I can’t get over the first two words of the poem: no sleep. No sleep. That’s how Herman Melville began his poem, which is called “The House-top. A Night Piece.” It was written in July of 1863. America was in the midst of the Civil War — really in the thick of it. 

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.

Some Republicans have been distressed in recent years to hear that the icon of their party, Abraham Lincoln, may have been playing for the other team. It had been whispered for years that Lincoln was gay, and there is no doubt that some of his behavior would point that way today — most notably, for four years he shared a bed with his friend Joshua Speed. The intense relationship began in 1837, when a 28-year-old Lincoln — then a tall, calloused-hand frontiersman with mournful eyes — turned up at Speed’s general store in Springfield, Illinois, hoping to make it as a lawyer. Lincoln couldn’t afford the bed on sale, so Speed immediately offered to share his own mattress upstairs. From that day on, the pair became passionate and all-but-inseparable friends. When Speed finally did move out of the mattress to be married, Lincoln was shattered, sinking into such a black… More…

If platitudes had weight, Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope would be impossible to lift off the table. Still, it’s a good book. By the standards of “writings by politicians” it’s in the top percentile. You read it and you like the man. You read it and feel that he has managed somehow to be both a skilled politician and a genuine human being. He writes, for instance, about what motivates politicians to run for office and to continue doing so:

Neither ambition nor single-mindedness fully accounts for the behavior of politicians, however. There is a companion emotion, perhaps more pervasive and certainly more destructive, an emotion that, after the giddiness of your official announcement as a candidate, rapidly locks you in its grip and doesn’t release you until after Election Day. That emotion is fear. Not just fear of losing — although that is bad enough — but fear… More…