washington to Barack Obama

Written by Charles BaraschAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Charles Barasch
Foreword by John R. TurnerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by John R. Turner

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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents


The stuff of dreams—hopes, fears, and longings—represents universal subjects to which everyone can relate. Dreams take on a new cultural currency in this collection of dream-poems, one for each American president. Exploring power, as well as its limits and possibilities, linguistics instructor Charles Barasch plays no favorites, making light of the sense of entitlement and self-importance that afflicts too many politicians. Fun to read, humorous, and laced with events of historical interest, each poem gives a dose of insight into the president’s life and his relationships with others, including his family, allies, and rivals. Where contemporary people or important references to American history—such as slavery and the Indian wars—occur, notes explain and contextualize them within the poem’s meaning. Published during an election year, this book offers a well-timed look at politicians, some much-needed laughs at leaders who take themselves too seriously, and a fun platform from which readers can start to explore the lives of those who, for better or worse, have led America.


George H.W. Bush’s Dream

I’m flying a mission over the Pacific,
the water still as a summer pond.
With no target in sight,
I do some rolls,
some loop-de-loops.
I feel like I’m fox-trotting
with Barbara, the wind her fingers
in my hair. I guide the plane
just like I lead her, a promenade,
a little twirl and dip.
A biplane is on my tail,
Saddam in the cockpit like he wants
to cut in, and I try a dive,
but he’s still crowding me, so I pull my ‘chute
and drift down over Washington,
past the monuments and the pool,
onto the White House lawn.

A carrier pigeon wings
into the Oval Office and becomes Dan Quayle
with a note from Greenspan to raise taxes.
I scream, “Can’t anyone read my lips?”
and Barbara comes running in
saying something about Georgie
sniffing cocaine again, and I feel
like being somewhere else and hop
back in the plane, pull on the throttle and we’re up
in the air again. I get Saddam
in my sights, but remember “kinder
and gentler” and bring the plane in.
Saddam and I do a hot tango
on the tarmac, and I let him lead.
George H. Bush (1989—1993)

Bush enlisted on his eighteenth birthday and, ten months later, became the U.S. Navy’s youngest pilot. He flew fifty-eight combat missions in World War II. In his nomination acceptance speech, Bush said, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Two years later he agreed to a budgetary compromise with Congress raising taxes. Bush also called for a “kinder, gentler” nation when nominated and repeated these words in his inaugural address.

Bill Clinton’s Dream

I beam when Rabin and Arafat shake hands
across a wooden table and, for the cameras,
swap headgear. A star flares, a sign
of peace, then hurtles toward us,
becomes a gavel that smashes
like a wrecking ball into the table,
as a robed judge — I can’t tell who,
maybe God, maybe Clarence Thomas —
intones my name from a towering pulpit.

Then I’m back in Hope, a young man
pushing a stroller, holding Hillary’s hand.
We enter a thick woods.
I run ahead, plunge deep
into the forest, stumble through brush
and over fallen logs. I’m lost.
I see a faint glow in the cedars
and think I’m in a fairy tale,
it must be Grandma’s cottage.
I imagine Newt Gingrich
has devoured her and waits
for me, ready to pounce.
But it’s the White House,
and tourists jam the main entrance,
so I duck around back,
open the door to a tavern
filled with smoke and music.
I get my sax to jam
with Springsteen on stage,
but first sit at the bar,
buy a scotch for the woman
on the next stool. When she turns
to me her mouth opens
wide as if to scream. I put the sax
in and she plays a slow number.
Bill Clinton (1993—2001)

In 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed a peace agreement on the White House lawn and, with Clinton looking on, publicly shook hands for the first time.

George W. Bush’s Dream

Air Force One takes off,
banks low between buildings,
down alleyways, through tunnels,
stretching and bending impossibly
like in a cartoon. I’m having fun
but see there’s no pilot
and climb over mounds of naked bodies,
severed heads. I’m afraid
I’ll be sucked under, but crawl
to the cockpit and grab the wheel.
I realize I don’t know how to fly,
and when the White House looms ahead,
I wish my father were here.
George W. Bush (2001— )

Table of Contents

Foreword XIII
George Washington 1
John Adams 2
Thomas Jefferson 4
James Madison 6
James Monroe 8
John Quincy Adams 10
Andrew Jackson 12
Martin Van Buren 15
William Henry Harrison 17
John Tyler 18
James Polk 20
Zachary Taylor 23
Millard Fillmore 25
Franklin Pierce 27
James Buchanan 29
Abraham Lincoln 31
Andrew Johnson 33
Ulysses Grant 34
Rutherford Hayes 36
James Garfield 39
Chester Arthur 41
Grover Cleveland 43
Benjamin Harrison 45
William McKinley 47
Theodore Roosevelt 49
William Taft 51
Woodrow Wilson 53
Warren Harding 56
Calvin Coolidge 58
Herbert Hoover 60
Franklin Roosevelt 62
Harry Truman 65
Dwight Eisenhower 67
John Kennedy 70
Lyndon Johnson 72
Richard Nixon 74
Gerald Ford 76
Jimmy Carter 78
Ronald Reagan 80
George H.W. Bush 82
Bill Clinton 84
George W. Bush 86
Name Index 87
About the Author 93
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

Vermont Public Radio interview with the author 9/24/08:




“With the grueling neverending election finally behind us, Charles Barasch’s magnificent book lets loose one last broadside at the insane zoo that is American politics. The conceit is simple: 42 poems, one for each president, in the form of a possible dream that president might have. The result is surreal, funny and even poignant at times.”
—Dan Szczesny, Hippo Manchester

“The dreams drift lazily over the harder prose of the footnotes, forming a world saturated with sexual imagery and guilt about slavery and imperialism. Melancholic Presidents wander the White House hallways, grieving over dead children and spouses. Lillian Gish and Marilyn Monroe, who were half ghosts already, rub against the dreams’ surfaces. The poems are a delicious smoke curling around the Presidents; something like the fantasy air around the ad men on TV drama Mad Men, which could’ve easily been Barasch’s title.”
—Allen Shelton, PASTE Magazine

"None of the dreams in Dreams of the Presidents is real. But they're a brilliant concoction. And if we are ever to come to terms with the exaggerated importance we have assigned to our presidents, we will have to see these men (and women) as they are, not larger than life, but sized appropriately—and as human and flawed and brilliant and scarred as each of us."
—Nat Frothingham, The Bridge

  • Dreams of the Presidents by Charles Barasch
  • September 09, 2008
  • Poetry
  • North Atlantic Books
  • $12.95
  • 9781556437502

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