Search Is On for Pushkinian Ghostwriter

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In late September and early October, America's first lady, Laura Bush, took a whirlwind tour through Europe. It was time to mend fences with critics of the war in Iraq. So Mrs. Bush stopped in Paris -- Jacques Chirac kissed her hand and said it was time to let bygones be bygones. And she joined Lyudmila Putina in Moscow to inaugurate a new Russian book festival -- one inspired by Mrs. Bush's own American book festivals.

A day later, back in Washington, Mrs. Bush opened her own National Book Festival with a charming anecdote about her husband.

"President Bush is a great leader and husband -- but I bet you didn't know, he is also quite the poet," she said. "Upon returning home last night from my long trip [to Russia], I found a lovely poem waiting for me. Normally, I wouldn't share something so personal, but since we're celebrating great writers, I can't resist:

Roses are red


violets are blue


oh my lump in the bed


how I've missed you.



Roses are redder


bluer am I


seeing you kissed


by that charming French guy.


The dogs and the cat


they miss you too,


Barney's still mad you


dropped him,


he ate your shoe.



The distance my dear


has been such a barrier,


next time you want an


adventure,


just land on a carrier."

Pushkin it ain't. In fact, it's awful -- so awful it actually rings true, and therefore kinda treacly sweet.

Now it turns out that this was a bizarre falsehood. A lie. Interviewed on television between Christmas and New Year's, Laura Bush was shown the video clip of her remarks. Interviewer Tim Russert teasingly started to ask her about the poem when Mrs. Bush said: "Well, of course, he [the president] didn't really write the poem. But a lot of people really believed that he did. That evening at the dinner, what [sic] some woman from across the table said: 'You just don't know how great it is to have a husband who would write a poem for you.'"

Hmm. Perhaps some people really believed that George Bush wrote that silly poem because Laura Bush said: Hey, my husband wrote me this silly poem, and normally I wouldn't share it because it's so personal, but I can't resist.

So if George Bush didn't write that poem, who did?

Did the White House's crack political team then assign some poor junior staffer the miserable job of ghostwriting it? Did that poor junior staffer have to start by interviewing Mrs. Bush about intimate details, for verisimilitude? (She told Russert that her husband has indeed called her his "lump in the bed.")

What's it like to be ordered to write a love note for your boss's wife?

Now that you know Bush didn't write it, look at the poem again. Imagine some corpulent, crapulous political operative in a rumpled suit, croaking instructions: "Make sure you get their damned dog Barney into it. But if there's gonna be a dog -- you gotta mention the cat! Everybody knows that, kid!

"Put in some vague bedroom imagery. Nothing too explicit! And, uh, get in a slap at the French. Something about how they're so prissy, kissin' hands and all ..."

So who wrote George Bush's love poem to Laura Bush?

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, writes The Daily Outrage at TheNation.com.