Ever since Trump was elected, I have been trying out variations on the serenity prayer—God, grant me the serenity to accept that Trump is President and the wisdom not to go insane . . .
My prayers have not been answered.
I admit I am not usually a prayerful person, or even a faithful one, but extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. As my friend, the poet, January Gill O’Neil said, Something dark has crawled from under a rock and we need it to crawl back under there.
I am pretty sure last week was a trial for all of us. And I’m already wondering if I will have the serenity to accept whatever happens next. Of all qualities, serenity is one of the hardest for me to master. Even a snippet of a conversation can send me over the edge as it did last Friday when I was walking on the downtown mall in Charlottesville and overheard two men talking about Christine Blasey Ford. One was saying: I betcha she was just a pretty young thang looking for trouble. And they was just being boys. The other agreed, Women always blame men who give ‘em what they ask for.
Yep, we women are to blame. Whatever sexual assaults we suffer, we cause them. Maybe we should bind or feet like the Chinese women once did so we can’t run freely. Or cover our hair if not our entire bodies as women must in certain Muslim countries. Or how about female circumcision? Cut that female genitalia right off.
It didn't help that I also passed a man with a big sign saying, I STAND WITH BRETT.
I was so angry, I ducked into The New Dominion Bookshop to gather my composure. I love bookshops, especially this one. Charlottesville is so lucky to have it. Right when you walk in, you see the poetry section: a quiet place to recover, read a few poems, catch your breath. And the staff is so helpful. Shortly after I arrived, the lovely new events coordinator, Sarah Valencia, informed me that there was a poetry reading starting in just a few hours—two fantastic poets, Erika Meitner and Emilia Phillips, were reading that night.
And what a terrific reading it was! Listening to Erika and Emilia, I felt as if my day had been saved by poetry. (And also, seeing Erika's T-shirt!) Both women are not just fantastic poets, they also know how to give a great reading. I thought I'd close with a poem from each.
by Emilia Philips from her new book, Empty Clip
Yes, I swallowed them.
Those bitter bolts rust in acidic
afterthought. This tetanus
of tautology turns my gut a copper
gangrene, a belfry
swallowed. Did you know passive
aggression is so soluble?
A soapy mouth learns other ways
to speak: homonymic hymns
oflye and lie. The awful offal
becomes my loden, stinking
anger uncomplicates. But I gulped
the wrong way. I am a glutton
songs of silence. Chugalug catgut.
& choke it back. Wolf
down this I can’t , I won’t—
this yes, yes, I mean, don’t.
I’ll Remember You As You Were,
Not As What You’ll Become
by Erika Meitner from her new book, Holy Moly Carry Me
If you are fearful, America,
I can tell you I am too. I worry
about my body—the way, lately,
it marches itself over curbs and
as a form of resistance.
The streets belong to no one
and everyone and are a guide
for motion, but we are so numerous
there is no pavement left on which to
release our bodies, like a river spilling
over a dam, so instead my body
thrums next to yours in place.
When we stop traffic or hold
hands to form a human chain,
we become a neon OPEN sign
singing into the night miles from
home when the only home left
is memory, your body, my body,
our scars, the dark punctuated
with the dying light of stars.
Erika Meitner is the author of five books of poems, including Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA Editions, 2018), Copia (BOA Editions, 2014), and Ideal Cities (HarperCollins, 2010), which was a 2009 National Poetry Series winner. Her poems have been published in Best American Poetry, The New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, The New Republic, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, Tin House, and elsewhere. She is currently an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she directs the MFA and undergraduate creative writing programs.
Emilia Phillips is the author of three poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, Signaletics (2013) and Groundspeed (2016), and Empty Clip (2018), as well as three chapbooks--most recently Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike (Bull City Press, 2015). Her poems and lyric essays appear widely in literary publications including Agni, Boston Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, and elsewhere. She’s an assistant professor in the MFA Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.