The Spermist Theory; or, Yet Another Explanation for the Existence of Donald Trump by Matthew Gavin Frank

in Issue One/Nonfiction

ON THE TV BEHIND THE BAR, DONALD TRUMP LOBS  rolls of paper towel to the citizens of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. I am surrounded by cocktail napkins and rocks glasses drained of their bourbon.  On one such napkin, bedizened with little green martini glasses leaking an anfractuous ogee of four hovering bubbles meant, I suspect, to evoke the intoxicating qualities of the paper elixir in the paper conical coupe, I find myself absent-mindedly drawing sperm and egg with the pen with which I intended to transcribe the more infuriating of Donald’s absurdisms for an essay I planned to write.  The bartender is quiet and watching the screen.  The only other patrons— two middle-aged couples cloaked in the shadows and cherrywood of their booths, are also quietly watching.   

Though, in the little square cordon of the cocktail napkin, sperm and egg are never to meet, perhaps out of mutual hauteur, I bless each scribbled gamete with the silly, but seductive powers of preformationism, tiny little animalcules who need simply a few drops of water and some sunlight to grow.  From one of the booths, in between blurry sips and slurred stories of polling location violence and the rigged election rumors, I swear I can hear one of the other patrons invoke for the sake of some appropriately absurdist, but seemingly-crucial argument, Nicolaas Hartsoeker—the 17th century Dutch mathematician, inventor of the screw-barrel microscope, and unrepentant Spermist, whose penchant for strange, sexist, and just-plain dumb conspiracy theories braid, for the time being, with those now leaking against their will from Donald Trump’s wet mouth.    

In fact, Hartsoeker’s theories seem to thicken with Trump’s psychopathic versions of platitudes like spicy mustard around the similarly colored lights that dangle from chains over each of the crumbling booths.  Here, in this light, with one drunk patron uttering, “Praise Hartsoeker,” just as Donald on TV, oozing with slimy id, kisses the microphone without its consent and utters, “Very good towels,” it seems that maybe, given this mad and bemusing context, that a sperm can indeed hatch a little man all by its lonesome, without the trouble of that fickle egg.  

Praise Hartsoeker (failed wine merchant, successful interrogator of Ptolemaic dioptrics), for peering through his microscope at sperm cells and seeing the fully-formed little men already living inside them, who themselves must be in possession of their own sperm)!  Of course, this claim, defended at the time as a reductio ad absurdum, could not predict that so many years later, it seems to me now an appropriate explanation for the manifestation of Donald Trump, who may very well have been incubated within the sweaty locker room confines of a lonely sperm cell.  At this point, what else can explain this?  

Anyhow, what most excites me here in the bar, as I struggle against heartburn, anxiety, and clotting impatience, is the way that Hartsoeker and his Spermist congregation drew on—and impacted subsequent—alchemical theory (to which the prematurely born and possibly autistic Isaac Newton subscribed) in that, citing fidgety Renaissance physician, occultist, and founder of toxicology Paracelsus, “the sperm of a man be putrefied by itself in a sealed cucurbit for forty days with the highest degree of putrefaction in a horse’s womb, or at least so long that it comes to life and moves itself, and stirs, which is easily observed. After this time, it will look somewhat like a man, but transparent, without a body. If, after this, it be fed wisely with the Arcanum of human blood, and be nourished for up to forty weeks, and be kept in the even heat of the horse’s womb, a living human child grows therefrom, with all its members like another child, which is born of a woman, but much smaller,” and with much smaller hands, and a pale orange hue.  

Donald Trump says, “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack.”  He sits with shoulders slumped in a black windbreaker behind a press table.  He breaks the wind.  He looks “somewhat like a man, but transparent.”  He is bloated and babyish—mutant foolish— as if conjured in some medieval basement lab burbling with tinctures of wisteria and flirty flagella, this homunculus having descended to us from our own worst instincts, if not from those transparent little oafs incubated in zucchini and Seabiscuit’s great-great-grandmother.  


Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of the nonfiction books, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food, Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer, Pot Farm, and Barolo; the poetry books, The Morrow Plots, Warranty in Zulu, and Sagittarius Agitprop, and 2 chapbooks. He teaches at Northern Michigan University, where he is the Nonfiction/Hybrids Editor of Passages North.  He persevered through this past winter via the occasional one-handed cartwheel in his mind.