Micro-essay 2: Donald Trump, Bananas & Mozart’s Requiem by Bhanu Kapil

“(The rule: no editing, no looking back. The micro-essay must be written straight into the blog without hesitation, and with a feeling in the middle of the body that comes when an irreversible action has been taken, which is the quality of risk, I want to say, that arises when we most deeply: love. I love my blog and want to make a comeback.)

Two days ago, I drove up to the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, to celebrate the birthday of a friend of mine, who recently turned seventy. Her friends, from the South, had flown in a few days before. I felt like an alien-monster, as always, to take a right onto I-80 off Route 287, but you can’t have it so perfect, in life, that you always feel as if you belong to a place. It’s okay not to belong to a place and to let its beauty pierce the parts of you that have been long numb. I refer you to my relationships with men from Nebraska, California and Gloucestershire.

My friend, D., whose birthday it was, is by trade a social worker and professor, though in her forties she trained as a bodyworker. Meeting her was like meeting the bit of my soul that chews cinnamon gum and drives a go-cart down the highway without anyone noticing, thus avoiding the dangerous back roads. In the morning, after a night of barbeque and karaoke in the wooded den, we sat around drinking coffee; D., her friends — all in their seventies — and I. And the conversation turned to grief. It was then that D. said: “The tears that give you a headache? That’s cognitive crying.” I wrote down what she said on a post-it. Then drove home, after coffee, right down 287, which is red* and lonely, to my home in Colorado, where my son, my mother and I: live.

*”The red is the blood of the people who were killed that has come to the surface,” — my mother, the Twitter star, said last year, seeing this road for the first time and noting, assimilating, the history of — decimation. At some point, just before you enter Laramie, you see a sign that notes the Sand Creek Massacre, a history of mutilation and colonization — that matches, to us at least, driving north, the saturated (“howling,” as an early settler called it in 1897) landscape.

I am an immigrant, barely touching the earth and yet a part of its flows, like the memory of pollen. R., a poet, asked me to blurb her book, a book of poetry, a book of the settler “revenant,” as one reviewer called it, because, she said, I was, after all, a settler. I said no, instinctively, repulsed and at the same time interested in her confident way of speaking to me, a poet she had never met.

What will happen to my mother’s health care if Trump wins? (Obamacare allowed us to stay in this country and write its poetry, be its poetry, though it’s hard to write poetry without considering, debating, the xenophobia of the poetry community itself.) The micro-essay has its limits. The part of Trump’s immigration policy that concerns me the most is his statement that he will require “absolutely perfect documentation” from prospective immigrants, and even legal immigrants seeking to become naturalized. I remember what a mess it was, applying for my mother’s green card, when we tried to explain that the building that held the registry of her birth had been burned down seven years after Partition. The U.S. government official advised us to go to the nearest town or city, and make our enquiries there, to submit proof that the building had been burned down and thus the document could not be accessed. I had to then explain that this building, or the memory of the building, was in a country that my mother had left as a refugee, and that she could not return to easily, as a British (Hindu) citizen. That the two countries, Pakistan and India, were — at that moment — in a nuclear stand-off, and so on. Finally, imperfectly, we were able to submit a letter by a 98 year old aunt of my mother’s, notarized by her bank, confirming that my mother had been a child, and that she had been held her in a close embrace by her family, such as it was.

Home, from Wyoming, my son and I sat on the couch listening to Mozart’s Requiem and drinking banana shakes, made with coconut milk and flaxseed. To clarify, he rejected the shake and was eating proscuitto and cucumber slices from a chipped bowl. We were happy to see each other after the long weekend. Hey, I said, you never made me a power point for my birthday! “Like you said you would.” Oh, he said, and launched into a speech. “Mother, you are the kindest and bravest person I know…” Some part into it, he said: “I am tearing up, mother, because I love you so much. I am so grateful to be your son. You…are…amazing.” And at that moment, I put my hand on my son’s fifteen year old heart and said, good, these are good tears, because they come from the deepest part of you, and it is always good to cry like this, because it is means your life is being lived by and through your soul. Obviously, he would be mortified that I am writing such things in a micro-essay.

But this is a micro-essay about what it is to live here, in a place that I am not from, in ways that still, at times, feel so ephemeral. I think of England and how all that remains of my family memory there is the image, perhaps, of a girl, in someone’s mind, lying beneath the apple trees next to the Great Barn — in that ragged bit of orchard next to Ruislip library — weeping and shaking in her own way! Perhaps I was wearing my blue coat and my red boots, and perhaps I am there, in someone’s mind, just as I see the man drinking from the amber bottle wrapped in a cloth or brown paper, his arms folded on the knotted, silky bough. He was a man of about 50, and he was so drunk, and yet we chatted. We talked that raw morning or early afternoon about suffering, and the cessation of suffering. How? Why? Did he see me crying? Why was I crying? Soon, we were sharing the cheese and pickle sandwich I had brought from home. No, I said, but thank you, when he offered me a sip of beer. I told him about the Rigpa sangha, a Buddhist group I sat with, to meditate, on Monday and Thursday evenings in Jasmine’s home near the Park Woods, and how surprised I was, when I saw him there, sober, the next day.

We ate biscuits. We drank tea. We talked about shame.

We emigrated. We were maternal. We had a Subaru Impreza that had previously been stolen from Denver airport and thus was sold at a discount, and it was in this car that we drove away from our home, then returned to it, in time.”

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