Kartika Review 01

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Kamakura Daibutsu, Japan Stephen Hew, 2004

Issue One Winter 2007 i

Copyright © 2007 by the Kartika Review

▫ ▫ ▫ ▪ ▫ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▫ ▪ ▫ ▫ ▫ Issue One cover design by Heewon Sohn Kartika Review logo design by Ben Hwang


Myself in a Mirror of Warhol Jane Geam, 2007



Kartika Review publishes creative fiction, poetry, narrative essays, and artwork either pertaining to the Asian Diaspora or authored by writers and artists of Asian descent. We also feature book reviews and author interviews on Asian American literary fiction. Each issue seeks to compile a collection of quality literature featuring both renown voices from the Asian American community and also fresh talent never before published. Our journal releases two peer-edited issues each year. The editorial board reviews submissions on a rolling basis. To submit, manuscripts must be formatted in a file type compatible with MS Word. We further request that the manuscripts be typed double-spaced and set up with 1-inch margins. Include a cover letter addressed to the relevant editor and a resume or curriculum vitae with each submission. We accept manuscripts with the understanding that the content has not been published elsewhere. Send manuscripts and other queries to: editor@kartikareview.com For more submissions information, please see the Submissions page on Kartika’s website: http://www.kartikareview.com



First Editorial Board*

Editor-in-Chief: Managing Editors:

Fiction Editors:

Sunny Woan Carolyn Lau Dominic Tsang Sarah Lin Denis Wong

Poetry Editor:

Tangie Raines

Essay Editor:

Mike Lee

Art Director:

Heewon Sohn

*With special thanks to our guest advisor, Ben Hwang.


MISSION STATEMENT Kartika Review serves the Asian American community and those involved with Diasporic Asian-inspired literature. We scout for compelling Asian American creative writing and artwork to present to the public at large. Our editors actively solicit contributions from established virtuosos in our community in hopes their works here will inspire the next generation of virtuosos. We also showcase emerging writers and artists we foresee to be the future powerhouses of their craft. Ultimately, Kartika strives to create a literary forum that caters to and celebrates the wordsmiths of the Asian Diaspora.




1 Editorial


3 A Christmas of Her Own


28 To Herself

Heidi K. KIM

35 Final Bouquet


45 Impatience, in verse form

Elaine LOW

46 Burying Bones

Kelly TSAI

to be a martyr

52 Shakedown


Nature at Play


55 Drinking Bird Spit


57 Power of Ethnic Instincts

Xiaochen SU

59 The Chicago Filipino Experience

Lesley ARCA

ART 62 Artist Statement and Selected Works


67 Artist Statement and Selected Works


AUTHOR INTERVIEW 77 Interview with Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese (2006, First Second Books).

Contributor Bios

Supporters & Sponsors

Editor Bios


Kim Nguyen, author of “Drinking Bird Spit” should not be confused with Kim H. Nguyen, author of “Final Bouquet.”


Koi Dreams Stephen Hew, 2004

▫ ▫ ▫ ▪ ▫ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▫ ▪ ▫ ▫ ▫ To contact individual contributors with feedback, questions, or other comments, please e-mail editor@kartikareview.com with “Attn: [Name of Contributor]” in the subject line.


EDITORIAL This year, the U.S. Library of Congress began work on a national collection of Asian Pacific American (APA) literature, and yet before the launch of Kartika Review, no APA literary journal existed in 2007. Granted, many niche journals for particular communities within the Asian Diaspora thrive; but after the APA Journal ceased publication in 2005, no other publication stepped up to fill the void that the APA Journal left behind. Kartika Review aspires to fill that void. The issue opens with a story just in time for the holidays, “A Christmas of Her Own” by Geri Lipschultz. Readers are bound to enjoy a literary immersion with the Teng family. Then, in Heidi Kim’s “To Herself,” readers will observe the dynamic between two divergent yet All-American ideals, as represented by the characters Miss Allison and the young girl who won’t recite the Pledge. Our final fiction piece showcases Kim Nguyen, a promising new voice at the intersection of “chick lit” genre fiction and “ethnic literature.” Our inaugural issue also features the poetry of a prominent member in the APA arts community, Kelly Tsai who I have been a fan of for years. I strongly recommend readers to follow her work and performances. Eddy Zheng, a Bay Area activist contributes his poetry. I envy his charisma and way with words. “Shakedown” is a must-read and also, Elaine Low’s “Impatience” immediately became an editors’ favorite. In the non-fiction section, readers will find another writer by the name Kim Nguyen, whose personal narrative on drinking bird spit will resonate as a greater metaphor for an archetypal Asian American experience. Xiaochen Su, a bar none phenomenal writer, will inevitably become a leading literary figure in our community. As a mere college student, he has garnered national attention for his writings at Yale. Finally, Lesley Arca’s piece on the Chicago Filipino experience is sure to delight. Kartika enjoys the privilege of having an incredible board of editors, including two of my favorite fiction writers, Sarah Lin and Denis Wong, names to look out for in the future. Denis was the one who arranged the interview with Gene Luen Yang, the award-winning author of American Born Chinese. My friend Ben Hwang designed the Kartika logo for us, a logo I am fond of and am grateful for. Finally, this journal would not have launched without Dominic Tsang’s support and guidance, Tangie Raines’s ear for poetry, Mike Lee’s business acumen, and Heewon Sohn’s artistic direction. Thanks, all. -- Sunny Woan



A Christmas of Her Own

The crack of dawn, pale yellow light sneaks in through all my windows. I see snow like a can of vanilla frosting. A new day. Very nice. Then, I sit up on my bed, and look at this! Have you no privacy? Go get married, I tell you. Go find a home of your own. This house is mine. I labored for this home. I came to this country with twenty dollars in my pocket. My husband worked three jobs, and I waited for him in the park. Together, at three o’clock in the morning, we walked to the apartment. Pitch dark, six flights up. Two little rooms, a shower stall in the kitchen. We cooked on a hotplate. A bathroom down the hall that we shared. We had three kids in that tiny apartment on Mott Street. You know what it’s like to do diapers in a bathroom down the hall? Oh, that first night we came to America. It was the first time I was on an airplane. And the last. You think I go in a hotel and make kissy-kissy in silk sheets? No, I sit on a park bench on Mulberry Street, and I wait. I was wearing sandals on my feet. It was after midnight that he came back. Oh, I was young, but I was not afraid. I found a job sewing-sewing Fifteen hours a day, every day. And then I waited. Just like now. It feels sometimes that all I do is wait. Either I’m sitting and waiting, or I’m jumping up, work-work. I graduated from college, you know. KARTIKA REVIEW

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You should go to college, make something of yourself. Instead of just staying here by me and making trouble. I’d rather sit in the street than be an uninvited guest in someone else’s house. I’d prefer to starve than eat food that belongs to someone else. You people are leeches. That’s what you are. And you are full of mischief. You have probably pawned my husband’s ring already. What am I going to do when Stuart finds out you took his father’s jade ring? He will blame me. I put on my little red fluffy slippers and take twenty steps to go wash up. You stay here. I need my privacy. In the bathroom, I look out the window to the north. It’s a dark blue out there. Dark blue in here, too. My daughter in law always tells me to fix up the broken tiles, but why should I? I don’t need to impress anyone. I take care of leaks, but who cares what it looks like. I’m not running a fancy hotel, just a home for me and Grampa. I wash up, do my business, and freshen up the room a little, because my grandchildren are coming. I don’t want to hear that little Aurora tell me it has bad smells. I open my cabinet and spray. Must be careful, don’t want to crack any bones today. I look into the mirror, and I see that old face. My fingers touch my cheeks. They look like sagging plums. Once I had a pumpkin face. Still, my face very smooth, not one wrinkle. It’s because my grandmother cooked me ginseng. I am healthy as a horse. I fumble for the few hairs on my head, and I pin them up. Oh, I love my little caps. I will put on lipstick in a few hours. Now I’ll have to just be who I am, an eighty-year old survivor of America. In China, I’d have forty people around me, and they’d have to listen to every word I say. Now, I’m lucky if they don’t stuff me in a nursing home, sell my furniture, and steal all my money. I’m going back to my room, get dressed for Christmas Day at Stuart’s. He will come to pick me up, and then I’ll stay there a few days. That’s what he said. Usually, when I come back, the house is quiet. It’s because they all lie down in comas. Some on the floor, others on the couch. I don’t care, so long as it’s quiet. Maybe some of them will get a transfer. KARTIKA REVIEW

A Christmas of Her Own


And you, you two get your own apartment! that way.


Rachel makes a big deal out of the holiday, even though she is not Christian. She says she does it for Stuart, but we are not religious. We had a tree because Grampa said what harm is there in a tree. Used to be that Grampa would cook lobster on Christmas, and we’d have our old friends come over, but that has not been for a long time. Then, when he was alive, Grampa would cook here, and we’d bring the lobster to Stuart’s house in Jersey. It’s because Grampa says turkey is tasteless. I will eat anything, but Grampa makes the best food in this family. I look around this room. Everything you see, I bought it. I came here with nothing but twenty dollars, and now look – I have a castle. Two chairs with all my sweaters, and magazines and books. Over there is where I keep my handbags. Jewelry – so much that I have to put a box in the bank. So, don’t even bother stealing it. I want to wear my Christmas sweater today. The one with the little Santa and the chimney with the stockings. One hundred percent cotton. I am getting tired looking for that sweater. Everything all folded up neatly. The yellow, the pink, the turquoise, bunch of black sweaters, bunch of red sweaters. But not the sweater I want. Where did you put it? Well, I will look for it after breakfast. I go downstairs in the flannel pants I bought with my daughter-in-law on the Avenue the other day. Carefully, I hold onto the railing, I make sure the red slipper does not slip with me rumbletumble down these stairs. Everything with Grandma is slowslow. I see they are all there on the couches, the little one is still asleep. I am going to ignore them. Maybe they will not think about breakfast. I open the door to the kitchen, and now the light from the north is not so dark. I see out the window. What is that? People out there, too? I close the curtains. What do they think they are looking at? I shake the little teapot, enough water, so turn on my stove. I don’t have my paper. Too much snow to take the trip down to the Avenue. So I just sit down in my special chair and just wait FICTION

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for the water. Then I get up, pull out the milk from the Frigidaire. I find a piece of bread in there, and I remove a little slab of butter that was an extra from the diner. Okay, I take more bread, slip three slices into my toaster oven, and I go back to my chair. I think I’ll have sanka today. It’s going to be a big meal, and I will eat like a king. I packed my bag to stay over Stuart’s house. Oh yes, I have to make out the presents for my children. Eleven special cards that hold money. I bought them yesterday. Walked to the Avenue. Step by step. The man, he called me, “Grandma,” and I said, “I’m not your Grandma.” He said, “You got a big family.” And I said, “Yes. A lot of grandkids. Eleven.” “Me, too,” he said. “I got eleven, too.” Think about it. I don’t care if I am alone. I will never marry again. What, are we having, a conference here? I ask you nicely to get out, but you just stare at me. Everybody says you are not here. That’s what they think, my children. They think I am crazy. But look, these villains here have no decency. How do you ignore someone having sex right before your eyes. I’d like to see Rachel do that. I will do anything to shut you up. You want ham and liverwurst, okay. A little here, and a little there. One piece on the pink tile table. One piece on the television cabinet. One piece on the hutch. One piece on each of the coffee tables. You want a good deal? Go to the Diner! I don’t see anybody putting any money in my hands! I take a piece of paper towel and wipe my fingers. I run the water and dry my hands. You’re welcome, you’re welcome, but this is the last time, I tell you. I think the cards are here, but I don’t see them. I’ll get them in a minute. I remember when we would go shopping, Grampa and I. We always picked out special things for the boys, each one of them, and now the wives and of course the children. Grampa likes to get the children special things. Remember when we gave the big girls all my dresses, the KARTIKA REVIEW

A Christmas of Her Own


ones I brought from Hong Kong? It was before Aurora was born – so when she came, there were no dresses for her. I remember looking at Cassandra in my favorite dress. Winston’s girl, she is a beauty, tall, thin, like a statue. Right then and there, she tried it on for us, the silver one I gave her, and she stared away. Looking at a sun nobody else could see. That’s her picture over there with the American boyfriend. Very sexy. My grandchildren are beautiful. Bad luck to say it, but it’s true. Mrs. Monroe, my across-the-street neighbor, she always said it. Eleven I got. You mix Asian with anything, it’s beautiful. My daughters in law, when they have babies, nobody had to tell me which is mine. When we went to the maternity ward, Grampa and I, I spotted them with my eagle eye. Mrs. Monroe, she is lucky, has Joe, her husband, but he has a bad heart. And next-door, my neighbor Mrs.Caruso. Her husband is dead, too, but she goes to parties. And she bakes for the policemen. She remodels her house left and right. First, wallpaper everywhere, then two years later, she rips it off, not a speck left. Everything white. Carpets get pulled up, and you see sparkling wood floor, Oriental rugs. Next year, it’s tiles. As for me, I don’t care what my house looks like. So long as I can stay in it. So long as there’s heat and hot water, what do I care. I must remember to give that dollhouse furniture to Aurora. Grampa selected it, but we forget to give it to her. He was too sick, and I took care of him. I did everything for him. Rachel wanted him to go to a nursing home, but she didn’t know Grampa. He sits in that black chair by the door. I keep a fresh blanket on it. I don’t see him now, and even when he’s there, he doesn’t look at me, not once. When he’s there on the black chair, he puts them into a coma. Now they are all over the place, but they are quiet because they are eating their breakfast. I put the butter on my toast, and I drink my sanka. Soon as I am done, I will make out the envelopes for each person in the family. Oh, we have a big family, but not everybody will be there. Grampa said that one day we would have to tell them all the stories, the ones we were afraid to tell. How do you tell five little boys stories when you can hardly get them to sit still. Maybe today I will tell them. Even his real birthday, I never tell it. His real name, my real name. We made up FICTION

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stories to tell them. They never questioned us, until they got married, and these women want to know the truth. Maybe they throw us in jail for the truth. We’re here sixty years almost. I wonder if they would dig up Grampa and throw him in jail for the truth. Oh, where are those envelopes. Where you put them? Ah, that’s the telephone. Ring-ring. Never rush for a telephone. See if the caller decides it’s a wrong number. Hello. “Hi Mom,” says Rachel. “Merry Christmas.” “Merry Christmas,” I say it back. “How are you today?” “I am fine.” “How did you sleep?” “Fine.” “Did you eat yet?” “I had my breakfast.” “What did you have?” “Toast and sanka,” I say. “Good,” she says. “Here’s Stuart.” Stuart says hello, starts to ask me about the food and sleeping. “I already said it,” I say. “Rachel will tell you.” “So, are things quiet?” he asks. “The villains took my things.” “Mom, you know there really aren’t any villains.” “Okay.” “But you are still seeing them?” “Yes.” “Did you take your meds?” “After breakfast is when I take them.” “What things can’t you find now?” “They took my sweater, and they hid my cards.” KARTIKA REVIEW

A Christmas of Her Own


“What cards.” “Cards I bought with Rachel two days ago. For the Christmas money. You go ask Rachel.” “Did they take the money?” “I don’t know,” I say. “Did you look for it,” he says. “Not yet,” I say. breakfast.”

“I just got up.

I am eating my

“Good,” he says. “We’ll help you look for it when we get there.” I used to give out medication to my patients in the hospital. Some of them, they don’t want the pills. I am like those patients because these pills make me crazy. Sometimes they make the villains go away, but it also makes my hair fall out. And gives me back pains and leg pains.. My nose dripdrips. I look like Rudolph the red-nosed Grandma. Ha-ha. I’ll tell it to Aurora, and she will laugh. Okay, pills. Line you up, and drink-drink. Now, I go up the stairs and get ready for when they come. What? Someone at the door? Those lazy villains sleeping on my couches. You get up. Get up. Get up. Who could it be? Too early for them. The door opens and it’s Stuart, holding a key. I am halfway up the stairs. I forget which way I’m going, up or down. My son runs up to help me down the steps. He asks why am I not dressed yet. I slip into the Toysanese, because I do not want the others to know what it is I say, “How come you don’t say you’re gonna be here so soon. I’m not ready. You only call few minutes ago.” “They called on Daddy’s BlackBerry, Grandma,” says William, my grandson. “It was about an hour ago.” “How you know what I say?” I ask him in English. He hugs me. Look how big he is, with strong arms and that hair, light like his mother. He is letting it grow. Hope not as long FICTION

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as his mother’s! His sweater is scratchy. It’s beautiful, Irish knit. “He’s taking Mandarin in college,” says Stuart. “Oh, smart boy,” I say, because the Chinese language is difficult. But the Toysanese and the Mandarin are not the same. I wonder how did he know what I said. “Merry Christmas, Grandma,” says Aurora. She gives me a big hug and kiss. Oh, she looks like a little apple. Her cheeks are cold, and her eyes are twinkling black stars. She inherited her father’s eyes, Grampa’s beautiful eyes. “Merry Christmas,” I say. Aurora tells me to bend down, and she puts something on my head, and she laughs. “What is this?” I ask, feeling something that feels like velvet sticks on my head. “Antlers, Grandma,” she says giggling. But I take them off for the pressure. “Aw,” she says. “You look so cute, Grandma.” She puts them on her head, looks at me, asks me, “How do I look?” “Cute,” I say. She turns to her daddy, says, “Do I really look cute like Grandma?” “Dazzling,” he says, then gives me a hug, says, “Merry Christmas, Mom.” “Something smells, Grandma.” “I sprayed the bathroom,” I say. “Not that kinda smell,” she says. “Smells like salami.” “Never mind,” says Stuart. “What’s this,” I hear Billy say. “Just throw it out,” I hear Rachel say. She says it quiet, like I’m not supposed to hear it. “Throw what out?” I say. “What salami?” “Nothing,” Stuart says. He asks me if I’m ready to go soon. “I don’t think you want to wear your pajamas, do you, Mom?” KARTIKA REVIEW

A Christmas of Her Own


“No,” I say. “I am looking for my sweater.” “My God,” Billy says. “This is disgusting.” “Shhh,” Rachel says. “What’s the matter?” I ask. Stuart asks me how I am feeling. “Fine,” I say. “A little headache.” “You take some Tylenol?” he says. “What’s this,” I ask him pinching his woolly sweater, that is Irish knit, just like the one on Billy, very warm looking. “That your new sweater? That your Christmas present?” “How do you know?” he says, smile on his face. He, too, has an apple face, just like the little one. Billy resembles his mother. His eyes big, hazel color. His face not so dark. But he is handsome, looks like he getting taller than his father. “You forget to shave?” I ask Billy. “I’m growing a beard,” he says. “Do you like it?” “It’s okay,” I say. sweater, Billy?”

“You, too, with your Christmas

“Yes, Grandma. Compliments of Santa.” “You see. Grandma is a detective.” “And Daddy is Santa,” says Aurora. “You can’t fool me anymore. The handwriting of Santa is exactly like Daddy’s handwriting.” “Who says,” I say. “Me,” says the little smart one. “Aurora.” “What are all these cards?” Stuart asks. “What are you fishing around my things for?” I ask. Then, I realize it. “What cards?” “There are a stack of cards here with nothing on them but ‘Merry Christmas,’” says Stuart. Maybe these are the cards ----“ “Where did they put those cards?” “Here, Mom. You want Aurora to help you write them out.” FICTION

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12 “Yes. Thank you.” “Where is the money?” “Upstairs. I will get it.”

Slowly I go up the steps, and I hear someone say, “My God.” “Who is that in my bedroom?” “It’s me, Mom,” says Rachel. “No one supposed to go into my bedroom,” I say it. “I wanted to help you look for your Christmas sweater.” “If I wanted help, I would ask for it,” I say. I see my Christmas sweater on the bed. “Thank you.” I close the door to my room, and I get changed. All of sudden I remember where I put the money, under the mattress, to hide it, and I try with my little arms to lift up-up. Why the mattress won’t budge? Oh, I try again. This time, I pretend my arm is a squirrel and shove it under, and I feel the little curls of cash, pull it out, count it. Beautiful. Five hundred and fifty dollars. Shove eleven fifty-dollar bills in my pocket. Black jeans I am wearing. This goes with the red and green and white. Pull over the turtle-neck white shirt, then button up the Christmas sweater. Take a red cap and arrange it on my head. Look around. “Get out. Get out! You still here?” I say it quietly, so no one will hear the old lady talking to herself, then say ‘who are you talking to?’ Slowly go down the steps, one step at a time. Everybody takes a turn in the bathroom, and Aurora helps me write cards. We get ready to go. I put the cards in my special bag, and Stuart helps me with my jacket. William, my grandson, picks up my bag for me. didn’t even ask for it, but I am grateful. “What’s that?” says Stuart. “That is my bag.” “Why so big,” Stuart asks. “My clothes for a few days,” I say. “We are going to Manhattan,” he says. KARTIKA REVIEW


A Christmas of Her Own


“I thought you were going to take me to Jersey, and I will stay with you for a few days.” “No, we are going to Manhattan, and then I will bring you back here. We are driving to Florida to see Rachel’s family. We leave tomorrow.” I don’t say anything. “Why doesn’t anybody tell me?” I say, finally. “I did tell you,” Stuart raises his voice. confused.”

“You are

“I will take a cab to Winston house,” I say. “No,” says Stuart in that ugly voice. Soon we are in Stuart’s big van heading to Manhattan where my middle son, Winston, lives. “I thought we were going to Jersey,” I say to Aurora. We are both in the back seat. Billy listens to his music in the way back, big headphones around his scruffy face. “No,” she says. “We are going to Uncle Winston. Uncle Winston lives in Manhattan.” “Why not Jersey? Your daddy told me we are going to Jersey, so I can stay few days at your home.” “No,” she says. “We are going to Uncle Win’s.” “Not right,” I say. “I am no fool. Somebody is playing games with me.” “When we come back from Florida, you’ll stay with us, Grandma,” she says. She puts her hand in my hand. “Don’t worry. You’ll see us after Christmas.” “I can call a cab,” I tell Aurora. “Your daddy does not have to take me to Winston. I can take the subway.” Aurora says, “It’s okay, Grandma. You’re safe with us.” I don’t say anything, but I feel angry. How come no one told me we were going to Manhattan. Thoughts are rocking in my brain. If I speak, I say something not suitable for Christmas. “Where are you taking me?” I say it, finally. “We are going to Winston’s house,” says Stuart from FICTION

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the front seat. He has that sound in his voice that shows he’s angry. “Relax,” says Rachel. “It’s Christmas, and it’s snowing,” she says. “You don’t want to get all riled up over this. Just take your time.” Her face profile. I see it from the back seat. She has a long nose. I think she has powder on it. Her hair is blonde, but not natural that way. Her natural color, who knows. It’s long, a little curl to it. She wears sunglasses. A little fur on her hat, around the rim. She looks straight ahead now. “Are we stopping to get dim sum from Chinatown?” asks Aurora. “Yes, sugar,” says Rachel. “I want don tat,” she says. “Of course,” says the mother. “You let me out in Chinatown,” I say. “I will take a cab back home.” “You’re not going back home,” says Stuart. going to Winston’s, Mom, so just relax.”


“Too much trouble to drive me.” “No it’s not, Grandma,” says Aurora. “Just relax, like Daddy says. We’re almost there.” Stuart stops the car in front of the restaurant, tells Rachel to watch out for the police, and he goes in. Rachel turns around and takes her sunglasses off, and I see her tired eyes. She tells me that it’s going to be a happy day today. She says she’s sorry if I am confused, that I can come to her house when they come back. “Okay, Mom?” she says. “Okay,” I say. Stuart puts the boxes of dim sum in the back of the van, and we head to Winston’s, uptown. The city looks like one of those glass bowls that you turn upside down and it snows. Soon we are there, and Winston orders Billy to help me get out of the car. “I don’t need anybody’s help,” I say. “I carry my own things.” Oh, my legs get stuck. Hard to push them out the door. Billy takes my bags and reaches out to grab me from under my arms. He is getting so big. The air is ice because KARTIKA REVIEW

A Christmas of Her Own


I’ve been in the car so long. Good thing I put on my boots. Oh, shivering. “Very cold,” I say. “Icy.” “Don’t fall on me, Grandma,” Billy teases. “You will crush me!” Winston lives in a big building. Very fancy, with a big sitting room in the lobby. Lots of gold. Marble, too. We are all in the elevator, five of us, many packages. A mirror in the elevator. We have snowflakes on us, I see. The elevator man, he asks who we are going to see. “Tengs,” says Stuart. “Tenth floor.” “Oh, Winston and Marie?” “Cassandra, too,” says Aurora. “Oh, yes, Cassandra. Are you her little cousin?” “Yes,” says Aurora. “You look just like she did when she was a little girl.” Aurora smiles. The elevator man looks at me. “You have beautiful grandchildren,” he says. “Thank you,” I say. It is a long walk to Winston’s door. Fancy wallpaper, gold trim everywhere. Looks like a palace. Big framed paintings hanging even in the hallway. Every room is so big you could get lost in it. Billy is with his arm in my arm, or else I would run back, take the subway back to Queens, where I belong. Opening the door, a maid comes to take our coats. “Hi,” she says. “You must be Winston’s mother.” “Yes,” I say. “And you must be ---his baby brother?” “No,” says William. “Actually, I’m his nephew.” “I’m new,” she says, the lady, who is all in white, like a nurse, except for the black apron. “Are you Amelia Bedelia?” asks Aurora. “My name is Nancy,” says the maid, “but you can call me Amelia Bedelia if you want – and what’s your name?” FICTION

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“Aurora,” says Aurora. “You can call me “Aurie. That’s what Billy sometimes calls me.” “Well, Aurie, you look like just like a little princess. Don’t you?” Aurora giggles. “Come with me,” she says to Aurora, and they go off hand in hand. Suddenly, I am left standing there with Stuart. “Come on, Mom. yourself.”

It’s Christmas.

Come enjoy

“What’s to enjoy myself,” I say. As we walk into Winston’s living room, I begin to hear a sound of many people. Sounds like a movie theatre. I am wishing that I did not come. I do not want to see strangers. Marie’s family, maybe they will all be there too. Cassandra’s friends, too, and Winston’s business friends. What do I say to all these people? Hello, how are you? Nice weather? Food is delicious? Why do they want an old lady like me to spoil their fun? “Just put me somewhere where I can sit down,” I say to Stuart. We see Winston, now. He sees us, stops shaking hands with some man in a suit, and runs to me. Winston is my number two son. He is taller than Stuart, more distant. You never know what he thinks. He was the sweetest baby, gave me no trouble. I look at him, and I see someone I hardly know. It’s because the boys, they all grow up in America, and you never see them again. “Mom!” He gives me a big hug. I smell whiskey on his breath. “Everybody,” he says to this crowd. “This is the woman who brought me into the world.” They start clapping. I look down. How come all these people are in my house again? I thought I asked them to leave? Cassandra suddenly in front of me. “Hi Grandma,” she says, bends down for hug and kiss. She looks at me, asks how I am, will I take off my jacket and hat. “No, just sit down somewhere,” I say. Cassandra, tall and skinny, like her mother, says she is going to get me pepsi, and her mother, Marie comes over to KARTIKA REVIEW

A Christmas of Her Own


me. Her hair is all pulled back in a bun, like mine, but she has make up and wearing high heels. “Don’t insult us, Mom,” she says, a smell mixed of perfume and liquor. “Let me get a plate for you.” “Let me just sit, Marie,” I say. “Catch my breath.” “Mom, did you see the tree?” she says. “Oh, Grandma,” cries my little Aurora, “look what I found under the tree for you!” “For me?” “A little box, Grandma,” she says. “What could it be?” I get this flash in my brain of Grampa’s jade ring, the ring I lost, and I get upset. “I don’t know, Aurora,” I say. “What are all these people doing in my house?” I ask her. “This is Uncle Win’s house,” she says. “But I am not dead, yet,” she said. “I am still here. I saved all this money up to buy a house, and then I --- oh, what’s the use.” “It’s okay, Grandma,” says Aurora. “I’ll get Daddy.” “I am fine here, Aurora.” I hear Aurora say, “She won’t open her present, Daddy.” Then the two of them stand in front of me. I am thinking of Grampa’s ring, what they did with it, the villains. They probably pawned it. Suddenly, I remember Grampa wanted me to tell them the stories. We always tell stories at Christmas, when we sit together, and Grampa makes lobster, and everybody is together. But I don’t know who all these people are. “What they doing here?” I ask it to Stuart. He says, “Shhh, Mom. They are Winston’s friends. They’ve come for some holiday cheer. They will be leaving soon, and then Marie will serve dinner. Why don’t you open your present.” “What present?” “The one in your hand, Mom.” “Later,” I say. “Later I will open it up. Pass out the FICTION

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18 envelopes, will you, Aurora.”

“Want me to put them under the tree, Grandma?” “Sure,” I say. People come up to me, shake my hand, say what a lovely family I’ve got, and I say thank you. “Are they leaving?” I ask Aurora. “Yes, Grandma,” she says, puts her fingers to her little lips. “Shhh. Not yet.” She giggles. “What so funny.” “You are, Grandma.” “You put those antlers on me again?” “You want me to?” “Sure,” I say. Grandma.”

“I’ll be Rudolph the red-nosed

“You are funny, Grandma,” she says, with those giggles that sound like little bells. “I’ll go get them.” “Okay. I’ll wait here.” “Oh,” says Cassandra. Her long skirt swishes past me. “I forgot your pepsi, Grandma.” She brings me a glass, asks me if I want her to open up my present. “Sure,” I say. “If you would like to.” “I love opening up presents.” “Aren’t you getting too big for presents, Cassandra,” I tease my granddaughter. “Never, Grandma. I’m never going to be too big for presents.” “How is school?” “No more school for me, Grandma. I’m a working girl, now?” “You work like your mother – actress?” “No, Grandma. I’m a speech therapist.” “What you do, tell people how to speak properly.” “That’s right, Grandma. I help them pronounce their letters, that kind of thing.” “Pays well?” KARTIKA REVIEW

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“Sure.” “You like that line of work?” “Yes. I like to help people.” “I worked as a nurse for thirty years.” “I know, Grandma. I remember. You worked hard.” “I never took a vacation until Grampa got sick. Some vacation.” “You could take a vacation now, Grandma. You could go to Hawaii. I’ll go with you to Hawaii. Wanna go to Hawaii?” “Why should I go to Hawaii? I have got a house here, in Queens.” “Hawaii’s warm and beautiful.” “It’s warm in my house. It’s beautiful enough.” “You don’t want to go on vacation?” “I came to America,” I say. “That’s my vacation. Sixty years long.” “It was a good thing you came to America,” says Cassandra. “Or else I wouldn’t be here.” I notice that the group of them, they are all sitting around me. They all have little boxes all piled up around them. “You feel better now, Mom,” says Stuart. “You want to take your coat off, yet?” “Sure,” I say. I get up, and he helps me off with the coat, but I have to keep my cap on because my head gets cold. Not enough hair on my head now, but when I was Aurora’s age, my hair was down my back, except I put it in two braids. Thick, black hair. “You look nice, Mom,” says Marie. “I love that little Santa Claus.” “Thank you,” I say. I look around at this group. Maybe it’s time I tell the stories Grampa told me to tell. But where are Chester, Kent, Lucky? “Some of the boys are missing,” I say. “Who’s missing, Mom,” says Winston. FICTION

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20 “Chester, Kent, and Lucky.”

“Oh, they’ll probably call, Mom,” says Stuart. “They live too far away. They can’t come.” “They said they’d call later on.” “Grampa wants me to tell stories.” “Stories?” “I’d love to hear stories, Grandma,” says Cassandra. “Me, too,” says Billy. “Which stories, Mom,” asks Winston. “Tell them, tell them,” they all say. Now Aurora comes back with those antlers. “Here we go,” she says. “Stretch them first, so they don’t pinch,” I say, and she puts the antlers on my head. So, now Grandma is a reindeer. Rudolph. And now I am going to tell the story. Just like that because I don’t know how much time I’ve got left. “Did I tell you this story before?” “No, Grandma,” says Aurora. “Is it okay if I tape you, Mom,” says Marie. “I want to save this.” I start to get choked up when I try to tell the story. “This is what your father wanted me to do,” I say. Tears are coming down my face. It seems as if my lips forget how to move. Cassandra gives me a tissue, and I blow my nose, and then my mouth seems to work better. Mainly, I look at my boys who just look back at me. Their mouths are in straight lines. No little curve up at the corners. Aurora jumps into her brother’s lap. Billy strokes her long hair. He whispers in her ear. “Okay,” I say. “I’ll tell it.” And then I take a deep breath and stop looking at them, just talk, as if Grampa was standing right next to me. He’s looking at me, nodding at me. I say, “We tell you stories all the time when you were little. You ask questions, and your wives ask questions, and the children ask questions. So, each time we tell the story, you get a little more information, a little closer to the story that really happened. I tell the truth, as much as I remember, because I am not remembering things very well. Sometimes I forget the sound of Grampa’s voice, even. I don’t know how I KARTIKA REVIEW

A Christmas of Her Own


can forget it. But this is what happens when you get old. I would never have imagined this, that I can’t take three steps without feeling so tired, afraid I will fall. Afraid you are going to sell everything I work so hard to buy. I remember how terrible, because I watch my patients, how some families treat them when they get old, and I say I will kill myself before I will depend on anyone, even my own children. And now, look what it is come to.” “What, Mom,” says Winston. “What is it come to?” “I can’t even go back to my house when I want to.” “Why do you want to go away from us? It’s Christmas? The family is together?” says Stuart. “Can we open our presents now,” asks Aurora. “Usually, we wait until we’ve eaten dinner,” says Rachel. “Oh, who cares,” says Marie. “You want to open up the presents? Why not? It’s okay, isn’t it?” “But Mom’s telling a story,” says Winston. “It’s okay – open presents, and I’ll tell the story when I get settled down.” So, everybody open up presents, and in the little box I get, there is a jade ring. It is beautiful, even more beautiful than the one that was Grampa’s, and I don’t say anything about that ring. Nobody else does, either. This ring fits my ring finger. It’s a pale green, and it feels good on my finger. “Thank you,” I say to everybody. “Who got me this ring, anyway?” I ask. “We all chipped in,” says Stuart. “Even Ches, Kent, and Luck. All of us wanted you to have it.” “It’s beautiful,” I say. “I keep it on all the time, now.” “Good.” They thank me for the money. everyone.

“Too much,” says

“No,” I say. “You deserve it.” “Look,” says Winston. “This was sent to me by Chester – from North Carolina. I think he got it from the house in Queens the last time they visited it. Then he blew it FICTION

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up, so we can really see the details. Hong Kong, circa 1947.” “Oh,” I say. It is a framed photograph of a young girl standing on the roof of a building near a mountain. It is a balcony. It is black and white, an old photograph of a girl with a trouble look on her face. She is standing, looking away from the photographer. This girl is not even seventeen years old, and her mother gave her away to an old man to marry. Can you imagine? This man was fifty years old. He smelled, and this girl was scared. “What’s the matter, Mom,” says Stuart. “This photograph,” I say. “You remember when it was taken, Mom?” Stuart asks. “Yes,” I say. together.”

“It was right before we run away

“Are you going to tell us the story?” Cassandra asks. “It sounds so romantic, Grandma. You were so pretty, so mysterious looking. But you look so unhappy.” “Sometimes you have to be unhappy before you will be happy,” I tell her. I am going to tell them what it was like. “This is a long story,” I say. “Because I don’t forget those things. I forget this, that and the other, but I don’t forget working fifteen hours at a sewing machine with only one break to go to the bathroom. I don’t forget that old man my parents married me off to when I was a teenager. Five times as old as me, running after me in the bedroom. I don’t forget hiding at my uncle’s house. I don’t forget when my uncle returned me to my mother, and the way she beat-beat me. Still, I don’t say a word because I am not sorry. I rather have her beat me than have this strange old man in my bed for the rest of my life.” “What man is this?” I hear Cassandra say. “Shhh,” says her father. “Just let her talk. I’ll explain later.” “Keep talking, Mom,” says Stuart. “No one is going to interrupt you.” “You sure?” I say. “Please tell us,” says Billy. “Okay.

So, you know that I never again saw my KARTIKA REVIEW

A Christmas of Her Own


mother again, after my husband - your father and your Grandpa - took me to America. Not once, not even when she begged me, just before she died in London, with her money all sewed up in her skirt. That was the money from the sale of the buildings. It was supposed to be for me, but my brother took it for himself. He took everything for himself. It’s okay, because I don’t need anything. Let him have it. He too is dead, soon after Grampa. Ah, what a life it is, my children, my grandchildren. You have to keep your wits about you. Be like Grandma. I will never forget when I met your father. At first he didn’t see me, but I watched him. I watched his every move, and I listened when he talked to himself. We had buildings there in Hong Kong. Beautiful buildings, with balconies, and that is where I would stay. On the roof. He would come upstairs on the roof, because he is a dreamer and wanted to paint the mountains, and how could he know that’s where my mother --- . She tied me up because she was ashamed. And I, too, was ashamed, being up there, a young girl, with a strange young man talking to himself, walking around and setting up his paints, and I am listening to him when he doesn’t know anyone is up there. So he is painting, all the while talking to himself about his dreams, what he will do in America, when he gets there, how he is will invent things to change the world. How he will make a cigarette lighter that’s made of dynamite, instead of matches, and also postage stamps that do not have to be licked but are adhesive like tape, and telephones that you don’t need wires to, like walkie talkies. And cars that run on balloon energy. How he will be a rich man, everybody will treat him like a king. Meanwhile he’s painting the beautiful mountains, and I’m on this leash, but I have got good eyes – once I had good eyes -- , and I can see that he is a good artist. I can see also that he is a handsome man with beautiful eyes. I can see the future too, some part of me psychic. I can see that I could love this man. “And I am trying to control myself so I do not leak a sound, although I am wondering who this man is and why he is on top of our roof, wondering if he is some kind of criminal who jumps from roof to roof with his paints and his crazy ideas. Or maybe he is someone my mother has hired for one reason or another. Winston, Stuart, Chester – doctor, lawyer, architect – you think you so rich. My family was rich. You know how much three buildings are worth in Hong Kong? Even though my father and his father are in America, my father’s mother, my grandmother, she rules the roost. She FICTION

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tells my mother what to do, although I don’t think my grandmother wants to tie me on the roof. Still, I don’t know who this man is, but I like him. I don’t want him to leave. I am only sixteen years old, younger than most of the grandchildren, except for Aurora, but I have to think about my situation. “Oh, he is shocked when he finds the young girl! ‘You come with me,’ he says. ‘Wherever I take you,’ he says to me, ‘it will be better than this.’ “’What if they kill me?’ I say. “’Better than being tied up like a dog,’ is what he says. “Turns out he’s in trouble with the government. Somebody wants to kill him. My uncle, he sells him papers. Those papers, they give me the name Dottie Teng. This is what makes you all Tengs. Mei Len, my first name. Maybe you heard him call me that sometimes? These papers are for a couple going to America, and he needs a wife fast, so I decide I’m going to America with this guy. I stake my life on it. We run-run away together.” I look at them all around me.

A United Nation of

Tengs. “If I didn’t do what I did,” I say to them, all my children, “there wouldn’t be any of you here. Not a one.” “That good enough for now?” I say to them. I see that I am not the only one with tears in my eyes. My mouth is sore, my throat aches. I bet Grampa, he is proud of me. Still Marie and Rachel, they get up. Have to set up for dinner, probably. The maid can’t do it all by herself. Too many people in this family, even now, when half of us are not here. “This guy,” Aurora asks, “is that Grampa? The one who saved you from the old man?” “Of course,” I say. “He was very handsome. You got your eyes from him, your daddies – all of them did. They get all their talent from him. Smarts – you get from me. Grampa always says how smart I am.” “And what about my eyes,” says Cassandra, “and the eyes of Thea and Maxine and Alexandra.” “Hey, boys have eyes, too,” chimes in Billy. “Maybe your eyes are from me? Is that so bad? Billy KARTIKA REVIEW

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got your mother’s eyes. I think the twins have their mother’s eyes.” Chester’s wife is from North Carolina. They speak slow and polite, sound like Southerners. Big, round, brown eyes. Even Ches sounds like he come from there now. “What does it matter who you get it from. You are all beautiful, handsome.” I got everything, Latin, blonde, Black, Asian, Jewish. Kent’s wife, her name Tiffania, actually, with everything in her, even a little Asian. She’s got a boy and a girl from earlier marriage, and two boys and Alexandra with Kent. They live in California somewhere. Five in that family, like us. Hard for them to come visit, so many kids. My youngest son, Lucky, he’s unmarried. Artist, dreamer, just like his daddy. So many boys, and now I’ve got a bunch of girls. Well, Billy and Travis and Lance, that’s enough boys. Antonia and Sammy part of the Teng family, too. That makes ten actually. I was counting Lucky, no wonder, eleven. One day Lucky, he’ll settle down. Who knows, maybe I’ll have more Tengs. There is always room for more. “I have a perfect family,” I say. I got six girls and five boys. Cassandra says, “Wait, Grandma. You’ve got six granddaughters, but where are the five grandsons? I only count four: Billy, Travis, Lance, and Sammy. Where you get the fifth?” “I count Lucky because he’s still mine,” I say. “I don’t have to share him with a wife.” We are at the dinner table now. Crystal glasses, with wine, and there’s turkey, ham, potatoes, and five kind of bread, vegetables, everything steaming. Sure the maid and Marie cooking since last night. Everybody talking all around me, but I am hungry. Can’t remember the last time I saw such a feast. Everybody asks me if I want more, and I take it, even though I see they are chuckling. They like to see Grandma eat. “Good, good,” they say. I just sit there and eat till my stomach pops, and I watch Cassandra and Marie and Rachel run-run. Even Aurora up to help pass out the apple pie and Chinese pastries. Everything delicious. I can barely get up, but Rachel helps me walk to the bathroom, and I go do my business. Come out, all I can do is make my way to the couch. Everybody watching some Kung Fu movie. Turns out, I fall asleep. When I wake up, time to go. FICTION

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A thousand goodbyes. So many kisses make my cheek feel like cotton candy. I’m asleep in the car-ride, too. My darling Aurora, she puts her shoulder on me. She is asleep, too. Then we stop because we are in Queens now. Oh, so cold, but it looks like a winter wonderland, with snow painting everything. Stuart helps me up the stairs, stays for a few minutes to do the shoveling, even though I say, “Forget it.” He puts leftover food in the refrigerator. Must be twenty containers. Gives me a hug, says, “Take care, Mom.” Then it happens. Stuart leaves, and everybody else is still here. I go upstairs, see my door still closed. Good. It is quiet up there. I go down, all the way down to the basement, Grampa’s old workshop. See my plaques for being good nurse, the framed patents for all Grampa’s inventions, posters all hung up. The paints still out, the brushes. His shaver still out, sitting next to the sink downstairs. Then I spot the little imp. “Time for you, too,” I say to her. “Even you. Get out, now. I have had enough.” I go upstairs. Must be forty people assembled in my living room. Okay, now. It’s over three years since my husband died. Don’t you think I have enough trouble . I don’t have enough food for all of you. I’ve let you stay here. You have the nerve to try to share my bed. And some of you – you know what you are doing in it. Right in front of me. So, now I am going to ask you nicely – to leave. I will open the door, and it’s time you will go. You like to take my things, then take them, but just get out. Don’t come back. I do fine without you. I walk slowly to the door. I open it. It’s late, but I open it, anyway. I am desperate. I am holding the big wooden door, and now I am stepping in between the storm door and the wooden door. I have the key in my pocket, just in case. These people cannot be trusted. They could lock me out. I am push-push pushing open the storm door. Oh, it’s cold outside. Powder coming in with the breezes, stinging my cheeks. Go. Get out. Get out. I take a step down the bricks so they can get through the door. KARTIKA REVIEW

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And then I just look out, up at the sky. Dark, but stars there, tiny diamond sparks. I wonder what will it be like when I am not here anymore. Probably I will see Grampa, and he will say to me, “See. Better than being tied up like a dog.” Maybe. But if I were not tied up, I never would have met him. I’d have no sons then. No daughters-in-law, grandchildren. Only me. They say I did not grieve enough. I just took care of business. Imagine that I am in his arms again, my hand in his beautiful hand. Kissy-kissy? What then? “Be free.” I hear him say it. Be free. Soon. Not yet. I close the door, inside again, and I lock it. I look around my house. I am a lucky woman. I feel a smile stretching my cheeks. ■



To Herself

Miss Allison looked around, beaming quietly. The school year had finally settled down. It was hard for them to adjust to being in school all day, of course, except for the ones (poor things) who were used to being in daycare all day. Still, two crying fits, one temper tantrum, one upset stomach, and one would-be small bully later, the children had settled down to the routine. She had sorted them all into their correct reading and math groups and used the naughty rug for the first time. Something was slightly off, however, when the morning rituals started. Her eye fell on one little girl whose ruffled skirt was twitching with child energy. Already a noticeably good child, a smart child with clean fingernails, her mouth didn’t seem to be moving during the Pledge. Miss Allison frowned. The next day, she maneuvered herself to stand where she could get a good look at the little girl’s face during the Pledge. Sure enough, the child was standing properly, hand on heart, lips not moving. Miss Allison called the child over to her desk quietly during the reading period and asked her if she was having trouble remembering the Pledge. She pointed out the large poster, a bright yellow square shining catti-corner from the flag over the door and asked the child to read it to her. The child said nothing. “Can you see the blackboard clearly?” she asked. “Yes,” said the child. “Read me the names on the board.” Names written in sprawling, shaky six-year-old handwriting. “John, Becky, Guadalupe…” “If you can read those, you can certainly read the KARTIKA REVIEW

To Herself


Pledge,” said Miss Allison. The child sat silent, but the corners of her mouth deepened. The next morning, Miss Allison called her up to the front of the room and asked her to lead the Pledge. Unfortunately, the class of twenty relatively well-trained sixyear-olds thwarted her plan by chorusing together, “I pledge allegiance…” the moment the child put her hand on her heart. It faltered a little as their leader was so obviously saying nothing, but there were enough loud, cheerful, oblivious or uncaring children to carry it through to the end. That was on a Friday. Miss Allison had plenty of time over the weekend to think about this little problem child. She was still being a very well-behaved child, whose only problem was talking with her friends during class. On Monday, Miss Allison left the child alone during the Pledge but kept an eye on her all day. She was a cute little child, obviously well cared for from her tidy stiff dark braids to her Hello Kitty pencilbox. It was a rainy day, and her shiny little rubber boots had a pink duck quacking on the top of each boot. At lunch, Miss Allison strolled behind her seat and peered down at the child’s meal, which consisted of an unexceptionable little sandwich on a wheat or multigrain bread, juice box, and fruit cup. At recess, she ran around from playing Chinese checkers to drawing with a green Crayola to reading a book with the usual amount of childhood attention deficit, no more and no less, giggling with her friends and ignoring the unhappy little girl in the corner, who was shunned because she was (Miss Allison had to admit) noticeably smelly. During her reading group, which was the most advanced one, the child read her passage and answered questions serenely, apparently unconscious that she was condemning herself by demonstrating a clear ability to read words just as tricky as “indivisible.” As if out of sheer malice, when the child came up for her math group and Miss Allison asked her to divide 7 by 2, the child said primly in her clear little voice, “Odd numbers are indivisible by two.” It was after school on Monday that Miss Allison called the child’s mother to ask for a parent-teacher conference.


Issue One – Winter 2007

30 ▫▫▫

The mother had seemed pleasant enough on the phone, asking if it was an urgent matter. When Miss Allison said no, she said that Wednesday after school would be fine with her; she could come to the school and drive her daughter home with her after the conference. Matters started off on the wrong foot when Miss Allison failed to entirely hide her surprise when a beautifully dressed Asian woman walked in at 3:40pm and announced herself as the child’s mother. The child ran straight to her mommy and hugged her, who kissed her and told her to do her homework while she had a nice little talk with Miss Allison. Miss Allison tried to regain her footing by saying what a lovely, talented child they had, and what a pleasure it was to teach her. The mother listened, smiling politely, and thanked her without agreeing or gushing. Encouraged, Miss Allison lost no time in laying out the problem. “I’m sure she’s able to remember it, but even if not, we have it hanging up for the students. It can’t be her reading, and I don’t think it’s her eyesight.” “I see,” said the mother placidly. Miss Allison waited for more, but nothing was forthcoming. “Could it be her eyesight?” she asked doubtfully. “No, I’m sure it’s not. We just had a family trip to the eye doctor because her father needed glasses.” “Well then,” said Miss Allison. But nothing again. “She’s a very good reader,” she prompted. “Oh yes, very.” “But she doesn’t read the Pledge.” The mother didn’t exactly shrug, but Miss Allison got that feeling. Desperate, she threw down the gauntlet. “She has to say the Pledge. All the children do. It’s how we start the day,” Miss Allison said. The mother’s eyebrows raised, ever so slightly. FICTION

To Herself


Just as the silence was stretching out long enough for Miss Allison to feel that she had to launch into a speech, the mother said, “Why?” A slight pause, during which Miss Allison marshalled her forces. “The Pledge teaches them respect for their country and their country’s flag,” she said, taking on a slightly combative tone. “Naturally,” the mother agreed amiably. Another slight pause while the tension de-escalated. “So she has to say it,” repeated Miss Allison. “Why?” “Why?” repeated Miss Allison. Perhaps sensing a dangerous note in Miss Allison’s tone, the mother finally decided to offer a full sentence. “Is she being disrespectful?” “Well—“ Miss Allison hesitated. “Talking? Disturbing the other children? Wandering around?” “Well, no,” Miss Allison had to admit. “What does she do during the Pledge?” “She stands,” Miss Allison admitted grudgingly. She puts her hand on her heart and looks at the flag. She just won’t say anything.” “Maybe she’s saying it to herself.” Miss Allison stared at this ridiculous statement. “She has to say it out loud,” she explained slowly. The mother made a “hmmm” kind of noise. “I’m a little bit stumped,” she said, not angrily. “What exactly is the issue? Is it a law, or a school rule?” Miss Allison was safe here. “It’s certainly a rule of the classroom,” she said. “And the students need to learn to respect their teacher’s authority.” “Of course they do,” the mother responded. “Did you explain to her that it’s a rule?” KARTIKA REVIEW

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32 “No…”

The mother looked amazed. “Why on earth not? Wouldn’t that be the first thing you’d do?” “Not in this situation,” Miss Allison said. “But why not? Have you punished her for not saying it?” “No…” “I don’t understand,” she said, still with one eyebrow raised. “There are certain cases…” Miss Allison ground out. “Where… students,” or in the case of six-year-olds, their parents, she thought, “have some… religious objection to the Pledge. I don’t want…” she corrected herself, “we don’t want to infringe on anyone’s beliefs.” “I see,” said the mother. “But in that case, why call me?” “I wanted to talk to you to make sure that there weren’t some family…convictions… at work here,” Miss Allison explained glibly. She laughed, just a little bit but enough to make Miss Allison stop hating her short sentences and start hating her. “I see. You want to know if it’s child stubbornness or an act of political resistance so you know if you can punish her or not?” She raised “Sweetheart!”






The child looked up from her worksheet, showcasing her pointed chin above the formica shine of the desk. “Mommy?” “Come here, sweetheart. Mommy wants to ask you a couple of questions.” Unhesitatingly, the child trotted over and stood close to her mother, who put her arm around her. “Sweetie, Miss Allison wants to know why you don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance with the other children.” It was clear whose daughter she was. Without seeming to move, the child definitely burrowed deeper into her mother’s side. FICTION

To Herself


“Sweetie,” her mother said firmly. “Miss Allison deserves an answer to her question. Answer your teacher.” Miss Allison was pleased, though a little alarmed at the word ‘deserves.’ Pause. “I don’t wanna,” the child said. “Why not?” The child shook her head, her little braids whipping around and almost dislodging a plastic ladybug barrette. Her mother reclipped it, almost reflexively. “Why not?” she repeated. The child visibly thought about it. “I don’t like it,” she announced. “Uh hunh,” said the mother, understandingly. “And what don’t you like about it?” Miss Allison could have screamed with exasperation, having not taught first grade long enough to have all exasperation beaten out of her yet. The child thought some more, twisting one foot around. “I don’t like the beat,” she offered. Her mother tilted her head slowly, with only a small twitch at the corner of her mouth. “Oh I see,” she said. “An aesthetic objection.” The child looked at her mother. “What’s ess-thetic?” “Artistic, sweetie. Anything to do with art, like music or books, and the way that they’re made. More or less.” The child thought about this, rocking back and forth within her mother’s arm. Her mother rubbed her back and said, “Go back to your desk for a little while longer. I’ll call you when we’re done.” The mother turned and faced the teacher, raising a neatly groomed eyebrow interrogatively. “She needs to say it,” Miss Allison said. “An aesthetic objection isn’t good enough?” Miss Allison couldn’t tell if the woman was joking or not. KARTIKA REVIEW

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“I can’t accept excuses that involve not liking something—it would be a slippery slope to students not doing math because they didn’t like it, or not working with other children because they didn’t like them…” “All right,” said the mother, pushing back her hair. “So you’ll speak to your daughter, then?” “Me? I could, but I don’t see why you would want me to enforce your rules when you haven’t even told her that they exist.” Miss Allison stared at the poised woman, but could hardly disagree with this point of view. She realized with a sudden wrench of her intestines that she already disliked this strange, slender child, with her artistic fancies and her silent stubbornness. Stringing together some kind of sentence about speaking to the child the next morning after the Pledge, Miss Allison rose from the tiny chairs around the big group table. The mother called the child and the grownups went through their smiles and thanks and handshakes while the little girl got her bookbag and Dora lunchbox. After they left, Miss Allison went to her desk and started to collect together the pile of worksheets she would stamp with stars and smiley faces in front of the television that night. A flash of color against the gray landscape caught her eye, drawing her to the window. The mother had just snapped open an umbrella rimmed with red roses against the raindrops that were starting to fall. She said something to her daughter, who darted out from under the umbrella, batting at drops, and started to laugh. The mother held her hand out to catch a raindrop and began to laugh as well. Dancing her way through the parking lot, the child spun around and around, braids flying, little mouth open in a huge, soundless laugh. ■



Final Bouquet

I stare down at the silver mules. The toeless pantyhose bites the tender spot between my big and little toes. Ouch is an understatement. I try not to bite my lip. Brick-red lipstick on pearly-whites don't mix. I wince and look up. The doorman is admiring the view. He's not bad. I smile back. Fat chance. A sleek black SUV sneaks up behind me through the reflection of the revolving hotel door. I beat the valet to the car and tap against the tinted window. It rolls down. "Get in, babe." Jean smiles in greeting and reflexively tucks a loose strand of long jet-black hair behind her ear. I slide into the passenger side, nearly crushing a bouquet of fresh flowers. Long white satin ribbons keep them from falling apart. "Dear GOD!!!" My jaw drops. I'm not superstitious, but I can't help blurting, "An omen!" "I know, I know!" Jean whines. "She chucked it a million miles. It landed right there! I was talking to this hot guy. He shoved it at me. What was I supposed to do?" "From one commitment-phobe to another, you're now officially marked-for-life," I smirk. Jean and I are sworn swingers. It's been a little over two years since we drank to that pact. We're beyond institutional parameters, but it's the bridal bouquet. It's obscene the way the lilies are thrust amidst the crush of rose petals --- a huge head of deep cardinal sin accentuated by several sprigs of promised purity. That's just messed up that Jean caught it. Not part of the plan. Unforgivable.


Issue One – Winter 2007


"You'll be sorry for saying that," Jean threatens. I don't know the last time she's frowned or showed concern. Wrinkles are a huge "no-no" with her. She glances over, dramatic sloe eyes swallowing me whole, growling: "Be careful what you wish for." She's right. I keep silent. This whole bouquet bit's nothing, really. "God Carmen," she glances over, cocks her head and gives me an approving nod. "You taught naughty how to be nice. Lucy Liu scoot on over!" Jean's meticulous and merciless when it comes to being sassy: comments like that one cement her ties to some of the trendier "up-and-comers in the biz." Her needy Hollywood clients worship her for it. "Where are we going?" I'm stingy with compliments, so I savor hers. I smooth down the silver sheath and flick imaginary bits of lint off the slinky silver cardigan Jean sent me to "break-in." She's picked out my outfits since we played "store" back in the third grade. Some habits aren't meant for breaking. "Typical Chinese grub." Reality sets in. The scenario isn't getting better. "Twelve courses. Nothing new." "Ugh. Are they seating you with all the single slackers?" "Nah. They know better than to waste my time." Jean looks hot. Nothing new since she defines "sexy" with all that's subtle. Her creamy linen slacks with killer heels make her all legs. A simple black tank flirts more with wandering eyes than the plunging necklines we'll be exposed to at the reception. Jean's great eye-candy, and she knows it. We gab about different escape routes we'll take if things get unbearable, and arrive at Great Seafood House. Jean's convinced I'm meant to crash this reception with her. Death by boredom is the worst faux pas to commit. I can't argue with that. "Hey, who got married?" "Tiffany and Winston." "Do I know them?" I immediately regret asking. The names set off my internal security system. "Um, yeah. Don't you love this song?" Jean turns up the radio. Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" blasts our eardrums. She pulls her hair over her shoulder, a makeshift veil. I know for KARTIKA REVIEW

Final Bouquet


a fact she can't stand the song. Christie Brinkley is not one of her favorite people. Then it smacks me: Tiffany Wong. Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit! Tiff was the last of Jean's single relatives. The rest are amateur matchmakers. Jean's the last to go, and can't face them alone. Yeah. That's what friends are for. Leading each other to slaughter. "I don't believe you!" I bristle. If there's one thing I hate about wedding receptions, it's the nosy relatives. The pushy ones, who always have "someone perfect" in mind, kill me. I begin fingering the pearls against my earlobes. Amazing: how tiny grains of sand, causing pain, can form into twin globes of perfection. Symbols of faith: suffering creates perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character, hope. Weird, how it keeps me going. "Ready?" Jean interrupts my frigid silence. She gives me one last once-over, managing to eek out a weak: "You look just absolutely faaaaaab!" Her gaze shifts from my nervous fiddling with the cardigan buttons to the mob of relatives waving madly as we pull into the parking space. My heart sinks. I recognize at least half-a-dozen Wong clansmen among the impending stampede. Jean sinks back, sighs and closes her eyes. We share this moment. She unlocks the car doors. They're whipped open from both sides. The onslaught begins. "Jeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanie, dearie! Everyone's asking for you!!!" "Heard you caught the bouquet. You're neeeeeeeeeext!" "Did you see the rock???? My gaaaaaaawd!!! I knew love came in all shapes and sizes. Just never thought I'd live to see something so HUGE!" Jean looks at me. Helpless. I look back. Accusing. We're both defiant and defeated. I've done enough improvisation exercises from my high school thespian days to scope out and cater to my audience. Nothing prepares me for this, though. We head toward the "Gates of Hell." I've sworn off school reunions, blind dates, owning a cat, eating Cherry Garcia on an empty stomach and listening to my co-worker rant and rave over the last dog she swapped spit with. Why


Issue One – Winter 2007


didn't I slap on wedding receptions to my list of things NOT to do? I spot a high countertop over by the coat room and figure it'll buy me a couple bucks worth of peace hanging with the attendant. I stall, allowing the gushing crowd of wedding martyrs move forward without me. Smirking, I wonder aloud where I can find the little girl's room and whip around only to find myself body-blocked. Too smug, too soon. I catch my breathe and a whiff of something only two women I know share: crushed Jasmine and Lychee mixed with "something sassy." Jean's not around. My heart drops. Auntie Kai-Kai. So much for that escape route. Jean's mother is drop-dead and dressed in a sharp midnight indigo tailored suit. No doubt, it's another of her daughter's creations. Her commanding presence is deafening. Still in shock, my eyes try to make out what the shapes her lips are making sound like. Beaming, her forehead's smooth and her eyes aren't crinkling at the edges. She's been Botoxed. Not a good sign. Didn't Jean tell her mom how dangerous it was injecting poison into her forehead? "Carmen, you were able to come!" Auntie Kai-Kai latches onto my arm. "Sweetie, Jeanie said she'd make sure you'd be here." "Really?" That's news to me. Last I knew I was crashing the joint. Where are the restrooms? Where's Jean? It's been a while since my last panic attack. "How's your mom?" She scrutinizes my every expression. Nothing escapes this woman. "And that handsome father of yours? She keeping him out of trouble?" I manage a weak smile. Incredible. She still asks about my dad after all these years. It's a miracle that Jean and I are so tight since our mothers choose to speak to each other only on holidays and special occasions. Mama and Kai-Kai were rivals for my dad's attention way back in the day. Kai-Kai was the wild Miss Chinatown. As of last year, Mama got promoted as Chinatown's head librarian. "Your Auntie Mei-Mei knows the doctor at your table," Kai-Kai jabbers on. She cups her mouth with her free hand and whispers loudly. "She begged Uncle Liu to invite him. Just divorced. Wife made more, so he gets alimony. Not bad, if you know what I mean." Jean's mom titters. No wrinkles. Two slanted slits signify she's laughing. Incredible. KARTIKA REVIEW

Final Bouquet


"Auntie Kai-Kai," I pat her shoulder gently with my free arm. There's still hope I heard wrong. "Jean just asked me to hang tonight with her for a bit. I really wasn't invited." "Nonsense," she gushes. "No need to be shy. Jean said you'd be in town. It's fine." "But, I don't know the bride or groom that well." Tiffany still smarts from the last wedding we were both invited to. It's been three and a half years. Her date asked me to dance, and forgot to take her home. It was priceless. Forgiveness isn't cheap. "You're family," Kai-Kai dismisses my discomfort, continues with her mission statement. "Your parents would approve. Like Randall, he's a surgeon. Not plastic. Heart. His wife was that pretty film star Jeannie met on her last trip to Hong Kong. She left him for a British producer." I'm going to kill Jean! I've had nightmares about this. Never dreamed Jean had a little Judas in her. I swear off these functions and plan elaborate escapes in my sleep. Jean's mother has a death grip on my arm. It's losing circulation, and not the only part of me that's numb. I muster a lop-sided smile, frantically scanning the place. Jean's evaporated. Girl's got meticulous timing. A waiter walks by with an empty silver tray. No open bar in sight. Dry wedding. DAMMIT! I remember Tiffany's a fanatical church girl. No chance in hell of drowning my sorrows tonight. "Dear, you'll be fine. You're seated with the Chows. They brought along their FIRST born." Kai-Kai never forgave me for ditching Jean's cousin, Randall, at the altar. That was almost two summers ago. What she doesn't know is he knocked up the neighborhood dog-walker twelve days before our "I dos." Jean found out from a mutual client and snitched right after the rehearsal dinner, the night of our swinger pact. "Too bad it's a girl," Auntie Kai-Kai looks into my eyes. "They'll have to try for a boy next year. Best to not wait too long." Instinctively, I rest my free arm over my ovaries. They'e not stale, I want to scream. We're at the table now. Jean's mom dumps me for Uncle Liu. I rub my arm to get blood circulating. Everyone' s chatting it up. Small talk drains me and Jean's still missing. She's my best friend. When it comes to confrontation, she's a FICTION

Issue One – Winter 2007


coward. This isn't an isolated incident. But this is low. Jean knows better than to drag me here. What possessed her to con me into this? I pretend to look interested and flip through the reception program. The second page lists the guests at this table. Randall and his dog-walking wife are printed on top. Could this get any worse? Everyone's coupled off except for a Dr. Gene Seto and myself. Great. He shares the name of my soon-to-be-ex-best-friend. Someone's staring at me. It's the dog-walker. She's got big fat lips and they look bruised. Did Randall give her those? She's got that irritating glow of a new mom. Whatever. She' still dumpy from the recent pregnancy. Randall is not there. Yet. She lumbers over. I cringe. "Hiya, I'm June!" "I know." I don't owe anybody favors. No need to make her feel comfortable. I'm not. She's super-perky, unnerved. How annoying. I want to bolt. "Randall's got the baby," she continues yapping. "He's putting Alicia to sleep." Good God! How sick is this guy? Carmen's my middle name. Alicia is my mother's name. I'm named after her. The shock hits me square in the stomach. I'm spiraling. A wave of nausea hits. God tried preparing me from day one. He must've been speaking in code through Old Mother Goose. I just wasn't smart enough to crack it. You know how it goes: Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall. HumptyDumpty had a great fall. My vision blurs. Defeat on the horizon. Not a good thing. I still haven't mastered the art of applying mascara. Jean would be horrified. But she's not here. I reach in my purse for a quick touch-up. Instead I pull out a crumpled email from Mama, a surprise message I stashed there after scanning it this morning. I still don't know how to soak it all in. It strikes a chord I'm not familiar with: Honey. You haven't called or written to me yet. I'm a little worried about this. How's everything at work? Your personal life? Have you gone out with anyone new? You need a strong, loving and caring man. Someone that you feel safe to be with. You need a person that is knowledgeable enough to satisfy your hunger for new findings. He doesn't have to be rich or handsome, but rich in understanding, compassion, honest and trustworthy. Beware of married men. Very few single KARTIKA REVIEW

Final Bouquet


men have these qualities since these virtues take life experiences. Don't ever settle with controlling men. They are terrible and treat women like their possession. In short, this man must have multitude ears (to listen to you), only a tiny mouth to give you advice, and strong arms to stop you from doing crazy things. He needs to be Chinese to be my son-in-law so he can mingle with us. Love you. Mama.

"There you are!" Jean's voice breaks through my doom and gloom. I shove the letter back into my purse and switch to fury. She feigns ignorance. "Hey, Ma told me she'd set you up here." Jean glances at June and diplomatically asks about the baby. I'm going to puke. I start to stand up. She jerks me back down and hisses: "Turn around. I swear you'll forgive me. He's five-ten, got great posture and in his mid-forties." I turn and see red. Roly-poly Auntie Mei-Mei's clad in a deep cardinal chi-pao for her daughter's wedding. She's so soft, sweet. I picture her munching on bamboo stalks --- her cuddly, panda-like demeanor. The deceptive steely determination "with-a-smile" runs deep in the Wong family. Mei-Mei's chattering excitedly to a tall, slender man with salt-and-pepper hair. He's not in a suit like the other men. He's got a broken-in creamy linen shirt rolled up at the sleeves over dark khakis. His brown braided loafers peek from underneath. That's what I could make out from his back. I picture curling waves and toes. "Auntie Mei-Mei!" Jean starts waving. "Over here!" She's getting way too excited over this. It's crazy and out of character. Mei-Mei looks over at us, her face crinkles in recognition. She ushers the stranger over to where we're sitting. The man turns around. My chest tightens. "Ah, Carmen," Mei-Mei peers up from underneath her soft wrinkled lids. "You came. So good. You look good. Always look so good." Tiffany's mother suffers from early symptoms of Parkinson's. She's very careful about saying what she means. The man nods in agreement. Jean nudges me with her knee. I'm confused. I stand up and hug my aunt. Dr. Seto introduces himself. The dog-walker has since left to find Randall. She returns with him and baby in tow. Jean diverts their attention by cooing over Alicia. The doctor turns to me.


Issue One – Winter 2007


"Mei-Mei tells me you're a food scientist." His eyes are deep cocoa with light toffee flecks reflecting a deeper pool of gentleness. "Haven't met one of you before. What's it you do exactly?" Tongue-tied, I'm clueless. Jean turns around and our seasoned kindred connection kicks in. She interrupts, and begins to gush over what I do for a living. She tells him I took the fortunate detour from culinary school. I don't hear the rest. It's strange. This guy's at least a decade older. My nausea slips away. Butterflies take its place. So do goose bumps. I'm thirteen again. Someone taps my shoulder. The little hairs on the nape of my neck stand on end. I turn to face Randall. I age twenty years. He tries to rest his arm on my shoulder. I grow cold and step back. He looks agitated. "Funny seeing you here." "Ditto." "Didn't know you and Tiff smoothed things over." "I never needed to," I cringe. Randall nips and tucks for a living. Apparently he's added applying rock salt to absent emotional gashes. "It was all her." "I see." He glances over at Jean and Dr. Seto. His face blanks, hardens. I know he wants to ask me if I'm there with Dr. Seto. Whatever. Maybe it would've been fun to mess with his mind a year ago, when he messed up my life between boob jobs. I'm over it. He loves a good fight, and I'm not in the mood for one. Randall's got a wrestler's build: his movements are furtive, and he's compact. He's always tried to push and crush me, if not emotionally, physically. The dog-walker comes to retrieve Randall. She walks him back to the opposite end of the table. Randall glowers. Jean's still keeping Dr. Seto amused with my 4-1-1. His gaze makes me blush. I'm horrified. This guy's going to think I'm such a moron. A groomsman tells Jean the bride needs her to fix an outfit. Jean rolls her eyes. "Please take care of my friend Carmen." She tosses her hair to one side and gives me a sly look. "She could use some loving." Then she's gone. "Dr. Seto..." I wince. Enough torture for one day, please! "Gene." He smiles. I melt. Gene pulls out my chair, inviting me to sit next to him. Randall barks loudly about how bad the service is. The food hasn't arrived. His dogKARTIKA REVIEW

Final Bouquet


walker fusses over him. He resists her petting. We don't notice. The baby starts howling. Randall shoves back his seat and announces he's going out for a smoke. He stomps out of the restaurant. June looks desperate. She bounces over and, without a word, shoves a screeching Alicia towards me. We stare at one another. It's a dare. This promises to get ugly. The baby's screams rise another three decibels. The noisy restaurant has hushed to take in the scene. My cheeks burn. Helpless, I open my arms. Two strong arms intercede, swooping up Alicia and all is blurred. Gene nods at June. She bounds after Randall. Within seconds Alicia quiets to a hiccup against Gene's creamy linen chest. My head swims. I'm jealous; I want to be her. "Gene, I'm sorry, but what just happened?" Gene's deep throaty chuckle answers all the questions I don't know to ask. "It's okay," he winks. "I wanted to be a pediatrician." "Why didn't you?" I'm amazed by the way he handles Alicia. She's cooing and smiling now. "It wasn't in the cards for me," he gently kisses Alicia's forehead. "My ex-wife swore off children while I was in med school. I couldn't bring myself to care for other people's kids knowing it wasn't an option for me." Gene's wistful. I want to reach out, protect and hug. I close my eyes for a second. I picture the three of us. Me. Gene. Our baby. I'm horrified. What the HELL? He senses my discomfort, smiles and reaches for me. He pats and holds my hand. I've never felt so safe. It scares me shitless. The reception ends, too soon. The food's wonderful. Gene cradles a sleeping Alicia in one arm, fills my plate with the choicest morsels from each dish with the other. I don't taste a thing. He lets me know he savors everything. The Chows return in time for mango pudding and mocha-coconut cake. Alicia's whisked away without a "Thank You." Jean pops by to check on me. Eyes the abandoned seats and the huge wet spot left on Gene's shirt. She winks, pinches me and murmurs, "Be careful what you wish for." She smiles. I finger forgiveness and friendship against my earlobes. â– FICTION




Impatience, in verse form At times I wish he were more impressionable, more impressed not yet past the years of flash and reckless steam, still untouched by experience and the wisdom of lovers before me I can imagine their curves, stretches of torsos and furlongs of hair cascading like silk, relate to the wonder of discovery in beholding flesh, flushed with new sex I can picture a timeline of stories, anecdotes of places and people and episodes conquered, invincibility now given way to a quiet confidence grounded beyond the arrogance of stags My own mistakes are hardly made, battle scars not yet etched in deep; how unfortunate that rushing headfirst into fire yields little, despite a willingness to be scarred for the sake of growth It is a game of catch-up I will not win being light years behind, the inexperience of youth still smooth on the face grace and wisdom still budded, emerging and I am tugging at roots waiting to bloom.




Burying Bones For Ricardo and Lucretia

Human bones are not like bird bones They are not light They are not easy to carry Their physics do not beg them to fly Or navigate us around nature’s changes We, Lonesome-headed Without formation, Move or are moved To escape more Than the dead of winter Bones not made for these migrations, Our bodies detach from evolutionary sources Branded with the fingerprints of Greed, violence, and the stink of poverty Our bones make it look easy Eating history and biology like calcium Growing strong by hiding Awkward questions in our marrow Birds dive between skyscrapers As we rest our tired bones Licking the rims of intoxication Joining three corners of the earth: KARTIKA REVIEW

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai


Brown, yellow, and black Around a tiny table in Manhattan Getting shitty, laughing Our bones obscure why we are here The promise of our flesh Flying from lived revolutions Flipping capitalist to communist Or socialist to capitalist We hear the echoes that warn To not take freedom for granted We survive the lives of our parents and grandparents, Bones formed under the heat, water, wind, and land Of China, Chile, Guyana Here in America, we live where nothing fits us on purpose Except for the choice that we are always reminded of That we didn’t have to come here That we could have always stayed And let America come to us instead Trudging across the hemispheres as it always has, Building factories that reshape and demolish bones, Stitching together governments with Elvis, English, Christianity, the CIA Dealing dollars embossed with white men’s ghosts, False teeth chattering beneath close-lipped smiles We three have not lost our gift To conjure on command to Taste the humidity in the air Paint the colors of the foods Nestle into rhythms of words Whose meanings we cannot easily describe Envision the foreign adolescence of our ancestors Folding her eyes into a dark horizon, Lucretia imaged life falling from her parents’ bones Feet hands hearts split across time zones Wondering what earth will claim them and us When our souls, not our bones, decide to leave it I dream those breaking cliffs in Taiwan POETRY

Issue One – Winter 2007


Where the family funereal plots hang In sheer defiance like eagle talons Spirits drifting so fast into the gray valley below The cliffs are steep and narrow enough That your reach your hands to the ground To catch yourself dizzy before you fall I resurrect the strangeness of death Made even more gawky in America Laminated photos document the life of people Born Buddhist and dead Christian As interpreted in words and gods Never spoken by their mothers Closed caskets are buried in neighborhoods Made in the years of our parents’ births To get away from people who look like us, Indifference bought by entire lifetimes, Allowing us to stay a month, a year, a family, an eternity Learning to work while biting down on tongues Transforming into something That is neither this world nor that My mother chats on her cell phone Weaving between English and Mandarin As my father steadies the wheel of their car The adaptations mark and shape our flesh Brown, yellow, and black Making it fit, making it do But our bones do not forget They can’t forget They don’t forget They can’t forget They don’t Human bones are not like bird bones They are not light They are not easy to carry ▫


Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai


to be a martyr you must believe in something so unmistakably that flesh falls away from the skeleton bones crumble into air all you are left with is spirit pure spirit you let go of resurrections rebirths, maddash escapes you accept finality the blinding of the light you are truly committed and for the newspapers that paint you as a madwoman and all the detractors who could not believe


Issue One – Winter 2007

50 how heartless and cruel this foreign woman was (and isn’t it always a foreign woman?) how she didn’t love the child she held in her arms carried in her belly 9 months before how she would just as soon blow the child to bits as guide her nipple into its mouth how she filled the baby bottle with lotion concocted for explosion and they and the plane would have gone down in charred flames the mystery wafting over the atlantic of how this woman could have ever loved this child to kill in the name of jihad


Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai


but i say it was not quite that it’s never anything so impersonal no, i say it was right there under her shirt along her breast tucked into her baby’s mouth as clean as the milk that seeped from her chest as natural as the baby’s skull at rest upon her shoulder it was something as close as this that made her do it without hesitation confident that this life this way is not worth living for all ■ POETRY



Rubbing the photo on my white cotton shirt attempting to remove the dirt, I ask myself: “What did I do to deserve this?� Though I expected to find my cell in total disarray after the search, I still was not prepared for what I saw upon entering the cage I call home. A tornado has swept through my world. The mattress, sheets, and clothes are draping slovenly over my steel bunk and locker. The letters from family and friends that help me survive in prison are now scattered on the concrete floor, and the books that teach me to treat others as I want to be treated hide beneath the debris of this manmade disaster. Just when I think this is the extent of the damage, I find boot prints on the innocent faces of my infant nephews.



Nature at Play Mt. Tamalpais disappears slowly in front of everyone’s eyes. The morning traffic jams the congested road that not even water can leak through. The road spreads its limbs flatly to accommodate the dead load of metals and flesh. The ferry tickles the tranquil bay leaving a trail of white bubbly waves behind. While the wind yawns out a howling cold breath, seagulls and little black birds extend their wings for a warm up stretch. The trees stand silently bathing in the sweet mountain dews. Mt. Tamalpais sits firmly in deep meditation. Inch by inch the clouds creep around the mountain and blankets it. The sun escorts the clouds by beaming its ray as a guide. Mt. Tamalpais sits firmly in deep meditation. Just as the mountain is about to be consumed, the sun vanishes. The milky white clouds panic and transform into gun metal gray. It backs off from its attempt to conquer. Mt. Tamalpais sits firmly in deep meditation. The strength and serenity of the mountain inspire the clouds’ creativity. It spontaneously starts to decorate the mountain and blue sky with its flexible and fluffy feature, creating a post card for millions to enjoy. The clouds unite as one with Mt. Tam. ■




Drinking Bird Spit

The word “disgusting” doesn't quite do it justice. “Revolting”, however, may be too strong. It's somewhere in the middle. More of a dis-volting. Or re-gusting. Either way it's not so much the taste that makes it nasty because it's actually quite bland. It's the texture. Not as viscous as human snot but not as flowy as water. It's a strange hybrid of the two. Think Jell-O that hasn't been fully hardened. It’s runny with a bit of a bounce. Occasionally you will find slivers of twig, like scratchy little presents for your throat. My mom would always forget to take them out. She’s the reason I have to drink the bird spit. I grew up without medicine because my mother doesn't believe in Aspirin. How anyone could deny the existence of an entire category of medicines is beyond me. Her cure for a headache is a fifteen-year-old tube sock filled with rice. Stick that in the freezer and it's a cold pack for your head. Pop it into a microwave for about two minutes and it’s a sock-shaped heating pad. Tylenol was not allowed in my house either. For backaches we had to rub a quarter-sized drop of an unnamed green liquid onto our muscles. Later, I would discover that this substance was actually a concentrated form of menthol which is illegal in the U.S. and most of Europe. How mom got it into the country is another story. Let's just say it involves about three feet of bubble wrap, my sweet-looking grandma and an unsuspecting customs agent. But of all the ancient Vietnamese cures in my KARTIKA REVIEW

Issue One – Winter 2007


household, bird spit was the most mysterious. When the ricesock and the contraband liquids didn't work, bird spit was the last stop. Apparently it could fix anything. My aunt swears it cured her hot flashes, and my dad insists that it re-grew six hairs in his bald spot. When asked how the drink worked, my mom would reply, "No one knows. It's just magic." I can't remember the first time I drank bird spit. Mostly because it’s been a staple of my family's medicine cabinet since, well, as long as I've had memories. I had just assumed that yen, which I thought translated to "bird saliva", was simply a Vietnamese euphemism for "magical drinking potion." I do, however, recall the time I found out what it actually was. It wasn't until I was thirteen when I asked my mom what yen was made of. I was slumped on my bathroom floor, train-wrecked with a case of the flu when my mom said, "Yen is made of yen." My fevered mind thought she was making a feeble attempt at some misguided Confucian proverb. She sensed my confusion and then clarified by making a spitting motion and flapping her arms like a chicken. "Well, crap." was probably my first thought. After a quick mental calculation, I concluded that over the course of my life I had consumed 3.4 gallons of bird saliva. Unadulterated twig-filled bird spit. Then I threw up in the toilet. ■



Power of Ethnic Instincts

For me, moving to America from China represented inevitable change. I attempted to abandon the past and accept a different culture, yet my thoughts always led me back to the same Chinese beliefs. In a slow but reverse assimilation process, I returned to my collectivist roots and came to view America as a land sadly infused with an individualistic materialism. I entered America, at the end of 2000, as a Chinese middle school student with no English beyond “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you.” I was perplexed by everything around me and had never felt so humiliated by my own ignorance. I became determined to fit into the new society by mastering Americanism, a seemingly cult-like behavior. I clothed myself in jeans, spoke slang, and ate fast food. Most appropriate to America, I ignored my parents’ anger toward my new behaviors. Reinforced by my ESL peers, I became not an immigrant from a third-world nation but a member of American society, surfing the waves of the “American Dream.” Many of my newly immigrated Chinese and other Asian friends describe the American Dream as a unique tree: when shaken, money immediately falls down. An old Chinese proverb characterizes the American Dream as “Gold Mountain” where the amount of treasure is boundless as long as one puts in the effort. However, I eventually feared that the “American Dream” seemed to provide wealth at the expense of social integrity. In America, communities KARTIKA REVIEW

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seemingly are only bags of colorful marbles, a mixture of ethnicities involuntarily tossed together that boasts “diversity.” All Americans seem to have the same purpose in mind: the expansion of personal wealth and power. People unwillingly tolerate relationships with others and even family ties just so they can have the social connections to obtain power and wealth for themselves in the future. A Chinese proverb describes such a focus on personal benefit as “looking toward money at all times” and French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville summed it up as “rugged individualism.” In business, individual ambitions can lead to a focus on increasing profit through the use of inexpensive, low-quality raw materials, wage slavery of working class, and high consumer prices. Living in a “low-wage and high-price” world, workers, victimized by such empowered corporate greediness, are herded by their own vulnerability into impoverished shantytowns. Jeans, slang, and fast-food, the origin of my Americanism, are developed or popularized in the shantytowns. Living in a low-income area after arriving in the U.S., I grew to know residents who had neither the wealth nor the sophistication nor the capability to understand any other culture. The sustainability of their lives depended on the blind and innocent hope for the “American Dream,” constantly wishing for the poverty to end. Today, I am a Chinese living in the U.S. but not a Chinese American. I know that to survive in the United States I need to learn the essential skills of social interactions, leadership, and business management. That is why I focused on school clubs such as Chess Club, worked in the local library and hospital, and supervised the schoolsponsored Tutoring Program. But when I compare Chinese and American values, I frequently cite a time in my hometown when a resident of my apartment building was diagnosed with cancer. Every single resident of the building donated whatever he or she could from meager salaries or savings. The sharing, tightening the bonds of friendship between even strangers and earning trust in times of emergency, reinforces for me the most famous Chinese proverb of all time: “close neighbors are better than distant relatives.” Group efforts, not individual obsession with wealth and power, are the essence of a flourishing civilization. ■



The Chicago Filipino Experience

I walked through the door of the restaurant with my parents, and immediately felt this wave of nostalgia wash over me like a heart warming dream. The sights and sounds were so familiar: two Filipino women at a booth eating breakfast and being cheerily "chismosa", the old lolo reading a Philippine Weekly, giving a gentle nod hello to my mom and I, and the man at register with the smooth, clear, pale, and Asian beautiful skin with an accent that could only say he was "bakla." I felt such warmth when I looked at the signs. "Tapsilog, 3 turon for $1, buffet for $6.95." They were words you never thought would go together, bridging a transnational gap spanning leagues of ocean to come together in a motley array of Tagalog and English. I stared at the large bamboo plants as I obtained three sets of the only utensils they carried: plastic forks and spoons. Three boys and a girl walked through the door, grabbing a Philippine newspaper and laughing in tagalog over a breakfast of ube, sweet sticky rice, singangag, and longanisa. I shoveled my rice over my plate, bangus then singangag, bangus and singangag over and over while talking about college in my oh so American English. At first, I thought the sound of my voice echoed as a dissonant chord unaccompanied by the harmony of rich Philippine language. But then I realized, they are American. I am American. We all sat in a restaurant occasionally glancing at the television with the Filipino boy rockstars while John Mayer played over KARTIKA REVIEW

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the stereo system, almost drowning out the sexy eyes of Lea Salonga's picture on the wall. "Isang tapsilog, at saka isang..." the cashier said while I stood there waiting to pay for the bill. One of the boys kept glancing at me in the shy Filipino boy manner of someone mildly intrigued yet not armed with the proper tools of ancient Spanish era Philippine courtship, especially in the presence of my parents. A Filipino-African American boy walked in with his mother with a deep craving for fried bananas and breakfast. I paid in dollars, at one point said "wala" and "thank you" to the cashier, while staring intently at the Santo Niño and picture of the cashier's mother on the ledge above the front counter. The sun was out, filling the yellow painted room like a sunrise on a halfway around the world horizon, while I stared out of the windows onto the slushy city streets. Combined, we all wore colors of the illuminated flag. This is Filipino America. This is Chicago's Filipino America. ■




ARTIST STATEMENT I dedicate my artwork for questions and criticism to the impact that conformity and trends have on women. People conform to feel accepted in the culture of their societies. Unfortunately, many women constantly struggle to achieve the idea of perfection that is portrayed by the media. The media as a stimulation of consumerism, which results with women and health issues, is not a new issue. As an artist I struggle with this topic because I have yet to conclude on an answer. Therefore through my artwork I try to depict a sense of tension, which reflects my thoughts and beliefs at that moment in time. On one end of the spectrum, a reasonable amount of conformity is necessary in order for a society to sustain itself, and on the other, women struggle to achieve the ideal body type, which causes acute health concerns. These two realities analogous to the colors in a candy cane weave to form the concepts and questions I pose behind my artwork on a daily basis. -- WL


Wynne Leung


Looking Forward Looking Back

Acrylic on canvas 24” x 24”


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Acrylic on canvas 60” x 36”


Wynne Leung


Go On, Parade

Acrylic on canvas 60” x 36”


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I Heard

Acrylic on canvas 60” x 36”



ARTIST STATEMENT My paintings portray a unique world of surreal landscapes where space mermaids float past nebulas and co-exist among tangerine fish that swim about out of water. My images often feature blushing girls who represent classic feminine archetypes. These timeless archetypes have appeared throughout history in art, literature, and mythology. In my paintings they emerge reinvented—within the modern context of pop culture. These sweet-faced girls cast shadowy undertones full of curious eccentricities and hidden mythologies—challenging the classical representation of the feminine throughout art. Because my art is heavily influenced by the destinations I travel to, my paintings are filled with cultural references that are combined to form a rich visual language. Patterns and lines are laid out in combinations that create floating compositions symbolic of the flat picture planes of Japanese prints. My painted girls are tattooed with foreign scripts that either contain translations of my poems or explore the underlying concepts behind my imagery. My painting process revolves around the ancient Chinese concept of energy, or chi. Similar to meditation, painting requires me to focus on the flow of my energy, locking out everything else in order to direct that essence through emotional filters that result in spontaneously lush color applications peppered with beautiful accidents. -- GW


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Moon Dream

Blush, Oil on Canvas 8” x 6”


Gayle Wheatley


Lulu, Space Mermaid

Oil on Canvas 8” x 6”


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High on Butterfly Air

Oil on Canvas 12” x 16”


Gayle Wheatley


Tika Current

Blush, Oil on Canvas 6” x 4”


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Blowing Goldfish Bubbles

Oil on Canvas 11” x 28”


Gayle Wheatley


St. Lucia Daydream

Oil on Canvas 14” x 12”




GENE LUEN YANG Author of American Born Chinese

(First Second Books, 2006)

On November 7, 2007 at a cafĂŠ inside a Borders bookstore in Fremont, our editors sat down with Gene Yang to discuss his graphic novel, American Born Chinese, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award and recipient of the 2007 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. There was no debate that Kartika wanted Gene Yang to be the first author interview we published. The editorial board unanimously held American Born Chinese in the highest regard. To say the editors were excited about meeting Gene would be an understatement. After this interview, the editors at Kartika admire him even more. In person, Gene exemplified one of the most unpretentious writers in the literary community. He spoke candidly about his opinions and life experiences and it is no wonder he has gained a wide following of fans in just two years.


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SUNNY WOAN: Assimilation is a major theme in American Born Chinese (“ABC”). One view on assimilation, as espoused by Eric Liu’s The Accidental Asian defines assimilation as “becoming whiter.” Have you reached any conclusions regarding the duality of being Asian American? GENE LUEN YANG: No, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be Asian American. I think I’ve progressively gotten away from shame in my own culture, although it’s still there. Even as an adult, there are still times I feel a gut reaction, such as when I meet a new immigrant and he speaks a certain way and there are other people around, I can feel it inside of me. There’s a little jump. There’s definitely a temptation to become fully assimilated, fully a part of America, but as Asian Americans, we have to constantly struggle against that. SW: You have said in prior interviews that your personal upbringing is not the same as Jin’s upbringing in ABC. Since the story is not autobiographical, 1 was your goal then to tell an “Asian American” story? GLY: Yeah, Jin spent a portion of his childhood in San Francisco Chinatown. I was basically born and raised in the suburbs. The community that I had Jin grow up in wasn’t as complex as the community I grew up in. I grew up in Saratoga, which is a suburb of San Jose, and a fairly affluent neighborhood. It is now 50 or 60, maybe even 70 percent Asian, but when I first got there, we were just one of a handful of Asian families in the area. As I grew up, though, more and more immigrants came in. In the story, Jin’s community is almost homogenously white, with the exception of these three Asian families in this white culture. The community I grew up in was constantly evolving, dynamic, not limited to only Asian immigrants, but also Middle Eastern and South Asian families as well.


See a republication of an interview of Gene by The Pulse in Comicon, http://www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/ ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_ topic;f=36;t=005901, where Yang states, “It’s not autobiographical” in reference to ABC. KARTIKA REVIEW

Interview with Gene Luen Yang


SW: In telling Jin’s story, what facets of the Asian American experience did you know you definitely wanted to include? GLY: There’s a principle in cartooning where you try to capture the essence of something with the fewest number of lines. You figure out which lines are most important and those are the ones you draw. I was trying to do that with writing as well by focusing on this isolated experience of shame and figuring out what the most important lines of the story were. SW: Your interpretation of the Monkey King story in ABC adopts a Christian context, replacing the original Buddhist context in the myth. You have been quoted to say this was “necessary” in making it an Asian American re-telling. Why do you think that is? GLY: Did I use the word “necessary”?


SW: I think I have it in quotations. GLY: Well, that would probably be the number two most controversial part of the book. Chin-Kee would be number one and the Christian element would be number two. I think I was really intimidated by the Monkey King story. I really liked it when I heard it as a bedtime story in my youth, but when I started thinking about incorporating it into my comics, I was very intimidated because in Asia, pretty much any comic book artist worth his or her salt has done something with the Monkey King, so I didn’t think I could bring anything new to it. So then ultimately I hit onto this idea of doing an Asian American take. Now within my own experience of being an Asian American, religion does play a part in the way I view life. Also, I see a trend in Asian Americans converting to Christianity, more so than folks of other ethnicities. I went to Berkeley for college and if you Editor’s Note: Kartika Review could not locate any sources online where the author was quoted as using the word “necessary” in this context. There was, however, a response to an interview question in The Pulse posed by Alex Dueben about Yang’s Christian reinterpretation of the myth. See: http://www.comicon.com/cgibin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=36;t=005901. 2


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went to any Christian fellowship or student group, it was almost all just black hair and yellow faces. It was a weird thing. Even groups that were traditionally white up through the 80s are now all-Asian. Reflecting on that, I think part of what attracts Asian Americans – I don’t even know if I should generalize – but in my personal experience as an Asian American and what attracted me to Christianity, there is an idea within Christianity of intention behind your identity, that there is this outside agency that actually attended you to be who you are. Asian Americans tend to be caught in a place where we don’t fit into our culture of origin and we don’t fit into the culture we find ourselves in. Thus, this idea of intention is very powerful and that was what I wanted to explore. SW: In a book review of ABC by Ned Vizzini that appeared in the New York Times, Vizzini described your book as “needlessly crass,” 3 citing that it opened with a joke about breasts and peaches. Since ABC is often categorized under the children’s or young adult’s section, what would your response be to Vizzini’s statement? GLY: There are some of my friends who have said the same thing, that my comics are a little bit crass. My parents have, and my dad especially, a crass sense of humor and I think that is just part of the DNA of my family to make body jokes and fart jokes. SW: ABC has gotten a lot of acclaim. Has your life changed in any way since publishing ABC or its National Book Award nomination? GLY: It has. Well, first of all, I’m doing stuff like this. Nobody wanted to talk to me before. I’ve also gotten the opportunity to travel to many library events and school presentations. That’s been great. Also, the biggest thing would be that I am able to justify this part of my life now. Before when I did comics, I was losing money at it. Only two years ago did that turn around and now I’m not losing money from it. I have a four-year-old boy and a seven-month-old girl. Before, I think “High Anxiety,” Review of American Born Chinese by Ned Vizzini, New York Times, May 13, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com /2007/05/13/books/review/Vizzini-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin 3


Interview with Gene Luen Yang


if I had continued to lose money at drawing comics, at this point I would have had to give it up or at least scale back drastically. With the nomination [of the National Book Award], it eases my mind as a dad to be spending this much time on it. SW: On your website, there are sites where you use comics in education. Now that you’ve gained literary acclaim, you would be able to launch any personal goals or ambitions to pursue comics in education. GLY: I have a couple more stories I want to do in comics. Both comics and education are passions of mine. They’re just now beginning to come together, but at this point I don’t have any definitive plans. SW: Any plans to do a sequel with Jin Wang, Wei-Chan, or Suzy Nakamura, like you did with Gordon Yamamoto and Loyola Chin? GLY: No, I don’t. [laughs] I have other stories, but they don’t revolve around them at all. SW: It’s been said that some writers subconsciously write to please a particular person. If so, then who do you write for? GLY: When I first started working on ABC, the comic book industry was falling apart. That was around 2000. My friends and I would go to comic book conventions and listen to these talks by publishers, artists, and writers and they would say that comics were at the end of the rope and that they would go the way of poetry, becoming a niche medium that just a few people read and a few people work on. Then we would all go to McDonald’s and cry over milkshakes about what we’re doing and how we should go into animation. Since then, though, there’s been this huge turnaround. I started ABC within that context so when it first published, I had it on the web and in mini-comics. There is this whole underground culture of mini-comics. Mini-comics are just hand-printed comics. You would draw your comics and take them to Kinkos, got them Xeroxed and stapled, then either trade them with your friends or take them to shows and try to sell copies. Maybe if you sold 12, then you’ve done really well. So initially,


Issue One – Winter 2007


my audience was just my mom, my brother, and a couple of friends. That’s who I was thinking of when I created ABC. SW: Have you ever considered writing a traditional novel, i.e., not in the graphic novel format? Or do you want to continue to focus in comics? GLY: I love comics and I want to keep working in comics. I have an idea that might work better as a traditional novel, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever get around to doing it. I did a lot of prose in college, since I minored in Creative Writing. However, the prose was always just practice for comics, since I had comics in mind. SW: One project you’re working on is Three Angels with Thien Pham. How has collaborative work differed from working on ABC on your own? Also, could you offer us more details on that project? GLY: The title “Three Angels” is up in the air right now. It’s been a rougher project than ABC, but not because of Thien. It’s probably because I tried writing in a different way [for “Three Angels”] and it didn’t really work, so I’m going through a series of re-writes right now. SW: How do you two allocate who does what? GLY: That’s also sort of in flux right now, too. I’m doing the thumbnails while he will be doing the finishes and colors. SW: When is that book anticipated to be released? GLY: I don’t know, man. But I do have another book that I collaborated on with another friend that will be out late 2008 or 2009. SW: The project with Derek Kirk Kim? GLY: Yes. That one was a lot easier. It’s called tentatively “Second Lives.” The project consists of three short stories about the connection between reality and fantasy. It’s a little bit inspired by Second Life and that whole subculture. I have a lot of students who are into World of Warcraft and that kind of stuff, so that sort of opened up to that project. [Also,] KARTIKA REVIEW

Interview with Gene Luen Yang


Derek is an amazing artist, absolutely amazing. The work he did on this project is the best work I’ve ever seen him do. He’s like a real artist. There’s some of us who are just cartoonists, like I’m just a cartoonist. But [Derek is] an illustrator. He actually knows how to use other media. MIKE LEE: You mentioned earlier that you had tried one approach first for Second Lives, then abandoned that approach. What was that first approach and how did it differ from your approach to ABC? GLY: This is what happened. With ABC, I basically wrote from the gut. I had an outline of where I wanted the story to go and then each piece I wrote from the gut. Then after I got signed on with First Second and they started talking to me about doing a second book, I got a little freaked out because I was like, man, writing from your gut—there’s no method to it. It’s not something you can easily control. It’s not a skill. So I started reading all these books about story construction and writing novels. Then I wrote the second story based on all these techniques I had read about. It just didn’t work out so hot. It just kind of sucked. I was trying to devise a formula and treating creativity as a technique and it just didn’t work out. SW: For ABC, how long was the idea just in your head and how long did it take you to write? GLY: It was an idea for a couple of years. It started off as three separate ideas, then I decided to weave them together. The actual putting down of the ideas on paper took about five years in total, but ABC wasn’t all I was doing in those five years. SW: This is just a tangential question, but I looked up the comic book The Rosary. And I was wondering if you planned on pursuing comics in religious studies as well? GLY: Well, I think for myself, the two biggest pieces of my identity are my ethnicity and my religion. One I don’t have any choice in and the other one I do. I think there’s also this tension between the two, too. As a Roman Catholic, Catholicism is really foundational within the Western world and there are things that grew out of Catholicism that are not AUTHOR INTERVIEW

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necessarily definitive of the Eastern way of thinking, even antithetical. We constantly have this East-piece and Westpiece fighting and struggling within ourselves. That’s definitely something I want to explore. I’ve always been interested in religion, not just religion itself, but also religion’s tension with the other pieces of a person’s identity. Even with the Rosary comic, there was some tension about the skin tones that were used. Lark colored it and we tried to use a wide variety of skin tones for both the humans and the angels. There was some tension that arose about the use of varied skin tones within the distribution chain. SW: What is the hardest part of your craft? GLY: The whole thing is really hard, man. Comics – I love comics, but it’s really time-consuming. Writing is probably the worst, though, since that is the stage where something is made or broken. If you don’t do a good job in your writing, then everything else that follows is just crappy. The best art in service of the worst story is still just…crap. I think every medium has its challenges. There are definitely some things easier to do in comics than in pure prose, such as setting up a scene. In comics you can do it with a single image whereas in prose you have to figure out how to describe things in a way that would carry the reader along. SW: In a book around the same length as ABC, how long would it take you to draw? GLY: It takes me between 4 to 8 hours per page. I have a simplified drawing style so I can go faster. Derek, for example, can take up to 2 to 3 days to do a page, depending on the page. SW: Do you have any words of advice to young artists or writers who aspire to do what you’re doing now? GLY: Get a day job. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about this, especially since I became a dad. A lot of my comic book friends have asked me if I’d let my children be comic book artists if they want to. I just don’t know. I think that early on, if you want to pursue art, you have to make this choice of whether you want to do it as a way of expressing yourself or doing it as a way of feeding yourself, because those things don’t always go hand in hand. In fact, most of the time they KARTIKA REVIEW

Interview with Gene Luen Yang


don’t go hand in hand. So if you want to feed yourself with your art, then you pursue it in one way. If you want to use it as pure self expression, then you pursue it in a different way. To feed yourself, you would become an animator, an illustrator, a web designer, or that sort of thing. And you would have to let go of your art to a certain point where you’re okay with other people telling you what to do and how to create and having someone else have the final yes or no over your creation. But if you want to pursue it as selfexpression, I think you really need to find a good day job. Because if you don’t have that day job, then the practical need for money is going to end up pushing you in a direction you don’t want to go. It’s going to end up pushing yourself into feeding yourself with your art. I think that’s a struggle I see in myself and in a lot of my comic book artist and writer friends. There’s always this tension between business and art and I think the ones who have navigated through that the best are the ones who have day jobs that are flexible that allow them to pursue their art on the side. SW: What are you currently reading? GLY: I’ve been reading a lot of books on the Boxer Rebellion. I recently read a book called “The Origins of the Boxer Uprising” by Joseph W. Esherick, which is sort of an academic book, and this other one called the “Ho Chi Tuan Movement.” 4 It was this little pamphlet put out by Communist China in the 70s as propaganda. I’m also reading an audio book…ha, “reading” an audio book…called “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck. I’m almost done with that. SW: Are you currently reading any graphic novels? GLY: You know, I haven’t gone to the comic book store in a really long time. The last graphic novel I read was one called “The Mourning Star,” by [Kazimir Strzepek]. It’s on the border between a mini-comic and an independent comic. It’s all about this dystopian world. Also, Jeff Smith is one of my favorite comic book artists. I recently read one to my son which he really liked, “Shazam” by Jeff Smith. I also read “Regifters.” It’s a graphic novel by Mike Carey and Sonny 4

The editors could not find an accurate spelling for the movement referenced here by Gene. Thus, the transcription from an audio recording of the interview is done phonetically. AUTHOR INTERVIEW

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Liew [and Marc Hempel] targeted at teenage girls, but I still liked it. ML: Who are your favorite artists? GLY: I have a list as long as my arm. I love Jeff Smith who did “BONE.” I like this guy named Jason Little who does a comic series online called “Bee.” Then there’s Derek [Kirk Kim], of course; Jason Shiga, another Bay Area cartoonist; Lark Pien; and Osama Tezuka, who did “Astro Boy.” Adrian Tomine, Lynda Barry… SW: One last thing. What was your inspiration behind the illustration on the very last page? 5 GLY: Oh. The Backdorm Boys. SW: They have a name? I didn’t even know they had a name. GLY: Did you see their little video?


SW: I did. That was how I knew the reference behind that illustration. It made me laugh so hard because it was just one of those subcultural references you either got it or you didn’t. GLY: For the Backdorm Boys, I think they’re hilarious, first of all. And it’s sort of a part of American culture, even though they’re Asian-Asian. But I think they provide a really good contrast to William Hung. These are both Asians that are singing American pop songs and they’re both funny, but I think the reason why they’re funny is really, really different. For the Backdorm Boys, they mean to be funny and I think they are actually in a sense lampooning American culture and making fun of Backstreet Boys and boy-bands. On the other hand, William Hung is almost like a victim. He doesn’t mean to be funny. In Backdorm Boys, the funniness comes out of them, but in William Hung, the funniness comes from outside, from his context, from the way American culture perceives him.


See page 88 for a reproduction of the referenced image. The “Backdorm Boys” video referenced here may be viewed on YouTube.com at http://youtube.com/watch?v=YBlCtqsat-w 6


Interview with Gene Luen Yang


SW: That feeling of shame you mentioned in the beginning of this interview, that little jump you talked about, is what comes to my mind. GLY: Yeah, exactly. ML: So any last word on future projects we can look forward to? GLY: There’s the short story collection, there’s the book that used to be called “Three Angels” which we don’t have a name for yet, which is based on my brother’s experiences as a medical school student. Those are both collaborations with other artists. The next story I will be drawing myself will be a historical novel set in China in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

For more information on the author, visit Gene Yang’s website, “Humble Comics” at http://www.humblecomics.com. ■


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Reproduced below with permission from First Second Books is the “Backdorm Boys” illustration referenced in the interview on page 86:

By Gene Luen Yang…

The original…



Fiction Contributors GERI LIPSCHULTZ (WONG) earned her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa and a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts. She has been published in numerous literary journals, including but not limited to: the North Atlantic Review, Kalliope, College English, The New York Times, Adelina Magazine, and Black Warrior Review. Professor Lipschultz currently teaches English at the State University of New York, Suffolk County Community College as part of the university’s adjunct faculty. HEIDI KATHLEEN KIM is a doctoral candidate in the English department and an adjunct faculty member of the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University. She graduated with B.A. in Biochemical Sciences and Foreign Language Citation in French from Harvard University. While Ms. Kim has published numerous works of non-fiction and scholarly research, “To Herself” is her first fiction publication. KIM HOANG NGUYEN is a broadcast journalist who has worked as a producer at ABC News in both Los Angeles and New York City and as an assignment editor for San Francisco’s KRON-TV. Ms. Nguyen has also worked previously on “Good Morning America,” CBS EntertainmentTelevision Network, KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, the Orange County NewsChannel, CNN, and the Metropolitan News Company. She is a graduate from the University of Southern California and affiliated with the Asian American Journalists Association, the Minorities in Broadcast Training Program, and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “Final Bouquet” is her first fiction publication.


Poetry Contributors ELAINE LOW is the 2007-2008 Ford Fellow with the Japanese American Citizens League, the nation's oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization. She graduated summa cum laude from Dominican University with a journalism major and a philosophy minor. Her work has appeared in several Asian American news publications, including the Rafu Shimpo in Los Angeles, CA and the Hokubei Mainichi in San Francisco, CA. Ms. Low currently resides in Chicago, Illinois. KELLY ZEN-YIE TSAI is a Brooklyn-based spoken word artist who has been featured at over 250 shows world-wide, including three seasons of “HBO Def Poetry.” Her publications include: We Don’t Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists (Seal Press), We Got Issues! A Young Woman’s Guide to a Bold, Courageous, and Empowered Life (Inner Ocean Publishing), and The Spoken Word Revolution Redux (Sourcebooks, Inc.). She is a Kundiman Fellow and recipient of a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Urban Artist Initiative/NYC Fellowship. For more information, see Ms. Tsai’s website at http://www.yellowgurl.com. EDDY ZHENG is an activist based in Oakland, California, who was incarcerated at the age of 16 and served 21 years in prison. Mr. Zheng immigrated to Oakland from China when he was 12 years old in 1982. At 16, he and his friends participated in a kidnapping to commit robbery; he was arrested and pleaded guilty. Charged as an adult, he was sentenced to 7 years to life with the possibility of parole. He earned his college degree while in captivity, participated in youth and religious programs, organized San Quentin State Prison's first poetry slam, written and published two magazines and articles on his experience as an Asian American prisoner, the importance of Ethnic Studies classes, and Buddhism. After receiving parole in 2005, Mr. Zheng was transferred into an immigration detention facility by the Department of Homeland Security, which now seeks his deportation for the crime he committed as a teenager. He currently works for the Community Youth Center in San Francisco and visits schools to speak with and counsel at-risk youth about the importance of education, self-respect, individual responsibility, and community awareness. For more information, see Eddy Zheng’s website at http://www.eddyzheng.com.


Non-Fiction Contributors KIM NGUYEN is a college senior at the University of Texas at Austin where she double-majors in Advertising and Asian American Studies and minors in Business Administration. She is a Senior Fellow in the College of Communications Honors Program and the recipient of the Norm Campbell Endowed Presidential Scholarship. Ms. Nguyen currently resides in Austin, Texas. XIAOCHEN SU is a college sophomore at Yale University where he serves as Associate Director of Advertising for the Yale Herald newspaper and Director of Finance for the Yale Politic magazine. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including but not limited to: the Change a Life Foundation Scholarship, Reuben Jeffery 1911 Scholarship, President’s Volunteer Service Award, Presidential Freedom Scholarship Award, and the Mahatma Gandhi Scholarship Award. Xiaochen Su is probably best known for his controversial article in the Yale Daily News, titled “U.S. cannibalizes self by enabling immigrants, poor,” which incited national controversy. LESLEY ARCA obtained her B.A. from Northwestern University, double-majoring in Asian American Studies and Biological Sciences. She is the first person to graduate from Northwestern University with an Asian American Studies major for which she has been recognized with the Asian American Studies Program's Outstanding Achievement in Asian American Studies Award. During college, she was highly involved in numerous organizations and academics. Ms. Arca currently resides in Chicago, Illinois.


Art Contributors WYNNE LEUNG is an Asian Canadian who obtained an H.B.A. (Honours B.A.) in New Media and Visual Performing Arts at the University of Toronto. As a painter, her main medium is acrylic, and prefers to paint on large canvases. As a young artist, Ms. Leung has already been featured in major publications, including the University of Toronto Press, and Eye Weekly Toronto. In addition, the Student Annual Jury Show at the University of Toronto selected and showcased her paintings. Ms. Leung currently works in arts and media for YTV & Discovery Kids (a Canadian channel). For more information on Ms. Leung and her work, please visit her site at http://www.wyninspires.com. GAYLE WHEATLEY is a professional artist who specializes in fun, fashionable, and irresistibly glamorous illustrations and vibrant, dream-like, and delightfully textured paintings. Her artwork is heavily influenced by Asian culture, mythology, feminist thought, and her many globe trekking adventures. Originally from California, she has lived abroad in both Italy and Japan, and has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia. Her work has been widely published and exhibited across the United States, Europe, and Japan and her art can be found in numerous private collections around the world. To view her artwork, visit http://www.gaylewheatley.com.


Art Contributors, continued JANE GEAM is currently attending Parsons School of Design for her M.A. in Media Studies/Film Production with an emphasis on Media Management. She obtained her B.A in Cinema and Cultural Studies from Stony Brook University and was a member of the Asian American Journal, a student run journalism club that focused on stories dealing with Asian Americans. She is highly interested in journalism, and making independent short films on a vast array of topics. Up to date her most recent short was a documentary on the revival of burlesque in NYC. She currently works for NBC Universal in marketing and will ultimately pursue making a feature film. STEPHEN HEW was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica and raised in California. He is a J.D. candidate at the University of San Francisco School of Law. Mr. Hew received his undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering at the University of Santa Cruz, California, where he honed his photography skills in the scenic Bay Area setting. He has been shooting fine art photography since the age of 17, specializing in wedding, landscape, and travel photography. He has photographed Asia, Mexico, and Europe, and locally in the Bay Area. Mr. Hew is actively involved in the Asian American Bar Association, Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, and Equal Justice Society. In addition, he lends his photography skills to various student groups at the law school. For more information on Stephen Hew’s work, please visit his website at http://www.BerkeleyPhotographer.com. HEEWON SOHN obtained her M.F.A. in Design Technology from the Parsons School of Design and her B.A. in Media Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Her video installations and other works have been widely featured in art galleries throughout New York. Ms. Sohn's graphic designs have been highly sought after by both large and small companies. She currently works as a project manager at an international furniture design corporation.


EDITOR BIOS Editor-in-Chief SUNNY WOAN graduated with a J.D. and a certificate in Public Interest and Social Justice Law, emphasis in Critical Race Theory. Ms. Woan has been or will be published in the Santa Clara Law Review, Cal. Western Law Review, Washington & Lee's Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, and Temple University’s Journal of Science, Technology, and Environmental Law.

Managing Editors CAROLYN LAU is the founding editor of the former magazine publication Euphorix. Prior to her management of Euphorix, she served on the editorial boards of several student-run magazines on the Binghamton University campus. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Communications from the New York Institute of Technology. DOMINIC TSANG is a J.D. candidate pursuing intellectual property law. He worked as an intern at ABC, a classroom instructor to atrisk youth at Fresh Lifelines for Youth and is an active volunteer to indigent and immigrant communities through the Bay Area. He currently serves as an Articles Editor for Santa Clara's Computer & High Technology Law Journal.

Fiction Editors SARAH LIN obtained her degree in Creative Writing with am emphasis in Fiction from Binghamton University. She currently works as a copywriter in the advertising department of Tor Books, a publisher of genre fiction. On the side, she proofreads, copyedits, and writes back cover copy for novels in assorted genres. DENIS WONG has worked in the editorial departments of various publishing companies, including Bedford, Freeman & Worth, Random House, and Tor Books. He has also been, at one time or another, the Small Press Book Buyer at Baker & Taylor, and a Production Manager for Watson-Guptill Publications. Mr. Wong has edited short story collections, non-fiction, genre fiction, and literary fiction.


Poetry Editor TANGIE RAINES is a J.D. candidate who worked as a museum curator and editor for an underground arts magazine prior to entering law school. Her art has been featured at exhibits in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. She is also an awardwinning poet who wrote and published poetry for over 7 years.

Essay Editor MIKE LEE is an internet & technology entrepreneur with a background in web design, software engineering, and product / project management for both Silicon Valley start-ups and Fortune 500 corporations, including CBS, Ernst & Young, and Yahoo. Visit him on the web at either his personal page, http://www.mikelee.org or his web-log on business, technology, entrepreneurship, management, marketing, investing, online communities, social networking, and related topics at http://bizthoughts.mikelee.org.

Art Director HEEWON SOHN obtained her M.F.A. in Design Technology from the Parsons School of Design and her B.A. in Media Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Her video installations and other works have been widely featured in art galleries throughout New York. Ms. Sohn's graphic designs have been highly sought after by both large and small companies. She currently works as a project manager at an international furniture design corporation.

Guest Advisor BEN HWANG is currently employed with a Fortune 500 corporation and is also involved in the financial software startup, Firelace. When not working on corporate strategy, this entrepreneur is heavily involved in local community efforts including co-founding and running the ConvergeSouth conference. He contributes to a number of online publications as well as writes in his personal blog, LUX.ET.UMBRA, at http://life.firelace.com




hapihour.org congratulates Kartika Review on its inaugural issue. We’re proud to support you.

Other is a book project led by Eddy Zheng, who was

recently released from prison and immigration detention after more than two decades behind bars. This anthology of work by Asian and Pacific Islander (API) prisoners is the first book to highlight the unique stories and perspectives of this growing prisoner population in the U.S. In total, 22 talented writers, poets, and artists have contributed to this anthology, covering topics such as the factors that led to their incarceration, the cruelty that occurs in prisons and immigration detention jails, and the harsh reality of deportation that awaits many API prisoners. Other includes a preface by Helen Zia. The book is co-edited by Ben Wang, designed by Joy Liu, RevoluXinDesigns.com, and is a project of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC). Overall net proceeds generated from the sale of the book will go towards disaster relief aid and prisoner support work. For more information, visit http://myspace.com/asianprisoners.

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