Mish’s Sex & Ketchup is informed by the trauma of living in the Trump Era and especially of being in the quarantine for the past few month. This is not to say that her collection is entirely about this era, only that the poems seem influenced by it and the emotions drawn out by it, even when she is not directly discussing the quarantine, her poetry seems to be a reaction to it. There are of course a number of poems that reminded me a bit of the political writing of Muriel Ruykeyser or Allen Ginsberg. They comment directly on the ex-president and his policies. However, it is equally clear that this time in quarantine has caused Mish to dwell on the traumas of her distant and recent past, and these are drawn out in the collection as well. In this, she is giving a voice to the deeply felt emotions that everyone I know is feeling these days.
A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist dealing with trauma often says that retirement is a time when people suddenly have to face the PTSD they have been ignoring because of their working life because they have fewer distractions; I don’t know whether Mish would have been dealing directly with the loss of her father and her lifetime of memories with him. Certainly she would have, and possibly in very healthy ways, but this aspect of the collection feels very much to me like the emotions that I have been dealing with. We have all had a good deal of time to think carefully about our pain and worries. She devotes an entire section of the collection to this “Tiny Dancer,” and the fact of his death runs throughout the collection. She writes about the physicality of her father’s death:
Dad sucks air
with mouth open,
with pneumonia (13).
Her feelings of loss rise up in these poems, and of course we can all relate to those now in this time of forced meditation when we are reliving in vivid detail our traumas. Later she writes,
Appears to me that night
In a dream,
Fading away (19).
These painful emotions are gaining power in our time, and this is one of the subtle messages running through the collection.
Mish’s anger over who caused this trauma is far less subtle, and many of the poems lay the blame for it directly on Donald Trump. If she has regrets for the choices that she has made, she has anger for the person who put her in this situation:
The virus rolls out
slips into bloodstained
its “Make America Great Again”
shower cap” (5).
The virus here is personified as a Trump supporter, later in the poem a Jim Beam swilling angry and violent monster, grabbing a machete, which it tests out on the news media. Trump’s choices and the fall out from those choices are all deadly and terrifying. She is showing that he has released a violence on so many levels against the world and there seems to be no way to contain it. However, she is also able to show how this violence will turn against him:
your limos —
your verve —
under the virus
ice cream cones
in the sun (10).
This is of course one of the many strange effects of Trumpism. If the populace is affected by the pandemic, he is not immune to it. What he has wrought upon the rest of the world, he has also wrought upon himself.
The collection often also gives us glimpses of how to make it through such time with physical release or as the title suggests sex and ketchup. Food and sex. While Mish makes a point to show us that even these have changed, she takes the time to mention our need for them. Everyone I know reports having found refuge in physical pleasures. I have too, but for me, and I think Mish, these have been very temporary and so very dominated by what is turning out to be an era of pain.
John Brantingham 8th August 2021