Elegy of the Mayfire
By: Benjamin Rose
Where is the amber light of Spring?
Where is the Winter ice undone?
They have passed into shadow
Like pollen reft from flowers in the rain.
Each dark maple leaf encrimsoned,
Blood-dipped in the rising sun,
Has withered away to monotonous grey
And dullest hue of summer green.
A long summer, strewn with corpses;
An Endless Autumn, red and cold.
Somehow I don’t believe the turn
Of another year will make much difference.
I am perplexed and at war with my brothers.
I am perplexed and at war with myself.
In this hermitage far from the river
The fires of May wither and burn.
The trees have lost their shelter and splendor.
The war in the streets has risen in pitch.
I am dislocated, unmoored, and lost,
Unable to thwart or roll with the tide.
The pleasures and lessons of youth long forgotten,
Nothing remains but shame and fear.
Out of a multifoliate One, now many,
Out of unity, murder and discord.
Perhaps it was not as I remember,
Though I now long to remember nothing;
To run the horrors of life through a sieve
And, concussed and amnesic, begin anew.
What have you brought me in valiant awareness?
What have you made but a prison of my skin?
You have erased and made me a bastard
In flesh long since rejected by my own.
Every day a litany of outrage.
Every day an indelible sin.
Till Jewish professors darken their faces
Disgraced and ashamed to have ever been born.
Who will cry and speak in my defense?
Who will carry and witness my pain?
Who will spit in the eye of your arrogance
As venomously as you spit in my own?
Damn your moralizing fiery contempt.
Damn White Nationalism and Critical Race Theory,
Death to your Fascism and Marxism alike.
In the rotting husk of this benighted country
Orgies of internecine blood will spill.
In longings for lost and new Jerusalems,
Ready the inexorable Feast of the Roach.
There is no progress. Nothing was Great.
You cannot restore what never existed.
You cannot pave the road to justice
In spasms of vitriol and childish wrath.
What am I?
White. Male. A Jew. A bastard.
Bipolar and loud since the day I was born,
Traumatized, Other, spat on and disdained.
Spare me your noble and grandiose zealotry,
You who did not bleed screaming in halls
Of whitewashed brick alone and dejected
While others were making love in the sun.
Spare me your feeble dreams and revanchist,
Red-hatted stalwarts of rapine and death.
Boil in the bleach-ridden rotgut you swill.
Hang yourself, fool, on your parody of pain.
Into the fire the spud fields of Idaho.
Into the fire all Trumpistan White.
We should’ve sent the Reapers to Boise.
The Inland Empire, our next Iraq War.
Then, when lead and liberating fire
Had shattered the staves of your Anglican cross,
At last the lie of this country would burn
And free me: a man, a mongrel among many.
The light of the Mayfire withers and sighs.
Twice my age, at twenty I grew old.
The Mayfire! O delusive light,
Herald of riotous evanescent days,
Dancing through feverish dreams of a future,
Wanton love disguised in purity!
What lies, your warm and vulgar caresses,
Glistening through dewy and verdurous boughs,
The promise of youth gone rancid and stale,
And sour as the reek of day-old cum.
You were nothing but a lie from the first.
You were the mother and mistress of lies.
In leafy Edens an hour from ghettos,
Describe the Hell our gardeners built.
To leafy Edens an hour from ghettos,
O my prodigal predecessors, go.
Break your backs for the lies of your fathers.
From the Republic leech every last cent.
Ignorant, angry, obese, and sad
Procreate in pathos and piss.
Raise us in chaos, loathing, and disdain.
Scream all your impotent vanities in my ear.
I still don’t know “what this life’s about”.
All I remember is my infant shame.
In your bitter and corpulent works
Is nothing but a fucking asterisk to my glory!
I will erase your stain from the earth.
None shall remember you save in your treachery.
I will erase your stain from the earth.
Let the seas boil and Anchorage burn.
For the hate we shed unto our sons
Urges them “boil bloody, and be spilled.”
The primal seed once lie-envenomed
Spreads its havoc–roots in the soil.
And all that we were raised to love
Was shaped to please the disgust of our Peres.
To a man, we erased our voices and names
To worship mercurial Powers of the Air.
Beaten, broken, lice–covered, starved,
Why do you spit, O brother, on the Ground?
Bend your rage against God himself
And burn your ruined inheritance in the Sky.
Benjamin Rose is a poet born and raised in the D.C. area. His work has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, The Button Eye Review, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Cathexis Northwest Press, and Last Resort Literary Review. He studies creative writing, Arabic, and Islamic civilization at The Catholic University Of America.
"I typically describe 'Elegy Of The Mayfire' to audiences as a psychological study in White fragility, but this is a shorthand intended to forestall criticism of its most virulent passages and a grossly simplistic way of understanding the poem. The Elegy was a portrait of my psyche during the final days of the Trump Administration and my abysmal depression during that time period, the product of decades of trauma, abuse, and social isolation. I am from an emotionally abusive household and was sexually assaulted at the age of twelve under unrelated circumstances. The entirety of my adult life has been defined by madness, and it is ultimately the disavowal of my birth and its toxic heritage of privilege and abuse which forms the conclusion of the poem.
Race is central to the piece. While I was raised in a multiethnic community in McLean, Virginia, at the end of high school I was sent against my will to a residential treatment facility in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where I was held as a virtual prisoner for four years. Coeur d’Alene is one of the whitest towns in America and its broader region of the Northwest, the Inland Empire, has served as a heartland for American white supremacists and Neo-Nazi movements for decades. It was during this time that the Ferguson riots occurred and both Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump emerged into the national consciousness. I had never been colorblind but, for the first time, I began to examine what it meant to be white in unflinching detail, and did not like what I found. It was at this point that, bereft of any meaningful social relationships with people of color and carrying a destroyed sense of self from the years of my confinement, I returned home to Virginia broken in spirit and completely unable to engage with society. Consciousness turned to guilt, guilt turned to shame, and eventually I was left with a pervasive and rage-ridden contempt for both the proponents of social justice who vilified whiteness and the Trumpist movement which was selling marginalized white men a deal with the devil.
And it is the rage against the “valiant awareness” of fetishized and vindictive social critique as well as the white racism which occasions it that animates the Elegy. Implicit throughout the work, however, is the desire to reclaim the uncomplicated multiculturalism and antiracism of my youth, and this culminates in the remembrance and disavowal of the Mayfire, the idealized childhood I had thought I lived. The Mayfire is a Fitzgeraldean construct, and it refers to the light and shadows that street lamps would cast on the leaves of Japanese Maples at dusk in my old neighborhood when I was a child. Only when I walked in its gleam was I happy or optimistic of the future that awaited me. But the Mayfire was a lie, and in the poem it is equated with the Dream of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World And Me: the exclusionary fantasy of upper class white suburbia built on the backs of apartheid and violence. On a good day, McLean is probably about an hour’s drive from the most economically underserved and majority Black neighborhoods of Southeast Washington, D.C. The Mayfire serves to obscure that irony, and its renunciation is a renunciation of the 'good old days' that, personally and politically, were not so good. It is a rejection of generational abuse, delusional privilege, and the 'bleach-ridden rotgut,' or spiritual suicide, of white supremacy and racist bigotry."