Mining Salt from Blood: Writing and Coping in the Age of Trump

By Christopher A. Smith

The renowned novelist Ishmael Reed has written, “All art must be for the end of liberating the masses.” It’s a phrase I find myself repeating while summoning courage to write about the injustices now part of the fabric of daily American life. Since the 2016 election, my writing has evolved into an act of resistance despite the real fears of my family for my safety.

I’m writing this a month out from being in the emergency room. While I initially thought I was experiencing cardiac issues from my elevated blood pressure, the diagnosis turned out to be something more benign. But I also know that anxiety and stress have begun to congeal inside me like wads of hair clogging the shower drain. I know these feelings are a direct product of the daily—at times hourly—assault of the current political climate upon my senses.

Every headline now seems to remind me of renewed attempts to destroy healthcare, of increased police brutality against people of color, and of the president’s support for the rise of white nationalists. It all amounts to salt that taints my blood. I am constantly afraid that someone I love will be forced to leave this country despite having been naturalized for years. Or that I will perish at the point of a cop’s gun. This salt building inside my bloodstream is also made up of anger toward those who wrap themselves in privilege and a sick sense of glee at it all. Too much salt, and my blood grows dense. It ceases to flow.

As a writer, I have tried to turn the salt into action, to mine it for a purpose. Since Trump has taken office, the focus of my prose has shifted from music and technology to exposing the brutality of his administration’s policies. This includes an essay about how I was profiled repeatedly by customs while traveling simply because I was a person of color. This has also meant writing about the historical parallels between this administration’s travel ban on Muslims and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as one example.

Before November 2016, I had started a fourth book of poetry meant to detail growing up as a black male in the turbulence of 1980s and 1990s New York City. Before the current regressive and racist policies set in, I had been straining for direction. Now I’m no longer waiting for the words. They come freely as relatives dropping by for dinner and coffee on a Sunday evening. My words now wear their resistance like warm shawls and sometimes sing out loud. I find my voice singing with them as I type. I pray the harmony carries forth for all to hear.