Bone-Crushing Prince of Dark Days

Special Counsel Robert Mueller


A recent Washington Post article contrasting Donald Trump and Robert Mueller brought to mind the Mary Oliver poem “In the Pinewoods, Crows and Owl.” Reading it gives me some sense of how the president feels when he sees Mueller at work. In this drama, Trump is the crows while Mueller is the owl.

Greg Miller contrasts the two men as follows:

Trump has often treated the probe as a political assault to be met with counterattacks in both public and private, rather than a legal minefield to be navigated carefully. He has fired his former FBI director, lashed out frequently on social media, shuffled teams of lawyers and called for the prosecution of Democrats — all part of a highly public but so far unsuccessful attempt to derail the investigation.

Mueller, by contrast, has been silently methodical. He has not uttered a single word in public, works from an undisclosed location in Southwest Washington and demonstrated the same discipline and disdain for theatrics that defined his 12-year tenure as FBI director. Submarine-like in approach, Mueller has remained entirely below the surface except when delivering legal strikes that have included the raid of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s home and the indictments this week.

I knew for sure that Trump was panicking when I saw the following three-part tweet the Sunday night, in anticipation of Monday’s announcement of indictments:

Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?), the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia ​”collusion,” which doesn’t exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s ​are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING! 

Trump’s distraction tactics, successful in the past, are not working this time, and his final imperative is a desperate call for help. “DO SOMETHING!”

“Crows and Owl” is a poem about humans’ fixation with death, symbolized by the owl. For our purposes, however, it captures how Trump is fixated on the Mueller investigation. He dreams of destroying Mueller as the crows dream of destroying the owl, who may appear a “great bumble” but is in reality a “sleek slicer.” Because the special counsel works in silence, he takes on a mythical aura. He is Trump’s “dream,” his “waking,” his “quarry,” his “demon,” the “pine god who never speaks but holds the keys to everything.” Like the crows, Trump can’t stop thinking about him:

[W]hen one of them spies you out, all stream
straight toward violence and confrontation.
As though it helped to see the living proof.

The president has reason to fear: it appears that Mueller, like the owl, is preparing to pick off Trump’s associates in crime “one by one.” He has already nailed George Papadopolous and is hissing and snapping around Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.

In the Pinewoods, Crows and Owl

By Mary Oliver

Great bumble. Sleek
slicer. How the crows
dream of you, caught at last
in their black beaks. Dream of you
leaking your life away. Your wings
crumbling like old bark. Feathers
falling from your breast like leaves,
and your eyes two bolts
of lightning gone to sleep.
Eight of them
fly over the pinewoods looking down
into the branches. they know you are
there somewhere, fat and drowsy
from your night of rabbits and rats. Once
this month you caught a crow. Scraps of him
flew far and wide, the news
rang all day through the woods. The cold
river of their hatred roils
day and night: you are their dream, their waking,
their quarry, their demon. You
are the pine god who never speaks but holds
the keys to everything while they fly
morning after morning against the shut doors. You
will have a slow life, and eat them, one by one.
They know it. They hate you. Still
when one of them spies you out, all stream
straight toward violence and confrontation.
As though it helped to see the living proof.
The bone-crushing prince of the dark days, gloomy
at the interruption of his rest. Hissing
and snapping, grabbing about him, dreadful
as death’s drum; mournful, unalterable fact.

Interviewed by Rachel Maddow Monday night, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews predicted that Trump will ultimately be brought down by what brought Richard Nixon down: the truth of the matter. Or as Oliver puts it, “mournful, unalterable fact.” Pray that his optimism is warranted.

To Trump, Robert Mueller is Oliver’s “bone-crushing prince of the dark days.” The more the special counsel goes about his business, the louder the crows scream.

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