I post Zoe Leonard’s poem – “I Want a President” – before every new round of elections. It’s a fantastic read; a lifebuoy on the sea of lies we are exposed to during elections; an impossible dream. Leonard wrote the poem in 1992 in support of, or perhaps inspired by, her lesbian friend, the writer Eileen Myles, who ran as an independent presidential candidate. The poem has quite a long story behind it, which touches on the fight against AIDS, poverty and political correctness. You can google that story to find out more.
The mayoral elections were just around the corner, and we are soon to elect our next president too, so I decided to look up my favourite pre-election poem again and before posting it, I thought about translating it.
I translated it and I didn’t like the end result at all. So I decided to write it from scratch. The text is not really mine – it’s a translation of Leonard’s text, but a bit different, a bit more local. Zoe is an artist, and I’m sure that if she ever discovered my ‘translation’, she wouldn’t mind it. If she were here, in pre-election Georgia in 2017, she would probably write something very similar.
This text isn’t written in support of any one candidate – it’s about the desire to hand basic rights (to say nothing of power) back to those people whose voice is never heard by those candidates whose photos you see on billboards.
I Want a President.
I want a junkie for president,
Who has shot up desomorphine and smelt of iodine,
Who has been in prison for drug possession,
and whose house had been sold by the bank.
I want an unemployed alcoholic for president,
Who lives on shop credit,
and whose hands shake when he's sentimentally hung-over.
I want a transgender for president,
who stands near the Circus every night
without knowing whether she'll go home alive.
I want a Chiatura miner for president,
who digs up black gold in the dark underground for others,
who lost his eyesight after an explosion and sees only dreams.
I want a woman for president,
whose husband used to beat her every day,
who ran away from home and sits in the TV studio with blackened eyes.
I want a poor president,
who lives in an IDP settlement
and gets 35 GEL allowance from the state every month
instead of his home back.
I want a president from province
Who drives a cab in the city all night and rarely sleeps.
I want a fag for president,
who's been beaten and kicked around since childhood,
who's been mocked and humiliated.
I want a president who has cancer and nobody knows whether he will live or die.
I want a president who's had 5 abortions and is threatened with hell.
I want a black president, who works as a day laborer in Tbilisi.
I want a president – a construction worker, who works in the concrete apartment houses and who walks on the unfinished edges of its floors as if they were the edge of a razor.
I want a president who has installed a camera in his bedroom and streams his nightlife online, who is not afraid of hidden footage and the word "fucking."
I want a president, who has had dinner at the Catharsis soup kitchen, who has spent the night in the street.
I want a president who has attempted suicide many times,
who's being threatened with a beating by the boss of the pawn shop ,
who has a map of psychotropic pharmacies of the city
and who doesn't remember to eat for days,
because he's constantly high,
who's not registered anywhere and can't vote for himself.
I want a president who is not ashamed of mistakes,
who's madly in love and who's been beaten by the police within an inch of his life for nothing.
And I know why it's impossible to have a president like him.
I Want A President
I want a dyke for president. I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia.
I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to AIDS, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying.
I want a president with no air-conditioning, a president who has stood in line at the clinic, at the DMV, at the welfare office, and has been unemployed and laid off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported.
I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape.
I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them.
I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy.
I want someone who has committed civil disobedience.
And I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown. Always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker. Always a liar, always a thief, and never caught.