The Trump Piñata by Kristin Barendsen
Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Editor's Choice, January 25th, 2017
"Rage against a future we didn’t consent to..."
On Election Night, I had ten friends in my living room, champagne chilling in the fridge, a Trump piñata from a Mexican candy store waiting on the back porch. The piñata was cartoonish but recognizable, with an oversized blond head that made it look like a four-year-old boy dressed in a blue suit and red tie. We cut a slit in the back of its head with a serrated knife, pulled out its newspaper brains, replaced them with Mars fun-size chocolates left over from Halloween. My ex-girlfriend tried to wedge a square of chocolate into its crotch, saying Take that, pussy grabber with tiny hands who wants to grab all the money, all the power, all the land for yourself and your rich white male cronies—we’ll smash you tonight in victory. She couldn’t get the chocolate in, though; its crotch was too dense.
The piñata had a metal hook coming out of the top of its head. We looped rope through the hook and hung the body from a beam above my porch. Above us, a half-moon rose.
Back inside, the TV started saying things it wasn’t supposed to. When the flesh version of the piñata won Ohio, the party hubbub became a stream of what the fucks and fucking shits. Then the flesh version won North Carolina. Florida. With each wrong state, I added more red wine to my stomach acid. Pennsylvania. My back muscles seized, began to shake the way they do where trying to relax only makes them shake more. When someone shoved a phone in my face with a graphic that had flipped his chances of winning from 15% to 95%, I curled my body into a loose fist on the living room floor and sobbed. Friends came with their arms around me. Only one had ever seen me cry. I’m not a crier. I couldn’t stop.
At first we were too depressed to beat the piñata. We were ourselves the broken piñatas, newspaper insides coming apart on the living room floor. But as the pundits stuttered, trying to make it make sense, our despair flipped to rage. Rage against a future we didn’t consent to, that we had no idea how to live within. Three of us went outside and beat the living fuck out of that thing. Wailed on it with the crêpe-papered stick it came with.
When the rope broke, we hung it again. When the rope broke a second time we struck the man-boy shape on the ground, committing symbolic violence for all the real violence that the new administration intends to commit against brown bodies immigrant bodies women’s bodies queer bodies animal bodies the rivers the bees the sky. The blond head releasing from the body, the hair becoming a true-to-life hairpiece waving. Suit jacket ripped off, newspapers spilling out. My ex impaled the head on the stick and held it up in victory, grinning without smiling. Candy everywhere among the leaves.
The next morning, my first day in our shared hallucinatory reality, sobbing again, I cleaned up the spilled red wine and popcorn. But I couldn’t bring myself to clean up the piñata. I left it where it lay, head upside-down beside the body. It demonstrated how I felt. Its body my body.
A couple weeks later, friends who’d been there on Election Night said Let’s make art with the piñata. It was late November but my 100-pound friend shed her clothes, lay down naked on the cold concrete among the body parts and stuffing and candy and leaves. Across her breasts, across her pussy, we placed red crime scene tape reading, “One Billion Rising” and “Rape-Free Zone.” I took the photos from a chair above. We weren’t completely sure, in our scenario, who had committed what crime. The ramifications are still unfolding. She really looks dead.
Her body my body, our body.
Last night, after hearing about a contender for agriculture secretary whose mission in life is to extirpate wolves, a creature I love to an irrational level, I slept on the living room floor because it felt more real, more congruent, to be in some amount of physical pain, to have my body laid out on that hard surface.
Sometimes I wake with a plunging sensation, like I’m on a bus being driven off a bridge, trapped inside metal and glass with all the other passengers, about to hit the water.
Sometimes I wake with a hurtling sensation, like I’m being propelled full speed into a place I cannot see.
It’s not just me. Here in the liberal bubble of Santa Fe, everyone is still walking around like we’re in a zombie apocalypse. We can’t sleep, can’t digest food, can’t stop thinking about how this happened, whom we can blame, what Hail Mary tactic we can turn to next. Our blood flows with anger, even as the dull drain of powerlessness in our bellies empties our life force. Our future is in hands not our own—small hands that will soon have a chokehold round the world.
The Trump administration apparently does not intend to recognize brown bodies, queer bodies, Muslim bodies, or even liberal white straight bodies as part of the body of America. Like an autoimmune disorder, the control center of America is planning an overt and covert war against the majority of Americans. The white blood cells (and I do mean white) are poised to attack and undermine us as foreign agents. The result is a psychic violence, a physical trauma to our individual bodies and the collective body of society.
And it’s not just human bodies. The administration plans to intensify the onslaught against the body of the mother we all live within. The poisoning of her river blood, the suffocation of her forest lungs, the penetration and fracking of her rock and magma core, the laying down of black snake upon black snake. The unchecked hunting of wolves and bears the fattening of cattle with GMO feed. Because they believe this is the way to more richness more whiteness more penis power.
A friend of mine who is black, white, and Native didn’t vote. Because blacks and Natives have been fucked over for centuries no matter the administration. Before the election I said What if you don’t vote and Trump wins. She said I want white people to be affected. I want white people in the streets.
When I saw her at the protest after the election, I said Well you got what you wanted. White people in the streets.
She said that was really rude. I said Look what happens when liberals don’t vote. We get a fascist fuck as president. She said Now you’ll get how people of color feel all the time. I said It will be worse for you too. She said Racists have always been here. Now the truth is unmasked. I said The white supremacists are emboldened they have permission from the highest office in the world.
Another dear friend, a black woman old enough to have sat at lunch counters during Jim Crow, saw our conflict, jumped in. Said to my friend You didn’t vote? You’re a black woman, what the fuck are you doing? You don’t care about our children. Said to me Our people died for the right to vote. Black people got the right to vote in 1965, does she even know that?
Both my friends left in tears, in opposite directions. The disenfranchised woman of color, the civil rights activist. I felt vindicated, but not in a way that felt good. I couldn’t process it then, because the protest began to channel the crowd’s rage and hundreds of us took over the streets of downtown Santa Fe without a permit, drumming shouting marching right through the makeshift barricades of cop cars that screeched into each intersection blasting their sirens. We walked right past them with hands over ears, past the cop who was showing off his assault rifle. My ex, different one, led the charge, got targeted. I videotaped the cops handcuffing her, taking her away.
I made up with my friend a few weeks later, though things are still a bit fragile between us. I’ve thought a lot about her words. We whiteys do need to be in the streets, have needed to for a while. May we find the stamina to stay out there and meet whatever is coming. Because I don’t think we can return to the way it was.
When I woke up on the hard floor this morning, the day the Senate will try to confirm a KKK sympathizer for attorney general, I saw through the window the rope still hanging from my porch beam. I felt a sense of mourning for the loss of my old life, in retrospect so entitled and comfortable.
And I also felt electrified. Things are different now, unmasked. All the skin ripped off to show the blood and viscera underneath, all the papier-mâché torn to let out the newspaper guts and candy. I feel a new imperative and clarity of purpose, no time to waste on trivial things. Must make more art, must fight for the animals and each other. Must protect each other more, love each other more. Teach ourselves how to live within this shared hallucination; learn how to remake our new world.
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Header image © Theresa Ferraro, courtesy of the author.
Kristin Barendsen is a writer based in Santa Fe. Her work has appeared in The Sun, American Poet, Sequoia, and many other venues. Winner of the Academy of American Poets Prize and co-author of the book Photography: New Mexico, she is at work on a postmodern memoir about bisexuality and bicycle travel. She is a member of Lidia Yuknavitch’s Corporeal Writing community.