Artists and writers respond to the 2016 United States Election.
From the beginning, 7×7 has harnessed the power of dialogue to build bridges between intimate and public selves. Never has that effort seemed more urgent. This week, we invited past and future contributors to share creative responses to this deeply uncertain post-election moment. This is how we will move forward: with eyes open and pages full.
The city’s stiff upper lip botoxed
with truss and backfill against ocean
swells that threaten yearly & which scientists
warn are getting steadily worse.
King tide, we say when water laps
the floorboards of the old oyster
factory where my friend
the painter makes her home.
King because everyone
understands Queen = a lesser
threat, surge with high jewels
of jellyfish, stately but respectful
of each built brim. The president-
elect says no more taxpayer money
for global warming; wants us
to believe it’s immigrants we should
fear. We look for the right way to say
we aren’t having it, but words
are the dead gull on the sidewalk
near the port only discernible in dusk’s
dirt grey by the feet folded against
its upturned belly like orange
post-its, the rain-bruised dahlia
someone has left on its chest.
Which is to say they are a beauty
that arrives too late. We watch
the sunset but don’t go down
to the water. Signs have been posted:
the sand is poisoned and must
be kept from contact with bare skin.
As a New Yorker with nary a Republican leaning, a red state is a strange place to be after the election. A place where weeks ago a man driving home from a strip club fell out of his truck, ran himself over, and ran off. The state is infamous for these ridiculous happenings where you suspect before you confirm that yes, this shit happened in Florida.
This is not the Florida I’ve experienced. I spent election night with a group of artists at a Downtown Orlando art gallery. Liberals, huddled on the lonely island they inhabited as such in Florida. Only nine counties out of the sixty-seven in Florida went to Hillary. I arrived in Orlando three months after the Pulse shooting. Support for the LGBTQ community was visible in storefronts, bars, galleries, sporting events, Lyft cars. They went hard for their city. There is a smart, vibrant, creative community here. Besides, any superiority I felt as a New Yorker wavered when on a recent weekend back, I saw a Trump sign taped to a window in Astoria.
I stepped outside for the first time two days after the election. Walking to Publix, I couldn’t help but wonder what every White person I passed thought when they looked at me. I silently willed them not to look long, every second increasing the chance this one would be the one to say something slick.
I’m staying in a house Jack Kerouac lived in after On the Road was published and the attention made him flee New York. Kerouac, a White, straight, Catholic, politically conservative man. I wondered even before the election what he’d think of a brown woman writing from where he once did. After the election, I wondered if he would’ve been a Trump supporter. Of course, the only right answer to that is who gives a fuck? I am here, and he is not, but I have always been subject to what White people think of me. For decent education, medical treatment, employment, housing.
I’m here working on a short story collection. My work feels insignificant, although I know it’s not. I am the daughter of immigrants and Latina. Claiming space as such and as an American writer is a resistance to the image of America that some are trying to hold in place. But none of this feels heroic and heroic is what feels necessary.
Returning home in December means time with my husband. We married in July surrounded by friends, good food, drinks, and laughter. We have spent three weeks together since then because of my traveling for creative work. We text each other good morning and encouragement throughout the day peppered with inside jokes. We Skype every evening.
I married him because he is supportive of my work with no intimate knowledge of it, an act of faith. I married him because he is an only child who misses his parents. His grandmother is ninety-eight years old, and he knows time is against him. He wants to visit his family without abandoning his life in the city that’s been home for the last ten years. I married him because I have the privilege of being an American-born citizen and that is what you do with privilege. You ask, how can I wield it to ease another’s suffering for not having it? We did not marry because we were in love; because we loved we married. Marriage was a political decision carried out with love.
We began my husband’s citizenship process in September. Our lawyer said that later on, he would need to get a medical clearance in Naples and wait for permission to re-enter the US. The wait used to take ten, fifteen years for some clients. Under Obama, it was shortened to two weeks. Two weeks we can Skype through. Ten or fifteen years would weaponize time against us.
One of my closest friends, Indian, Muslim, and a mother, broke down today. Trump’s year old statement about a ban on all Muslims entering the US reappeared on his site. Did this mean she wouldn’t be able to travel overseas and risk denial of reentry? Amidst reports of harassment in schools and on streets, how could she ensure her and son’s safety? My reassurances rang hollow. Our parents survived political turmoil and regimes. Resistance would increase and continue. Nothing was sure yet. The media was fanning hysteria. The only thing that felt it had the weight of truth to it was, “I love you.”
Days after the election, Trump has already delivered on his promise of a wall. More than just the one. His election shows America did the work for him, erecting walls built by their fears and misconceptions, apathy and misdirected outrage, ignorance both casual and willful, but what is certain about walls is their inevitable breach.
We moved from remembering the past to revel in the present
to remembering the past to revel in the past
and at first the two seemed equal
the two seemed the same
and at first the one appeared to bring us toward the other
and at first the one appeared to conjure up the other in the flesh
and the one seemed to recall the other
and at first it seemed a stirring call
and at first the call seemed answered
the call had music
and at the music both were moved
and at first we didn’t notice in what direction
and at first when we noticed that the movement was taking us away
we still didn’t notice that we each were traveling away
from one another
slicing in half a boiled potato for dinner
the first dress you didn’t sew by hand
fitting yourself neatly in with the spelling of your name
adjusting the two antennae minutely
mom refusing to use garlic in the sauce
rolls and buns on Sunday
beating out the rug
winding the clock on the mantel
all the classics, condensed
canned peaches firm and sweet year round
forbidden brush fires at the dead end of the block
and on gym days, the girls were allowed to wear pants
keeping up appearances by using the good linens
an even more appealing price for corn
vacationing to cosmopolitan places
strolling old bastions of wealth expressing admiration
little obligations going obsolete
fixing the toaster
and your first avocado
typewriters use type
filmmakers use film
architects use tracing paper
you resolve to sew his wedding suit, but stop after the jacket
taking up macramé
a plate of chow fun and a pint of egg drop soup
expanding your mind to encompass the potential
and if the president seemed crooked
he was only one guy
tuning in to the news, taking up the chants
remaining optimistic that the forecasted changes would arrive
learning to cook an artichoke
learning a language
government checks and balances
cheap berries year round
free trade, cheap sneakers, baked brie
government carrots, legal loopholes
travelers checks, subsidized gas
a garden just for ornamentals
and we water it prodigiously from a green hose
and then a sprinkler system connected to a timer
vacationing to slow places, simpler places
to recall how to relax
heading out for a jog
no longer balancing our checkbook
we own our well
we can sell the water if we want
and that’s our business
we have what we have
the imagined dreams of our parents
all those tiny stitches that went into her trousseau
the good ideas they said would go into practice
we never followed up on
heading out for a run
our queue of hopes
and the seeming end to scarcity
that first encounter with burrata that promised to blow your mind
the complete and willful ignorance of how the other lives
followed by an explanation of the moon’s dark side
we mostly tuned out
the boring, the complicated
derivatives and products never had to do with us
because they never had to do with us
our secret history of never examining the we
the unfaithful relationship
shopping local and vacationing to beautiful places
taking a cab around the problem area
the aged system more obvious and ugly than ever
as it breaks down
reclaiming gutted city blocks with trees
picking our own berries and carbon offsets
the life-changing magic of tidying up
the one last vacation
to a last place without cell towers
given the events of the past 48 hours this poem requires a more devastating ending
Because 34. Because woman. Because not his America. Because—Obamacare. Because seeking solace in sex.
Because seeking solace in sex between enemies. Seeking solace in sex with mere friends. Because sex without solace is just between friends.
Because I’m not editing. Because you’re not saying. Because I’m not editing, but you’re not saying. And I thought we both were playing.
Because I made a bet. Because I listened. Because once, long ago, after a tartufo: an indie press, whose conch-spiral shell iridesced, buzzed my bell. She handed me a pamphlet. I asked her to leave. I slammed the door. I yelled through the peephole, “No, really. Please.”
Inside the pamphlet was an Igloo-brand cooler. Inside the cooler was a song. Inside the song, sex.
Later, the pamphlet would rustle open her pages. Leaf at me, sticky and dank. “Sun is setting,” she whistled. “Sex, please.”
I made a face. I manufactured a scowl. If you have ever heard of escalators, if you have ever met an elephant, if the elephant shook your hand and went down on you and then went down on one knee, if the elephant proposed and lifted her trunk in a trumpet-plea—if you, hard-hearted, shoved in a fist—if you pulled out…a whole hysterectomy—well, then I think you’re getting hysterical. No one has asked for your beauty. No one has asked for your greed. No one has ever shown you their face. In the closet, under some papers, I keep a folded-up, hushy place. Inside the place is a gun. Inside the gun is gray.
I follow a site called Future Timeline. I like to watch as the possible universe expands, contracts, spills out. A fair amount of predictions are cool, like when we’ll become human-computer hybrids or colonize each available planet in turn (we love to colonize!) or be able to move to Antarctica or northern Canada or have superpowers. Since Pence thinks there is no greater calling for me than to be a wife and mother, let me introduce our children to their universe. Mark Zuckerberg wrote to his daughter in a similar vein, albeit with more hope, and more money. When do we call him to account?
(I will not introduce Pence by his title since I do not honor it. I’ve got that New England dissident spirit now.)
Okay, kids, ready?
2030 – Global population is reaching crisis point
2031 – Chocolate has become a rare luxury
2030-2075 The Very Large Hadron Collider is operational. (Is there any more beautiful phrase in English than Large Hadron Collider?)
2039 – The world’s first trillionaire
2053 – Genetically engineered designer babies for the rich
2059 – The end of the oil age
“The world of 2050 is a world of contrasts and paradoxes.”
2060 – Tropical cyclones are wreaking havoc in the Mediterranean
2065 – Longevity treatments able to halt aging
2082 – The US cedes territory to Mexico
2090 – Religion is fading from European culture
2180 – Asteroid terrorism
1,000,000 – “Purely biological (non-cyborg) humans are exceedingly rare now…Though free to come and go as they please, they have practically zero influence in any governmental systems on Earth or elsewhere.”
I love you,
Don’t ask me to stop watering the myrtles, brother.
I need their fresh green.
Don’t ask me to stop smelling the myrtles, brother.
I need their fragrance.
If the love of the myrtle dies in my heart
I will have nothing to pull you out of the depths of exile
On the day they will come expecting
to swallow you whole
On the day they will come expecting
To buy my soul.
In a gold-plated room, a man hears
only himself. He sees himself
in the gold-plated spoons, in the face
of his daughter. And everything
the same color. Does he know
that I am the rat, grey
and crawling beneath him?
I twist my ears to his warm air,
listening. My stomach rises
above cold gold tile. I eat his food.
I shit on his bed.
in college i tutored a football player
he’d never eat any red food
from a woman who wasn’t his wife
he said women do love
spells that way they sprinkle
menstrual blood into a dish & entrap
a man with magic
i don’t cook
& i’ve never cooked for man
but lately i’m vertiginous
my organs churn i’m swirling hot
with righteous anger
suppose i fed my child bearing
blood to a lover
suppose i made every man i ever knew
swallow cells from my body’s center
from my body’s magic of making new
suppose i had a secret
perhaps i’ve fed every man
who’s ever grimaced at the thought of my body
bleeding in a way he can’t see
a rust red drop of his certain disgust
let me be clear i don’t want to bewitch
perhaps i just want to serve them
piles of spaghetti & red sauce
& sit back quiet watch them
swallow my body’s furtive blood
while my uterus remakes itself
in its self-same image
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
655 West 34th Street
Manhattan, New York 10014
November 8th 2016, 10:55pm
Women are the best losers.
They smile and say thank you,
It has been an honor.
At night we go to bed together.
We vote to erase our bodies.
It’s easier that way.
Facts sound like omens, and are:
In Georgia it has not rained for weeks.
Yesterday, our land caught fire.
We choked on its burnt body.
lovely I hear
and perhaps worth seeing
a garden landscape with fountain
a Byzantine example
inspired funerary and welcome to the guest
you seem proud of what
I cannot explain
I could be one of the largest of my type
showing all signs of weather
we are a pair
of engraved sauceboats
I would like to present you
of only two known
close examination reveals the inscrutability
that survives and outlasts
what the unknown laborer
the claw and ball of a Saturday
for a moment I am distracted by an extinguisher
and have no memory
but that of flying atop a fortress
now I turn to you
like a fine fourbisseur
an obscene coat of arms
in an appointment
it seems to me
we have been meticulously heroic
you don’t want to lose your mind
in the wilderness of your grief
let me show you a decorative scheme
older than Jefferson
in this miniature
your foe is dying
and Gibraltar is pictured
in your arms
I see a tour de force
in your well-groomed fingers
in your cloudy eye
a charging cavalry
that is when I feel most
my easy nonchalance
like a heated shot
through this gallery
I like your affection and even
your moral instruction
I seem to enjoy
you have contributed a vast sum
to a portly and firm
serving my interests like a glimpse
of the ships at harbor
they are mine
I don’t own them
I don’t want to own anything
at the moment
so much as a face that answers
the faces of the young republic
I have heard a lot of a certain cessation
add to that
a charming gaze
and elegant attire
a steady lapping of
and a bejeweled garter
as though time would make a meal
of an entrepreneur of me
do you see how the physique is elongated
in its striving to convince
how an attempt at harmoniousness
and not enough
among the minor officials is born
the greatest minor official
ever to live
I too was once deeply involved
in inventing the electromagnetic
and nearing my end
one eye raised in contemplation
one eye sealed in frustrated love
a predilection for proper burials
and children in reverie
I think I’ll start my own folk tradition
standing in the garden a long time
waiting for a rose
to climb my leg
the lion’s companion
of discordant peace
too much to expect
from a sunset
still you can stay
a minute under it
and loom large
which is an effect of color
on your personal atmospherics
paying an extended visit
like having been born!
in a letter you write
you are doomed
civilization has laid a mark
of pure nature
all our overgrown Realism
in one giant gilded goblet
the fertile decay
the victory of permission evaporates
leaving only a vantage point
Darwin is given over
to the vacationing class
a distinctly American
touches its enormous clientele
there are landforms softly contoured
of human temperature
and slackened elegiac mood
the better to lie down in
the longer I stand here
the more I want to
become unearthly in my settlement
out of spite
the summer arrives
the moment its sky clicks over
its heat is running out
that’s how we like it
though we also like coolness
and suspended fruition
a revolution all of turning points
and people on the walls
I put myself to bed at one in the morning, jittery, nauseous, numb, zombielike—
I woke up, abyss of night, I opened up my laptop, the light shone out, into the dark bedroom, I saw the headlines, jagged and sharp, my eyes filled with tears—
In the gray light of morning, I walked over to the botanical garden, needing what it had: trees high in the sky, leaves, petals, stems, branches that lived on, planted solidly in their own vivid worlds, even as they overlapping with ours.
The truth is, I say the words: I didn’t think… how could it… I can’t believe… But I say them as a dead person, a zombie person, because they are not truly my truth. My truth, my body, my flesh, my imagination, has long held, has long borne, such dark possibility—
Walking along the black iron fence that separates Eastern Parkway and Mount Prospect, toward the garden entrance, I looked up at the signs posted on the fence, rat poison, they warned. I craned my neck further back, and there were trees already there, comforting me, warming my eyes to the world, trees whose dangling leaves, all dressed up in their grand finale colors, reds, browns, caramel, sherbet orange, yellow, forced me to lift my head up, forced me to look up.
But there it is then, a movement near my feet, along the accumulated leaves, along the low wall beneath the fence, a large round rat, slowly hobbling, it moved so slowly, as I have never seen a rat move
It walked forward, as if it was taking a dreamy stroll, stumbled, tripped, took another several steps forward, so slowly
I was afraid for it, my heart sobbed for it, I was glued to the sidewalk, no longer numb or frozen or nauseous, not staring, but communing my heart
I will feel tenderly toward you, though we walk slowly, wading through dry leaves as if in a dream, poison drugging our veins, I see you, I will not look away, I do not abandon the pain, I stay, and we bear it, and we stand our ground, moving, ever so forward.
We have set up our rickety slings of aluminum and strap, but the parade is not coming: the shouters, the vulvic dancers,
the somersaulting dogs—nothing but phantasms of memory and hope. And everywhere around us the wreckage of our erased
life: paper palms wilting over ruptured hull spines, police cars in twisted pylons, faux emeralds glinting along evacuated boulevards.
All this, and still: our beers in their foam overcoats, our feet up, flip-flops in the dust, our tremors of anticipation and yearning.
We know, we know, we know, we know—No one has to tell us. The Persian howlers have been driven off, the goddesses
and kings, the cello thumpers and public masturbators—all equal exactly to the shadows
of dust motes, the scent of obliteration, the exhortations of rain-pelted butterflies. We have been found insubstantial, flattened
by a global fist, our poetry redacted to prepositions by a committee of the forgetful, our dreams retooled for maximum
productivity, then junked. When it comes, it will be the desert of Nothing-doing! It will be the vacuum of Stop-I-said! We will be
forbidden to return to our domestic romps. But still we ride on our straps above the pavement, still we toot our paper horns.
All of our waiting, all of our yearning won’t budge an electron, and yet here we are: millions of us, expectant, eyes open.
I’m not always good at writing with an overt message in mind. I’m primarily a writer of fiction and poetry, and I find it much easier to create images and settings than to sustain an argumentative discourse. When I do try my hand at it, the words usually come out too formal or too boring or too bossy, like a lecture no one signed up for in the first place. But, in the face of Tuesday’s election, I feel ethically obliged to make a statement, imperfect as it is.
What I want to say is be loud.
I first want to explain how hard it is to do this.
First, many people are still processing, and it’s hard to speak out when you’re sorting through an overwhelming amount of information. (“I’m having trouble focusing,” my friend tells me. “I feel like my brain doesn’t work,” I respond.) It’s hard work forming coherent thoughts in the face of the unthinkable. It’s hard to take in all the hideous rhetoric and hatred (especially if, like me, you’re someone who was educated/privileged enough to think it didn’t exist in such horrifying quantities) that’s rearing its head in communities and colleges across the country this week. And it’s hard to know how to even begin reacting to this bigotry and hatred. Do we respond with protests and rallies or patience and understanding? What’s needed more, fury or compassion? In the wake of all this uncertainty and confusion, silence is a very understandable response.
Second, many people are still grieving, and grief can render us mute. In an email I wrote to my students (mainly college freshmen) two days after the election, I note that my friends — scholars and artists and musicians and poets across the country — are heartbroken and devastated. I note our deep sorrow that a large portion of the country has voted in favor of wealth, ignorance, bigotry, and fear and against equality for its women, people of color, LGBTQIA communities, immigrants, and other disenfranchised groups. One of my friends said it feels like everyone’s mother died on the same day, and I do think that this magnitude of grief can incapacitate us on a profound level. I hope, though, that this grief soon proves galvanizing.
Third, many people are afraid. I am definitely in this category. I am, in fact, terrified. I hope with all my heart that I’m being an alarmist, but online activisits are indicating that I’m not alone in my worries. Noting how the expanded definition of terrorism makes it easier for people to be imprisoned without due process, Leah McElrath writes on Twitter, “All it takes to create behavioral change effectively silencing dissent is active surveillance and detention of a select few of any group. …Under authoritarian governments (which, make no mistake, the Trump Admin aspires to be), people become their own jailers, their own censors.” Meanwhile, in Dissent Magazine, Columbia University professor Turkuler Isksel writes that “If you trust in freedom of expression to expose the autocratic machinations of a Trump administration, think again. .… Autocrats understand that freedom of expression is fragile, and seek to stifle it by hook or by crook.”
I don’t know exactly how widespread these concerns are yet. I’ve been limiting my time online because I can only synthesize so many frightening things at once, and because I have poems to write and papers to grade and second jobs to attend to… but also because I’m afraid of the very real likelihood that, someday in the not-too-distant future, I’m going to be held accountable for speaking out against the patriarchy, white supremacy, xeno-/trans-/homophobia, etc. Wrapped up in all my public thought this week is a kind of measuring: What do I say, and how much, and in what ways will it come back to haunt me in the future? I will say that I’m considering my options for leaving the country. I’m considering what the future will be like if my friends and colleagues and fellow creators and educators are jailed without due process for holding dissenting opinions. If I myself am jailed for it.
In spite of all these excellent reasons to remain silent, and although it’s much easier/safer for those of us in positions of privilege to say nothing at all, I believe there are even more compelling reasons to be loud.
There’s that oft-quoted line of Dante’s: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
There’s Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
And there’s Richard Wright, offering hope in the power of language: “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.”
Finally, Turkuler Isksel, in recommending that people “protest early and often”: “The experience of Russia and Turkey suggest that the only democratic, nonviolent practice capable of deterring the autocrats is the sight of endless crowds marching: vociferous, tenacious, disciplined citizens claiming ownership over their constitutional liberties and defending the integrity of their political institutions. …When those in power are poised to destroy constitutional safeguards… hanging on in quiet desperation until the next election can be fatal to democracy.”
Historical precedent has shown us what happens when countries — populated by mostly decent, compassionate people — remain silent in the face of tyranny and extremism. Writers have been pointing this out for decades, if not centuries. Whether it is the slow erosion of rights for the disenfranchised or a rapid descent into fascism, the consequences of remaining silent are severe. (And yes, it’s possible that the next four years will not be tyrannical… but if this past year’s campaign rhetoric is to believed, I’m not very hopeful.)
So be loud.
Be very, very loud.
Resist. Fight back. Do whatever you can to support the fight against bigotry, hatred, and oppression. Do so audibly and determinedly.
I don’t know what form this fighting will take — probably it will differ according to each person’s abilities and surroundings — but I do expect that it will involve speaking out even when to do so is inconvenient or frightening. If you haven’t already, you can educate yourself so that you’re prepared to be an advocate and ally for those with less privilege. Often, conversations can happen most productively among friends, family members, and other people with whom you already share some common ground, but only if you’re prepared and willing to point out issues of systemic inequality. If you’re a man, be ready to advocate for feminist causes among other men. If you’re white or straight, intervene for racial minorities and gay communities. If you’re a citizen, speak up for the rights of immigrants and refugees.
And you might do more than just speak. You might donate to the ACLU, to the Center for Reproductive Rights, to the NAACP, to the International Refugee Assistance Project, or to one of dozens of other worthy progressive causes You might show up to the Million Women March on January 21 in Washington, DC. You might find an organization in your local community that works to help undocumented workers, homeless LGBTQIA youth, or the differently abled, and you might donate or volunteer for them. If you’re looking for some directions to help get you started, here are three good websites with lists of suggestions: 1 (for everyone), 2 (for everyone), and 3 (for writers and teachers). There are myriad causes for you to support and online resources to help you do so. Pick one. Pick several. Read about them. Speak up.
Then, lastly, I think we must provide whatever kindness and concern we can for each other. After we’ve been loud, we must come home and listen and offer solace and empathy. We must fill our time with the people and the moments that matter — hugs and words of solidarity and campfire and song and handwritten letters and poems left on friends’ doorsteps — all these things that restore us and reaffirm our lives.
Kindness and loudness. Love and protest. These are the most important languages we have, and they’re the ones I’ll continue to speak for as long as I can.