Essay: “a crooked thing is a riot/a riot is a crooked thing” by Hannah Rubin

Hannah Rubin

a crooked thing is a riot/a riot is a crooked thing


there was a fire last night, of course there was. news cameras love
the glow of orange against a black-clad body. makes everything look
hedonistic when really it’s us just fighting for our fucking lives. 


you know milo said rape culture was a fiction? I circle the word
fiction loosely with my tongue, wonder what else gets pushed past
any breaking point.

E texts me in the morning how are you. I wonder if we’ve known each
other long enough and then decide I don’t care. i’m terrible.

i can’t even with the ways language/meaning are being warped and
manipulated to signify LITERALLY the opposite of what is being said.
and how convincing it is. i feel like we’re in a world of snakes. 

she writes back fleecing fleecing fleecing. 

I send her a photograph of my niece, a small chunk of pink skin who
was born two days ago—the day donald trump decided to fire sally
yates for opposing his illegal immigration ban and also the day I read
a headline that said “2/3 Of The United States Thinks You Have To
Be Christian To Be American.” this morning the news was different
but the same: 57 Jewish centers across the country evacuated because
of bomb threats. and then she texts me that she’s sitting in her office
sweating because a document has been leaked about trump’s plan to
decree that LGBTQ rights discriminate against religious people. I
haven’t left my bed yet, mornings these days tend to stretch into late
afternoons, and now I’m lying frozen with pins in my feet.

good thing i’m growing out my hair, she says.

to which I respond,



in the past thirteen days i’ve been to three crisis reading groups, took
BART to the airport two days in a row, chained myself to a door next
to a woman wearing red lipstick, held hands with many strangers,
exploded a glitter bomb in a group of dancing anti-fascists, screamed
Heeeeey Ya! (à la Andre 3000) at the cops while plugging my ears in
order to not hear their dispersal warning, listened to the thick glass of
a Starbucks window get cracked open—bags of coffee beans and
those little plastic bento boxes flying gleefully through the air,
breathed snot onto lots of bandanas, and dark sweatshirts, and pink
triangles, and instagram likes, and texts from friends saying things
like “are you safe???” and “text me that you’re okay” and “i’m scared,”
and small fires set to the backdrop of big photographs, and my elbows
bent out while my legs move really fast in order to dance through all
the rage, and smiling at a guy with an eyebrow piercing, and taking
pictures of people with flags and all the femme everywhere in my gut
in my belly in my nose in my body in my eyes, and someone jumping
up onto a newspaper box with a blow horn and cardboard sign that
said “trans women of color deserve respect” and everyone cheering
while the marching band played something riotous and brassy, and
the fatigue of legs as they are forced to cycle 6, 7, 8 miles back to
home, back to home where there is a bed and windows and a sink,
where I crash into a blanket and feel like I can never move again.
where I peel off my clothes and my arm sash and my bandana and my
sneakers and I lie awake for hours thinking the whole time that I
must really be sleeping. where I have mouths that kiss my face and
fingers that hold my hands and tell me that it’s not all okay but
maybe it is. a poet that I adore once wrote, it’s all good it’s all fucked
and I find myself breathing those words, a kind of insulin.


eating has become shoveling fistfuls of honey nut cheerios into my
mouth—a luxury only still possible because last week I bought the
box that said “family size.” I don’t know how to live away from my
newsfeed and I’m too tired to feel embarrassed about it. it’s like a river
and I am bones and something is burning—perhaps the metaphor
I’m fumbling for here is pyre. but what is the sacrifice. as though my
unmediated attention, as though keeping track of each new thing, as
though undue focus can, can. the sentence remains, eternally,
unfinished. today. this terrain of dust and cruelty. where greed sets
hunger. people at home imbibe newscasters, alternative facts the
cancer of fascism, spreading spreading. always spreading.

language has become a crooked thing.

oh my letters, the marks, my body. everyone talks about the shock
factor and the great overwhelm and the strategy and I’m left
wondering how is it possible that in thirteen days you can undo what
we’ve been slowly working on for over 100 years?
the arc of history feels

more like a kinked hanger. the messy ice caps of an EKG.

or just an arrow always pointing backwards.


and where does security fit? amassing data. me, here, in this essay, and
now you, there, in your chair. at what point do I get punished for
voice. for showing up without a mask on and dancing to the
drumbeat of a thousand iPhone live recordings? are we doing the
work for them—texting numbers for resistance, posting statuses,
emailing senators. saying loud and clear: HEY I AM YOUR
OPPOSITION. COME FIND ME. but how else am I able to say
hey, I’m here in this with you. you do not have to do this alone. how else
am I supposed to breathe through this.


the shudder that comes late at night, while I am lying awake
convincing myself that I am really asleep, is the memory of all the
holocaust books I read as a kid. the butt of a gun banging on a door,
the moonlight of two a.m., the ignorance of neighbors, the coldness
of barbed wire marking where you can’t go and where you can. none
of this is beyond us because we all did it once, twice, many times
before. realizing that the seduction of technology is to make us feel
that we are somehow different, or better, than our past. somehow
now, with the glimmer of an app that sends flowers to your girlfriend,
incapable of smoking people in ovens and declaring whiteness as the
marker of humanity.


there is a disease here. pustules splayed out and so much guck being
splashed along the roadways. and we are fighting this disease with
every river, stone, and blockade that we can.

I want to lie in bed with each person I know, faces silk against each
other. promising that we’ll never stop knowing how to communicate,
even if everything is gone. I want the tremors of your fingers in mine
while we hide. fleeced in cotton.

and I want to punch things. or kick them. get strong. throw
grapefruit peels into construction piles and twist my needle in
through the cracks of a police line.

spread all my vegetables along the length of a counter, chop each
thing until it becomes knowable, throw it all into a grandiose pot of
soup. invite everyone I know over to drink it with me, no matter how
many spoons. hold hands. share lipstick.


how do you take care of the body when the mind is threaded in
knots. stapled in loops. someone else’s loom. knows and thinks and
imagines and fears too much. is rabid in its attempt to understand.
I’m here trying to write something that’s good and instead I’m just
anxious and writing something that’s bad. afraid that I’ve lost the one
thing that gets me through all this: language. they have it tight up in
their fists and they’re spewing it like vile. spewing it like alternative.
and rape culture is a fiction. and illegals. 

how to say it any other way: words are my home. the only safety i’ve
ever known. my tongue in my mouth twisting itself in loops that let
other people peer in, weave tapestry from dangled thread.

then, flip on breitbart and see it all as violence. sentences chopped
down to phrases, shoved into words, thrown at like marble.
everything a prickly mayhem

wading through the war of the comment section & I want to love you
throughout this but my gut is getting too calcified to hold much


and it doesn’t seem like you care at all about me.


I can spout the analytic theories that give you the humanity you
deprive me, but something today makes me want to say just shut up.

I’m left cycling
a place
of surrender,
ratchet with claws,


in treatment, my father ingests poison to kill his cancer. he is weak for
days afterward, staggering around the house all hopped up on steroids
and repressed feelings. he eats very little and watches a lot of
explosions on the television. sometimes his teeth get gray because
brushing them causes his gums to bleed. every opening ripe for
infection, he’s forced to abstain. my father is literally sick and i watch
him struggle through what that means, most frequently in spades of
denial and stoic self-pity. my brother admires his ability to never
complain about his condition. I find it suffocating. my father is
literally sick and I’m describing him because I have to. fissure running
deep at the surface, and water seeping, soaring, poking through. my
father is literally sick and in him I can learn what sickness is, what it
does, how it twists and decays and forces us to become silent in our
sense of self-deprecation. guilty that we couldn’t do it alone. alienated
by the healthy for tainting their illusions of immortality. I watch my
father weak. crossing the street I link his arm with mine. when it is
cold, I tie his scarf around his neck. he doesn’t even know how to say
thank you, just stands there silently waiting while I do it. sometimes
there is spit in the corner of his mouth and I tell him hey dad, there is
a little spit in the corner of your mouth
and he crosses his eyes out of

annoyance that I noticed before him and makes a big show of not
caring while he wipes it away. my father is literally sick and so are all
of us. maybe that sentence should read: so are we all. I’m not sure yet.
maybe you can help me decide. regardless, I’m straying. straying from
what toni morrison said this morning on my newsfeed, that whiteness
is a sickness and we’re all dying from it. white people too. everyone a
flailing body in a straight jacket pretending to be queen. what happens
when you take away your race
? she asked. do you still like yourself? do
you still feel like you’re somebody


sometimes, when I’m lying in bed, I pull an imaginary can of spray
paint from my coat pocket and spray the entire city—every pixel—
with the words trust women.


the seduction of anonymity and eclectic mass. things go crashing
through windows. sticks beat against palms in tune with the
loudspeaker being pushed like a cart at Frankenstein’s castle, Rihanna
then Beyonce than something dirty & EDM. it’s past nine p.m., milo’s
been shut down, and we’re on a hunt for which there is no longer a
target. bank windows and ATM machines get covered in red and then
annihilated. someone scrawls liberals get the bullet too on the outside
of the campus art museum. people keep moving. messily now. SWAT
teams up ahead. turn left. the chancellor’s house. red and black flags
waving overhead. the large banner reminding us become ungovernable.
I leave when the firecrackers become too close to the trees and the

shared darknesses lose all distinction. I know what happens now:
people hungry for a climax. cops hungry for rebuttal. people get
arrested for having too much passion with no place to put it. fists
come out and robots in pants that don’t crease descend, like lions on a
puzzle of finicky gazelles. I think, in the nature documentaries, we
call that evolution. I don’t feel like watching the stale narrative play
itself out. and I’m struggling with the sadness that has come in,
wedded in body—knowing how the chosen images of this “danger”
will impact the public in the morning.

running video of the short fire on loop with menacing captions like
“lockdown” and “violence”—it all hurts me—the predictability. the
futility. the impossibility of opting out of the optics war that’s been
assigned to us, how any spark or desire or spontaneous action just
immediately gets interpolated into the tired trope of “mob” and
“cops” and “order” and “justice.”


as I cycle home, the 6, 7, 8 miles, back to my house, I feel too weary
to be afraid. and yet, still afraid. I cross under three overpasses and
stop my bike for a few minutes once I get to the lake: a full estuary
plopped there, in the middle of oakland. the rain is coming down
slight so I can’t take my phone out. means that I’m sitting on a slab of
concrete and actually looking at the thing. also dark, also orange
light. this more like a smear across glass than anything hedonistic.
someone next to me, earlier, had been upset about the violence. had
said there’s no spirituality here. it’s just wound. I don’t disagree. but I
don’t know how to change that. will boys with knives ever act any
differently? how come the news channel always has to interview the
kid in the crowd wearing the camouflage poncho and the steel-toed

I know in the morning how this particular conversation will be

free speech. but is he really a nazi? you’re the ones enacting violence here.
most of the people saying these things are white men, but many also


the not-funny joke is, of course, who gets to name what the violence is?
that was a rhetorical question. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

everything feels like cancer today—fascist hate speech an early
iteration. now milo’s sex appeal growing in the glitter of his
confirmedly hypocritical liberal opposition.

just a mob of triggered snowflakes. with mace.

these liberals hate free speech so much they’ll do anything to shut it down.

in my chest I remember screaming Andre 3000 at the line of cops,
their guns drawn, while hundreds of people in pink triangle patches
danced. wildly. C’s hand in mine as we ran from the dude with the
skateboard hitting the other dude with the swastika tattoo. the whole
time my body alert and my teeth ready to disappear. ready to take on
anyone that needed it, needed me. the poem someone posted on
facebook running in slags through my heart our bodies on the street,
seeing one another and our rage is how the beautiful parts of our lives get
shown to us right now.
the box of scones being passed around in case

anyone was hungry.

in the morning I text E back and say i am clinging to that. feeling.

Hannah Rubin is a writer, theorist, and artist who goes by a handful of names. Bicycle routes map themselves around the bends in Oakland, where they run a community poetry series called Poetry in the Dark and a living room writing group for queer writers caught between genres. Recent work has appeared in EntropyDryland, and HOLD: A Journal.

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