Being a Writer in the Age of Trump


Like many of my peers, I felt the world shatter on November 8, 2016. I spent that night watching ABC’s live election map with a group of my friends; we all expected that the results would offer us hope and safety. As we were chatting eagerly, one of those lovely people, Veronica, recorded herself with her laptop’s camera.

“I’m going to show this to my kids,” she said. “I want them to know what it was like when the first woman president was elected.”

Another one of my friends––Matt, a human calculator––counted up the number of states that were poised to turn blue. According to his estimations, Hillary Clinton’s victory should have been a shoe-in.

But then Matt was wrong. And then Veronica closed her laptop. The faith we had had in our fellow citizens drained out of our bodies. Nearly half of the country had cast ballots for a man who threatened the existences of seven of the nine people in the room. All of a sudden, seemed that our lives were not valued by the majority of the people around us.

There’s no need for me to go into the societal/political/global fallout of the election that ripped apart all standards of kindness and human decency. We’re all aware of it. This is a post about the personal implications of living in a world that doesn’t care if you are safe. For multiple affected groups––women, people of color, Muslim and Jewish Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities, among others––the red map that glowered from the television forced us to question our identities and our places in the world. And as a writer, that has been an steep and treacherous process.

Not longer after that fateful night, I penned one shoddy attempt at a poem about the November devastation, but otherwise I haven’t had much success in describing my distress. My spirit is empty. All I have left is my anger and a sense that I have been profoundly betrayed. What’s the point of being a poet if no one would care if I died? Why do my characters matter when the vice president of the United States condones child abuse? Why should I devote my soul to metaphors and assonance when I ought to be yelling and marching and fighting for my life?

Certainly, art can be a pathway to social action. A novel can spark a war for freedom. Carefully crafted speeches can move crowds. Poems can stir solidarity between marginalized people, creating unbreakable forces of resistance. But I hardly have the audience for that sort of impact, and it seems more imperative than ever to make my every action direct. The best use of my knack for writing would be in the composition of a letter to my senators. There’s no time to pique my muses with love or flower petals or quiet moments when I need to protect my friends.

I’m too angry to dwell on beauty. I can’t even think about art for art’s sake. Self-improvement is no longer about creating ever-better verse, but rather about eliminating any tendency in myself that might have helped put a monster into the country’s highest office. All I can do is shout and cry and focus on the tangible world, where tangible people are facing tangible threats, and tangible police officers are murdering tangible unarmed black civilians, and tangible hate groups are burning tangible crosses, and tangible billionaire celebrities are ogling tangible teenage girls, knowing they can get away with tangible rape and tangible assault because no one will believe the very, very tangible victims.

I can’t be bothered to emulate Billy Collins anymore because I’m too busy emulating the civil rights leaders of decades past who thought they were fighting the final fight. And I’m too busy realizing that we are still generations away from the final fight.

I’m too busy justifying my anger to write poems about my anger. I’m too busy restating the fact that my sadness and my disgust have merit to develop symbols for my feelings. If I seem distracted, if my recent stanzas seem subpar, know that it’s because I don’t go a day without fearing for my future––or wondering if there is even a future to fear for.

The just-world hypothesis has been supplanted by reality, and yet scholarly articles are telling me to empathize with people who wouldn’t bat an eye at my death. This is no environment for idealists; poetic fancies have no place in a world driven by hatred and bigotry. Everything I know about writing, every element of my writer’s identity, is irrelevant to the emotions that unite us, and that destroy us.

In 2017, creating art feels useless.

I don’t want to be a source of gentle diversion. I want to set people’s hearts on fire, send them to the streets, create action from dissatisfaction, let people know that they did something cruel, convince people to change their minds so that they truly understand “never again,” and help eradicate the forces that have put passions on hold.

To be realistic, I doubt that I can do any of that with lyrical quips or witty anecdotes. Over the course of the past eight months, my life’s purpose has shifted.

I can’t spend all day with notebooks and dreams anymore. My writer’s soul doesn’t matter when so many human bodies are at risk.

Ciao for now,
Mikki

Poem Every Day in July 9: At the Shoreline


“Oh, I’ll just call a taxi; I gotta get up early tomorrow again.”

-Dodie Clark, “6/10”

To think that the ocean came all this way
for a chance to lap at your toes

is foolish, but you can’t help remembering
the puppy from your childhood home––

his drooping brown belly, his tail wagging
along the carpet, never happier

than when you came back from school
and he could ride the surf of your arrival.

Although it shot aches through his aging frame,
your tiny grandpa never failed

to greet you. These days,
the people you love are more apt

to push you away from their warmer pillow,
sending you a little closer to the carpet

than the ever-thinning blanket.
You wish nothing more than to feel

the sweet sea wind of your love’s breathing,
soft as the eyes of a puppy grown old,

and to know that the tide rises for you,
that at least the water is happy you’re home.

Poem Every Day in July 4: Fast Food


The man at the front
of the restaurant
thinks he knows
George Washington.
Like a general,
he places his order,
hands on his hips,
spine curved backwards
so his chin rests
on his chin.
His thick brown Army
Surplus boots,
for all their sooty and
inebriated pride,
trail mud across the
just-mopped floor.

To a skeletal little table
at the margins
of the diners, the man
takes his tray,
turning then to face
his subordinates at mess.
He funnels food
down his gullet
from the comfort of this
throne. He does not hate
to be alone.

As he leaves,
there is no shame among
his crumbs:
only breaded bulk
and smeared potato,
and scattered salty
bullets sitting lustless
beside the ketchup drippings
that glisten
in the indirect sun.
He crunches
towards the door,
elbows in the air
as he smudges mustard
left on his lip.
No one minds
him passing.

Poem Every Day in July 3: Elegy for a Turtle Microwaved


She compressed you
into the second dimension,
leaving the prodding curiosity
of your little green neck
subdued and sunken
at the base of the mug.

Your once-round shell, now
flat, hugged ceramic;
withered, crinkled pride,
green grown dark with heat.
She squeezed life from you
as if you were a toothpaste tube.

The contents of which she emptied you
were strewn across the cup.
It must have hurt
horrendously.
It must have burned
and burst.

You can click here to access photos of the aforementioned turtle. However, I would seriously advise discretion in viewing this content. The images are highly disturbing.

moving on: A Poem


 

after the party ends,
the piñata, battered blue,
red, and yellow, must not bemoan
the festering emptiness
that has supplanted her sweets;
she must instead (ignoring the shrill
of her dismembered flesh
scratching along the sidewalk’s
blistering bumps) recollect herself
and walk home.

Entangled Particles: A Poem


Einstein couldn’t fathom an inborn connection
existing between two hydrogen atoms.
Certainly, he postulated, they may spiral away
from their shared origination at some calcium speck,
but there is simply no way for them
to maintain their choreography of synchronized spins
at distances even the speed of light cannot surmount.
A connection, then, can be bred, he said,
but it cannot be sustained
when particulars become separated.
There is nothing spiritual inherent
in a history of physical touch.

Even lacking a background in physics, I, for one,
believe old Albert had the right idea.
Last July, for example, I mattered to you,
and you held me on the sidewalk
with fierce and swirling love.
This afternoon, however, you drove past
and, unsmiling, you averted your eyes.
The wheels on your car were spinning like atoms;
we had lost what once felt quantum. You and I
were local entities, disparate and directionless,
despite the touches we’d once shared—touches so elemental
that they could have been built into our bones.

I thought about your nose, how it once felt
pressed to my skull, and about how atoms grow distracted
and fall away. What Einstein once posited
I know to be true: bodies cannot stay in touch
in the unforgiving chasm of space.

The Magenta Stoplight: A Poem


highway

A strand of cotton candy cloud
lingers on the sunset
like caramel on ice cream
or an ex-lover’s kiss on my cheek.
I’m in your car, on the way back from the party,
thinking I’ve done everything wrong;
the streetlamps are carpet-bombing us with yellow light
and dizzying uniformity.
When we come to the magenta stoplight,
which buzzes like one of the mosquitoes it’s ensnared,
I notice that the end-of-day wink is casting dim lavender
on the city’s bricks.
Midnight blue is encroaching from the East,
and the black spray-painted letters on the overpass
are as incoherent as radio static.
You turn to me, your hair orange and pink lit from behind—
your face grey.
You pull your hand from the steering wheel and reach it
towards my knuckles—which have been tight this whole time
like the braces I had removed in high school or an embrace
that you don’t realize until later will be your last—
and you’re soft with me, your skin like a butterfly
imploring a flower for permission to land.
For a moment, I want to give in—
stretch my petals out to you, offer you
my every inner sweetness—
but a glint of glassy green strikes your eye.
The whole world, it seems, is a candy box
and I can’t trust any of it.