Who? Yes, don't worry I heard your unspoken question - I have the Secret Power, you know! Also, to be honest, it was precisely the first question I asked when I came across his name. Well, Mr. Astrue is, wait for it, the head of the American Social Security Administration - oh, for goodness sake, don't nod off, I haven't finished yet! Here is his photograph which might make you a little more interested.
Hmn! Take that as 'no', shall I? Well, again, I share your almost terminal tedium at the sight of this slightly plump bean-counter in the American civil service. But then I read this:
Please flood her nerves with sedatives
and keep her strong enough to crack a smile
so disbelieving friends and relatives
can temporarily sustain denial.
Please smite that intern in oncology
who craves approval from department heads.
Please ease her urge to vomit, let there be
kind but flirtatious men in nearby beds.
Given her hair, consider amnesty
for sins of vanity; make mirrors vanish.
Surround her with forgiving family
and nurses not too numb to cry. Please banish
trite consolations; take her in one swift
and gentle motion as your final gift.
I keep re-reading that and as I blink back the tears I shake my head in amazement that in this day and age we still have poets prepared to cage themselves inside the classic regimen of the Shakespearean sonnet form. Three quatrains rhyming abab, cdcd, efef and then a final rhyming couplet, as it were, to underline the developed thought. It is, in my opinion, not just a deeply moving poem but also witty and true. It is, as you will have guessed by now, the work of the dull-looking, bureaucratic fellow above who writes under the pseudonym of 'A. M. Juster'. Lest you think all his poetry is on the gloomy side you will be surprised to find out that Mr. Astrue ('Juster') carries a sharp knife, a metaphorical one, of course, as befits a poet:
Here lies what’s left of Michael Juster,
A failure filled with bile and bluster.
Regard the scuttlebutt as true.
Feel free to dance; most others do.
I chuckled at that and thus, like the ignorant fellow I am, I totally missed the pun at the end of line 3! Here is another of his sonnets which hints wistfully at a mysterious and now vanished life:
He hardly ever spoke; we thought his name
was Robinson and watched him from afar
for fear of yanqui guile. When he first came
to town, he played piano at the bar—
some Friday nights—jazz riffs that blended
into weary talk—though soon he grew
more scarce. He drank more and the concerts ended,
which is what exile and tequila do.
One day his landlord said he didn’t know
if Robinson had skipped out on his rent.
We kept an eye out while the tide was low
and poked around the canyons when we went
out walking, but a search was never done.
We had no reason, and desired none.
Yet again I am deeply grateful to the Stakhanovite editors of Arts & Letters Daily for pointing me towards an essay in First Things which uncovered this most unlikely of treasures. If any of you wish to follow up here is a link to his books on Amazon: