Please read this letter when you are alone.
Don’t be afraid to listen to what may change you,
I am only urging on you what I myself have done.
In the first place, I respect the office, although one night
last spring, when you had committed (in my eyes)
criminal folly, and there was a toast to you, I wouldn’t rise.
A man’s mistakes (if I may lecture you), his worst acts,
aren’t out of character, as he’d like to think,
are not put on him by power or stress or too much to drink,
but are simply a worse self he consents to be. Thus
there is no mistaking you. I marvel that there’s
so much disrespect for a man just being himself, being his errors.
‘I never met a worse man than myself,‘
Thoreau said. When we’re our best selves, we can all
afford to say that. Self-respect is best when marginal.
And when the office of the presidency will again
accommodate that remark (Did you see? Fidel Castro
said almost that recently) it may be held by better men
than you or me. Meantime, I hear there is music in your house,
your women wear queens’ wear, though winds howl outside,
and I say, that’s all right, the man should have some ease,
but does anyone say to your face who you really are?
No, they say Mr. President, while any young person
feels free to call me voter, believer, even causer.
And if I were also a pray-er, a man given to praying,
(I’m often in fact careless about great things, like you)
and I wanted to pray for your office, as in fact I do,
the words that would come to me would more likely be
god change you than god bless the presidency,
I would pray, God cause the President to change.
As I myself have been changed, first my head, then my heart,
so that I no longer pretend that I don’t swindle or kill
when there is swindling and killing on my nation’s part.
Well. Go out into your upstairs hall tonight with this letter.
Generous ghosts must walk that house at night,
carrying draughts of the Republic like cold water
to a man parched after too much talk and wine and smoke.
Hear them. They are elected ghosts, though some will be radicals
and all may want to tell you things you will not like.
It will seem dark in the carpeted hall, despite the night-lights
in the dull sconces. Make the guard let you pass.
‘If you are the President,’ a shade with a water-glass
will ask you (and this is all I ask), calling you by name,
himself perhaps a famous name, 'If you are the President,
and things in the land have come to all this shame,
why don’t you try doing something new? This building rose,
laborious as a dream, to house one character:
man trusting man anew. That’s who each tenant is
—or an impostor, as some of us have been.