Martin van Buren

by Robert Kloss


They called you “Van Ruin” although this was not your name. They stood jobless and wretched below your window, throwing decayed fruit. These pieces thumped and splattered and streaked in wormed juices. They waited for you at your carriage, jeering. Had they known at that hour a man such as you could die as any other man perhaps now they would have butchered you for all to see, but instead they spat, and instead they hissed.

And you could not sleep at night, for the noises of their derision, for the sounds of apple cores and cabbage husks pelting your walls. The glass of your windows tinted orange with the light of their torches.

And your men polled the populace to understand their irritation. When they found your beagle was considered an “unbecoming” pet for a leader, for the jowls, the posture, seemed “uncertain,” you now called “Hannah” to your side. You rubbed her sloppy jowls, patted her pink and portly belly, and lead her to the lawn, to the shadow of the sycamore. There she panted and gazed at you with devotion, and with your revolver you cast the beast to blood and brain and bone. And soon the manservants there with rags to blot the gore from your suit, and soon the grounds crew arrived with shovel and spade to dig the grave, while to the gathered press you said, “The will of the people is done.”

Still your numbers remained low, and in the night hours the pelting of cabbages and apple cores did not slow, and so your boys polled again the population and this time revealed your sagging numbers on the Native matter. So you massed your armies with confetti and brass bands, and in nameless gorges and desolate prairies you had their villages sacked, their women raped and bayoneted, the heads of their children and infants bashed with rocks and rifle butts, their men shot in their sleep, or gutted with knives, or surrounded and gunned down and scalped, or hounded across the prairies and to the ends of the land. This continued until the last of these were shackled and lead across scorched, barren lands and through swamps, and finally they died of pox, or starvation, or frost bite, or malaria, or typhus. Proudly in your office you displayed the bodies of those last Natives, bobbing in enormous bottles of formaldehyde, their long unshorn hair like weeds un-spreading in the sea, while the press boys snapped shots of you grinning and leaning against those jars. These images under bold headlines:“VAN RUIN’S ANSWER TO THE NATIVE PROBLEM.”

And when the mobs found fruits and vegetables too precious to throw they tossed the heads and guts of chickens, until always the stink of blood and feces. And finally when the fumes overwhelmed all, you opened your window against the straw poll advice of your cabinet, and now to the waiting populace you cried: “How many dogs must I murder? How many wretched natives must I obliterate to appease you people?” And they pelted you with the worst of their rot.

Had they thought to burn your mansion, perhaps they would have done so. Instead they wrote letters and editorials. Instead they scoffed when you passed in the streets. Instead they dumped buckets of cow and swine blood on your carriage. Instead they shoved the decaying cauls of cattle into your mail box.


And always your polls showed much wrong with the land. And you set many fires. And you demolished many buildings. And you abolished many offices. And when the Mormon problem reached new heights you invited Joseph Smith and his son and several of his “Saints” to your office, and while these pleaded for your favor you signaled your guards to “fire away,” and after the quick volley those Mormons dropped to the floor as puppets drop, and how the blood soiled your carpets, and how their mouths did slump open, and how their eyes did blur and roll into their skulls. Soon the press boys crowded and milled and jotted notes and patted you on the back and their photographers documented the decapitation of the bodies. How you smiled for the press as the heads were stabbed onto pikes, while the flies did buzz. And still the lit torches of those never-pleased mobs, still the pelting of discarded animal parts, their tongues, their jellied eyes, their hooves, and the splashing of blood, of urine, and still the flies buzzed as buzz swarms of locusts.

Through the years this continued. And in that time there was no man you would not murder to appease these hoards, and there was no vegetation or meat they would not hurl in their fever. When you finally did leave this mansion, for the final time, the rubbish piles around your home were grown over with grasses, with dandelions; from the blackening fruits, and pig bladders, and the bloated bodies of the unborn, and the clouds of flies, came the most delicate blooming. As you passed the unfeeling, unrelenting eyes of those who gathered, some did cheer with great irony, and some did spit, and some did brandish their lit torches, and some did brandish ropes readied to nooses.

You rode for some hours in your carriage and still these mobs lined either side of the roads. And some threw cabbages, and some lobbed cow hearts from buckets, and some did hiss, and some did shake their fists. And in the final hours of your journey these throngs did dissipate until when you passed it seemed they looked upon you as they would look upon any other man.

And in the night you found a room in an inn. And there on a straw mattress you slept without disturbance. And you slept through the next day and into the next night.

And when you next woke, none did remember your name.



Robert Kloss is the author of How the Days of Love & Diphtheria and The Alligators of Abraham. Read the next story, WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON, here.

* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.