Rumpus Original Poetry: “Mewl” by Sarah Lyn Rogers

By

 

 

 

I.

This doesn’t begin with the fire, but it’s as good a bookend as any—
just one tableau of many featuring the usual cast of accusatory
fingers and the figures in their line of ire. Those whom rules
have favored and those who know what it is to suffer. We’d

never been to that space, never met the artists and attendees
who perished in a building like the wooden belly of a ship,
but we know places like it, have danced and sung among fairy
lights, handmade lofts, puppets built by da Vinci’s latest

incarnation as a trans girl. Those people shouting shame
over building codes have likely been the comfortable kind
exercising freedom not to be spat on, threatened, killed for being
observably at odds with the bodies they were given. Yes, I said

those people, and I meant the enfranchised yapping like lapdogs
from narrow confines, not the beings residing in rinky-dink
bedrooms/garages that double as performance spaces for bands
nowhere else will book. I’m a straight-seeming cis white girl

learning to catalogue my privileges and extending them
to others when I can and still I have been on the shitty side
of a rental inquiry. I know how it feels to be, on paper, worth
absolutely nothing and how easy to feel that way off of paper, too.

 

II.

I don’t get told to kill myself, but I know many in the LGBT community
hear this regularly. Sometimes the command is convincing enough.
Anger is a mirror and I don’t believe the otherwise-at-ease offended
by some people’s existence are looking in it. I try to imagine having

love and sympathy even for livid Jesus-freak gazillionaires stripping
rights from everyone who can’t pay their way out of a bind and I can’t
do it, can actually see my own humanity’s limits. Would that they
too would try this exercise, or another: admit faults! Hard to trust anyone

who has no sense of humor. A gentle soul who says she talks to angels
has become someone I don’t recognize, taking to Facebook to slut-shame
Beyoncé, tongue-lashing Obama for his immigrant sympathies, typing
in vitriolic caps about all of the WHINERS who can’t accept Trump

as a gift from the Lord. If he is a gift, it is a flaming column of shit
wrapped in dubiously human skin, in my very un-angelic opinion.
What’s absurd about the man is the obviousness of his insecurities—
he doth protest too much—the kind of complex that might inspire

sympathy were he not responsible for the lives and deaths of everyone
within these borders and many beyond. An awareness of my faults
makes me hesitant, makes me reach for the scaffolding of facts
while his make him bombastic, loose-cannon, a smug, dumb charlatan,

the emperor everyone knows is nude. The angel lady insists
not all of God’s chosen ones were perfect. I’m a heathen by choice,
prefer to direct my energies to stones, intentions, the wheel of the year.
I like my lore more figurative. Still, something tells me God’s chosen

weren’t hate-mongering gropers (or worse). Just a hunch. A woman’s
intuition. Since childhood I have tried not to know anyone well
enough to dislike them, or give them license to antagonize, but
Facebook is the license now. We are all animals. At work I held

and scanned sweat-stained armbands from the Holocaust, touching
fabric that touched people condemned to death or to put them there:
red and green triangles, Stars of David, angular S’s and skulls.
This is not a metaphor. The rabbi-turned-collector I work for,

who deals in Judaica, tells me something I’ve never known: shows
me the band that says Jüdische Polizei, for Jews the Nazis forced
to police their own people, a level of fucked-up I’d never read.
Each day new 1930s and 40s equivalences grow more disturbing,

like how fucking stupid and heartless are we, and what kills me
is that it’s the red-blooded self-professed patriots only too happy
to repeat history, likely the same people who look back at any clash
and think they would have been hero underdogs, which is what

all Americans fancy ourselves, right? My husband’s aunt is a troll.
This is a metaphor. Says he doesn’t watch real news, directs him
to YouTube conspiracy videos. These are our times: rhetoric
trumps reason, is wielded like a weapon against “ignorance”

by those who vilify book-learnin’. I know only too well that I don’t
know everything, which makes me not want to claim expertise
on anything, which is of course what I want from everyone else,
the same control in different clothes. I know how to escape

a dinner party mostly unscathed, how to be a worker about whom
no one has license to complain, but I don’t know how to be a soul
or what true goodness is. Sometimes when I am in a mood,
it seems easiest to leave the earth plane altogether, let everyone else

deal with this ever-intensifying mess because who am I to do it?
I, riddled with faults! I, not very kind! When my serotonin levels
are not set to self-destruct, I wonder how often Donald Trump
thinks about offing himself and figure the answer is never.

 

III.

For the first time in three years, my husband and I were home
in the U.S. for the fourth of July. We’d spent twelve months
in a nation where kings own newspapers and teachers sign waivers
saying they’ll never speak ill of their school, the king, or the country.

Portraits of royals hang in every business and home. I watched
from afar as my homeland grew foreign to me, an unfunny joke
I didn’t bother to defend. At least U.S. journalism is real, I’d thought,
an antidote to automatic support for all-powerful leaders. Sad!

In Bhutan, foreign workers need government permission to leave
town for the weekend, afternoon, even an hour. This is granted
by the immigration office, assuming all goes well with a letter
from one’s employer, the whims of government workers, and

sometimes a whiskey bribe. We presented our papers at checkpoints
and kept trips to a minimum, inconvenienced and suspect because
foreign. For us, there was an endpoint to this suspicion. In our own
country again, we sang “proud to be an American” with gusto,

gallows humor. I didn’t yet think such a system could happen here,
didn’t know that six months later I’d be shouting at the airport
with hijabis and Jews holding signs saying “We’ve seen this
before.” I can’t command and articulate encyclopedic knowledge

on the history of anger in and toward and from the Middle East
and everywhere else, which is what I feel I need every time
anyone starts in against Islam, but it’s not like facts are doing
too hot these days so what does it matter, why am I still trying

to fight fair against people who make up the rules as they go,
who pride themselves on never reading books, whose tones
of voice call to mind a fat cartoon man tugging his suspenders
with jazz hands, chewing one end of a cigar? Floating over

my shoulders I’ve got on one side a stenographer and on the other
a housecat, both judgey and withholding, not the spirits to summon
in an argument against oversimplification, the casting of all
of a kind of person as their worst representative—which is what

U.S. Americans can anticipate now that the rest of the world
sees us for what we’ve always denied that we are: buffoons,
ill-meaning and otherwise. I don’t know what to do with myself
so I am calling representatives, studying Spanish, reading

the Quran before the Bible, wishing my boss Shabbat Shalom,
trying out Insha’Allah, everything graceless as crayon art
magneted to the fridge, but an alternative to withering.
At the women’s march, where I didn’t march so much as

shift my weight from side to side for hours, so crowded,
all I did was look and listen to people who’ve done this before,
their history of anger a resistance pre-dating my existence.
I imagine the fire victims who might have marched with us

against all manner of finger-pointing, their pockets perhaps
like mine lined with stones: malachite for a resilient heart,
sodalite for courage to speak truth, tiger’s eye for personal
power. Among the signs about witches and coat hangers:

Black lives matter. Can’t believe that statement is ever
a provocation, but then what I cannot believe is redefined
every time I read the news now. Home after the protest
there’s a Facebook statement from the angel whisperer:

“Congratulations, ladies. You just marched for terrorism.”
A flame of anger. Then a video clip: someone just punched
a Nazi in the face. 2017 battle cry as .gif. “We’ve seen this before”
manifest as a fist. For a moment, that was all the clarity I needed.

***

Author photograph © Aly Schaefer.


Sarah Lyn Rogers is the Fiction Editor for The Rumpus and a Pushcart-nominated writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of Inevitable What, a poetry chapbook focused on magic and rituals. Sarah is currently revising her first novel, which explores "emerging" cities, avoidant personality disorder, and the Internet as a liminal space where artifacts from the dead live. For more of her work, visit sarahlynrogers.com. More from this author →