Law & Order
Flags are half staff on the Brooklyn Bridge.
It is Veterans Day weekend. I am on the Q train
crossing the Manhattan Bridge. I am reading
Submission by Michel Houellebecq since last week
because I thought it would feel poignant,
and it has felt so, but it nauseates me now
because to be divided into multiple tumultuous times
at once completely fictional, at best speculative, and at worst real…
At Union Square, I climb to street level.
Most of the protesters are gone, but I find a place
to stand next to a police barricade in the southwest
corner of the park, near the bronze Mohandas Gandhi.
I text my friend, smell faint marijuana.
I walk to the Bank of America and withdraw
forty US dollars from an ATM. My friend texts back
to say to head to Trump Tower. I get back
on the Q after just missing the W, now running.
Get off at 57th Street and walk east, turn south
on 5th Avenue from 58th Street. 57th blocked off
by police a block west of Trump Tower.
Onlookers mill about the southeast corner of 56th and 5th
crowded on the sidewalk, the street barricaded.
Three Trump supporters converse in a triangle
wearing Make America Great Again kippahs.
It is reassuring no one else notices them
seeking the best vantage of the empty roads
before us like a series of bridgeless canals
separating our side from the other bank
where the anti-Trump march settled, 55th/5th.
Chants, cries, drumbeats, and horns muffled by
the distance between us are carried upward
between the buildings, upward with the steam
swaying from a ventilation pipe in the middle
of the intersection. A bike tire bumps into my shin.
A woman asks can she get around the corner.
I tell her no, it is blocked. She turns and calls out
we have to go around. I look at the buildings
wondering which is Trump Tower, then I look up
Trump Tower on my phone. It looks more modern
than I expected and non finito like it is missing
a piece of it that would click into place
on top of the present structure.
I look up again at the buildings.
I cannot see Trump Tower, and I want to
experience the throng of humanity I sense
on the horizon. I reverse, then east on 58th Street.
Handfuls of people carrying signs
with pertinent mottos push past me
having come from the march, talking
about lunch. On Madison Avenue, down 55th Street,
cops set up a barricade. Protesters appear to stand
and chant at passersby it’s her body,
her rights, my body, my rights. What about the unborn
child’s rights someone yells, and someone else yells
read a science book. No one is listening to anyone.
All arguments thus somehow sound valid enough.
Unable to pass to the west here, I continue south.
West on 54th Street, walk in the middle of the road.
5th Avenue is crushed by a surge of people
looking forward, looking north toward
Trump Tower, which I can barely see, its dark tinted glass
reflecting its surroundings like invisibility camo.
I put my arms up and scan the crowd with my phone
recording a video. I recognize this man Nico.
He wears a mint-green hoodie and has a scalp tattoo.
He is a friend of a friend who works for a magazine
and makes techno; who I spoke with at a holiday party
at Gavin Brown’s enterprise art gallery a couple years ago.
He was drinking vodka on ice and told me when
he was younger and went to parties, he would
always steal the spatula and had dozens of them
in a closet in the pool house at his father’s house.
I tap him on the shoulder and say hey.
He nods at me and says hi but does not recognize me.
I am wearing a 3M Thinsulate 40 gram beanie
and Oakley sunglasses with purple polarized lenses.
Enthralled by the scene, the people yelling in the street,
other people come in and out of the sidewalk
around the end of a barricade in front of Massimo Dutti.
The sidewalk is less populated than the avenue;
populated by observers more than participants,
people taking pictures of the throng from upon planters,
grabbing little decorative trees for a balanced view,
frantic about being up there, their chance to see
this amount of dissent. I find a planter of my own,
but it is occupied by two others, a man and a woman.
The man with a United Nations lanyard around his neck
points his phone at the protest and broadcasts live on Facebook.
Like, love, wow, sad, and angry emoji reactions
glide across the woman’s face entering the frame on his screen.
She holds a microphone to her mouth, her other hand
holds onto the little decorative tree as she speaks
her language so close to me to describe the scene.
I want to post videos of this moment on Instagram.
I cannot get a good connection on my phone, but I am calm.
That is what is important. Everyone is still chanting.
I stand atop this planter all the livelong day
before I have had enough and want to go
meet my friend who sent me a picture
so I would know where he is, a picture of scaffolding
with a banner that reads: God’s House.
I ask him what he looks like, and he sends a selfie.
No hat, dark hair to one side, Fendi scarf, dark coat.
Night has fallen. Several lights shine in the tower.
Is he even up there?
A helicopter at such an altitude
that it cannot be heard below
hangs in the sky.
I see it blinking.
I am humming.
On the 66th floor,
a gold-plated door
can’t keep out
the lord’s burning rain.
I am in the middle of 5th Avenue surrounded
by amateur protesters. I wonder if the air is cold tonight.
People are dancing, singing ‘Fuck Trump’.
People happy. On the 2nd floor of the Polo store
employees watch us. The Polo flag flutters in the wind.
Next to it the American flag flutters in the same wind.
My aunt told me protesters burnt an American flag
in New York City when I emailed her a picture of
a swastika spray-painted on a slab of concrete
with the inscription Make America Great Again.
I find my friend. He asks how are you. How is he? He is
with his girlfriend whose birthday was this week.
I wish her happy birthday. She thanks me.
Her mother is in town, and so she leaves.
I ask my friend, who is a PhD candidate
in German Studies at Columbia University,
about the parallels of Trump’s regime
and the Third Reich. He says not sure we can
assess that at this time, early and unaware
of what his plans are, if he will follow through
with his campaign promises. It also depends who
he chooses for his cabinet, your run-of-the-mill
bargain-bin fringe Republicans, CEOs, and Steve Bannon,
whose first post-election interview was an exclusive
he granted to the Hollywood Reporter online,
which makes sense because he is in media
having amassed a fortune via syndication Seinfeld
and is determined to undermine establishment news
by deploying an alternative angling bait, a chum
made of dick chain, Big Van Vader masks,
and satanic feathers geared toward those
who believe that they are disenfranchised
like my father’s golf buddy who jollily refers to himself
as a fat fuck, drinks silver Patrón and reminisces
about psilocybin mushrooms and Grateful Dead shows in Buffalo,
owns a couple macaws, and lives alone in Fort Lauderdale
celebrating the election of Trump. The throng turns
and my friend and I, we are caught in its current.
We peel off onto 54th Street and turn south onto Madison,
passing thru the NYPD’s designated protest area checkpoint
and into the unsupervised city ambience.
We walk among others leaving the protest,
some continuing to chant and shake their homemade signs.
As we cross 53rd, more join.
At 52nd, more. 51st, more. Ahead
and behind, the procession grows and spills
into the street, which we take, marching against
traffic stopped as we pass, motorists cheering
and filming us with their phones, flicking us off
with their fingers and telling us to fuck off
or Trump. Emergency lights flash red off
reflective surfaces and into my eyes. The procession
halts at 41st Street like runoff in a drain
clogged by garbage, in this case the NYPD’s
line of militarized Vespas. These giant swans
redirect us to the west, toward the flagship
branch of the New York Public Library at Bryant Park.
A crowd watches us from the library terrace steps
as the Vespa swan cops lead us around the park, east on 42nd,
past the Grace Building’s vert ramp façade, then north on 6th
a couple blocks, west again on 44th
past the National Debt clock. What time is it?
Parking garages with neon arrow signs, multistory
department stores with employees taking a minute
to watch the protest go by, raising a fist or giving
the peace sign, and we respond in kind.
Times Square, bright lights and Broadway shows.
Tourists in the enclosure on Military Island on Broadway
mixed with the Uncle Sam panhandlers on stilts
watch the parade of protesters go by, cheer our signs,
and take photographs with their selfie sticks up high.
Others boo us and yell Trump; they are the minority.
Others at crosswalks try to get by and mutter morons
under their breaths, under the night sky lit like day.
These people, enough of them, finally out in the open.
We circle around a block, are again on 6th Avenue
where the swan cops corral stragglers onto the sidewalk
and my friend and I stop on a corner to regroup.
Should we call it a night? The procession seems to have
dispersed. But wait, another wave overtakes us and
we are due south again against traffic on 6th Avenue
passing Bryant Park, the swans flanking us, so we
punch past them over 40th, and they speed ahead
to blockade on 39th. My friend and I are at the front
when we meet them. Another protester directs
the procession onto the sidewalk like an irony
broadcasting his directives through his phone
on Facebook Live to unknown numbers,
facial recognition documenting our features
matching previously uploaded images
of our same faces and connecting the dots,
putting a face to a name.
How will we be classified?
Get to 5th, the Avenue of the Americas, and turn south
blocked by the swans onto the sidewalk, my friend
says I have to go, it is my girlfriend’s birthday and
we are going to the ballet. I continue with the protest,
which at this point has tamed, walking down 5th Avenue
on the sidewalk, the swans holding us in at a slow waddle.
A disfigured woman is marching in front of me,
persistently dragging her legs, reminding me of the
unadulterated muse of poetry of my youth, brash
and no bullshit thrashing through puddles, tripping
and falling on her face, being helped up by the arms,
continuing. Then the only thing I can think of is
Trump mocking a handicapped reporter at a rally
immortalized in a Hillary Clinton-approved
attack ad that played during commercial breaks
when I was in South Florida in late September.
I awoke to the tragic death of Jose Fernandez
who said you couldn’t know freedom unless
you never had it. He drove his fishing boat,
called Kaught Looking, into an inlet
early one morning high on cocaine,
playing with time off of Miami Beach.
He was 24 years old, soon to be a father,
and had saved his own mother from drowning
when she fell overboard escaping from Cuba.
They kissed the sand of America, kissing the clay
on the mound Fernandez pitched from at Marlins Park
the day after his death. My mother and I went to the game.
During the Marlins’ first at bat, second baseman
Dee Gordon hit a home run.
He cried as he rounded the bases
and later expressed, during the postgame
press conference, that it was the greatest moment
of his life. Humans, capable of magic, at their best
can achieve the unbelievable that makes one a believer…
Giancarlo Stanton’s walkup song that night was ‘Forever Young’,
a remix of the Alphaville version. Do you really want to live forever?
On 16th Street, I peel off from the procession and watch it file
into Union Square counting handfuls of people talking
to one another, no longer chanting, no more signs.
I tally over four hundred souls that were walking behind me.
Probably fifty of the swans congregate near Gandhi.
I enter Taco Bell and order the number seven.
I used to eat these quesadillas in Coral Springs, Fla.,
where I am from, where members of my family
voted for Trump. My aunts are twins and both
certified public accountants. One works for a city
and claims two women who work for her,
who are cousins and have darker skin than her,
take advantage of the system and undermine her
authority, receive undeserved financial benefits
even though earning $50,000 salaries,
drive Mercedes-Benzes, among other things,
and if my aunt were to say anything,
they would lawyer up, citing racial discrimination.
The other works in her husband’s accounting business
and has seen her wealthy clients’ incomes dip
since the passing of the Affordable Care Act
and says to me, who she knows relies on Medicaid
because she’s done my taxes the past three years,
so you got some free insurance, big deal.
All their lives these 50-year-old women
voted Democrat, but not this year.
Their younger brother, my uncle, the ex-con,
hates Trump; says a scammer can spot another of his ilk
a mile away. He lives in my late grandmother’s duplex
rent-free because one of my aunts pays the
mortgage and utilities, driving a Cadillac until he crashed it
into a tree, totaling the car and breaking his hip.
He lies in a hospital bed, on Percocet, laughing.
Thumbs up to his friends who bring fried chicken.
When he returns home a week or two later
with a two-iron cane, the insurance check comes in.
He cashes it and blows two grand, cackling,
if I ever make it to Trump Tower, I’m gonna take
loads and loads of laxative and shit all over the place.
My mother is the oldest sibling of the four and
worries herself sick about her brother’s addiction
but thinks his remarks are hilarious, as she, too, despises Trump,
particularly because of what he has done to women.
I have been thinking about this since 11/9.
Wondering, keeping me up at night, if this is the end
of America as I thought of it, when I hoped for an event
before when I knew what that meant, age 12, hoping
for war to realize my heroic intent, and in 2003
watching Shock and Awe on CNN, thinking finally
the time I lived in had a historic moment
that I can trace in my consciousness then,
a world event post-9/11, terror, permanence
inching, however it did, closer to me
and my undeveloped persona, my poor sense
of history, thinking only negligence prevents
change, tracer bullets green lines in night-vision
scenes so impersonal I see now were despicable,
to want death on a hill normal citizens will never
traverse was stupid, and what was wrong with me
was I expected my life to never live up
to my predecessors’. My grandfather
fought in World War II after joining
the navy, age 16, and found himself
in the Pacific Ocean theater
on a destroyer, the USS Laffey,
with his back against a wall
huddling with his best friend
as kamikaze pilots shot at them
and crashed their planes into the ship.
And as the story he told me goes,
a story my mother often retells,
my grandfather looked at his friend
whose head had been blown off,
then looked to the blue smoky sky
and screamed Jesus, save me.
It was not a unique experience.
But would I ever have a story to tell?
Perfection is not singular.
I needed publicity in a utopia.
Wanted to find mine unique,
opportunity to cheer evil
for a chance to root for good.
In 2008, Donald Trump suffered a Stone Cold Stunner
after shaving Vince McMahon’s head
after his wrestler, a black athlete named Bobby
Lashley, a name Trump would get wrong
in the lead-up angles to the WrestleMania 23 pay-per-view
hair versus hair match on April Fools’ Day
at Ford Field, where the Lions play, calling him
‘Bobby Langley’, defeated McMahon’s wrestler,
the savage Umaga, whose name means the end,
means the final and most painful part
of the traditional Samoan tattooing process,
a ritual like a billionaire in a squared circle
shaving bald another billionaire, both surrounded
by 80,000 – which is a number the WWE had inflated
by 15,000, an entire arena of attendance;
a number taken as fact, even by the fact-checkers –
complicit, paying witness to a seed being planted.
Seven months later, these citizens would vote for a man
who would ‘bail out’ the backbone of Detroit, Mich.,
the very city in which the seed began to crack
in the spotless mind of a literal star
of reality TV, a walking/talking oxymoron
who for most of the subsequent eight years
would question a certificate of authenticity
of the President of the United States, his legitimacy,
like the bad heel to the hero face, as the first tendril
took root in a wrinkle in the brain,
and the ant begins to flee on a branch
to die away when its mind is blown
and from its head a fungus crown.
One month after the election
I am on the Q train crossing the
Manhattan Bridge into Manhattan, reading this
poem I wrote in an email to myself, the sunset
shining like rose-gold foil behind the brown
Brooklyn Bridge. Get off at the end of the line.
57th Street, west to Marian Goodman Gallery
to see the John Baldessari show Pollock/Benton.
I ride the elevator to the fourth floor, and I am in
a space of typical white walls and gray glaze
floors, images by Baldessari on the walls, couplets
of Pollocks and figurative works of Thomas Hart Benton,
Pollock’s teacher, World War II nipple and Rising Sun,
helmeted soldier with bayonet rifle, Native American
battle scene, and landscape, bodies painted over
with primary colors here and there, overlaid
solid-white rectangles at angles, neutral captions.
I sit on a bench and draw a floor plan of each room
listening to ‘Ghosts’ by Japan: Just when I thought
I could not be stopped / When my chance came to be
king / The ghosts of my life blew wilder than the wind.
I ride the elevator to the ground floor, step outside
into the wind, Bergdorf Goodman across the street,
a giant snowflake suspended over the intersection
of 57th and 5th that I walk toward into a crowd.
A traffic cop holds taut a blue ribbon at the crosswalk.
When the walking man signal alights, he lets it drop.
Masses of people head at each other and bottleneck
on the opposite corner around an NYPD-branded
giant concrete brick into a security checkpoint line
going through a pop-up tent manned by armed guards
inspecting bags and nodding at those without them.
Tiffany & Co. barricades in front of the Tiffany & Co. store
next to Trump Tower, in front of which many people stand
taking pictures of their friends with police officers for hours
aiming the barrels of their combat weapons at the ground.
I look up at the building. It does not look as big as it is.
Is the theme of deception it is always intentional?
The base of the structure about ten stories high,
then the tower aspect narrows like a thin handle.
If you did not look up, you would not notice
its actual volume is hidden in an architectural
optical illusion. Pushing past the elderly, through
revolving doors into the lobby and past another
security-check, the overwhelming gold hues rose
gold through my purple lenses cover the surfaces
disorienting everyone catching a glimpse
of each and every movement in their periphery,
bodies shouldering into each other like in a funhouse
unsure which direction to go in, in or out, up or down
the numerous narrow escalators, climb the Christmas tree,
or get in line to buy Make America Great Again hats
(red with white letters, white with blue, blue with white,
or woodland camouflage with blaze orange)
and fetishize the kitsch fascist aesthetic.
A dining area at the base of a marble waterfall
lights up gold sounds of thin trickling liquid
framed by cheap stringy vines and Niketown signs:
a perverse depiction of the Hanging Gardens.
I look at the many people look
and do not touch. Is that all
we are permitted to do?
All-white tourists from the self-
proclaimed flyover country flew
to New York City to see their new
King walk the lobby to his elevator
in his golden Christmas reservoir
up to his pulpit, up to his vast abattoir.
What is that motherfucker up to?
His followers pay their respects,
pay the piper, perhaps, pay the
dearest price, pay with their lives?
The simplest rhetoric of all time appears
to appeal to their greatest fears.
Do they feel safe now, in the end?
The drawbridge is rising
like a guillotine blade.
Who will stick their neck out?
I could fall off any moment
in time an imitation of music.
And this is how it felt, O father,
to be no son.
Jerimee Bloemeke’s chapbooks include Cosmic Latte (Floating Wolf Quarterly, 2013) and 25¢ CASH (Slim Princess Holdings, 2013), and further poems of his have been published by Artifice, The Claudius App, Company, Hinchas de Poesia, The Iowa Review, jubilat, LIT, and Novembre Magazine. He holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He resides in Brooklyn, NY.
Image credit: .christoph.G.