Friday, November 25, 2016

What I’d say if I could to a Trump voter, failing miserably

I’m afraid I’ll need to apologize for being one of the people
who is able to see what’s going on
better than you. I used to say “other than you,” but I’m done with that.
I’ve tried to live a life of jerky parallel lines, but I kept wanting to
push the spike of until until it sparked against the other;
I’ve been called a pyromaniac for that, the milder of the names
you fling against me, as if I’m a stripped banana
and you’re dangling the right peel to make me decent again,
by which I think you mean “ashamed.”
As a “libtard,” as you like to call me, I’d have been the first
to question whether I could rightly claim to have the better claim.
Then you chose a leader so unprecedented, so monstrous,
this thing you’d created out of your I-must-shut-my-people-pool
to-what-I-can-control, those stagnant waters
you must whip and chlorinate to low-key cadet blue
to match the wideness of your smile, to mask the sewage
of your sad, embodied, social lives, insofar as life is embodied, sad & social
for anyone. Look, it’s not too late, and if I say, hey I can see the ways
that I helped make this creature too, the one who’d never care
if something happened to me or you, but we both care
what happens to the masses of people, don't we?

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Pushdown, Day 13

I do not think many Trump voters want to believe that this has hit so many of us so hard on a level that runs deeper than party politics. I have family members trying to get me to calm down, focus on the positive--I'm not sure if they're as much afraid for me as they are afraid of having to sense how profoundly wrong this election has been and what that might mean for all of us. They can either write us off as being "someone who feels things very deeply"(as a family member recently put it), or they will have to consider that something terrible has come to pass, something so ominous that we think of nothing but ways to stop it from happening. I've lived through devastating losses to Reagan and the two Bushes (I was a little girl during Nixon). I was enraged when Bush the Younger was elected (twice). BUT IT WAS NEVER LIKE THIS.

I have been told to be positive. I would very much like to be positive. Thing is we've seen a firestorm of negativity and hate coming from the right--after 18 months of it and before that, the rise in hate groups that, sadly for us as a nation, coincided with our nation's having a sane, intelligent, hardworking African American president.  We now have to grapple with the idea that Steve Bannon—whose publication has hosted white supremacist, neo-nazi, and misogynist views and harnessed them into a Trump voting bloc—is Trump's choice for chief White House strategist. People all over the country are harassing minorities and women, writing hateful notes, spreading hateful language via car signs and graffiti. Now I'm seeing video from the neo-Nazi, white nationalist """National Policy Institute""" conference, where its leader calls on those gathered to raise a sieg salute, chanting, "All Hail President Trump!" There is a pain deep inside my chest over this. I've been sucker-punched by a hard lesson about power, since apparently history hasn't ever really hit me this hard before. There are groups of people who simply will not share power and opportunity with those who are not like them. These people are white in this country, at this moment. Not all white people, but a good chunk of them. They feel entitled to claim this country as their own. They will no longer tolerate the progress made by women and minorities, because they are afraid they will lose power in doing so. They want, in short, to put many of us back in our places.

So it's hard to be positive when all of this has become very clear. And I know it's a sign of my privilege that I'm late, very late, to feeling this punch in the gut.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

To the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump

Every time you or your daughters or granddaughters or nieces talk about college and your dreams or your business or your decision to start a family only when and if it is right, every time you get a raise at your job, or sit in a bar or restaurant alone, every time you or your daughters or granddaughters play a sport because of a federal law called Title IX, every time you use birth control and enjoy a healthy sex life without having to fear that it could determine the rest of your life, every time you walk into that voting booth, every time you get a mammogram with your insurance or at an affordable cost through Planned Parenthood or a clinic, every time you believe what your husband or your son or your dad or your boyfriend or Breitbart or Fox News tells you about women in power or women who seek power, every time some stranger comments on your appearance as if it is his right, every time you are uncompensated for all your extra work on the job while your male colleagues get promoted for doing half as much, every time you tell a little girl in your life that she can be anything, you'll do so without feeling the sharp sting of betrayal that so many of your fellow Americans, so many fellow women, feel today. You're free to make up your own mind, and you made up your mind. May you continue to enjoy all the benefits that women like Hillary Rodham Clinton fought their entire lives for women to have, in spite of the fact that you voted for a misogynist, in spite of the fact that you discredited the sexual assault claims of more than 13 women and even downplayed what you heard with your own ears on the Access Hollywood tape. And you voted for the man who built his alt-right base trying to delegitimize the nation's first African American president.

One generation before me, my very intelligent mother had no way to go to college--it simply didn't happen for young women of the working class; she told me that, when she was young, people started to worry if a woman was 25 and not yet married. Every one of the 53% of white women who have faced similar limits and still voted for Trump--how hard are your hearts? how deep your resentment? Those days when you had to ask your husband for a few dollars so you could take a break from your uncompensated 16-hour day as a homemaker and caregiver to have lunch with a friend? Or were you one of the women who stayed in an abusive marriage because it would have been impossible to support your children if you left? How far inside did you stuff your dreams? Is it too painful to see another woman attain hers? I can understand white men's sense of wounded privilege leading to a disastrous vote like this; I don't approve of it, but I understand it. But women? You all talk so openly and lovingly about life. Are you that threatened by others who don't look like you or believe like you? Has your world shrunken that much? Or are you well-off and simply want to make sure that you continue to be well-off, the way the past 12 years of the Bush tax cuts have enriched you even as you drove past middle-class homes in foreclosure, even as the record number of personal bankruptcies were filed? Didn't you think: "We're doing so well, but so many others are struggling?" Or did you tell yourself that you and yours were special, that you worked harder, that the others mustn't be as "smart" ("smart" in the way that your new president has been in avoiding taxes)?

If this sounds bitter, it’s because it is.

I have been around well-meaning white women who probably voted for Trump. They are generally good women, kind and nurturing. Many are religious. Often, they are single-issue voters and believe that abortion is a sin. I was actually in the pro-life movement in high school and used to get out of classes at my all-girls' school so that I could go, under the aegis of a so-called "pro-life" organization, to address my peers at assemblies, showing horrifying slides of butchered fetuses and uttering the usual talking points that included a strong anti-birth control stance. That's right. We hated abortion so much that we hated the use of pills and other devices that would have prevented the need for abortion in the first place. I knew women who went to their parish priests to ask permission to go on birth control after their family had reached a certain unmanageable size. This was not that long ago; was America great then? Maybe you do really care about unborn children. But I also hear you complaining that Black and Latina women have too many babies. How come? Shouldn't you be over the moon that they didn't stop a beating heart? If you're married and your husband hasn't had a vasectomy and you haven't had your tubes tied but you don't have a ton of kids, you're either on some form of birth control or not having very much sex. But you've just elected a president who plans to take down Planned Parenthood in his first 100 days of office. Where do you get your birth control? What about your teenage daughter with the steady boyfriend?

My question to the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump, the majority of them Christian (in name at least), is this: Why does most of your religious fervor center on sex--abortion, birth control, sex out of wedlock, LGBTQ+ sex? Jesus Christ had very little to say about abortion or birth control; in fact, you'll recall that he came to the defense of the woman caught in adultery who was being stoned by an angry crowd ("Lock her up! Lock her up!"). Jesus Christ had much, much more to say about love, charity, and justice. It is far easier to get an anti-racism message from the New Testament than it is to get an anti-birth control message, which you really have to construe with smoke or mirrors--or with the "expert" guidance of a clergyman who has read scripture and filtered it through a lens of social control, first and foremost of women. I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood and attended private Catholic schools. I'm willing to wager that well over 50% of you who were my classmates voted for Trump. How does that happen? Weren't you in religion class with me? Weren't you at Mass every first Friday and every Saturday night or Sunday morning? I know that some of our teachers also had skewed lenses through which to view the teachings of Christ, only seeing the things that mattered to our middle-class, white community--only reinforcing the fundamental teachings of the men of the Catholic church (not of Jesus Christ himself) portraying the female body as a vessel of sin and placing the entire burden of chastity on women. Isn't it true that we were taught to be charitable to those of other races only to a point--only when they were few and not "too black"--, that we were directly or indirectly raised to close off our generosity as soon as it appeared that our dominance, a dominance so many like to deny that we have, might be threatened? So that, in your workplace or school or neighborhood, if more minorities than you were accustomed to were present, you might find yourself thinking, "They're taking over," or when a group of two or more gathered to talk, you had this visceral sense that they were talking about you, laughing at you? I'm not exempt; I've had these feelings. They are hard-wired into us, white women.

So at least be honest--since what so many of you like so much about your now victorious candidate is that he says what he thinks: You are okay with minorities, as long as they are somewhat sequestered from your day-to-day life—out there in Trump's Dantean "inner city" or sparsely distributed in your halcyon suburb. Heck, you even read The Help in your book club! You watch Oprah a lot. In fact, you enjoy the company of Black people, as long as there aren't too many in any one place you want to be (like a school or a job--because, admit it, you think they were handed free college admission or a job over you or someone white you know, who, of course, was much more qualified) and as long as they are cheerful and never call anyone out for anything--even for killing their 12-year-old son who was playing outside with a BB gun. You like it better when minorities are the object of your charity; you like it less when they live and work as your equals, and less still when they are your superiors. Eight years of an African American family in the White House must have been tough for people who think that way, or for those who don't even know that they think that way. Feeling whipped by the experience, your voting bloc lashed back by gifting us with the most frightening president in my memory. That's what I think. Give it some real thought and please prove me wrong.

So many of you protest that it's not that you're racist. It's that Hillary is dishonest. Really? And Donald Trump is honest? Excuse the language here, but you must be fucking kidding me. I'm too exhausted by this campaign season to even begin to list all of the Trump lies; they infest the past 18 months like termites in our national mansion. He denies his practice of groping women. Try to imagine a situation where you have been sexually harassed by someone who later was running for a prominent position: Under what conditions would you come forward? Would you do this just to help the opponent? Would you do this for attention? Would you do this for money? What are the chances that nearly 15 women are all mentally troubled attention-hounds to the point of risking vilification and lawsuits and mean Tweets and even death threats? This is a man who has not shown us his tax returns and may well have ties to Putin's Russia; we know through some solid journalistic investigation that he is indebted to foreign interests, including the Bank of China. But you have handed him one of the most powerful positions in the world, overlooking his utterly dishonest refusal to let the American public see how he has amassed his wealth and in what ways that might compromise his ability to lead in dangerous times. Sorry, but the "lying Hillary" label seems a bit wan against the landslide of dishonesty you have literally put us all in the way of.

Maybe my view of this startling demographic will evolve with time. Maybe I'll learn more from you about your choices. But today, you are a large part of the America that has betrayed a very large number of other Americans. You have betrayed the work of women's rights. You have betrayed the work of civil rights. You, who just try to be kind, do your best, and make a nice simple life for you and yours? Yes. You. You have played a big part in endangering the stability of this country. I pray that we all get through this without any of the nightmare scenarios Donald Trump has spread before us actually playing out. I pray that one day soon I will be proud to be part of a demographic that doesn't so easily follow the will of the men around them.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pink Afternoon

It may be good, at this time, when a woman seeking power is skewered
every possible way by people with half her brain and ability,
when I want to rear-end the skinny young kid in the backwards baseball cap
whose white SUV bears a “Trump that bitch” bumper sticker,
it may be good to check out of the newsfeed and enter the world of pink robes
for a Friday afternoon of herbal tea in the pastel waiting room
while a doctor reads the images of the heterogeneously dense breasts
that earned me a callback to once again have that machine press them down
like panini and I’m told to hold my breath and then let it go and I must
close my eyes and make that tiny whimper that remains inside my palate
like the sound of a prehistoric couple having sex in a cave, but here it’s all
so civilized, all of us pink ladies (yes, I know some men get mammograms)
reading our magazines or in my case Bad Feminist, title in a light pink font
on the otherwise white cover, but here we are pink and white, pink and beige,
pink and brown, pink and silver—there’s that butch woman who works
where I work and has been power-walking on her lunch break since before
my adult daughter was born, and she’s slim as a wick and small-chested
which means it was probably more painful for her, as it was for me
when I was thinner and had smaller breasts; there are grandmothers, too,
but what do I mean, since I could have been a grandma 20 years ago
if reproductive years are truly reproductive years; some woman my age
bends over me to find a magazine, technically invading my space,
but here there is some slack for that, and the sun just floods the room
as though we’re in the same studio as the perky women’s voices
on the daytime talk show that’s too low for me to hear enough to follow.
I always consider this a sacred ritual, and I’m glad the hospital agrees
by making it as pleasant a place as possible for possibly discovering that
the things on your mind when you parked the car are suddenly unimportant.
The ladies in pink robes know what I’m talking about, all have cupped
their breasts alone and thought about them as friends or foes
or simply something that’s theirs, geological as a nose. In 2016,
we may have our first woman president; there are still two weeks to go.
It will certainly not have been easy. That kind of clamping scrutiny,
that kind of bitter attack is just history sticking its moth-eaten face
through the screen and reminding us of something our mothers told us,
based on what our grandmothers told them, and on back to that cave
where a couple had sex, or perhaps a man grabbed a woman, pushed her
down and mounted her, not caring how she felt about this, unequipped
to believe in much beyond fighting enemies, killing food, getting laid,
and maintaining position. All of this is screened out in the pink afternoon,
through this floral diffusion of preventive health care for women.
I want to break the sisterly silence to say something about how lucky
we are that we don’t have to rely on Planned Parenthood for this,
but who knows which of us has a malignancy and needs to save her energy?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Let Me Remind You of Your Amazingness

How do they do it, the candidates
jetting from city to town, shaking hands,
barking out their big plans? At first,
I am amazed, but then one day
I think how neither one of them
has to wash their clothes,
cook their food, do their dishes;

they are assisted with everything,
even dressing, and a staff of people
help them with the main thing they do:
connect with as many people as possible,
attracting votes to their palpable names.
I wonder if they ever feel nostalgic
for a time when they had chores to do,
or if they can even remember.

Does the rich guy with the wig
look back with fondness
at the military school regime of tasks,
before the tax-free years of golden toilets?
Does the woman who lived in a governor’s mansion
and the White House ever crave taking steel wool
to a pan of seared beef? I used to have to carry
my clothes to a laundromat; I don’t ever
get warm, fuzzy feelings for that,
and I wouldn’t just do it for fun of a feeling
of authenticity. Of course, anyone seeking
public office is someone of great energy
and persistence. Some of them are even
smart and good. I just think it gets easy

to see them at one lectern after another
and think to yourself, “I am lazy
compared to this being.” In this ugly election year,
let me remind you of all your amazingness,
you who have no one to pick up your clothes,
cut your grass, make your food. If we gave
each of them our longest day of the week,
I think they’d learn a thing or two.
We could trade roles, go on the trail
and say what we think about the state of the world.
It would be annoying to be in the public eye,
and they would probably be bored
with our mundane privacies. For instance,
here we've gone all day without our puppy
peeing on the floor, and that’s a lasting victory.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Paris of the West, The Paris of the Middle East

Perhaps the message is
You will know
what it is

to be trapped in your homes like rats*;
you will never go anywhere
where lots of you gather;

your public sphere is full of air,
and we will deflate it.

Or perhaps it is only
the message John Milton
assigned to Lucifer,
who would rather
rule in hell than serve in heaven.

But then again, where
is heaven?

When I landed at Charles DeGaulle
in 1989, I thought I'd attained it,
just months after Lockerbee,
a few months before the Berlin Wall
came down. Americans,
we tsked-tsked about LePen
and apologized for Reagan.
It occurred to me the stars and stripes
that flew outside our residence
could attract violence,
and French friends made me wary
of Algerian men I met
on Boulevard Jourdan.

Just this summer at the Stones
concert, high up in the stands,
I looked for the exits. Maybe heaven
has to do with clouds
of oblivion and distance.
And maybe the message is a clear sky
and nothing to get to
but this place bristling with weapons
and history and hell. As a teen,
I was often scolded for having
my head in the clouds. It was a luxury
so many didn't have. Maybe
there isn't a message at all.
Milton wrote best
when he thought
the revolution would succeed:
A regicide had to mean something,
Cromwell had to rule in hell to serve heaven.
Before long, the typologies cancelled themselves out.

Now the younger LePen calls for annihilation
and the Internet churns out
the messaging.
When the news anchor says this is our
world war, this is our
dent in history, I shrink to the size
of an ancestor I've never met
buffeted by factors, dispatched by dates on a timeline.

*From Emily Carlson's Symphony No. 2