Elf on the Shelf Rebellion

elf on shelf.jpg

Last night, in a small act of rebellion, I refused to wake up and hide the Elf on the Shelf.

Our elf’s name is Speedshark. My mother bought him for Hank Christmas 2012, before Hank was really old enough to get it (just before his 2nd birthday) and before Vincent and I got together. So, when he and Stella moved in with us, she inherited Speedshark.

Speedshark has evolved over the years. During Christmas 2014, I could get away with moving him once every few days. Hank was only 3, then, and Stella and Vince had not yet moved in with us. It was a simpler time.

By Christmas 2015, Stell was living with us. The elf had begun to move nightly, but he mostly just starred in tableaux involving toys (he was Rose to Superman’s Jack on the bow of Hank’s pirate ship) and Christmas decor (he was dotted with small birds in an homage to that pigeon lady in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York) and occasionally brought some candy or whatever. Kids seemed happy.

But was happy?

That’s the real question, other over-achieving adult friends. And I think you know the answer.


Christmas 2016 was an Elf-stravaganza around these parts. Donald Trump had just been elected to the highest office in this godforsaken land. I vacillated between wanting to abscond with the church funds (don’t ask what church, just go with it!) and move my family to Prince Edward Island where I was sure I could convince the local university to hire me based solely on my enthusiasm for Anne of Green Gables (if you don’t get that reference, you were deprived as a child) and fresh, daily helpings of nihilistic despair. I combatted these urges by creating elaborate, labor-intensive Elf high jinks– my Instagram from the time shows an elf tucked into a Monster High doll bed, wearing a sleep mask, with a Christmas hand towel for a sheet, who has ferried special pajamas for the children’s pj day at school all the way from the goddamn North Pole, people! On Christmas Eve, he was taped to the wall, wearing tiny doll sunglasses, a purple Barbie dress (gender is a construct), and had written a note that said “Hey Superstars! Go Look In Your Closets!” because Speedshark the Wonder Elf had ferried special Christmas Eve outfits all the way from the goddamn North Pole, people! 

So, it stands to reason that Christmas 2017 would have to be over the moon. Elf-mongous. Speedshark on 10. Speedshark on speed. Santa Clause is comin’ to town, people, and baby, he ain’t playin’ around. This is motherhood 2017. Can you fucking handle it?

Well, last night, I could not.

I fell asleep putting Hank to bed, having graded my face off since about 5 that morning, and then cleaned the house like a madwoman, and then taken the kids to dinner at my mom and dad’s. One chapter of Goosebumps while doing the voices and it was curtains for Van Duyne. Around 10, Vince managed to rouse me and drag me into our bed after I did my usual combination of karate-ing him and sleep moaning things like No! Nooooo– you don’t– I don’t– I don’t like am TIRED– at which point I sat up and said, You have to move the elf.

Folks, the gauntlet had been thrown. Never before had I sent the dad to do this elegant, dirty work. It was Godfather-esque: Move the elf, take the cannolis. And bring me some sour cream ‘n onion Pringles, I work hard, goddammit.

He said,  I can’t do it, honey! I don’t know where to put him! Don’t you have a plan?

I said NO!

Then, in the voice of a dybbuk:


He said, What if I put a knife in his back and have a note saying Remember, Remember the Ides of December?

I will not repeat my response.

Fast forward to this morning. The elf has been placed atop the tree, hugging the blinking star. I mean, points for effort, buddy. At least he isn’t still sitting on my writing desk, flashing chocolate million dollar Santa bills at the kids like a Vegas craps dealer in a midget casino. I mean, at least you didn’t leave him perched atop Hank’s Gryffindor banner, with Harry Potter’s lightning bolt drawn on his head two nights in a row, so the kids freaked out, and you had to be like, No, he just like, REALLY likes Harry Potter, like you and Hank and Stell were like, We don’t really like Harry Potter that much, actually, and you were like, Well, ok, but Speedshark does and Stell was like Is he dead? I hope he isn’t dead and Hank was like Maybe he’s just like, really tired and you were like THAT’S DEFINITELY IT and they still talk about it, but whatever, that never happened in this house.

The kids are stoked, I only have to ask Hank to put his shoes on 19 times before it happens and Stella only has to change once because she is wearing stockings and a t-shirt and purple combat boots like the stockings are pants, and they get on the bus. Vince and I stand there and wave at them as they drive away, some creepy neighbor thinks we’re waving at him, I realize I am outside wearing Stella’s pink faux-fur Russian trapper hat, it’s all very normal. And that puts us inside, staring at one another in the happy exhaustion that is our life.

So, I say. You moved the elf. Good job.

Vince says back, It took me half an hour! I couldn’t find the tape, I don’t know where it is, and I was trying to make him a swing– did you see the rope garland is just on the dining room table? I threw it there in a rage when I couldn’t make it work. I had the rope garland set up like a hammock on the tree for the little dude, but every time I put him in there, he just–

Here, he stands up and leans his entire body forward, arms around the knees. He repeats this motion three times.

You know? Like that. So I tried push pins, but that didn’t work either, so– ugh. I don’t know. I just put him on top of the tree and called it a day.

I listen with the ears of the righteous. This is parenting, 2017. I say, You did a good job, honey. 

And begin to plot the scavenger hunt Speedshark will unveil tomorrow morning.

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Part One: Lightweights

Last weekend, my good friend’s father was hit by a car. He was on his bike; he’s a serious rider, serious about fitness. He works at a gym for a living.

The car was going about 50 miles per hour. My friend’s father was thrown from his bike, and suffered life-threatening injuries. As of this writing, he’s still unconscious, and his survival is touch and go.

Yesterday, this same friend brought her younger son over to my parents’ house, to swim with my children. We discussed her fear; her sorrow; her frustration. Her father’s neurosurgeon is brilliant, but non-committal and quirky in his speech. He will, she said, touch her father’s head, gently—half of his skull has been deliberately removed, and placed in a special freezer, so that his brain may swell: a hemi-craniotomy. The surgeon, who is from Spain and has a thick accent, gently massages her father’s head and says “Is soft, is soft, that’s good, you know? Right?” My friend is a therapist—she’s trained in how to walk others calmly through difficult emotions. Is that good?! Is it?! she wants to yell, since, as a therapist, and not a neurosurgeon, she hasn’t the faintest idea what is “good” in these situations—certainly, nothing seems “good” at the moment: her beloved father facing her, unconscious, with thick stitching literally holding his head together.

But, she doesn’t. She nods, and asks thoughtful questions in a meditative voice.

And so, we talked about doctors, about medicine, about prognoses: the surgeon will not offer any hint as to what he thinks may happen to her father, because, he tells her again and again, Every brain injury is different. He could wake up tomorrow and walk around the room and know everyone, or he could be unconscious indefinitely. My friend says she thought this would frustrate her, but as more time passes, it makes sense: Never underestimate the power of the individual, she said, hugging her long legs to her chest, her eyes red-rimmed and wearier than I have ever seen them—and we have been friends for two and a half decades. Before us, the kids: four, small, unique bodies splashing and squealing in the pool.


My friend’s comment about individuals and power reminded me of Roxane Gay’s new memoir, Hunger. I finished it Wednesday night, and I believe it is the definitive book about the condition of being an American woman.

This is an extreme statement. I imagine Gay herself might think it absurd, given that she spends many elegant pages describing a world not designed to fit her body, in prose that gives the reader the harrowed sense of living in a body the size of Gay’s. There are sentences describing the way chair arms bruise human arms when one cannot quite fit inside the chair; sentences about having to be pushed and pulled up onto a low stage without stairs, in front of an audience of swank writers. Shrink! the constructed world yells at the narrator, on every page. Gay is clear throughout that while some people who are heavy make a point to be body positive, to love themselves and their size, and that she very much admires these people, she is not one of them. She does not love her body. Her body is an anomaly.

But no body is anomalous—or, at least, no body should be. While at the same time, all bodies are anomalous, since no one body can truly be compared to another. This is part of the paradox of the book, and part, I would argue, of the condition of American womanhood. I use the word condition deliberately: as Gay’s book and my reaction to it make clear, American women at every size are a problem to be solved.


I should state two pertinent facts up front. I am a white, able-bodied woman and I am not morbidly obese. I added the “morbidly” after some consideration for several reasons—one, while most people in my life would roll their eyes if I even described myself as simply “obese,” the BMI chart (which Gay brilliantly takes to task in Hunger) tells a different story. I am five feet tall, and in the past three years, since gaining a stepdaughter and entree into the tenure-track, I have gained approximately 20 pounds. I almost wrote, “Who knows why this happened,” except that I know exactly why—my time became crunched and more crunched. Academia depended on me for more labor and before long, my once-relatively disciplined eating and exercise schedule which kept me svelte and in good physical shape collapsed and I did what a lot of people in my position do: I ate Dunkin’ Donuts bagel sandwiches for breakfast almost every day and drank beer with dinner every night. I munched on salty carbs when I was grading, and I am always grading. I exercised less and less because the time I was once able to devote to exercise is now devoted to working on the three manuscripts rapidly making their way to completion and publication, and I need those book contracts if I want to keep the job that keeps our family in our house.

So, I know why I got fatter. And I know how to get thinner. And if the best indication of future performance is past performance, I probably will get thinner, again. My weight has gone up and down and around the same crap fifteen pounds for most of my adult life. Writing that sentence, I imagine those pounds as something external from my body, alive, but not quite living, a wobbly, passive-aggressive ghost with my mother’s voice: We’d like to go, Emily, they say as they hover on my ass, my belly, my arms—we never wanted to come back in the first place, we wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for YOU.

I understand that this is not a crisis. I don’t binge eat. I don’t starve myself. I don’t purge. I like to move around and I live three blocks from the beach, where I spend many days in the summer walking and jogging and swimming. In other words, the external realities of my woman’s body—what I put into it, how it moves through the world—are relatively normal and healthy. They are not raising alarm bells for anyone in my life, or on the street. Strangers do not stare at me or mock me. Sometimes men still check me out.

Instead, though, there is this. My emotional and psychological relationship with my adult body looks quite a lot like Roxane Gay’s. No, fuck it—exactly like hers.
I want to be clear, again—I am not claiming Roxane Gay’s experience, or claiming to understand what it is to walk through the world like she doesBut reading Gay’s words has been revelatory because, as Gay points out on page 37 of Hunger “the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood” in American culture. And I am an American woman.

I am an American woman who was once an American child, and a skinny one, at that. In fact, most of my early memories ring with nicknames derived from the word “skinny:” Skinny Minny, Skinny Bones. My mother and father wore my thinness like a badge of honor. I was fast and wily and agile and I loved to climb… everything. There is a moment in Hunger when Gay describes seeing photographs of herself before she was gang-raped at age 12; she says it destroys her to see images of herself so young and carefree and strong. I have a memory, from the fifth grade: we were doing the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge. At the time, I did gymnastics at the local Jewish Community Center three days a week. I was getting good– I could tumble, and was learning to tumble on the beam. Our gym teacher asked if I wanted to demonstrate the rope climb, and before I knew it, I had jumped on and scurried to the top in barely a minute. I remember looking down at the students, sitting cross-legged below me, and feeling excited and happy. That only increased when I told my father the story, over dinner, and his eyes glowed with a unique pride that only accompanied our (I have two younger sisters) physical accomplishments.

And it wouldn’t be that much longer before our physical accomplishments would be forever after associated with weight loss. By the time I reached high school, I wanted to row crew, but the only way that was going to happen, at five feet tall, was if I was a “lightweight.” Thus began three years of devoting half the school year to a particularly noxious brand of athletics that combined rigorous training and discipline (people have compared crew to the army; you’re laughing, but now you’re listening to me describe the times– yes, times– that we almost capsized in a February gale, or ran aground and had to bail the shell out by pushing it from the marsh in the north Atlantic in March, or carry it a quarter mile each way from the boathouse to the dock) with a food and exercise obsession that produced more than its fair share of life-threatening eating disorders. I’d like to say our coaches discouraged this, but, mostly male, they egged us on, in both explicit and nefarious ways. My coach, a local firefighter, was fond of calling the tallest girl in our boat, who cut literally every ounce of fat out of her diet so she could squeak below the weight limit of 120 pounds “Big Dog.” When, that same season, my grandfather died and I smothered my unbearable grief with the hoards of food on our dining room table, the scale– which we stepped on in front of hundreds of rowers and coaches and administrators at the famed Schuylkill River’s Boathouse Row– revealed a five pound weight gain, our coach announced “Looks like we got ourselves a new Big Dog.” The vendors at the races hawked a t-shirt with a rotund, pink pig on a sagging scale, blushing with shame, which read “Please Don’t Feed the Lightweights;” we all begged our parents for it, and wore it with some weird version of pride. Our former coxswain, who had gone onto college to study art, showed up at the prestigious Stotesbury Regatta and drew said pig on each of our back right shoulders—matching tattoos. One girl, who rowed in a different boat, a lightweight four, was so ill from bulimia she could no longer “pull her weight.” Rather than getting her help, her coach, (different from Mr. “Big Dog”) forced her to sit in the launch with him while another shell raced her boat—in her place, he threw a sack of tools: wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers. The boat, he wanted to prove, went faster without her in it, and prove it he did. “See,” he said to her, as she shivered next to him in her gray, polycotton hoodie, “you’re nothing. You’re dead weight.”

I began lightweights my sophomore year, after spending my freshman season “bulking up.” There are no weight classes for novice and freshman rowing, so, to make the cut, I lifted tons of heavy weights and ate whatever I wanted. Since I have always had a healthy relationship with food, this didn’t include anything out of the ordinary—my mother cooked wholesome dinners for my family every night of my life. I rowed in the bow pair with my friend, Brigit, who was also on the smaller side, but ran like a deer and was freakishly strong. We were freakishly strong by the end of that season, actually, along with every other girl in the boat. Our coaches were two young women in their late twenties—the only women coaches in the roster—who had both rowed at division one schools, and had originated the sport for women at our high school. They told us wild tales of carrying logs on their shoulders as they ran stadiums in the rain, training toward what ended up as a championship season, winning the Nationals and taking a bronze medal in the Canadian Schoolboy Nationals—everything they described sounded like a scene from Visionquest. We were enchanted, and totally devoted, and I felt like every girl in the boat was my best friend. I could run six miles without getting winded, and leg press 500 pounds. When I got on the scale, and it crept up another pound, I wasn’t happy, I was thrilled. I equated my weight with strength and camaraderie. My best friend from grammar school, who had gone to a different high school, saw me one day and said “Jesus, your calves got so thick,” with horror, and I said “Thank you!” and grinned at her. By the end of the spring, I weighed about 140 pounds, and we had won a silver medal in the Nationals. There is a picture of us from that day, hot and sweating in the May sun, each holding an oar upright. I look—we look—beatific. It was one of the best days of my life.

But there’s another picture, albeit in my head, from the same day, since we weren’t the only boat from our school that medaled in the Nationals that year. During the medal ceremony, I also watched as our reigning lightweight 8 walked up the stairs to the podium with nonchalance that bordered on disdain. These bitches had better things to do, but they’d grace us with their presence for this last. Tall, skinny, and tanned within an inch of their lives, they had a reputation for disordered eating and cruelty. We heard weird rumors about them that sounded like my own personal version of hell: I heard she only ate one piece of steamed broccoli a night for the entire season of medal races; I heard she throws up after every meal; I heard she takes water pills and pees out everything in her body on race day; I heard she fucked the stroke’s boyfriend. None of these young women ever spoke a word to me, even though some of them were the older sisters of my good friends. They passed through practices in a quiet, disciplined swish of spandex and perfectly blown-out hair. They weren’t “natural” lightweights—the prevailing myth is that the category was created for smaller girls to be able to compete on an elite level—they were, instead, tall and strong, and forced to essentially be exercise bulimics who never ate in order to “make weight,” an exotic-sounding phrase involving crowds and scales and a high-stakes moment where you either did or did not weigh 120 pounds or less, which determined whether you could or could not row in the race that day. At the time, there was the further caveat of the “boat average.” Each girl in the boat had to weigh less than 120 pounds, but the average weight of the eight young women couldn’t be more than 115 pounds, or they could not row in the race that day. We heard horror stories about running in trash bags and spitting in cups. We watched the leggy beauties cart their sleek racing shell to the dock and slip it into the water with nary a splash. When I think of them, they are silent, they are beautiful, and they are angry with the anger of the righteous. They outclass me, in my oversized t-shirt and red bandana, my unwaxed eyebrows and messy brown ponytail. I am not in their league. I want nothing to do with them, with any of what being them entails. They terrify me.

But by the time I made it to my sophomore year, I had to join them. The junior varsity competition was fierce, a group of girls who towered over me and came from families with a rich history of rowing. I was not going to make the cut. There was a new lightweight coach, that year that everyone raved about. He saw me working out in the gym one day, and said “You gonna row in the lightweight 8?”

“No, I want to make the JV 8,” I said, huffing and puffing in between upright rows, giving him the side eye. I wanted none of that cut-weight fuckery in my life. I liked food, and I liked keeping it in my stomach after I ate it. I liked not being a heinous meangirl to everyone who possessed a vagina and weighed more than 115 pounds. I was more Angela Chase than Kelly Taylor.

“Yeah, you think so?” he said, and he walked away.
And that was really all it took.

Crew is such a strange, insular sport, possessing its own vocabulary, its own sub-cultures. You think this is bad, please, my senior year we DFL’d in the petite finals, I remember my assistant coach telling me, our freshman year, rolling her eyes, when I cried about coming in fifth at the Stotesbury Regatta. There were only six boats in the finals, but there were hundreds that had rowed in heats to get there. “Petite finals” were row offs for the losers who didn’t make the real finals, which we had.


What’s DFL? I said, wiping my running eyes with the heel of my 15-year old hand beneath the shade of a leafy maple on the banks of Philly’s Schuylkill River, watching packs of beautiful youth move boats on and off of stretchers and trailers, smelling grilled meat in the distance.

Dead Fucking Last, she said, grinning and hugging me.

Petite finals, DFL, ergs, mid-weights, lightweights, riggers, coxswains, stern pair, bow pair; the first 500 meters; the last 500 meters; Nationals, “Stotes.” Ergs don’t float. No technique. My non-crew friends, listening to us at the lunch table, were mystified and would jokingly try to use the language, causing us to erupt into peals of laughter. By sophomore year, my lunches had gone from turkey with mayo to turkey with mustard. I ate fruit instead of chips and drank water by the gallon. I ate Powerbars for breakfast, worrying them down miserably on the bus. I ate dry bagels because cream cheese was an unpardonable sin.

But I did all of this with a purpose—cut weight. Row. Make the lightweight eight. And I did, in fact, do that, for my remaining three years of high school. During that first season, I stuck to a strict diet (or what I thought was a strict diet) only because I understood that the season had a fixed ending, at which point I could return to eating normally, which for me meant occasionally indulging, and not obsessively watching everything that went into my mouth for the taint of fat—it was 1996, and we had not yet, as a culture, moved into the “no carb” zone. We ate “fat-free” desserts from Entenmann’s, dunked our fruit in “fat-free” Cool Whip. I remember our “spaghetti dinners” (the crew tradition of having a high-carb, healthy meal the night before a race so as to have lots of energy for said race) as distinctly hellish experiences. One senior, the only one who had been the boat the previous year with the skinny girl glam squad, regaled us with stories of the preceding year’s dinners where no one ate a bite and everyone watched everyone else like a hawk to make sure no one ate a bite. She infused these tales with nostalgia, a bony Babe Ruth looking back on his salad days. She was not as beautiful or rich or popular as those other girls, and they had gone out of their way to make her know that—more than once, my freshman year, I caught her silently weeping as a result of their meanness. But now that they were gone and she remained, stuck with a boat full of sophomores, some of whom (like me) were distinctly uncool, and uninterested in being freakishly thin, she behaved like Patty Hearst with the SLA, describing their hunger-induced cruelties in loving, privileged tones, reveling in a bygone era.

I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Freshman year, I came for the friendship and stayed for the friendship. The workouts were just a bonus, another way for me to laugh and cry and push and be pushed by eight other girls like me—driven and smart and funny and devoted. Loyal. Some of them are still my friends; I remained close to many of them through college and beyond.

But this lightweight shit was a different story.

Crew became, at that point—and in many ways remained until I graduated—joyless. Hunger will make you miserable, and the point of lightweight rowing seemed to be exactly that—hunger. Starve. Avoid the food you want, or avoid it altogether, but whatever you do, do not indulge your desires, or you will gain, and when you gain, you lose. We lose, really, since if one of us didn’t make weight and couldn’t row, the careful balance struck by endless hours of practice in the freezing fucking cold was thrown and you didn’t stand a chance of winning with some random skinny bitch, probably a freshman, filling the seat. You let down the team. We’d be faster if I wasn’t towing your fat ass around! I heard a stroke yell back to some poor teammate as they rowed back after losing a heat at the Stotes, red-faced and sobbing in the early morning heat, the only other sound the slip and dip of the oars slicing the water. We laughed and laughed. When I think of that, now, the juxtaposition startles me most—rowing is a beautiful activity, literally: a boat that swings together is a marvel of physics and engineering, the culmination of so much unbelievable hard work. I remember passing under the Strawberry Mansion bridge—the dark water, the echoes—hearing laughter in the distance. I remember staring at the mist rising from the marsh at a 5 am practice, imagining those same marshes millions of years ago, a pterodactyl taking flight, writing poems in my head to the rhythm of the oars clicking in the oarlocks, the girl swinging in front of me, back and forth, back and forth. And I remember being miserable. I remember feeling that every minute I spent with these girls was a lie, because whatever strange thing drove them to have this hunger, to want this hunger, did not possess me. I could perform it up to a point, but at the end of the day, I just wanted a fucking chicken cheesesteak and fries, and I wanted to not feel weird about that. In fact, I didn’t want to talk about it at all. I just wanted to eat it, and move the hell along.

I thought I could do exactly that, when the season ended. I thought I had escaped lightweights unscathed. But when, a week after Nationals, I went with a group of girlfriends to get a chicken cheesesteak, I ordered it with low-fat cheese and low-fat mayo. My friend, who was also in the boat, and, I thought, naturally skinny, said, “I thought the whole point of this was to get a freaking chicken cheesesteak!” and I turned to her, meanly, acidly replied, “Well, some of us aren’t as lucky as you.”

And just like that, I was one of them.

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I Dedicate My No Trump Vote

This piece was originally accepted by the blog http://dedicateyournotrumpvote.blogspot.com/ , a project I love, support, and am proud to have been a part of, even peripherally. Unfortunately, they were so overrun with submissions (huzzah!), it’s not going to run, but I wanted it to get out in the world in even a small way. Here it is.

I started organizing against Donald Trump back in March, 2016, when I created the Facebook page “Atlantic Couty Citizens Against Donald Trump.” Then, I was still in denial he could win the nomination, much less the election, but it already seemed vitally important to speak up.

See, I still live in the town where I grew up—Atlantic City, New Jersey—a place uniquely aware of Trump’s disasters; still, in fact, suffering them.

Back then—March, 2016—a person I grew up with, whose mother and father had both lost their jobs as a result of Trump’s abysmal Atlantic City business deals, responded with dismay at my outspoken condemnation of Trump. I said that Trump was a racist, that I could never support a bigot. That my partner, Vincent, and his daughter, are partly African-American. He responded by sending me a picture of two young, Black kids holding a sign that says “Fuck Donald Trump.” He said, “That’s hatred, that’s racism.” The thing—the problem—is this is a person I like. It’s someone I know. I like his parents. I like his little son. Once, in the sixth grade, we kissed in my parents’ laundry room. He claims to love America—an America that, to me, feels refined, and sold, refined, and sold: a fat, sweet, sick lie like a horsefly about to die.

So, I made this picture of my partner, and myself, grinning up at the camera, newly in love, and captioned it “Fuck Donald Trump For Real.” I thought about the first time we kissed. We were both exclusively single parents of small children. It felt like a new Eden, a new earth, an America I had yet to witness, but hoped existed. I thought about my love for him, his face, his stretched earlobes, his inked, beautifully, brightly scarred body. How I love his daughter. How he loves my son. How I love his liminal spaces: not Black, not quite white, an Atlantic City street kid who comes from nothing, who makes me chicken nugget omelets when I’m sad, teaches our kids how to throw their farts at one another. Who spent his fifteenth year homeless, when his parents lost their house, in an Atlantic City decimated by Donald Trump, a man who has never met a liminal space. Who would build a wall inside one if he did: A monolith splitting the minotaur in half. Who believes this shit, that we’re all one thing, or all the other? Who kisses someone with the intent to own, not open?

I dedicate my no Trump vote to Vincent, at age 15, homeless, freezing, sleeping on the soccer field in March, watched over by no one, back lit by Donald Trump’s name, twenty feet tall in bright red lights, refusing him, and refusing him sleep.

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This Is Not Analogous

Ok, so here we go again, with the same tired, essentially racist, logic-free argument. I recall a blog post that “trended” when Trayvon Martin was shot, that described in hideous detail the carjacking death of a young white woman at the hands of a young black man. “Did this make national news?” it demanded, furiously. “Are you outraged, now?” It said. Naturally, I looked up the case in question, only to discover it was so well-reported at the time it occurred, it has its own Wikipedia page; the perpetrator of the crime was apprehended almost immediately, arrested, charged, tried, and is in prison for life without parole.

So, first of all, it did make national news; secondly, who would read about that and not be outraged? Hopefully, no one. The problem with the blog post is, it fails to mention the pathetically evident comparison– the young woman, the victim? Her murderer is in prison for life. Justice was served. The outrage over Trayvon Martin began when his murderer was quite literally allowed to go free, with no arrest, and no charge, after shooting to death an unarmed minor on his way home to his mother’s home; it continued when said murderer was exonerated, and set free, only to continue to perpetrate violent crime and flagrantly and irresponsibly wield firearms– his most recent charming act was to broadcast photographs of Martin’s lifeless body on the ground on his Twitter account.

Similarly, we see this video of a student attacking a teacher, offered up as a point of outrage, and a counterpoint to the narrative that the attack on the young woman in South Carolina was a.)wrong, and b.)racial in nature, with the subtext of the attached article, and the Tweets/Facebook posts it reproduces being that society only cares when white people–particularly those in official positions of power, like law enforcement– attack black people, or the whole “reverse racism” argument, which is in itself an extension of the nonsensical argument that African-Americans get “special” treatment in this country.

My news feed has two separate stories about this video. One says “Why didn’t this video go viral?” The next says “This video went viral.” Ignoring the absurdities inherent to that, let’s examine the contents of this video, and point out the weak analogy between this and the one of the cop assaulting a young woman in South Carolina. The video below shows a student attacking a teacher. This is terrible. Wretched. Appalling. This is a world I know plenty about. I graduated from an urban high school fraught with violence, lived for years in two major cities, and taught in uptown Atlantic City for three years. I had a student pull a knife on another student in my classroom, and I’ve been verbally assaulted more times than I care to recall by various students. That said, my experiences on the whole in all of these places, with people of all colors and creeds and ages, were extraordinarily wonderful.

This video is not analogous to the video of the cop attacking the young woman in a South Carolina classroom. It does not prove that we somehow need cops “like him” in our schools. I want to be clear about this– I did not say we don’t need any law enforcement, or security, in schools. Our police force at Stockton does a phenomenal job. We are so lucky to have them. And the few times I’ve ever needed security in my classroom, they’ve been awesome, and I’ve been grateful. But the officer in South Carolina violated the ethical code and the official policy of his job. He is not to be viewed as some sort of necessity, or panacea, to scenarios like the one below. He is to be viewed as someone acting entirely outside of the law, while at the same time being invested with it. He is corrupt. The student below is also outside of the law, but he’s just that– a student. A kid who fucks up, big time. He is not an example. He is not an analogy. He is not to be put forth as a reason to keep officers like the one in South Carolina around.


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Jamaal As Target Ad

Since what ends up as fable so often starts
in a rapture, since my cat performs a Jubilate

Agno as I lay my son to sleep, since Venus
shines hot and distant in the distance of his nightly window,

moving; not twinkling: distant
fireball—ok, understand, I’m using distant

here to mean more than its flat twin lines, I’m wanting it
to discourse on its own, I’m wanting

its echos, its hall of mirrors, I’m wanting it to self-immolate, burn
the motherfucker to the ground, please, please, close the distance

between the rapture and the rapture’s distance: vamoose.

I cannot get the phrase I do so love you
from my head, or into this poem—I do so

love you, I hear, stalking the halls, stacking
the dishes. Woolfian. Circular. Infantile. Assonant.

All those hard Ks stacked. Rapturous. Some
little. Some love. Some language. I do. You do. I do so. Ach.

Do. It’s true: every night, the morning star comes out, and I am
in a rapture over you & you: you two. Tarfia. Jamaal. This single

posted Facebook pic. This clue: he’s perched on a couch, back-lit. Who knew

this couch—any couch!?—could couch such light, could clutch
such plush still life, such luscious thunderclaps, such snapshots, picture

perfect? The camera used to be a crapshoot. Now, we filter out
the crap. We filter in the light you never knew

was there—Vesuvian, this light!—a crater, shocked, a man
preserved, it holds you up, it keeps you in your place, surrounds

your light, sheds light you didn’t know
you had around a chic loft you dreamt up sometime back

in 1995—here, the Turkish rug with braided fringe, the inlay
grins, the white threads gleam, here, the hardwood floor

exalted in its best imitation of a hardwood floor, there
the wainscoting, existing independent of one’s knowledge

of the word wainscoting—all by itself! Just like that! An image
able to survive free of naming, free of language, free and full

with light, light, light in practical danger of becoming a draft
of a poem about Monet’s Water Lilies also from 1995, that someone

Kobe!’d into the wire mesh waste bin that does not appear
in this pic, Insta, edged out, instead, of course, as a matter

of lucidity and hot-white fact, by a shelf of exquisitely chosen,
exquisitely loved books: Tolstoy, Baldwin, Plath. And centered

like math: Jamaal, beloved, be-laughing, be-snapped, we presume
by the woman with the green eyes, the gold ring in her nose.

Distant poets. Distant planets. Pin-up lives. My life—your life—
in all its prose: at least six fat fruit flies going ham on the dried

up bbq sauce on the plate stacked on the five other plates stacked
in the leaky sink in the house I rent in my hometown with the vinyl

siding. And meanwhile, my son sleeps beneath Venus–
and meanwhile, I’m riding the horse of this otherness

out into an open field of glamours I have yet to meet
and meanwhile, Tarfia’s doing the same, as she vacuums

the brand-new paisley print rug from Target with a pleasant, seamless hum.

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In Praise of Clean Panties, My Mother

Who even now might walk
through my front door with my own son
in tow, having kept him
for the night, having schlepped him
to church to praise the small ways
he points at the blood-tipped palms of Christ
and tells her “Jesus lives here, Mom-mom.”
Who even now might interrupt this chain
of thought, continue on the path of interrupted
chains of women linking word to airy word,
taking the much of misty thought
to make the word the thing itself. Oh holy absent
Father, oh Dad who even now drops coats and socks and Coors Light
tops along the halls she cleaned again before the sun
was all the way into the sky, I could ignore this
urge, once more immerse myself in making lines of absence, steeped
in theory, steeped in everything I’ve crammed
into the chains of cells still crammed
between my years, but

this morning ,that poem is a lie. This morning
I have folded 30-something pairs
of splashy, splotchy cotton, tinged with lace
or stamped with Superman’s bright S, the black
of Batman’s calling card, my lover’s daughter’s Monday,
Tuesday, Friday
, her father’s undies, weird
with prints of French fries, scrambled eggs, the folds
belie the cock and ass I love to squeeze
before the children scamper in each blessed, living day.
I fold. I put away. Every other person in the house
relaxes, plays. My mother’s blessings rise
like daily bread, like how I might begin, somehow
to pray: Oh Temporary, Holy Bodies’ detritus, the faded stains
of those I love between my wifely hands– may I fold
another load of crumpled clothes
before I dare to bitch or moan
about my mother, my lover, my children, my life.

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There Is A God I’ve Wanted All My Life

The way you feel describing objective truth.

The way the shadow
of two bald blue branches
on your son’s pale nighttime
wall creak in and out
Like pincers, like rusted tweezers
Like a wishbone, like a horror

Like the dreams when you try to dial
a number, always the misfire
stupid little fuck, like your brain
has fingertips, come on

It’s Disneyworld in 1985: the 3-D glasses
your face is white cardstock
red cellophane, facing a witch’s
black mask coming at you, off
the screen– and who knew something
that wasn’t there could be there and possess
such trajectory; like that dream:

Two teen girls laughing & laughing, you can’t believe
the laughing, you can’t believe your life
went on with you hardly there at all:

It’s like you were objective truth, out there, someone
Was stabbing at you, grabbing at a mask that came for you, empty
Of all matter & resolve; the only reason

to believe in any of this is you believe in none of it at all.

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Hang In There, Baby

It’s hard sometimes, not being the king
of France, or even of a smaller, more tropical space, it’s hard
not having the whitest house, or whatever we’re all fighting for.

Like feminism.
I’m sorry to take this turn, especially in a poem
that began with such fierce comic promise, such
absurdity. Absurdity! Hahaha. It’s hard to make a joke and see it
to its pithy end, easier, for instance, to ask
What’s the ethos, in this poem, of the color blue? And you
would have two choices: wrack your brain for an answer
that doesn’t exist or admit you don’t know. And then
I’m forced to choose, too. Listen. We don’t have
to have that conversation. We don’t need to fake it
all the time. Because we have to do it, anyway, and here,
in this open space, leaving me and drawing me out, a magnetic field
of hope in a hopeless cosmos, I’d like the opportunity
to be both the able body and the theory-heavy mind, I’d like
to be Virginia Woolf tethered to her desk, hand moving
across the paper, and the idea she’s after in the ether, just barely
getting nailed down. I’d like to be the single breathing woman.
I do not want to be the trend.
I do not want to be the woman who acted according
to the norms of the way women acted then. Because no one
is equal. Because I will be boiled
down to my essentials. The early bird gets the worm, but no one
gives a fuck about the worm, coiled dead on the asphalt
like a length of forgotten garden hose, or falling from my nose
like some ghost, like the one who keeps pulling my hair and fetching
my breath at night, like that smiling gaggle of fools who don’t know
what they need, who know what they do, who, smiling, chat at length
on the verandah about the azure drapes, sip something
lovely, full of rose hips and poison darts.

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Send us your best ephemera, your mouse bones, your numbers seventeen, your wrap-around boyfriend wrapped around that other girl, the sweater he left at your house, make it sing, that sweater, make it recall the single glass of water you wanted but never got, when there was still hope for water, send us the time you yelled HALT to your son as he approached the bed with chocolate on his hands, the time you fell asleep thinking how that was a metaphor for the human need to classify and divide, the human belief in walls, which aren’t walls at all, since everything, if you think about it, touches everything else, submit that other time, when you still held faith in limits, not liminalities, send us your spaces, open and digital, crunching someone else’s numbers, a Pop tart between the teeth, the lone cricket leg on the bathroom floor, your pregnancy round as a harvest moon shedding light on a corn field full of your engaging ghost, your empty host, your very best, which will be certified upon arrival, sent back unopened, unafraid, left for dead, and pure.

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Now & at the hour of our death

Nearly 5 am–the Sylvia-Plath-before-the-milkman’s- rattling-bottles light barely glimpsed through the cracks in your blinds, your 3-year old’s foot crammed in your throat– Hail Mary, full of grace, your brain repeats, to try and pray itself, if not to silence, then to harrowed sleep. I’m so tired of her, you hear back. Some nasty man’s voice. You think, are you dreaming, did you really hear that? Did you “hear” it? Have you finally gone mad? What constitutes hearing? What should you believe? Does it matter how the dreams kicked in again– She left her carrots on the bed, another strange voice said, or said, or “said” and woke you up enough to make you plot a poem out in bed,

Hail Mary, full of grace
I’m so tired of her! he said
The Lord is with thee
She left her carrots on the bed, again!

Would that man even talk to you? Why imply a relationship? Why assume anyone loves you at all? You had another poem you were plotting called “Comp Lit” about the ideas that live in the ether above us, about what two things share when they appear to share nothing. You are dying for the day when the whole world stops addressing you at once, from every schizophrenic corner that you know, you know are meant only for you, this double poem, these dreams, these cloudy webs of bullshit meaning dragging you out of yourself until the world’s a constant wedding, a constant funeral, a bitterly drawn-out divorce, love, love, love all the time and beneath it, fucking nothing.

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