“Misinterpreting a Collage During Trump’s Presidency” by Jaime Mera

Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2019: Artist’s Choice


Photo collage of a bee near someone's eye

Image: “Thai Bees” by Kim Tedrow. “Misinterpreting a Collage During Trump’s Presidency” was written by Jaime Mera for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2019, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Jaime Mera


I see a wasp. It’s Trump and Pence and every televangelist
that condemns lesbians. Sean Hannity’s anti-LGBT rhetoric,
like the hornet that crawls into the cracks of attics

in America’s heartland, riles up red-hatted white males
to swarm and antagonize by parading their straight pride.
The woman’s eye, sober-wide, is as steady as a steel beam.

Her face is ready for the sting. I look closer at the collage.
Something isn’t right—the broad waist. I discover
it’s a female elm sawfly. Now, it joins

with the woman. The yellow bands around its abdomen
matches the sash worn by Susan B. Anthony as she
marched in Kansas. Gold-colored drops glow with hope.

I’m not surprised that I got it wrong. I keep mixing things up,
seeing something that isn’t there. Last year, during dinner
at my parent’s house, we discussed the Religious Freedom Act.

I said, “Two women in love should be allowed to get a pizza together.”
My brother-in-law said, “We need to protect business owner’s rights.”
I said, “It’s discrimination against the gay community.”

He said, “The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination.”
After that, whenever my parents invited me over, I asked, “Will he
be there?” I skipped my nephew’s high school graduation.

In July, my schnauzer Bogie had to be put down. My parents
away on an Alaskan cruise, my sister busy at nursing school,
my brother-in-law—Brian—offered to come with me.

In the room, we held hands. Before the veterinarian inserted
the needle, Brian kissed the top of Bogie’s head.
It’s common to confuse the sawfly for another pest.

In the larvae stage, it looks similar to a slug. Later, it shifts
slowly into resembling a caterpillar. After pupation, people
presume it’s a wasp. The female’s ovipositor unfolds

like a jackknife and it saws into the stem of the plant to deposit
its eggs. It’s harmless to us—we make the error
of mistaking it for a stinger.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
August 2019, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Kim Tedrow: “This poem surprised me, from the title to the last line. A political poem usually doesn’t work for me unless, like this one, it is grounded in personal experience. The poet braids the historical, political, personal, and entomological into a narrative about how our current crisis infiltrates and alters our perceptions and relationships. The turn, in which the speakers’ relationship with the brother-in-law goes from near estrangement to emotional intimacy, is perfectly executed with the poet’s return to the sawfly. I am also impressed with the research the poet did to identify the insect in the collage. I had no idea that it is a female elm sawfly. The collage itself is ekphrastic, inspired by a poem about the Thai bees that drink human tears. Without knowing what a Thai bee looks like, I just chose something from a clip art book that looked like a bee.”

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