Poetry from Pesach Rotem


Pesach Rotem was born and raised in New York and now lives in the village of Yodfat in northern Israel. He received his B.A. from Princeton University and his J.D. from St. John’s University. His poems have been published in more than two dozen literary journals including Chiron Review, Natural Bridge, Poets Reading the News, and Voices Israel.


Stayed up past bedtime
To see the moon in shadow.
Clouds couldn’t spoil it.

Electoral College

“Democracy is coming to the USA.”
— Leonard Cohen

2000 U.S. Presidential Election
Al Gore: 50,999,897 votes
George W. Bush: 50,456,002 votes
Bush wins the election.

2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Hillary Clinton: 65,853,625 votes
Donald Trump: 62,985,105 votes
Trump wins the election.

That’s democracy, American style—
It can make your head spin
Wondering how could the guy
Who got fewer votes win?

So to find out what happed to Clinton and Gore
We must seek higher wisdom, we must search and explore
At the site of the weirdest and most arcane knowledge:
Not Harvard, not Yale, it’s the Electoral College.

A bizarre institution of surreal education
Where reason runs backwards and befuddles the nation,
It’s where up is now down and less is now more,
Where Trump defeats Clinton and Bush defeats Gore.

But “Why?” you protest, and I think rightly so,
“Why not normal democracy?” the world wants to know.
In normal democracy, it’s the people who choose
So the losers don’t win and the winners don’t lose.

If you’d really like to find out
How things got this way,
Go back to the founders;
See what they had to say.

Go straight to the source—Federalist Paper 68—
And read there where Alexander Hamilton states
That if we left it up to the people to choose,
They’d probably just end up deceived or confused.

But election by Electoral College, he’s sure,
Would give us a process that is morally pure
And would result every time (he said this, it’s true)
In a president “pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”

And for these brilliant insights
He’s still honored today
On the ten-dollar bill
And in a hit Broadway play
While Trump reigns triumphant
And scoundrels hold sway.

Arise! Arise! Citizens arise!
Abolish the Electoral College!
Put Tom Paine on the ten-dollar bill!
Democracy is coming to the USA!

Professor Hofstadter’s Brain

A poem based on the “Ant Fugue” in Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter


Each of Professor Hofstadter’s neurons is like an ant
And the professor’s brain is like an ant colony.
That’s the conceit that this poem will prove
Based on ideas that I found in “Ant Fugue.”


An ant is not smart; its IQ is nil.
It has thought no deep thoughts and it just never will.
And of a Hofstadter neuron the same thing is true.
It does not even know the sum two plus two,
Nor the day of the week,
Nor what adjectives do.

If you asked a lone neuron please to explain
Where exactly the rain falls in Spain,
You’d find that it can’t.
It’s as dumb as an ant.

But put a million together,
You’ve got critical mass
That can accomplish great feats,
Reach the head of the class.


Millions of ants an ant colony make,
With high-level consciousness, alert and awake.
By working in varied well-organized teams
It accomplishes tasks beyond a single ant’s dreams.

It blazes trails, gathers food, maintains the nest,
And it raises its young to continue the quest.
It builds bridges and tunnels of complex engineering
So it can get to your picnic and taste your egg salad.

Division of labor and goal-based behavior: These are the sparks
That make a very smart whole from some very dumb parts.


When millions of Hofstadter-neurons converge
In Hofstadter’s skull, then what will emerge
Is a Hofstadter-brain. That’s a sight to behold.
More precious than copper, silver or gold,
More brilliant than Gödel, Escher or Bach,
More clever than Carroll, more sly than Brer Fox,
It creates books of great depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty, and originality,
In each single chapter and in book-length totality.

Division of labor and goal-based behavior: These are the sparks
That make a very smart whole from some very dumb parts.

The Ironic Demise of Dr. Lodge

I read in today’s Times that Dr. Henry S. Lodge,
The author of Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond,
Has died at the age of 58.
The cause of death was prostate cancer.
He is survived by his mother, his romantic partner, three siblings, and four children.

I felt an immediate urge to write a satirical essay (or perhaps a poem)
That would focus on the macabre irony of Dr. Lodge’s untimely demise
And culminate in some pithy observation about best-laid plans etc.

My better nature intervened and restrained me.
It reminded me that every human life is precious
And that every human death is a sad and solemn event
And certainly not an occasion for mockery.

In the end, my neurotic compulsion to constantly show off my own cleverness
Turned out to be stronger than my better nature.
Deeply ashamed, but unable to stop,
I picked up my pen
And wrote:

“Dr. Henry S. Lodge,
Author of Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond,
Has died at the age of 58.
And the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”