Cover Photography by Wing Young Huie. ÂŠ May, 2011 by Kartika Review
Kartika Review publishes literary fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that endeavor to expand and enhance the mainstream perception of Asian American creative writing. The journal also publishes book reviews, literary criticism, author interviews, and artwork, turning its focus on works relevant to the Asian Diaspora or authored by individuals of Asian descent.
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Elmaz Abinader Justin Chin Peter Ho Davies Randa Jarrar Gish Jen Elaine H. Kim Maxine Hong Kingston Gus Lee Li-Young Lee Min Jin Lee Ed Lin Nami Mun Fae Myenne Ng
MANAGING EDITOR Sunny Woan
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Vinay Patel PROGRAM COORDINATOR Jennifer Banta
FICTION EDITOR Paul Lai POETRY EDITOR Kenji Liu CREATIVE NON-FICTION EDITOR Jennifer Derilo
Kartika Review is a proud member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.
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.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS Editorial
FICTION Mousetrap The Give And Take Bad Blood When the Forbidden Ones Break Through
Michael Lee Dena Afrasiabi Ann Ang Talia Kolluri
10 11 19 25
PHOTOGRAPHIC NARRATIVE The University Avenue Project Synchronicity
Wing Young Huie Mona Wu
POETRY Everything glows in Tsukuba: Nectarines Satellite
Gina Barnard Margaret Rhee Shelley Wong
56 57 58
CREATIVE NON-FICTION My Life in Hair Bandar Dalung How It Feels to Inherit Camp The Sunday Ghost
Katie Hae Leo Timothy L. Marsh Tamiko Nimura Lucia Tang
60 64 67 70
WRITER INTERVIEW Interview with Amy Chua Interview with Jessica Hagedorn
By: Sunny Woan By: Jennifer Derilo
END NOTES Contributor Bios Editor Bios
EDITORIAL Paul Lai Amy Tan‘s The Kitchen God’s Wife, a summer reading assignment for an English class at my California high school, was my first encounter with Asian American literature. I remember my mother commented on the novel selection; she seemed tickled by the fact that we were reading a story about the Kitchen God. In college, I stumbled across a few other Asian American novels such as Shani Mootoo‘s Cereus Blooms at Night and Bapsi Sidhwa‘s Cracking India in Caribbean and Postcolonial Literatures courses. But mostly, I have searched bookstores and libraries, relied on friends‘ recommendations, and dived into the world of academic literary criticism to find and read widely in Asian American literature. In addition to some of the established classics like Maxine Hong Kingston‘s The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts and John Okada‘s No-No Boy, I have been moved, angered, encouraged and thrilled by more recent books like Lawrence Chua‘s Gold by the Inch, Sigrid Nunez‘s The Last of Her Kind, Ru Freeman‘s A Disobedient Girl, Kristin Naca‘s Bird Eating Bird, Jane Jeong Trenka‘s The Language of Blood, and Kenji Yoshino‘s Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. In the past decade, while researching and teaching these writers, I have had the opportunity to reflect on this large and amorphous body of work that we call Asian American literature. The questions scholars ask of this literature are wonderful and complicated, focusing not just on identity formation and critiques of racialization but on diverse topics such as transnational movements, foodways, sexuality, and historiography. Coming to Kartika Review with this background, I am excited to read and help nurture emerging work as it shapes the conversations that critics and scholars have about Asian American literature. I am not just interested in how critics and scholars might read new work, however, but also in how people in all walks of life might read, enjoy, argue with, and otherwise engage with such writing. Asian American literature is for everyone! I am hopeful that the online publication of Kartika Review, which makes it far more accessible than most literary journals, will help disseminate this wonderful writing to audiences far and wide. Its presence online since 2007 has filled an important need in the world of literary publishing, and I am glad to join its mission of foregrounding Asian American writing as Fiction Editor. I find myself imagining what it might have been like if I had a Kartika Review to read online when I was a teenager. A publication like Kartika Review that I could‘ve found without a subscription or access to a university library might have led me on an entirely different path to the discovery of Asian American literature. Perhaps a younger generation of readers will be able to find these issues online, and through the stories, poems, and creative non-fiction published here, more readily find the rich archive of other work by Asian American writers. Perhaps these issues will encourage those same readers to write and to create important, provocative,
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thoughtful, inspiring, and honest writing about and from Asian America. And I hope that even non-teen readers will find the writing in these issues and appreciate the new possibilities for literary visions that it offers. These past few months, I have had the pleasure of reading through many wonderful fiction submissions. My criteria in selecting pieces for publication are, undoubtedly, similar to those of all editors. I read for the startling, the different, and the new. I read for stories that disorient me, that offer me a narrative, a character, or a world that makes me question what I think I know about stories or about life. To all the writers out there who have stories to tell and to submit, I encourage you to tell us the same old stories, but do so in ways that are utterly alien. Tell us new stories that we would never expect from Asian American writers or ones that we might have difficulty recognizing as Asian American. Above all, do so in ways that remind us of the possibilities of Asian American writing to transform our expectations and to give us new visions of our world. The writing in this ninth issue of Kartika Review continues with its established format of presenting a few pieces each in the genres of short fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. I have had the honor of selecting fiction pieces that span a range of writing approaches, stories, and characters. Michael Lee‘s flash fiction piece ―Mousetrap‖ offers an enigmatic and provocative sketch of the relationship between protagonist and mother. Dena Afrasiabi‘s ―The Give and Take‖ works in the mode of allegory or parable to examine the experience of immigrant assimilation and the expectations of the model minority. Ann Ang‘s ―Bad Blood‖ narrates the subjectivities of Singaporean international students abroad as they negotiate the push and pull of cultures. Talia Kolluri‘s ―When the Forbidden Ones Break Through‖ turns to the perspective of stray dogs in the ruins of Pompeii, treated poorly by the humans conducting excavations in the area but nevertheless creating a sense of family and community that exceeds how those humans perceive them. In the poetry section, Gina Barnard‘s ―Everything Glows in Tsukuba:‖ catalogs foods and other markers of Japan in a brief bicycle journey across the city. Michelle Rhee‘s delicious poem ―Nectarines‖ takes up the ghazal form to insist on Korean Americans‘ presence and their contributions to the world at large. The words and thoughts of Shelley Wong‘s ―Satellite‖ reach across the page as the poem ironically suggests the greater importance of images in comparison to words for memory. The creative non-fiction section begins with Katie Hae Leo‘s ―My Life in Hair,‖ which constructs an autobiography via timeline, marking snippets of her life—in different times and locales—with the hairstyles that defined her sense of self as well as her relations to the people around her. Timothy L. Marsh‘s ―Banjar Dalung‖ offers a portrait of a people enjoying the end of a long day‘s work in their city, passing the time publicly with neighbors in the streets. Tamiko Nimura‘s ―How It Feels to Inherit Camp‖ explores the complicated presence of WWII Japanese American internment camps as a family legacy, interrupted and informed by popular (mis)perceptions of the experience as well as larger historical narratives that eclipse the personal. Lucia Tang‘s ―The Sunday Ghost‖ traces imperfect memories of her pre-immigration childhood and ties them to her first years in America, pulled by the tensions of Sunday Chinese school and her day-to-day education in English. 7
Two interviews with authors of recent book publications conclude this issue. Managing Editor Sunny Woan interviews law professor Amy Chua about her controversial bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin Press, 2011). An excerpt of this memoir published in the Wall Street Journal and titled (without Chua‘s input) ―Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior‖ created a media storm early in 2011, with both the mainstream press and Asian American news media sites talking back to the book and Chua. Kartika Review‘s interview offers Chua a chance to reflect on the attention her book has garnered, for better or worse. Creative NonFiction Editor Jennifer Derilo interviews well-known novelist and playwright Jessica Hagedorn about her new novel Toxicology (Viking, 2011). Known for her fragmented narrative forms, Hagedorn explores in this new novel two artist figures, diving in and out of their perspectives as well as those of other characters across the chapters. I hope you enjoy this issue! I look forward to working with the other editors on future issues to come.
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“MARKED” By: Sandy Choi
MOUSETRAP Michael Lee How did a hair clip get into my oven? An igloo of black plastic on the desolate broiler tray. How did it get there? When it‘s not a hair clip, D.—when it‘s a little mouse, feet melded to tiny ribs. Mother! I am a child again, I am back in that small apartment in Vancouver, Father with his newspaper and a full head of black hair, Mother wiping the spout of her teakettle over that towering countertop. Pringles! The only junk food she allows us. (―We may not have a lot but we can eat right.‖) She keeps them stored in Ziploc bags. How neatly they stack…my elegant mother and her elegant chips! The snap snap snap of the gas stove before the blue flame. Time for Father‘s tea. Time for our nap, no complaining. Brother and I trapped in the bedroom while Father reads the news and Mother cleans. Escape! Father snoring under a paper tie. Mother standing in the kitchen over an empty Pringles can. The linoleum is so clean, her bare feet squeak. She opens her hand. Mouse and sticky paper slide neatly into the can. She tilts the teakettle over that wide, circular mouth. Steam rearing upwards. The arch of Mother‘s arm is elegant. The linoleum floor is so terribly clean.
Michael Lee was made in Taiwan and grew up in various parts of the United States. He is a MFA candidate at Columbia University for Fiction Writing. He lives with his wife in New York City.
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THE GIVE AND TAKE Dena Afrasiabi The diaspora police came to Soheila‘s door the morning of her thirtieth birthday. One of them was stout and balding with a belly that protruded beneath his belt. A thick moustache curved over either corner of his pink mouth. The other was younger and fair-haired and carried a clipboard. His khaki shorts and polo shirt made him look like a canvasser for an environmental cause. ―Ms. Soheila Talebi?‖ asked Moustache. ―Yes?‖ ―We‘re here for your interview.‖ ―Interview?‖ ―Didn‘t you receive our letter?‖ asked Khaki. ―What letter?‖ Moustache sighed and opened his briefcase. ―We had to lay off our administrative assistant when the grant money didn‘t come through. I apologize for the inconvenience.‖ He pulled a piece of paper from a manila folder and read aloud: Dear Ms. Soheila Talebi, Please be advised that our organization has concluded, after careful deliberation, that your lackluster performance as an immigrant has failed to live up to the expectations of your community as well as your country. As a result we have decided you may qualify for our Diaspora Rehabilitation Program. You will be placed in a simulated version of the country in which you were born for up to nine months, at which point you will return to your current environment, thereby recreating the process of immigration. In other words, you will be given a second chance. We realize this may come as a shock to you, especially since you have not visited your native country since you were four years old. We nevertheless assure you this decision has been made in the best interest of your community, your family and yourself. A representative will contact you within two to five days in order to answer any questions you may have and conduct a final interview. Best Wishes, The Diaspora Police ―I‘m sorry,‖ she said, ―Now is not a good time. I‘m late to work.‖ ―The sooner you allow us to conduct the interview, the sooner we can all move forward.‖ Moustache took a reporter‘s notebook and a pen from his pocket. 11
Soheila closed the door. She showered and dressed and made a pot of coffee and when she opened the door again to leave, the men were still there. Moustache had taken off his blazer and draped it over the briefcase by his feet. He squinted into his Blackberry, rapidly hitting keys with his thumbs and making faint grunting noises. Khaki sat on the ground and worked on the LA Times crossword puzzle. ―I‘ve called the police,‖ Soheila said. They didn‘t look up. She walked away, shaking her head. They must be actors, she decided, a couple of marginally employed pranksters her brother Amir met in one of his improv classes. She was beginning to grow tired of Los Angeles. At the library, her desk had been cleared. She climbed the stairs to her boss‘s office and opened the door to see the two men sitting on her boss‘s desk, smiling. ―What are you doing here? Where‘s Karen?‖ ―Ms. Talebi, this will all become clearer if you let us conduct the interview,‖ said Khaki. Soheila pulled up a chair to the desk. ―Fine.‖ The men sat in chairs on the other side. Moustache opened his briefcase and took out the manila folder she had seen earlier. ―We‘re from an organization that observes Middle Eastern youth raised in the U.S. Our aim is to cultivate and promote a better image of the Middle Eastern diasporic community as a whole.‖ ―You mean like a watchdog organization?‖ ―Something like that.‖ She looked at Khaki. ―You don‘t look Middle Eastern.‖ ―My mother‘s Lebanese. My father‘s Norwegian. But I identify more strongly with my Arab side.‖ ―What does this have to do with me?‖ ―Well, we‘ve been observing you closely for several years now.‖ ―You mean you‘ve been spying on me?‖ ―We don‘t like to think of it as spying,‖ Moustache said. ―We were collecting data.‖ ―From the data we‘ve gathered,‖ said Khaki, ―It has come to our attention that you have not done your part.‖ ―My part?‖ 12
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Khaki tapped his fingers on the table. ―I mean that you have not sufficiently fulfilled your responsibilities.‖ ―What responsibilities?‖ Moustache sighed. He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. ―You‘ve probably taken your life in America for granted. Am I right?‖ Soheila considered his question. She had never thought of her life in America as separate from her life. ―I suppose.‖ ―Of course you have. Your whole generation has a very strong sense of entitlement.‖ He took out his notebook again and jotted down more notes. ―The truth, however, is that nothing is free. Everything is a give-and-take.‖ ―What have I not given?‖ ―Where do I begin?‖ Moustache laughed. He dug through his briefcase and pulled out another manila folder. He took out a piece of paper and read from it. ―Let‘s start with your appearance.‖ Soheila looked at her worn jeans, at the holes along the seams. She covered the holes with her fingers and slid her horn-rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose. ―What‘s wrong with my appearance?‖ He took a photograph from the folder and placed it on the table in front of her. It pictured a slender woman with long, dark hair and almond eyes accentuated by black eye liner. The woman wore a low cut but unrevealing blouse, tight black skirt, high heels, gold necklaces and gold bracelets. She smiled, her head tilted to the side, emphasizing her long, slender neck. ―Does this look like you?‖ asked Khaki. Soheila shook her head. ―No.‖ ―Perhaps that‘s something you could work on,‖ said Moustache. ―So you‘re saying that because I don‘t live up to a stereotype, I‘m not fulfilling my responsibilities?‖ She sat straight in the chair, interlaced her fingers on the table. ―It‘s not about a stereotype, Ms. Talebi,‖ said Khaki. ―What is it then?‖ ―It‘s about doing the most with what you have been given.‖
Soheila crossed her arms. ―What other responsibilities have I failed to fulfill?‖ Khaki looked at his paper again. ―We can talk about your choice of career.‖ ―What‘s wrong with being a librarian?‖ ―There‘s nothing wrong with it, per se. It‘s just that you‘re not contributing anything new. Your job is to catalogue and organize and search for what other people have created, for other people‘s unique and valuable contributions to culture.‖ ―It pays the bills. I enjoy it.‖ ―That isn‘t enough,‖ said Moustache. ―I‘m working on a manuscript, myself.‖ ―You mean your critique of Iranian memoirs?‖ said Khaki. ―Yes. But it‘s not just my critique. It‘s a collection of essays by Iranian women reflecting on Reading Lolita in Tehran. I‘m calling it Reading Reading Lolita in Tehran in Tehran.‖ ―That‘s very clever, but no one will publish it,‖ said Moustache. ―How do you know?‖ ―We‘ve asked around,‖ Khaki said. ―There‘s no market for it. Why don‘t you write your own memoir?‖ ―I‘m not interested in writing about my own life.‖ ―Well, Ms. Talebi,‖ said Moustache, ―perhaps if you had done more with all the advantages you‘ve been given, you would feel differently. One of the women we interviewed received a grant that allowed her to travel to Iran last year and take footage of members of the Ghashghai tribe for a documentary set to air on PBS next month. She‘s working on a book about her experiences in Iran right now. Why haven‘t you done anything like that?‖ Soheila shrugged. ―It never occurred to me.‖ ―Of course it didn‘t.‖ ―Why is that so bad?‖ ―It‘s not that it‘s bad, it just isn‘t particularly good.‖ ―What about my brother? Are you sending him back too? He hasn‘t made any real contributions.‖
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Khaki leaned forward and set his elbows on the table. ―He‘s rebellious and irreverent. He‘s put together a successful stand-up act around being Middle Eastern in post-9/11 America. He does fantastic impressions of your parents‘ accents.‖ He began to laugh. Moustache laughed with him. ―Really funny stuff,‖ he said. Khaki flipped to another sheet of paper on his clipboard. ―Each interviewee is evaluated for two possible categories, Ms. Talebi: upstanding or rebellious. Your brother fits under the latter. You, on the other hand, don‘t fit under either. You‘ve lived your life here as if it hasn‘t all been the result of the serendipitous series of events that brought you to this country. Sometimes we make exceptions for kids who‘ve come from especially difficult backgrounds, but that doesn‘t apply to you.‖ ―But I‘ve been rebellious.‖ ―Because you took drugs once or twice?‖ asked Khaki. Soheila reddened. ―I took E with my friends in college several times.‖ ―You and everyone else around you. Besides, you didn‘t learn anything from that experience, did you? Your friends were changed by it. They were enlightened. They saw the world from a new perspective. You stayed the same.‖ ―I‘ve done other rebellious things.‖ She looked down at her lap. ―Are you talking about your little stint batting for the other team?‖ Soheila nodded shyly. ―We know all about that. It didn‘t help your case.‖ ―So that’s why you‘re here. Because you think I‘m a lesbian.‖ The two of them threw their heads back and laughed. ―That‘s very cute,‖ said Moustache. ―No, of course not,‖ said Khaki. ―Ours is not a narrow-minded organization. That was another example of a missed opportunity, Ms. Talebi. You never made your sexuality the focal point of your identity. Why did you never come out publicly? Why didn‘t you join a community that supported your lifestyle?‖ Soheila shrugged her shoulders. ―I didn‘t see why it should be at the center of my identity. My relationship with Enid only lasted a few months.‖ ―You had the opportunity to help others and you didn‘t take it,‖ Moustache said. ―When the Iranian president came to New York City and claimed there are no homosexuals in Iran, why didn‘t you stand up for your people?‖ ―I don‘t know. I didn‘t think it necessary to take a stand against the president. I didn‘t think my people, as you call them, needed me to speak for them.‖ 15
Moustache stopped his questioning and wrote for several minutes while Khaki played with his iPhone. Soheila stared at her hands, scratched flakes of coral polish from her nails, and thought of all the things she could have done over the years to prevent this from happening. She could have worked harder in school and gone to a better university on scholarship. She could have begun an Iranian student organization on campus, could have organized and picketed and shouted angrily from behind a strip of police tape after the Patriot Act was passed. She and Enid could have marched in West Hollywood during Pride Week. She saw clearly all the opportunities she hadn‘t seized, all the times she could have spoken out for or against something, anything, but she didn‘t. She lacked the conviction. All this time she had thought her mild efforts, her good intentions, had been enough. How naïve. She began to cry. Moustache reached over and patted her lightly on the shoulder. He put his notebook away and took his coat from the back of the chair. Khaki grabbed his backpack. ―Are you leaving?‖ She followed them to the door. ―This is all we have time for,‖ said Moustache. ―If you‘re accepted into our program, a driver will come by your apartment a week from today to escort you to our facilities.‖ ―Please don‘t bother trying to hide,‖ said Khaki, his face softening with sympathy. ―It‘s not really an option for you.‖ ―But I have more questions. There‘s still so much I don‘t understand.‖ Khaki put his hand on his chest. ―This is the only place where you will find the answers, Ms. Talebi.‖ Moustache rolled his eyes. ―You‘re so sentimental.‖ ―Hey, I‘m just trying to show compassion.‖ She watched as they walked out the door and closed it behind them. She waited until she no longer heard their footsteps descending the stairs, then called her mother. ―I need to talk to you.‖ ―Heila! We‘ve been waiting to hear from you. Did you meet our friends?‖ ―What?‖ ―They said the intake interview would be today. How‘d it go?‖ ―You knew?‖ ―You didn‘t do as great a job of hiding your problem as you thought, sweetheart. We‘ve been on a waiting list to get you an interview for two years now.‖ 16
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―You mean this was your idea?‖ Her voice broke. ―Please don‘t be upset, honey. We just wanted you to get the best chance at succeeding in life. Isn‘t that why we came here to begin with? We wouldn‘t have become refugees if we didn‘t want you to have more opportunities than we had. Why don‘t you get some rest. We can talk about this more during the family visit. Okay?‖ She went down to the stacks and scoured the shelf that housed the Middle East section. She read pieces of textbooks, memoirs, political newspapers, journal articles, novels, poems, religious texts. The next day, she had her hair chemically straightened at a Beverly Hills hair salon, then found a boutique in Westwood where she purchased black satin blouses and skirts that accentuated her hips. New gold bangles encircled her wrists. She called her friend Jasmine, a film school student at UCLA and volunteered to participate in her documentary project, a web series that followed second-generation immigrant women as they learned to cook dishes from their native countries. By the end of the week, she had grown excited about rehab. She packed her new clothes and a copy of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, no longer remembering why she hadn‘t wanted to go. She sat on her suitcase and waited by the door Monday morning, but no one arrived. She waited a few more hours, passing the time by watching Iranian films from the 1990s. She wiped tears as a veiled little girl ran down a Tehran alley to meet her older brother so she could give him her shoes; they were too poor to afford more than one pair. Finally, an envelope appeared through the space beneath Soheila‘s door. She opened the door just in time to see a black car speed away. Inside the envelope she found another letter. Dear Ms. Talebi, We regret to inform you that you have not been accepted into our Diaspora Rehabilitation Program, as budget cuts have forced us to take only those candidates who we believe have the highest potential for full recovery. Please feel free to re-apply in twelve months. We wish you the best in your journey toward realizing your potential and apologize once again for the inconvenience. Sincerely, The Diaspora Police
Dena Afrasiabi was born in Iran and raised all over California. She studied English at UCLA and Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark University and now resides in Austin, Texas.
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BAD BLOOD Ann Ang When we were young, our parents always told us never to say the wrong thing. Better to keep your opinions to yourself, don‘t create bad blood, they said, looking behind their shoulders, as if the specter of offence taken would metamorphose from the walls, stern-faced, constipated, possessing the highest standards of moral integrity. Well, here he was, walking stiffly through campus green in the spring of 2005, finishing his degree in mechanical engineering, clad in the shabbiest of windbreakers while the rest of us lounged about the metal picnic tables lining Locust Walk, shivering, blending in with our J. Crew pastels, our patterned rain boots, our winter-bleached faces laughing loud American laughs. It was our break, but the walk was brimming with students rushing to class beneath the bay windows and spiked chimneypots of the Arch. When he passed, scowling, hair oily and ragged from putting off a cut for months to save money, we grew quiet. He never made eye-contact. Daniel was his name, but his puritan sense of right and wrong led him to introduce himself as ―Daniel Wong, pronounced W-ung‖ and to insist on Wong Wai Leong Daniel instead of Daniel Wai Leong Wong. Some of us were like him, government scholars who needed to keep our GPA up so that our tuition and living expenses would be paid for. That and upholding ―the image and integrity of scholars at all times‖ would guarantee a job for five years after we got home. But Daniel behaved as if he were wearing the national flag like a cape. With his aversion to Spring Fling, Starbucks or any of us adopting an American accent, he made us feel dirty. Because of him, we wanted to be transparent, of no nation. Even his feet were shod in scruffy New Balance sneakers bought back home in army camps for a fraction of the commercial models in malls. They were made for warm weather, not for the persistent rains and toe-chilling puddles of springtime Philly. Out of the corner of our eyes, we watched him skid and careen among the daffodils and come to a stop in front of us for the first time. We‘re not trying to say the wrong thing here, but when a fellow only talks to the boys about engineering and business while looking askance at our dyed curls and tight boots, then the bad blood is in him. And when he stops to talk though he ordinarily doesn‘t, then something wrong is about to come out of his mouth. ―Hello,‖ he said, without taking his hands from his faded Giordanos. ―Are you all going to the get-together tomorrow?‖ We looked at each other, still not wanting to say the wrong thing. After all, he was a scholar, destined for policy-making. No one wanted to go, but we still went to every one of the club gatherings, bringing green bean soup hustled up from a last minute trip to Chinatown. Jenny said, ―Yeah. Are you going?‖ ―Yeah.‖
―Okay. See you then.‖ We looked away, at the blond jocks twisting their lean torsos after Frisbees that fell in the wet grass. The sun picked out a cream Labrador in gold. But he stayed, watching with us. ―Those stupid whites,‖ he said at last, in Mandarin, ―Always in the sun. Don‘t seem to know anything about UV rays or skin cancer.‖ Here was the bad blood acting up in him. Jenny laughed nervously, and no one looked at him, except Amy, who understood all he said but spoke not a word of Mandarin. He turned to leave at last. ―Anyway,‖ he said, reverting back to English, ―Did you girls see the email about the Outreach lunch next week?‖ We nodded warily. Jenny tried to keep the mood light. ―Why? You keen on the free lunch at the White Dog?‖ ―Scholars are encouraged to attend,‖ he said, looking back at the Frisbee players. ―Make sure you non-scholars sign a contract with them. Go home.‖ Jenny tried to smile into the crush of students passing. It seemed that all the world was here: two professors conversing in Swahili, a goth girl striding past with The Norton Shakespeare in her arm, a boy trying to eat sushi while talking on his cell phone. A tall crew-cut brunette stopped by us, and Amy leapt into his outspread arms. ―You‘re back from Haiti!‖ she cried. ―How was the service trip?‖ ―Fantastic, we had a blast!‖ Here was America: its excesses and wastes of affection, outbursts and sirens of speech and noise freshly minted, tossed away like so many single-use-only coffeecups, the pea-coats bought one season and dumped the next, the perpetual newness. Daniel had turned to go, but he looked back at the scene. ―What a whore,‖ he spat in Mandarin. He walked. We sat. Amy waved goodbye to her friend. If she heard, she gave no sign. Like Daniel, she was a scholar and probably going to the Outreach lunch for the same reason, though how he would dare say such a thing to a future colleague was a mystery. We continued to watch that blue-clad figure recede, hunched, loping, unforgiving. He stepped away, slipped to the right, was borne up by another in the crowd. Waving his arms, he thanked the stranger profusely.
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Yes, we were whores, Amy included. We were smarter and prettier. We were in America on an all-expenses paid trip. If the government didn‘t pay, then our parents did. This was home. If we chose, we could speak just like the counter-staff in Barnes and Noble, could knock down a few beers smuggled into the dorm, could slide up to the bar in Smoky Joe‘s. Like you, we felt we needed to pay in some way. Unlike you, we chose not to be difficult. We could shrug off family ties and ancestral values of hard work and waste-not for this anonymous wandering through streets littered with frat parties, marginal As and vaguely European architecture. To boast of who we were, to speak of a little high-powered equatorial island across the Pacific to unquestioning faces—that was to say the wrong thing. No one asked you. But you kept on insisting on differences. At the White Dog you sat with your elbows at the edge of the table and away from the utensils, your fingers interlaced beneath your chin. Amy sat to your left, so you spoke only to the engineering senior on your right, discussing what was required for an A in your honors project. You hated the aged wooden rafters, the fringed Victorian lamps like luminous bells, the story about the medium who haunts the premises. Most of all, you detested the waitresses who asked how you were, whose idea of taking orders was a friendly conversation in which you were ―sweetie.‖ Back home, at the finest Chinese restaurants, you were embarrassed by being waited upon, especially if the waitress was a woman graying like your aunties. You order, when pressed, in as few words as possible, for at their age they should not be troubled more than necessary. Once you even got up after the order was taken to serve yourself chilies and peanuts. Today you were goose-stepping the same dance of decorum. The Outreach officer, representative of several prominent firms and organizations, asked us all to pick anything we liked from the menu. So we did, calling for organic salads with local cheese and roast port-wine leg of duck. To you that meant waiting for everyone else to order, carefully craning your llama‘s neck, working out the average price. You even asked the Outreach officer, one Miss Lim, to choose for you. We looked on in despair, as the waitress stood poised with her pen on the notepad. You went with the lunch special. The truth is that you hate to be singled out even as you believed it was your sovereign right. The secret knowledge that you were here on a mission to persuade your countrymen and women to return to their homeland sat burning on your stomach. We enjoyed the gazpacho, but you fiddled with yours while making sure you used the correct spoon. Maybe you were too proud to ask what it was; maybe you considered it a waste of time to dally with a crowd of ingrates who were here to dress up, dine well and leave. Whatever it was, you turned to Amy for the first time and said in Mandarin, ―Which companies are you interested in?‖ Seeing her blank, puzzled stare, her quick smile, you gave her a pitying stare—one of those who didn‘t speak Mandarin after years of schooling, who passed their oral examination with monosyllables and nodding. You told Miss Lim about our recent achievements: Ming Xing had taken first prize for his biochemistry project and one of our homebred Wharton teams was first 21
runners-up in a nationwide business challenge. Amy then mentioned the reading program at a West Philly school that she helped with on weekends. After the initial awkwardness, you saw that they were just kids. Miss Lim smiled and nodded. You glowered. Finally, when the coffee arrived, Miss Lim got to business. She explained how several big firms from home were eager to offer positions to our best and brightest, especially those who studied overseas. She then produced a formidable folder of figures. With a long transparent ruler, she showed us how the salaries and benefits of our world class organizations matched up with any job we could find in New York and London. Stirring our coffee, we swallowed our yawns. When the time came, all jobs were equal, as were people. Jenny asked what options there were for someone with a degree in English. You tried not to roll your eyes. Miss Lim hesitated before suggesting that she check with the press and with our Ministry of Education. ―Of course,‖ she added with a small smile, ―Working at home means that you‘re closer to family and friends, and your chicken rice.‖ There were a few polite laughs from around the table. ―Maybe the scholars would like to share,‖ she asked, ―about the prospect of returning home after studying abroad?‖ Amy chirped, ―You should go first, Daniel. You‘re older.‖ You raised one hand to your high-buttoned collar, your face expressionless. Perhaps you were horrified, or were you simply unprepared to speak? Were you more surprised to find that a whore was a scholar, or that you had labeled a scholar as one before a group of peers who were now waiting for you to speak? You bowed your head. Did you acquiesce then to a higher power, one which selected scholars on the basis of the unimaginable? Really, you must believe us when we said we felt bad for you. If you had turned to Amy with the briefest of conciliatory smiles, we would have cheered you on, having seen the essential goodness beneath your fanaticism. But you believed that toughness would carry the day. So we didn‘t speak. ―Why don‘t both of you share together?‖ Miss Lim suggested. But you began immediately. ―Okay everyone, I hope you enjoyed your lunch because you didn‘t pay for it. Now we should express our thanks.‖ ―Oh no, don‘t mention it,‖ said Miss Lim. You ignored her and went on. ―The government paid for it. Our people back home paid for it. For everything that you wear, eat and read. Because that is how much you are valued.‖ We sat silent, not wanting to say the wrong thing. Could we dispute such facts? 22
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Amy chimed in. ―It‘s a way of saying that even when you‘re far away from home, you‘re still thought of.‖ ―Stop confusing the issue,‖ you snapped. Amy looked around and shrugged. Miss Lim tried to smile. ―All your life you‘ve been provided for: your free education, your parents‘ flat, your parks, your litter-free environment. Is that not true?‖ We listened. ―It‘s the way we look after each other,‖ Amy added. ―What should you do now?‖ you all but yelled. ―It‘s time you gave back!‖ ―I think what Daniel is trying to say,‖ Amy quickly interjected, ―Is that it‘s not about the money. He‘s saying that you have a home to return to, a place where you can be safe. Where you can be yourself.‖ You stood up. Miss Lim told you to calm down. We were silent. Already there was too much bad blood in the air, and we certainly did not want to say the wrong thing now. ―Don‘t put words in my mouth!‖ you yelled. ―You think I don‘t know your kind? You take our money to study here and you go home and sign a fat three-year contract. Then you feel cooped up, right? What do you do then?‖ You made strange sawing motions with your hands. You might have been playing a violin, or trying to fly. ―You come back here because that is what you feel like doing,‖ you spluttered. ―I have no respect for your kind.‖ Your hands leapt. ―All of you need to know this. It‘s not always about you. It‘s about doing what‘s right. Giving back. Knowing that you couldn‘t have done this on your own.‖ You snatched your windbreaker off the chair and added earnestly in Mandarin, ―Look at her! Can‘t speak Mandarin! As if a…person like her is fit to lead the country.‖ Amy translated deftly, ―As if a…person like you is fit to lead the country.‖ We saw your mouth drop open in fear, your shoulder hunched as you turned to go. Did you not know you are always watched? But bad blood is still blood, however fractious, and we‘re steeped in it together, come what may. So we said nothing, as usual. Miss Lim paid the bill and left a list of company contacts. Most of us were employed before we graduated. All but two of us were 23
going home. What you said made no difference—we were always going to. Sure we were whores, loving the sleaze, the cold, the politics, the newness, the steaming midnight mochas (Jenny even had a cute blond boyfriend who brought her flowers for the last time during graduation). But out of such loves we slipped, like snakes shedding skin, stepping on planes, gravitating towards home and privilege. We do as we do. Are you satisfied now? Did we say something wrong? We said nothing till we saw you in the newspaper, last in the retinue of some minister, sweaty and alarmed. We jabbed at your ghost-like face till our middle fingers were black. ―I know that guy,‖ we say.
Ann Ang was educated at the National University of Singapore and the University of Pennsylvania. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Eclectica Magazine, the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Ceriph and elsewhere. Her work was recently featured in SYNÆSTHESIA, an exhibition of visual and literary art supported by the British Council and Singapore's National Arts Council. She teaches A-level Literature in Singapore.
ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2011
WHEN THE FORBIDDEN ONES BREAK THROUGH Talia Kolluri ―The fucking dogs, Andrew,‖ the man said, ―I hate those fucking dogs.‖ Pause. ―What? No, I don‘t know who they belong to. Just strays probably.‖ Pause. ―Right. Sure. I‘ve been doing that. But I‘m not willing to put up with them anymore. They act like they own the site. They push their way in. Leave little fucking doggie footprints everywhere. They‘re compromising the integrity of this dig, Andrew, and I won‘t tolerate that.‖ Pause. ―Oh yeah? Well you can take your little bleeding heart and shove it straight up your ass! I‘m here for the dig. The dogs will not survive this one.‖ He slammed the phone back onto its hook. I was still lying in the dirt when he turned around and saw me. I was exposed, surrounded by nothing but dust. I tried to sink into the dirt and make myself as flat as possible. I stilled my tail. I hoped he wouldn‘t notice me. I was so close to the ground that dirt was sticking to my nose. Please don’t notice me. He turned, put his hands on his hips and looked around at the empty expanse. The four yards between us collapsed to inches in my mind as I watched him looking over the sandy earth spread out between us. Don’t notice me! He stopped. He noticed me. The man with the dirty hands, his dirty hands planted on his hips leaving dirty streaks on his ugly shirt walked toward me with an arrogant strength of purpose. Walked toward me, in the dirt. When he reached me he stood with his feet on either side of my face. I tried to sink even further into the dirt. It wasn‘t working. I saw him hovering over me. His boots stared at me menacingly like flanking soldiers. I realized that I hated him. I saw his foot pull back. It scraped the sand and made a sound that bothered my ears. And then there was something else. And then there was pain. And then there was nothing.
Who am I? I‘m Gregor. There are seven of us: Kavita, Ava, Inchen, Jonathan, Nikolai, Alice, and me. I named us after tourists years ago. We like the names. I like having a name. It makes me feel civilized. But I won‘t pretend that we are. We‘re rough cut and raw. We‘re diamond dogs. Mangy dogs. Whippet fast with bigger brains. Mongrel dogs. We are the dogs of Pompeii and we own this fallen city. They come in droves. Like wasps. Like locusts. They hover. They infect. They touch things. They crowd my streets. I tolerate them because they part like water when I want to walk through. ―Do not. Pet the dogs. Okay?‖ A tour guide was talking to his group in one of those loud voices that carries through to the back of distracted crowds. ―They are stray dogs,‖ he continued, ―they are not pets. They do not want to be your friend. They live here but we don‘t own them. Come this way.‖
He walked backwards down a stone paved street that went through the ruins, beckoning them with his raised hands. Come here. I try something. I weave among their legs. I watch them try to avoid me. I know I‘m ugly. And bristly looking. I know they‘re used to other kinds of dogs. Beautiful friendly dogs with collars that play games and lick their knees. Dogs that aren‘t like me. I can feel them quivering ever so slightly when I brush against their legs. I pretend that I don‘t notice them. But I do. Those are the tourists. The other ones are worse. Those other ones have little metal picks and brushes. They cart water bottles, packed lunches, trash, notebooks, inky pens and needless wasteful things into the ruins. I hate them. They are ruining the ruins. Sometimes we follow them out to the dusty hills. They pick at things with covered faces and uncover them only to bury them again later. They call out to each other over flecks of dust. They crush the few plants that survive out here, which is a pity. At night, I go back to the things they‘ve exhumed. I weave in and out of their piles of sand in circles. I close my eyes in the moonlight. I mourn for my city. I wish they would leave this place alone. They think we‘re intruders. We hate each other with mutual venom. Let me tell you how it began. Hush. And listen.
―Why do the people come?‖ asked Jonathan. His tail kept hitting my haunches as he wagged it. We walked together down the main promenade. Jonathan danced around to avoid people‘s feet. I bumped into their legs once in a while. On purpose. ―They come to see Pompeii,‖ I said. I snapped at the air near a fat man‘s leg. He jumped and I smiled. ―I know,‖ said Jonathan, ―but it‘s broken. Why don‘t they go to a new city?‖ ―People like broken things,‖ I said. We kept walking. ―But why?‖ ―Well.‖ I thought about this for a moment. I wanted to be careful about my answer because Jonathan tended to cling to things. ―I think it‘s because people don‘t want to throw something away just because it‘s broken. They want to appreciate things for what they once were, even if they‘re no longer as beautiful as before. They feel good if they love damaged things. ―They like that those things make them a little bit sad. They feel important because they are wise enough to be humble and love something that‘s worn and weary. They think they‘re better than everybody just because they‘re so sophisticated.‖ I was starting to get upset. I could hear it in my own voice. I had to stop for a moment to take deep breaths. I hate pity. I hate charity. I hate pretension. I hate needing things. I hate people. I lunged at another leg just to make my point.
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―Oh,‖ said Jonathan. I could tell from his face that he was slipping into a period of silence. He was a secret melancholy dog. I think I was the only one who knew that. ―I happen to think it‘s smug,‖ I told him. ―Gregor, can I ask you something?‖ Jonathan had stopped in the middle of the road. I turned to look at him in the piercing sun. His tail had stopped wagging and it stuck straight out back and the tip drooped. ―If the people come here because they love broken things, why don‘t they love us? We‘re broken. Why don‘t they love us?‖ ―Oh Jonathan.‖ I walked up to him and licked his forehead. ―We‘re not broken.‖ ―Are you sure?‖ ―I‘m sure.‖ We started walking again. ―I think they‘re trying to make me broken,‖ he said after a long pause. ―No,‖ I said, ―they‘re just trying to pretend we‘re not here.‖ ―Gregor?‖ ―Yes?‖ ―Sometimes they spit on me.‖ Jonathan was whining quietly. I could barely hear it. I walked close to him and bumped him with my shoulder. ―You‘re not broken, Jonathan,‖ I said, ―and I‘ll never let you get that way.‖ ―Okay,‖ he said. We walked the rest of the way in silence. I couldn‘t believe somebody had spit on Jonathan. He‘d said it happened sometimes, but I knew better. It was probably all the time. I guessed that I knew who it was. Not the tourists. Not the lost and wandering hordes from far away with cameras and snack packs and little brochures. They were too happy to be here. They hadn‘t been sucked dry by the dust. They hadn‘t wandered among the ruins for days. They just came and went, and after a few hours they wiped the grit from their faces and climbed on to buses to finish their tours of the ancient world. No, it wasn‘t them. It was him. He wore cargo pants and shirts with loud words on them. I can read. I know what they say. Little selfrighteous things about saving our precious earth and all its creatures. What a hypocrite. He carried a notebook and knocked at little pebbles with a pick. He brushed the dust and cursed the things that were hiding beneath it. It had to be him because he was the only one who spit on me. I could put up with it when it when it was just me. But the other dogs? No, I couldn‘t handle that. Not when it was one of the others. And especially not when it was Jonathan. My friends always tried to stay out of the way. They dashed into corridors, dodged feet and pushed their unobtrusive furry little bodies into corners to avoid being underfoot. Sure, there was a little bit of begging. Sometimes some strategically timed 27
tail wagging or the lifting of brown or blue eyes at the right moment. There was that. But nothing obnoxious. I was sure it was the same one. The same squishy fat nose. The same angular cheekbones, the same lemon-pursed lips and the same halo of sunshine hair. I started to hate him. Who was that again? I decided I should start paying attention to the names. Jonathan and I turned down an alley away from the main promenade. The sun was high overhead when we got back home. Ava came into the alley. ―I found a bone,‖ she called out. ―What else?‖ I asked. ―Sandwiches!‖ She walked back into the gap in the wall. Sandwiches! I was hoping for ham or roast beef, but I was expecting turkey or egg salad. Behind the wall was a small area concealed by rocks and broken bricks. It was probably a narrow street once, but people didn‘t come that way anymore. An old wall had collapsed and jagged rocks and cracked bricks piled up across the path blocking the way through and concealing the corridor from view. We had stocked it with salvaged things. There was a bed pile which we had made up from discarded jackets and sweatshirts that the tourists absentmindedly shed when the sun got too hot. There was the food corner. Ava managed this mostly and usually brought in sandwiches or hotdogs. Every so often, she brought in other things like cookies or fruit or chips. They were discarded leftovers or things she had stolen. I never thought I‘d get used to human food, full of bready things and useless ingredients, but food is food and we were always hungry. Sometimes Ava brought drinks. I had learned about all of them and my favorite was Coke. I told the others not to drink it, but they did, and so did I. We didn‘t have it often. When we did, and when there was enough for me, I would lick it up and I would run and run and run in little circles until I couldn‘t run anymore. Today there was a bone. Bones were rare. I don‘t know where it was from. Probably a pick-nick. I didn‘t ask. It looked big and there were scraps of meat on it. The rule was, bones were rotated. Only one dog got the bone and every time it was someone else‘s turn. Today it was Jonathan‘s turn. Ava had set it aside carefully for him, and it was tucked away next to the bed pile. ―This time it‘s for you, Jonathan,‖ said Ava. She smiled at him a little bit and nudged the bone toward him with her nose. ―Thanks!‖ said Jonathan. His tail started whipping back and forth. It seemed like he had forgotten the conversation we had had on the way home. ―It‘s turkey!‖ he called out to no one in particular. ―I love turkey!‖ Jonathan set to gnawing his bone and I poked around the sandwiches. I found one with ham and pulled it into a corner. It was doused with mustard. If I were a different dog in different times, I would have thought the mustard ruined it, but I was me and it was now, and so I ate it, mustard and all. ―I‘m glad that Jonathan got the bone this time,‖ said Ava. She had curled up next to me. Her haunches were inches from mine. I licked mustard off my lips. ―It was his turn,‖ I said. 28
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―I know, but I‘m still glad it was him.‖ She sighed and settled her paws. ―It‘ll be my turn again sometime,‖ I said, ―will you be happy when I get the bone?‖ ―No,‖ she said. ―No? Why not? Don‘t I deserve a bone as much as Jonathan?‖ ―Oh Gregor.‖ She rolled her eyes at me. She looked exhausted. ―It‘s not about the bone. You know that. It‘s about getting something. Nothing ever goes Jonathan‘s way. Do you remember the time that vet came?‖ ―Vaguely.‖ ―I‘ll remind you. This vet came that one time, all fired up. He wanted to save the Pompeii dogs. Make us healthy, vaccinate us, make us fit to survive. Remember?‖ ―Yes.‖ I remembered. Reluctantly. I didn‘t really like to remember this story. ―Do you remember when he saw Jonathan?‖ ―Yes,‖ I said. ―And what did he say?‖ ―He said he didn‘t want to waste his time or shots on a mutt as mangy and hopeless as Jonathan.‖ ―What else?‖ she asked. ―He said it would do Jonathan good to let him die on the streets of Pompeii. He said it was a bigger kindness than arming him to survive one more miserable day in that pitiful body.‖ ―Right,‖ said Ava. ―How long ago was that?‖ ―Six years.‖ I watched Jonathan gnawing his bone. He had shoved one paw into the pile of coats in the corner. His tail was still wagging and it was sweeping a fan shape into the dust. ―You know what else?‖ Ava asked. She was watching him too. ―What?‖ ―His own litter rejected him,‖ she said. ―His litter what?‖ I didn‘t quite believe her.
―He was the runt. Like that‘s any surprise. We ran down to the town once together. We saw three of his brothers. He ran up to them, all wiggly like he does. You know Jonathan. They looked just like him. Same coat. Same color. Same snout and the same ridiculous spots. Same long legs. Just less hungry and desperate. Less happy. Do you know what they did?‖ ―No.‖ Did I really want to know? No. ―They tried to bite his ears off.‖ She looked at me and I had nothing to say. ―You should have seen their jaws snapping. Vicious. They got part of his tail as he ran away. Just the tip of it. But they bit it off.‖ ―It was that day?‖ I suddenly remembered a day when Jonathan came back from a trip out and was so secretive. His tail had been bloody. He said he‘d been in a fight. I‘d never seen Jonathan get in a fight before in my life. But that‘s what he said. He‘d curled in a corner the whole evening, licking his tail and pretending to be busy with other things. ―Do you know what the sad part is?‖ she asked. ―No.‖ I didn‘t want to hear any more. I didn‘t want to remember anything else about that day. ―He loves his brothers. He still talks about them. He wants to go see them. He wants to visit them. They‘ve never come to see him here. But every once in a while, he talks about how much they would love it here. How much he really wants to show them this little corner. He tells me they‘re planning to come, that they‘ve told him they‘ll come. Sometimes he goes so far as to wait at the gap. I‘ve never seen them. Just that one time. They never come. He always tells me it‘s for some special reason. But I know why. They don‘t want to come. Yeah. That‘s Jonathan. Rejected by his own litter. So that, Gregor, is why I‘m glad he gets the bone today. I‘m glad every time he gets the bone.‖ She put her nose between her paws. I’m glad too, Ava, I thought to myself. I’m glad too.
―Hey, Gregor!‖ Jonathan came running up to me with Kavi in tow. He looked ridiculous when he was running. His legs were so awkward and his joints were so knobby. The spots on his coat looked like they had been put in the wrong places on purpose. Jonathan looked like an accident, sort of pathetic. But he also looked so happy. I couldn‘t help wagging my tail a little bit. ―Hey, Gregor, you know what?‖ He was panting and breathless as he approached me and slowed down. ―What?‖ I said. ―So do you know why dogs have tails?‖ he asked as he trotted next to me. ―I don‘t know, Jonathan, tell me,‖ I said. 30
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―Do you look at people?‖ ―Yes. Why?‖ ―Do you see their faces?‖ ―Yes.‖ ―Their faces, Gregor. Do you ever look at them?‖ ―Sometimes.‖ ―They show their feelings on their faces by twisting them around. Remember, Gregor?‖ ―I guess.‖ ―Well, our faces don‘t do that. They aren‘t twisty like that. That‘s why we have tails.‖ ―Because we don‘t have twisted faces.‖ I was confused. ―Right. We have tails to show our feelings.‖ His was wagging all over the place. ―That‘s good, Jonathan. That‘s good.‖ ―I told him that,‖ Kavi said quietly. I could barely hear her. She was hopping delicately near his head, trying to be seen above his shoulders. ―Kavi told me that,‖ said Jonathan. He was still panting. Then he turned and licked the top of her head. ―Kavi told me that.‖ He ran off in the direction of the gap and his tail whipped back and forth as his legs struggled to find some sort of running rhythm. Kavi and I walked slowly toward the gap, side by side. Sometimes I had to look down to make sure she was still there when I lost her in my peripheral vision. She didn‘t talk very often, and when she did, I usually had to strain to hear her. Kind of twist my head or something. She was just so quiet. ―Gregor?‖ she said, trotting at my shoulder. ―Hmm?‖ ―Gregor?‖ she said again. ―Yes?‖ ―You know about the faces?‖ ―What about what faces?‖ I asked. 31
―The twisted ones,‖ she said ―Yeah?‖ ―There‘s this one. Um. Never mind.‖ ―What?‖ I stopped walking and turned to her. Now I was curious. ―Well, it was different than some of the other ones. I don‘t know what it was. It just seemed like there was something wrong with it.‖ ―Wrong with it how?‖ ―I don‘t know. Something. I don‘t know. It made me feel bad.‖ ―What are you talking about?‖ I didn‘t feel like I could move from where I stood. ―He looked at me,‖ she said quietly. ―He looked at you?‖ ―Yes.‖ ―That‘s it.‖ ―No.‖ ―What else then?‖ ―Well, he looked at me. He looked at my eyes.‖ Her voice had gotten so small that her words barely reached me. But it was unmistakable. He‘d looked her in the eyes. That had never happened to me before. ―Was it an accident?‖ I asked. I was hoping it was. ―No,‖ she said, ―I think he did it on purpose. He said something. I couldn‘t quite catch it, but his voice sounded so awful. Like when the others snarl. And then he looked right at my eyes. Gregor, he looked like he wanted to hurt me!‖ ―Which one was it?‖ I asked. My stomach started to knot itself into little balls. I felt like I was sinking. ―The angry one,‖ she said. ―No, I mean what did he look like?‖ ―His hands were dirty. And his knees. But I noticed his hands. Usually they have clean hands but this one didn‘t. And yellow hair. That‘s right. His hair was yellow.‖ 32
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―Dirty hands,‖ I said. ―Kavi, go home.‖ ―What?‖ ―Go home. I‘ll come back later.‖ She nodded and I watched her tail, ticking like a metronome as she ran toward the gap.
The crowds were thin where I first looked for him. I finally saw him when I turned a corner on the outskirts of the ruins. His sweaty stench invaded my nose. His back faced me and he was yelling into a pay telephone. It was housed in a row of phones along the outside wall of a modern square of beige brick plopped on the edge of the public parts of the ruins. A broad expanse of sand spread out beyond the wall where I stood. Dust and limestone smudged his shorts. His legs were dirty. The hand that gripped the receiver was filthy and dirt was wedged underneath his nails. I recognized the back of his neck. That was the spitter. The yeller. That was him. I inched closer. His voice was tense. What was he saying? I couldn‘t quite hear him. Closer. He twitched. Did he see me? Did he know I was there? I pressed myself down to the ground, stretched my paws out in front of me and scooted. Slowly. Toward him. I just wanted to hear. One ear up? Yes. Now it was good. I could hear him. I was so close to him that he could have seen me if he decided to turn around. Which he did after a moment. What a mistake. For me, I mean. You know what happened there. I told you what happened there. Don‘t make me say it again.
―Gregor. Gregor. Gregor!‖ Alice jabbed her paws into me. I kept my eyes squeezed shut. My head hurt. I didn‘t want to know what happened. ―Gregor, wake up!‖ I felt her nose pushing into my side. It was cold. And wet. I didn‘t like it. I tried to ignore her. And she bit me. ―What?‖ I opened my eyes. I didn‘t want to, but then again, she bit me. And she meant it. When I looked up, Alice was standing over me and her tail was hanging slack. ―You look awful,‖ she said. ―I know,‖ I said. I struggled to stand up. I righted myself, but I didn‘t feel quite right. I started to walk back to the gap, limping like an old dog. I tried to ignore Alice, but she followed me anyway. ―He kicked you,‖ she said. ―He did?‖ I think I knew that, but I pretended to be surprised.
―Yes.‖ ―How did you know that?‖ I asked. I didn‘t remember seeing her there. ―I saw you. I watched. I wanted to come out and I wanted to do something. I wanted to help you, Gregor, but I was scared of him. He‘s so big and his hands are so dirty.‖ It bothered all of us, the dirty hands. We walked together in silence for a while. I thought for a moment about the gap. I thought of the pile of jackets and the hot dogs. Mostly I just thought about my friends. I wanted to go home. But then I remembered his face. His angry face. ―I have to go,‖ I said. Alice turned to me and looked stricken. ―But why? You‘re hurt. You should go home,‖ she said. ―I know. But I can‘t.‖ ―But why?‖ ―He and I aren‘t finished yet.‖ I looked back at the bank of phones. ―I have to go,‖ I said again. I ran back to the phones and didn‘t look back at Alice. When I ran up to the wall, the man with the dirty hands was gone. Of course he was gone. I could have been unconscious for hours or minutes or days. I wouldn‘t have known the difference. I didn‘t see anyone around. I started to panic. I ran back and forth in front of the phones feeling trapped. Would he come back? I felt like my legs were all bound up. Sort of like I couldn‘t move my tail. I paced like that until I had worked myself up into a frenzy, and then I calmed myself down and decided to look around the building. It was an ugly block and I had always ignored it. It didn‘t belong here in the ruins and I usually didn‘t want anything to do with it. But when I walked past the phone bank and turned the corner to look at the other side, I saw an open doorway. It was black like a gaping monster mouth. I walked toward it, ready to be eaten. The light was so dim that I had to blink several times to let me eyes adjust. I held myself close to the outside of the building and poked my nose in just far enough for me to see inside. I wanted to stay hidden. I looked carefully into the room. And then, there he was. The man with the dirty hands. He was talking to someone else. They didn‘t see me. My head hurt when I saw him again. ―You have to see this,‖ Dirty Hands said. He was leaning over a desk. ―What?‖ said another man. He looked weak and flimsy next to Dirty Hands. ―It‘s probably the most exciting thing we‘ve ever unearthed,‖ said Dirty Hands. ―Ok. What?‖ asked Weak and Flimsy. ―It‘s a couple. Embracing.‖ Dirty Hands looked triumphant. Pompous. Weak and Flimsy took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. 34
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―Where did you find them?‖ asked Weak and Flimsy. ―On the east side of the dig. I had the kids bring them back. You‘ve got to see them. I need to get them under glass.‖ A couple? Embracing? Dig? Under glass? I didn‘t understand. I ducked back to the other side of the wall. Dirty Hands rushed past me as he stormed out of the corridor. He didn‘t see me and I finally started to breathe. As he strode away, I followed, trotting at a distance in the dusk, careful not be noticed. Evening wrapped me in a silvery blanket. I was falling into night and still I followed him. We walked, together and apart, across sandy paths, past a parking lot with a small collection of jeeps sleeping there. He walked up to another intrusive new building, and I followed quietly twenty paces behind. And then I lost him to an open doorway as he was swallowed up in the dark. I stopped where I was and stared for a moment. Should I try to go in? My legs were still shaking from before. I couldn‘t do this again tonight. I went home alone, feeling defeated.
For the next few days, I couldn‘t stop thinking about what I had heard from Dirty Hands. I begged for food and looked for scraps. The others did well, but I didn‘t bring anything home. My head felt better. I wasn‘t feeling so old anymore, but I just couldn‘t concentrate. I had to find him again. One evening, I slipped away to the second building past the cars. I slunk along the walls at dusk until I found the open door that had swallowed Dirty Hands. Shadows clung to the corners of the building. I looked for one that was my size. Or bigger. I slipped into it and held my breath. I saw him standing just inside the doorway. I wasn‘t the only one who had been drawn back there that night. He didn‘t look my way so I inched closer to him. I made it to the edge of the open doorway and pressed myself against the brick. He walked to the far corner of a room and put a white mask over his face. His hair stuck out every which way from the bands holding the mask together. Weak and Flimsy was with him again. Together they went to a huge glass cube that was set on the floor and they lifted it up. It looked heavy. ―Careful,‖ said Dirty Hands. ―I‘m being careful,‖ said Weak and Flimsy. ―Gently.‖ ―We‘ll go slow.‖ ―Step to the left. Ready? Go.‖ They went on like this. Slowly inching the glass cube over to something else. They lifted it up to the level of their chests and I could see that it was missing a panel on the bottom. They shuffled sideways and slowly brought the glass down onto a platform. It was over something. I couldn‘t see. Was this the couple? The embracing couple? Could they breathe that way? Wouldn‘t they die under the glass? Were they still holding each other? Why didn‘t they let go and run 35
away? I had so many questions, but the room was painted in shadows and fading light, wasting away like it was dripping down the walls. I felt like I was missing something. I felt left out. I felt lonely. Dirty Hands knelt down beside the cube and laid his face against the top of the glass. Gently, he pressed his palms to it. He sighed. ―Hey,‖ said Weak and Flimsy, ―I think this is your best find.‖ ―I know,‖ said Dirty Hands, ―I think this will make my career.‖ ―Right.‖ ―Don‘t let the grad students touch this one now that it‘s under glass. I‘m writing the paper. I‘m doing the analysis. I‘m taking the pictures. This is mine. I found this and I want this.‖ His voice had taken on a rough edge. Like little teeth. Little serrated teeth. I knew that sound. Possessive. ―Okay, man. Don‘t get all weird about it. Nobody else will touch this thing.‖ ―Damn right,‖ said Dirty Hands, ―damn right. It‘s mine.‖ He stood up and stomped out of the room. He burst out of the doorway and I recoiled, afraid that he would touch me. He missed me, and I felt a puff of wind as he blew by me like a storm. He didn‘t look back, but still I shoved myself into the crevice where the building met the earth and tried desperately to disappear. ―Jesus,‖ said Weak and Flimsy, now that he was alone. I turned back to the doorway so I could hear him. ―What a head case.‖ He grabbed a jacket from a nearby table and left the room. I drew back again creeping deeper into the shadows. As he walked away across the sandy expanse, I started to breathe again. Neither of them had seen me. I was still in the shadow. I slowly poked my nose inside the room. There was still enough light for me to see. I wanted to see the people. I wanted to let them out. Nobody should be trapped like that. Nobody. Not even a man. I saw the top of his head. The man. He reclined on a wooden platform under the glass, and it looked like he was holding someone in his arms. It was probably a woman. People do that. The light was dim and I walked toward them, waiting for my eyes to adjust. His skin looked strange. Was he wearing clothes? His color was wrong. Something was wrong. I moved closer. And then I saw it. And when I saw it, I thought for a minute. Then I smiled. Then I laughed. Dogs laugh, and I did then. But not just any laugh. I had a full fit of laughter. I threw myself on the ground and rolled on my back in the dust that coated the tile floor. I kicked my legs around and whipped my tail around in crazy circles. It was funny because it wasn‘t real. It wasn‘t real! When I had looked closer, I‘d seen what they really were. It wasn‘t a couple embracing. It looked like one from a distance. But they were gray and papery looking. I knew what they were. They weren‘t people. They were just echoes impressed in a pile of ash. Afterthoughts. Forgotten memories. Useless. Dirty Hands loved these people, these piles of worthless charred dust. These ash bodies. He thought they looked beautiful. He thought they meant something important and heavy. I thought they looked delicious. And they mean leverage.
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I woke up in the gap when it was still night. I couldn‘t remember coming home, but I must have. I was curled up with three of them. Noses and feet and tails all tucked into a warm pile of dogs. We were all puppies once. I didn‘t know any of them back then. Well, that‘s not true. I didn‘t know all of them. Most of us found each other later. But I did know one. I did know Jonathan. His spots were uneven even when he was a kid. I remember he had this brown smudge on his face. He kept wiping at it with his paw, but it wouldn‘t go away. I tried to tell him that it was part of his face and that it would never go away, but he kept at it. He had a bald patch there for almost a year. I finally convinced him to leave it alone. When it grew back, the smudge was still there. Most of us knew what we were, but we never did figure out what kind of dog Jonathan was. Just a rangy awkward mutt, I guess. I yawned a couple of times. My mouth tasted like sleep and I was thirsty. I looked up and peered around the gap for a little bit. There was something on my mind. ―Hey,‖ I said, ―where‘s Jonathan?‖ ―Oh, he left a few minutes ago,‖ said Inchen. He was in the food corner looking for snacks. He probably couldn‘t sleep. ―He left? Where?‖ ―I don‘t know. He said he had to go see someone. He said you were talking in your sleep about some guy. I guess he went to see the guy.‖ ―He went to see the guy?‖ ―Yeah,‖ said Inchen. ―You must have been saying something crazy, Gregor. That or it must have been some guy you were talking about. Jonathan seemed real agitated when he left. For the first time, I thought he might bite somebody.‖ I started to worry. I started to worry and then I ran. When I emerged from the gap, Jonathan was galloping in the distance. Before he disappeared in the dark, I followed him. He was just a white and brown shape, with a waggling tail, pulling away from me in the night. I had lost him, but I knew where he would go. I turned the corners that I had run past so many times. I whipped through the corridors of my daily life. Darkness wrapped around me like a blanket and still I ran. Stars pricked the sky and still I ran. I smelled him. I knew where he was going. Oh Jonathan, I know where you are going. I should have never said anything. I cursed myself for talking in my sleep. He ran. I ran. He ran. I chased him. I chased him and he arrived. He arrived and he bit. He bit and he conquered. He conquered and the man was angry. The man was angry and I was afraid. Oh Jonathan, I’m never as brave as I pretend to be. I can’t save you. I’m a coward. The short story is that he bit the man. The man bled. The man was angry. And Jonathan survived. And Jonathan ran. And I did nothing but follow him.
―Jonathan!‖ I called out. ―What are you doing?‖ ―Did you see that?‖ He was out of breath, panting as he ran back to the gap. ―I saw.‖ I had seen Jonathan, strangely fierce and agile, lunge like a wolf at Dirty Hands. His knobby legs looked capable and strong. Dirty Hands backed up against a wall in the courtyard. He was afraid at first. But he managed to dodge Jonathan in the beginning. ―I bit him!‖ Jonathan sounded happy. ―I BIT HIM!‖ ―I know.‖ Jonathan was usually so timid. Most of the time he failed at things and didn‘t bother to try a second time. But in the moonlight in the courtyard, he‘d been persistent. Hungry. When he sunk his teeth in, the man screamed. Like a child. I hadn‘t heard a sound like that in years. He bit hard. Droplets of blood lingered on Jonathan‘s chin when he pulled away. He ran immediately. I followed him, but I turned back for a moment and I saw Dirty Hands‘ face. It looked like a storm. Dark and violent. He wasn‘t going to let this go. ―I felt so BIG, Gregor! I felt so big.‖ I know, Jonathan. But we‘re all of us smaller than we realize. At the gap, everybody was happy. They bumped their noses into Jonathan, wagged their tails and tumbled in the coats. They didn‘t know. They couldn‘t imagine. But I felt dark and weary. And I sulked in a corner all night. The next morning Jonathan left the gap early, and we didn‘t see him all day. I dug my nose under the pile of coats, but he wasn‘t there. I left the gap and looked in all of our favorite food places, but I couldn‘t find Jonathan. By the middle of the day, I had given up. I figured he would come home when he wanted to. I wandered around the city, looking for food. Looking for something. I thought about the embracing couple. ―If you don't watch yourself, Dirty Hands, I will eat those ash bodies up!‖ I said to myself when no one was around. I wanted to see how it sounded. Just to try the words on like a new shirt. I saw Dirty Hands from a distance once or twice. Once, when he turned a corner, he nearly ran into me. ―The ash bodies,‖ I hissed, ―I will eat them!‖ But he just turned his head for a moment and then walked away as though I had said nothing. His ankle was bandaged, and I couldn‘t help smiling when I saw that.
It was night when we finally found Jonathan. There was a shadow that wasn't right. The moon was waxing and the shadow of a lonely pillar had an imperfection. A curve jutting like an ugly lump where a smooth line was supposed to be. Ava saw him first. After two steps, I could see that he was dead. These are the kinds of things I cannot forgive. I was the first one to leave his body. I walked away. My mouth felt numb. I didn‘t notice as first, but they were following me. Quiet. We were all quiet. The sand looked silver. I was wandering. I was lost. I didn‘t know where I was going at all. And then 38
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things turned and I knew exactly where I was going. I started to trot. I started to trot and then I ran and they ran behind me. The moonlit horizon line started to tilt at a dangerous angle as I careened wildly toward an out of place building. A modern stone cube among the ruins. A blemish. A stone box holding a treasure. There was still no door closing off the room when I led them all inside. They saw the glass cube and they knew what I wanted. ―For Jonathan!‖ Kavi yelled as she lunged her shoulder into the glass box in the display room. It was weaker than we thought and the plates of glass shifted a bit. She went at it again and again. Shoving and crashing into it with all the weight of her body. She was, after all, the strongest one of all of us. Finally it gave way and started to tip to the side. The others shoved their paws and noses under the edge of the glass, and they pushed it off the base and away from the figures inside. Then we all stood and looked at them. They were embracing. Their mouths were slightly open as if they were crying out in fear. They were clinging to each other. I hadn‘t noticed before that they looked so delicate. But they were. Fragile. Like the empty shells of blown eggs. I stared for a while and thought of Jonathan. I remembered that when we found him, I saw that they had broken his tail. It was bent at a sharp angle. My own tail ached when I saw his like that. One of his ears was torn. The pads on his paws were slashed and it looked like salt was caked on the wounds. His belly was cut and his guts were spread out from him like a dirty apron. But his eyes. He had been born with one blue eye and one brown eye. He'd always been sort of self-conscious about that, but we all agreed that we loved them. Sometimes, when I was feeling particularly sad, I would ask Jonathan to open his eyes wide and look at me so I could stare into them. It always made me feel better, to look at them like that. Just balanced, the way things should be. They cut them out. His eyes. That was too far. And I think it‘s what pushed Ava over the edge. When she saw that his eyes were missing, she started to whimper and whine. Trembling, she walked up to him, nudged her snout between his front legs and curled up next to him. Blood be damned, she just wanted to be with him one last time. I can‘t blame her. Everybody else joined her. I tried. I really did. I got so far as walking up to him. I even licked his forehead once, but he was cold. And it wasn‘t the same. It just made me feel more lonely than I already was. I miss Jonathan. I looked at the figures again. ―For Jonathan,‖ I said quietly. I stepped closer and bit off a hand. It crumbled dry in my mouth. I took another bite. And another. As I gulped the ashes, I heard Inchen. For Jonathan. He came near my shoulders and started eating. For Jonathan. For Jonathan. For Jonathan. The others muttered quietly as they came to the pile of what was once the ash preserved forms of a couple in a last embrace. We stood there eating the ashes. Gulping and coughing drily. The six of us. Kavita, Ava, Inchen, Nikolai, Alice, and me, Gregor. We are rough cut and raw. The diamond dogs. Mangy dogs. Whippet fast with bigger brains. Mongrel dogs. We are the dogs of Pompeii, and we own this broken city.
Talia Kolluri was born and raised in Silicon Valley in Northern California and is of mixed Indian and American descent. She holds a B.A. in History from UC Santa Barbara and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota. Her short fiction has appeared in The Houston Literary Review and The Battered Suitcase. She currently lives in California's lush Central Valley, where she works as an attorney.
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WING YOUNG HUIE
THE UNIVERSITY AVENUE PROJECT: A Six-Mile Photographic Inquiry For three years Huie photographed the dizzying diversity in the St. Paul, Minnesota neighborhoods connected by this major thoroughfare. From old world to developing world to modern world, this jammed stretch of storefronts, big box retailers, bluecollar neighborhoods, and burgeoning condominium communitiesâ€”in the midst of one of the highest concentration of international immigrants in the countryâ€” collectively reflects the colliding and evolving American experience. In 2010, in collaboration with Saint Paul Public Art, a six-mile gallery of 500 photographs transformed University Avenue, exhibited in store windows and on buildings. The centerpiece was a spectacular installation site where dual outdoor photographic slide shows were projected nightly on billboard-sized screens in a former car dealership lot, accompanied by prerecorded soundtracks by local musicians.
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THE UNIVERSITY AVENUE PROJECT: A Six-Mile Photographic Inquiry ARTIST STATEMENT
From May 1 to October 31, 2010 over 450 photographs reflecting the everyday realities of the surrounding neighborhoods, populated a six-mile stretch of University Avenue in our Capital City of St. Paul, peering at us from store windows and building surfaces and projected five nights a week on an outdoor movie-sized screen in a vacant car dealer lot. The photographs are the result of three years wending my way through nooks, alleys, and living rooms, capturing on 35mm film the colliding kaleidoscope of life along this jammed stretch of mom and pop storefronts, big-box retailers, blue-collar homes, and burgeoning condominium enclaves—in the midst of one of the most diverse concentrations of international immigrants in the country. There are, of course, already thousands of images visible in that corridor, just as there are in any metropolitan area, but how many of those countless marketing and media realities that we consume on a daily basis really reflect all of us? How do they form what we think of each other and ourselves? Do we in fact become what we see? How do we represent our authentic selves in this Photoshop era? These are some of the questions that this project considers. In many of the photographs citizens are holding chalkboards on which are written responses to a series of questions that I posed. How would you answer these questions if a stranger with a camera walked up to you claiming to be an artist doing a public exhibition? What are you? How do you think others see you? What don‘t they see? What advice would you give to a stranger? What is your favorite word? Describe an incident that changed you? How have you been affected by race? After each person gave their replies I choose the answer that I thought was the most interesting or revealing and asked them to write it on the chalkboard. In this manner I approached hundreds of students in nine schools, people on the street, in community centers, at businesses, and at the capitol. Like messages in a bottle the words bubbled up, bringing to the surface a wealth of emotions and needs, prosaic and philosophical wishes, private and public fears. The reactions to this project are difficult to summarize, for tens of thousands whether they intend to or not ―see‖ at least a part of the installation every day (the largest photo, just west of Raymond Avenue, is 30 x 45 feet and can be seen for over a mile). The outdoor projection site—where 450 images are viewed on a 40-foot screen, accompanied by a soundtrack from 50 local musicians—has become a town square drawing over 5000 people from all walks of life. 48
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One viewer, who lives a block away from the projection, told me that his two nieces who live in South Minneapolis wouldn‘t visit him because they were afraid of the area. He wanted to come back with them, he said, so they can see what the neighborhood was really like. Another at the site, an artist who was born and raised in Germany but now lives in the Twin Cities, commented that she feels like she lives in a different city from the one in my photographs. ―It‘s as though you‘re mapping an uncharted territory,‖ she said, ―like the ocean. We seem to live on islands that are like ghettoized communities, driving from place to place. A lot of what surrounds us escapes us.‖ The University Avenue Project is a large-scale collaborative. Public Art Saint Paul and its small staff, produced this project, shepherding an army of businesses, individuals, non-profits, corporations, city employees, architects, engineers, educational consultants, music curators, and hundreds of volunteers to make this project possible. The Minnesota Historical Society Press has published affordable, two-volume magazine-like books that are extensions of this project, with added context and essays. People often ask me, ―What is the purpose for all this?‖ Sometimes I reply, ―I want to show not only what is ignored, but also what is in plain sight and remains invisible.‖ Or more recently, ―I am creating a new iconography because the perceptions of who we are as ‗real‘ Minnesotans or Americans haven‘t caught up to the realities.‖ But these and other answers I give sometimes seem slippery and self-serving. I mean, how do any of us really know all the reasons why we do what we do? In the end I don‘t think the ‗whys‘ are all that important. It‘s the doing that counts. -- Wing Young Huie
Wing Young Huie is an independent artist. He runs Wing Young Hue Photography & Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His many photographic projects document the dizzying socioeconomic and cultural realities of American society, much of it centered on the urban cores of his home state of Minnesota. Find out more about Huie‘s projects by visiting his website, wingyounghuie.com.
SYNCHRONICITY ARTIST STATEMENT This photo essay is a double narrative that flashes between cultures. In this diversityconscious society, we talk at length about assimilation, integration, even of cultural clashes. This essay rejects the above and offers in lieu a simple concept: synchronicity. -- Mona Wu
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new york city
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new york city
new york city
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Mona Wu attended Stony Brook University and graduated with a B.A. in Economics. She currently works in Finance but her passion lies in the arts. Wu got into photography shortly after starting her first job; it was a way for her to get away from the mundane day to day. She purchased her first DSLR about 6 years ago and while her equipment has changed, her passions have not.
EVERYTHING GLOWS IN TSUKUBA: Gina Barnard sakura blossoms lantern-lit in spring, neon convenience signs, the inner-glow of a woman‘s bathroom window. Who is she? I bicycle through the narrow street, signs signal a language I do not fully read nor speak. Eat a riceball with salty salmon bits inside. Wash it down with a glass-jar of sake, hope that tomorrow I‘ll learn one more word. At Kasumi, I buy octopus, in bite-sized pieces. Celebrities scream words in punctuated colors as a man living in a bubble on the beach spears a baby octopus— purpled and heavy: yatta! Sushi-grade tuna—lucent—teases me to poke its glimmer through cellophane, to become the obaachan in Tampopo, squeezing fruit flesh throughout supermarkets. Short shelves, small carts. The clerks, robots, nod without meeting my eyes—recite over and over, irashaimase~ irashaimase~ I ride home, octopus vibrating in basket. I pedal quickly to power the bike-light, whirring like hot cicadas. Between the street and houses, a drainage ditch, water streaming through leaves. I swerve too close, my tire catches the edge, octopus flies, trailing ink into the dark air.
Gina Barnard has published in New Madrid, Web Del Sol, Poetry Now, Cosumnes River Review, and in Japanese translation in Poemaholic Café (Tsukuba, Japan). She is currently a contributing editor for Poetry International. She was born in Fussa, Tokyo, and spent her early years between Japan and the Sacramento Valley, California. She currently lives in San Diego, California.
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NECTARINES Margaret Rhee When my mentor Beth was pregnant, 10 dollars worth satisfied her cravings. She also finished her Stanford dissertation. Mouthful of honey. Her womb. A pit. Was it the baby or the nectarines? ―Whereas contributions of Korean Americans include: the invention of the first beating heart operation for coronary artery disease, a 4-time Olympic gold medalist for diving, and the nectarine.‖ The flesh is delicate, easily bruised in some cultivations. It is a peach with plum skin. ―A peach without its fur coat.‖ ―Slice them into a salad or serve them with cheese.‖ This is the way of the nectarines. ―Judging by their achievements over the past 100 years, theirs is an American story that confirms opportunity in these free United States.‖ The name is from the drink of the Olympic gods called ―nektar.‖ Julia learned in her freshmen year of college, nectarines were created by two Korean brothers. ―The Kim brothers.‖ ―It‘s like a peach and a plum, together,‖ she said, ―the nectarine.‖ In the article "The Yellow Peril" Jack London wrote, "the Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency—of utter worthlessness" and ―tested thus, the Korean fails.‖ He probably didn’t know about the nectarines! Then, Julie tells me later, ―you guys can be the nectarine sisters!‖ I say, ―More like she‘s a beautiful rosy peach. I‘m a lovely purple plum. And together we make a nectarine!‖ Nectarine family love! Terry Hong: ―I consider myself Korean and American. A Korean American is a hybrid product of both U.S. and Korean countries and cultures.‖ I am proud we helped develop the nectarine. For Javier‘s belated birthday, I decide to make him a sundae. Caramel chips. Vanilla ice cream. Lines of poetry as topping. Before we take a bite, I add his favorite: Fresh plump pieces of nectarines! ―The first wave of immigrants from Korea began to arrive in the early 1900‘s.‖ ―Harry Kim (Kim HyungSoon) created history in 1921 with the ―Fuzzless Peach‖ otherwise known as the Sun Grand Nectarine.‖ My parents made love sometime in the year of 1983. I was born in the Hollywood hospital. I have dad‘s mouth & mom‘s eyes. I‘m a crossbreed. Or a hybrid. Magnificent mixed breed. Am I a nectarine?
Margaret Rhee writes poetry in the morning, teaches ethnic lit in the afternoon, and researches race, gender, and sexuality at night. Dreams—digital or otherwise— tend to occur all day long. Currently, she is a doctoral student in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She has published poems in the Berkeley Poetry Review, Altered Barbie, and the Kartika Reivew. Her first chapbook, Yellow, is forthcoming from Tinfish Press. She is a Kundiman fellow.
SATELLITE Shelley Wong I.
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Shelley Wong was born in Long Beach, California and has lived in New York City and San Francisco. Over a century ago, her great-grandparents immigrated to the United States to work on the transcontinental railroad. Her poetry has appeared in The Hat and is forthcoming in Eleven Eleven and Flyway. She received her BA in English from University of California at Berkeley and will be an MFA candidate in poetry at the Ohio State University this fall.
MY LIFE IN HAIR Katie Hae Leo August 10, 1972 A planeload of 40 orphans lands in Chicago. Sun-Times headline reads "Tearful Parents Greet Jet Stork." I have a clipping wrapped in plastic, yellowed with age, a stand-in for my memory of that day. I imagine all the crying, the fecund smell of our bodies, of shit and urine accumulated over fourteen hours, wafting through the open door as our escorts, each holding one of us like a package, line up on the tarmac. In a photo taken earlier in Korea, I look thin, perhaps malnourished. My face tilts slightly up and to the right, gazing at the person behind the camera. From just outside the frame, a hand holds a card in front of my chest bearing the number â€•10674â€– and a name, Boo Hae Ryun. In spite of being only months old, my head is already covered in thick, black hair. I wonder if our adoptive parents were shocked by all that hair. 1978 I sit on a green vinyl porch seat festooned in yellow flowers, white bath towel spread underneath, as Mom cuts my hair like a bowl turned upside down. This is the best way she knows to control it, my wild, black mane so unlike hers. In a later photo I gaze out from the kitchen table, flanked by wood paneled walls, my hair one uniform length from front to back. I resemble a small boy, grim-faced and shy, encased in blue velour. My grandfather lets us climb all over him on that same porch while we play "barber shop." We cut his thinning hair with household scissors, tame it with black plastic combs dipped in water. His gray strands form sparse lines across the crown of his head. Through them I see age spots, brown and large, want to press my fingers into their softness. His smile is broad, as we say in our best adult voices, "What would you like done today, Sir?" "Just a little off the sides. I'm getting so old, I hardly notice it's there anymore." 1982 Across the top of my forehead baby hairs sprout like tufts of seal fur. Many years later, I will recognize the same dark frame around Michael Jackson's face, smoothed down with oil. But, for now I think it marks me as alien. In other places where friends have hair, I have none. A girl down the street asks if I shave my arms. No, I reply. It would never even occur to me.
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An Asian model lowers her eyes, hawking Silkience conditioner. The first person I see on TV who actually looks like me. "Keisha needs it only on the ends," the announcer purrs, as infrared light illuminates hair like mine. Every time I see Keisha, I sit up. Then one day she disappears. I seek more brunettes to replace her—Jaclyn Smith on Charlie's Angels, Joyce DeWitt on Three's Company—but none are quite the same. Soon after, it all comes off. "The Dorothy Hamill," shorn and layered, contained within the area of my head. Lines of hair rest against my temples like shingles on a roof. This cut says I belong here, I'm part of the tribe. 1984 My sister gathers thick, black hairs from the bathroom floor and presents them to me like a bouquet. "Ew, it's like wires!" she proclaims, her blue eyes narrow. She squirts lemon juice onto hers to make it blonder, bakes for hours in the hot Indiana sun. I watch her sometimes through my bedroom window, envy her long legs and the boys who call her nightly during dinner. Later, the perm solution smells like a mixture of sour milk and gasoline on my head. Two hours to curl and set, then under the dryer. Mom approves, schedules the next one in three months. In a photo, I line up to receive Confirmation, hands folded, head bowed to the church floor. My Farrah Fawcett flip looks like a sausage roll hanging over my sister's hand-me-down dress.
1989 By senior year the perm is ritual. Thick and puffy around my face, not one strand misbehaving, bangs large like Indiana. My teeth shine white against store-bought tan. In Korea ancestor women would split their hair down the middle, chastened into a tight bun at the nape of their necks. Men tied theirs into knots tucked safely beneath tall black hats. I don‘t know this yet, how I have this in common with my unknown bloodline, this need to tame hair. Hair as discipline. Hair as obedience to the tribe. My big hair says Midwestern cornfields, shopping malls, and John Cougar Mellencamp. But maybe it also says green burial mounds, all night norae bang, and subways cut deep into earth. 1991 My best friend who's black urges me to "go natural." I let her flatten my hair between hot metal rods as Prince sings in the background. Afterward, I examine my straight tresses in the mirror for a long time. So, this is what it feels like to shake off the oppressor. 61
Strangers want to touch it on street corners. Hair as unintended invitation. Boyfriend loves new look. Later, we break up and I cut it all off, tell him about it over the phone. Years later, while living in Italy this episode will repeat itself, this act of defiance against a man who hurt me. Hair as tool for revenge, as though it were not my hair but his. 1998 Monsoon season in Seoul. Air wet and hot, hair lifeless. My assumptions about long black traditional styles exploded by Korean hair of every color, shape. My straight black 'do seems quaint and old, like the ajummahs who sit in parks, their laughter grazing bridges over the Han River. I snap up every shirt, shoe, jacket I can afford, every shade of makeup, every music CD, stuff every piece of food I can in my mouth, want to eat this place, these people, make them part of me so I won't feel so separate, so unlike them or it. I let a hairdresser cut my hair short, hoping it will make me look more Korean. In photos I stand in front of Gyeongbok Palace in a new outfit, short hair pressed against my cheeks in the heat, my smile stiff and wide. An American smile. 2009 I am thinking about hair. As symbol, as signifier. Hair lets you know where you are. Drive from East Coast to West Coast and notice how the hairstyles change, how they mark place and time as you move from big city to farm country more reliably than a roadmap. Hair tells us who we're dealing with. Are you one of us or them? Conformist or rebel (conformist of another kind)? When I was young, I wanted it to obey, conform to what I was told was beautiful. Now, in small town, Minnesota, I crave someone who knows how to work with it in all its singularities. This last time I will let it grow out, then it stays long, styles be damned. I am thinking Maxine Hong Kingston hair, a thick, white signature. But for now it's still black. Man at Hy-vee grocery store tells me it's pretty. In his wide eyes I see my hair as fetish, as memory perhaps, fantasy or wish. I wonder what he sees. Whatever it is, I don't think it's me. 2011 At night hair slips into my mouth, my eyes, pulls on my neck. It winds around my arms; I sleep inside a womb of hair. They say after death the skin dries and recedes into itself, causing the hair to appear to grow longer. Even then it lingers, clinging to this world, unwilling to concede its power.
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In my dreams, Keisha the model waits somewhere, her locks a solemn gray veil down to her knees, or crawling up the sides of buildings, cars, swing sets, trees, leaping upward, spreading out between clouds. As natural as tea and thick as air.
Katie Hae Leo poetry, essays, and monologues have appeared or are forthcoming in Asian American Poetry & Writing, Water~Stone Review, Midway Journal, 60 Seconds to Shine: One Minute Monologues for Men, Utne Reader, and Asian American Plays for a New Generation, among others. Her chapbook Attempts at Location was a finalist for the Tupelo Press Snowbound Award and is available through Finishing Line Press. Her most recent play Four Destinies will premiere through Mu Performing Arts in October 2011. She holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota.
BANJAR DALUNG Timothy L. Marsh Early every evening, when the work of the day is done, the shanty warungs open their kitchens to the hungry village and serve heaps of nasi goreng for the price of one US gumball. Teenage boys ride the railings of tenement balconies, shout jokes at passing schoolgirls, while street food vendors wheel their wobbly carts of bakso and roti from one home to another, banging bowls with spoons because bells would be stolen around here. In the muddy rutted alleys, chicken-legged slum children huck stones at wild mutts, play badminton without a net; in front of the bike shops, sulky young working men, fresh off work, straddle their parked scooters and talk tough over cigarettes and Bintang beers. Old men misplace their shirts, play chess beneath pale naked patio bulbs, while old women assemble in front of laundry shops to hawk ferocious phlegm bombs and bounce bare-assed toddlers on their knees—every one of us, the entire weary village, passing time in our own way, recovering soul. Around Banjar Dalung, passing the time takes place after work. It is what the people who live here say they are doing when they are done fighting their poverty for the day—when the snake-laced rice fields have been tended, when the cows have been driven home from the puddle-muck pastures—and it is what they say they are doing when they fill the night‘s length with the companionship of neighbors, with stories and hullabaloo that return to the mind what the day‘s grueling, mundane toil have taken from it. It is a time reserved for gathering and get-together, for sitting in chatty circles putting together tomorrow‘s offering packs, or picking chilies to make the sambal and wading mincemeat to make the sate. It is a block of day characterized by hard laughter and child rumpus, by shop talk, girl talk, gossip and grab-assing—a time for soaping and spiffing the motorbike, for lying on a bare mattress listening to western pop music, or perusing impossible starlets in western glamour mags. It is a time meant for resurrection, and for burial: four or five life-stuffed hours that temporarily put in the ground what they must wake up and do tomorrow, and what they have woken up to and done all of their lives: hard labor. Growing up in Los Angeles, not rich but at least white, I heard that Mexicans were useless and believed it without question. As a child riding in the car with my mother, I saw them on street corners: grown men sitting on the curbside and bus benches, sitting on the ground against walls, knees drawn to their foreheads, waiting for something, doing nothing. Later, as a teenager, walking to the park or the corner liquor, I would stop and watch these same men leisure with their families in the courtyard of their dumpy apartment buildings, their sons leaning over balcony guardrails, shouting jokes at girls, their wives bouncing toddlers on their knees, their daughters practicing dance moves, the men themselves in second-hand sweatshirts, telling jokes over cigarettes and MGD beers, cooking out on hibachis, drinking, talking loudly, laughing hard, drinking more, hot-breathed and idle. Always idle, it seemed.
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In my youth I observed this jamboree of seemingly jobless immigrants, rambunctious freeloaders more interested in amusement than earning their keep, and took that impression into the fortress of adulthood where it could not easily be persuaded by reason or education, where only a continuous siege of raw experience could overthrow it. What I did not see then, I see now through the sweat and slog of my Indo neighbors. What I did not see was all the wretched endeavoring that elicited the day‘s lively last rollick: the weary 4am rise, the silent walk to an uneventful street corner, the grimy contractor in the trashy pick-up offering crushing manual labor for abominable wages, the 12 hours landscaping a medical plaza, installing sprinklers, tarring roofs, mixing concrete, laying pipe. And the days when the contractor did not come, the empty wasted hours haunting a ghetto sidewalk, the grit in the bitten exhaust fumes—praying for those miserable wages, getting walloped by the sun, loitering in the shade of boarded-up buildings where junkies shot up, pissing in alleys, candy bars and gas station jerky for lunch. What I did not see then was the chore of life their passing of time ameliorated: the hard work they did not get, the hard work they did get, and a whole future of either awaiting them; hardness, to the end of their days. Lounge and invite the soul, Walt Whitman once advised. No truer instruction against the death of communitas and the paralysis of spirit has ever been uttered. And though the people of Banjar Dalung have never heard of Whitman or read this wisdom, in one way or another that is what they say I‘m doing when I sweep my soiled doorstep or burn the week‘s rubbish. When I am wandering these two square miles of undramatic villagescape, or sitting about slowly getting drunk, following the way a weird bug walks along my arm, I am inviting the soul with them. And like them, its arrival consoles and resuscitates me. Like them, it links me to their daily life, brings me closer to communion—as close as I will ever be to their community. Far from home on this sweltering island-arc nation, embedded in this work-ravaged smallville, I look back and look around and see that the only thing as meaningful as avoiding starvation is revitalizing the bonds that are depleted by the work that barely makes it possible. Out here, unlike the sick and mighty empires that lie beyond its solitude, the end of the day is not for coming home, closing the door, and going to sleep on the world that has vexed and aggravated, but for waking up to the world and enjoying its bread. It is the time to make chat with the vendor whose banana fritters dress up the ceaseless rice supper that has repeated itself for 20 generations, for playing badminton with children who will someday inherit the dirt and lowly field work of their ancestors; and for me, at least this evening, it is for sharing my water spout with an old farmer who has wandered into the yard to wash the soil off his hands, splash the heat off his face, and talk a small while about the rain that has flooded his fields, and will come again tomorrow
Timothy L. Marsh is a writer-in-residence at the Montana Artists Refuge. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Evansville Review, The Los Angeles Review, The New Quarterly and Weave Magazine, and are indexed at www.timothylmarsh.wordpress.com. Recent honors include a 2010 fellowship residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and a 2009 Arts Jury Award from the City Council of St. John's, Newfoundland. His work has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web.
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HOW IT FEELS TO INHERIT CAMP Tamiko Nimura for my family 1. You weren‘t there. So what? When someone mentions camp, you vibrate like a plucked string. You sit up straighter: heart beating faster, fight and flight. Your gut clenches into fists. You overflow with everything you know about camp, which is too much and not enough at the same time. Yes, you know about ―this shameful episode in American history.‖ Yes, you know about ―the day that will live in infamy.‖ No, you can‘t finish this part of your family tree for your school project because this part of your family doesn‘t have any baby pictures. Your dad and your uncle had to burn these pictures, anything with Japanese writing on it, before they left for camp. Your grandfather, who loved to read, had to burn all of his books from Japan. Your grandmother burned her letters from her siblings in Japan. Yes, you have read Snow Falling on Cedars. And yes, you have seen the movie. That wasn‘t what happened to your family, though. They didn‘t own land before they left. They came back to and restarted with even less. No, camp was not ―for their protection.‖ The guns on the guards in their towers pointed inside the barbed wire. And yes, this series of anticipated, practiced answers says something else: you are angry. 2. And you are angry when people ask why you are angry, since it didn‘t happen to you. And you are angry when some people praise your people for not being angry or bitter. And you are angry when some people ask why you are not angrier. And you are angry when you know that some people might like you better when you are angry. Usually, you are not an angry person. Where does this anger come from?
Once you know that your family was in camp, you own history in your guts: it's written within the body. Is there something ugly in the leap to ownership?—the desire to feel worthy of History‘s attention? The desire for pity? Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Camp history, as much as any other history, is about the terrors and glories of the human heart. But here‘s what your body knows: you are charged with history. 3. And here‘s why you own it. Your family‘s story doesn‘t just ―intersect‖ with History; your family‘s story is History. Listen to the radio announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Spy. Traitor. Jap. Reread Executive Order 9066. Trace over FDR‘s signature. Read General DeWitt‘s Civilian Order 5. Walk up to the telephone pole where they have posted your orders. How much can you carry? What will you leave behind? What‘s your family number? Where will you attach the numbered tags to your clothes and your suitcases and your children? Study the maps. Where did your family ―assemble?‖ To which godforsaken strip of earth did the train eventually take them? Ohhhhhh. Tule Lake, eh? That‘s the one for disloyals and troublemakers. Where did your family ―relocate‖? How many White friends did they have, once they got out of camp? Did they know the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, to the Star-Spangled Banner? Take the questionnaire. Combat duty? Forswear an allegiance that never existed? What‘s your brother going to answer? What will the wardens ask? What will they say? Now, decades later, study the black-and-white photographs, even the famous ones from Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams. Those young men playing baseball are now your community elders: the ones you see at the Obon festivals and the food bazaars, calling out a chicken teri order or fanning the sushi rice. If this woman is too old to be your aunt, maybe it‘s your grandmother standing in line for the latrine. Are those children your aunts? Sharp breath. They look like older versions of your daughters. 4. Or, maybe you are possessed with history. You are possessive of this history, it‘s true. It‘s because you see your adolescent father through and behind barbed wire, trying to play in the desert by day, huddled under Army blankets in the horse stalls at night. You want to make sure other people know about this history: why else would your family have endured? There‘s pride that swells the heart, and straightens the spine. ―Right or wrong, yes or no,‖ your family endured. At a book club of older White women, you mention in passing that your father was interned. During a discussion break, their submerged histories swim through a river of guilt, and cross over to you unsolicited: ―I was there. I remember.‖ ―It was in the 68
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news.‖ ―We had a woman we called Grandma, who cooked for us, and cleaned for us. We adored her.‖ ―We all knew what was going on. We went to school with them. We watched as they were taken away.‖ It‘s the knowing and the watching that chills you the most. At Days of Remembrance you hear: ―It must never happen again.‖ This mantra is the most important burden of your inheritance. You continue to ask yourself the harder questions: Who is being taken away now? And, are you watching? What do you not want to know that, deep down, you already know? 5. And so: how to explain that for you, the dominant note in the chord of internment sounds like loss? And how to explain that the opposite of loss is not gain, but redemption? In your high school US history textbook, there‘s probably a paragraph about camp. Thousands of people fought for that paragraph, and over that paragraph. Thousands of people probably still want to leave it out. Read it. Study it. Read it. Study it. Read it. Study it. Is it enough? To see yourself as a part of history also means that you can change it. So you must make the textbook paragraph into a poem. Saturate history with meaning like water bleeds through paper. Infuse each word, each phrase, each date, each number, each comma, each space before and after the paragraph stops.
Tamiko Nimura is a Sansei/Pinay writer, teacher and editor, originally from Northern California and now living in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, the Rafu Shimpo, the Journal of Ethnic Studies, and Crosscurrents Literary Journal. In 2010, her book proposal reached finalist status in the SheWrites.com ―Passion Project‖ nonfiction contest. She received her degrees in English from UC Berkeley and the University of Washington. She has received awards from the Ford Foundation, the Asia Pacific Fund, and the National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). She now practices writing at her "own private MFA," http://www.kikugirl.net.
THE SUNDAY GHOST Lucia Tang Every Sunday when I was nine, I vanished behind the doors of the local Chinese school. In the winter I rode in a scuffed blue sedan, and I prayed for snow to make the dry roads slick. In the spring I walked, my pigtails bouncing and my shoes too tight. The musk of the magnolias crinkled my eyes. It was a dreamy March morning, and the sidewalks flowed with rain. My backpack hung damp and heavy on my shoulders. I jammed my hands into my pockets, and the language of the outside world eddied away. The chatter of pedestrians became harsh and eerily harmonic. Syllables clanged and warbled like a peal of angry bells. I imagined strange hands the gold of watery oolong tea, scraping away the English of the street signs to paste up fliers scarred with boxy ideograms. I saw faces that mirrored mine— black-coffee eyes with epicanthic folds, inky hair parted straight down the middle, like a furrow in a rice field that fed Zhejiang. I did not come from Zhejiang, but I had a classmate who did. He had shown us photos of feathery fields striped with mud, and stocky men holding their elbows deep in sluggish water. They ousted my steel-and-concrete image of China, mined from a toddler‘s memories and a grandmother‘s murmured tales. I had thought of acid rain, of slack-jawed robots computing profit and pollution. Here was a flawed and vulnerable Eden instead.
I left China when I was barely four. My only memories of it are vague and dreamlike, the colors too pure to be quite real. I remember an apartment like a tower of cinderblocks. I think the floors were carpeted; I can‘t imagine toddling my first steps on wood or tile. They may have been gray. It was a gray chapter of my life, scrawled in impermanent pencil, so I could turn back and revise it with my memory‘s pen. Less than a chapter— it was prologue. I think the walls carried shelves and stained maps, but in my memory they stand quiet and blank. I must have cooed my first words while I stared up at them, as the blip and rustle of taxis sounded six stories below. It strikes me gently, flickering with a forked tongue, coiling around my thoughts like the serpent of Eden. My first words were spoken in Chinese.
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We didn‘t speak Chinese as we waited by the school doors. I pursed my mouth into a tight line, the language‘s round syllables like bells in my mind. I looked around. A teenager murmured to her friend, her clumsy Mandarin peppered with English. A boy in my grade rifled through his backpack. I wondered if they felt my dread, the ice that diffused through my stomach. I wondered if the same words gonged with the force of iron in their ears. Two older girls in front of me jabbered about piano competitions. I thought of the piano music that rippled through my neighborhood at night, sounding from open windows in a block of red-brick apartment buildings. Padma, a twelve-year-old Indian girl, lived on the floor below mine and had placed in state competitions. She worked on a Chopin piece each night, a song so fragile and fine that it seemed like the moonlight, like the spider-silk glistening beneath it. It raised the hairs on my spine, when I sat with my homework on the bench outside and heard her playing through the window. Padma did not go to school on Sundays. I wonder if she was sitting at the piano as I dawdled by the lobby. Perhaps she had played the Chopin a dozen times already. Perhaps it was ready for her May competition, and she was browsing through her music for a Debussy. The piano girls sauntered down another hallway, where the middle schoolers studied under a professor of Chinese. I continued down the straight path with the other elementary school kids. The conversation here was at once softer and more intense. Boys dueled with airy sabers. The boy from Zhejiang, Wei, zoomed past me, brandishing an invisible sword Other voices piped up math facts in a dissonant treble choir, times and minus and plus. ―Three‖ and ―two,‖ not san and er. I listened, working out the numbers in my head, but I did not speak. A few were darting-eyed and silent or marble-faced with false composure. I smiled wanly at a cherub-cheeked girl whose glasses magnified her Mona Lisa countenance. She nodded at me, and her lips quivered away her mask of calm. We all understood. This was the portal between two worlds. Soon we would forfeit our American tongues, our American names.
When I was six, I named myself. It was a desperate act then, but now I think of it as rebirth, scrapping together a new identity out of paper and ink. I harvested my American name like a rare fruit, from a book that still sits on my desk today. The pages come loose in handfuls; they are yellowed and frayed. But I remember that they were crisp and white that day.
I traced my finger down a highlighter-scarred page. The paper was grainy, and the ink rubbed off like coal dust on my hands. The visored letters blurred together under my gaze. I sat alone in a cramped bedroom facing away from the sun, and drab-winged birds shrieked early morning calls. At night, I listened for the scurry of roaches, and Padma‘s Chopin soared from the floor below. In the hazy afternoons, the sound of Hindi and Korean from the sidewalks lulled me to sleep. It was too dark to read. My parents would have wrested the book from my hands, or snapped on the blinking halogen lights. I was thinking of the thick tongues that chopped my name into harsh pieces, into syllables unknown to English or Chinese. I was remembering the jeers of my preschool classmates, and I squinted at the dim text. I turned the page. Louisa, Lourdes, Lucia—and the page said, ―light.‖ I was a child grown soft on the fables of two worlds. Light meant the watercolor glow of the stars, dashed across a murky canvas of a sky. Light was the sunlight fractals in water, the halo on a stone angel‘s brow. It pooled into thick shapes like a western dragon, but it could spin into threads like a Chinese dragon too. It shrugged off explanations, resisted language.
The school bell buzzed, and I knew I was no longer Lucia. I clung to her for a final moment before Qiaopan invaded. This Chinese maiden‘s name was almost a stranger to me. I thought of her the way I thought of my cousins in Beijing, whom I knew only through their rosy baby portraits. Qiaopan was a ghost girl who had my fawn eyes and my mouth. She wore my shirt and carried her arms in my graceless way. Her hands, white-knuckled and sweating, were her own. Her grip was weak, but she could still ensnare my body. I felt her pull as my personality grew light with each step, until it drifted loose like helium balloon. I pictured myself disappearing, piece by piece. I imagined my legs fading until I levitated spectrally, my arms fading until my messenger bag floated free. My face faded, feature by feature, until my mouth hovered like a Chesire cat grin. Then one by one, the missing limbs filled in again. Under the cold of the hallway air, they felt less like flesh than like stone, as if the nerves now glittered with quartz. I wore Qiaopan‘s limbs. As a silent ghost girl, I trudged out of the lobby in search of auditorium 12A. It had taken me weeks to find it without being shepherded into the wrong classroom by some well-meaning adult. The labyrinth of hallways made me dizzy, and the Chinese on posters twisted my stomach into knots. There were doors that sported locks, doors leading to football fields and gymnasiums, doors guarding rickety stairwells and dusty backstage passages. All of them gleamed auburn under smooth varnish, with
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black-lettered labels too small and high up for me to read. I learned to latch on to classmates with my gaze, following them along the twisted path to our classroom. It was a strange journey, but not the strangest I would ever take.
I went back to China for the first time when I was thirteen, and I struggled not to meet anyone‘s gaze. I imagined their eyes, sea-blank and obsidian, taking in my Jansport backpack and my sleek American clothes. I clutched my paperback Ender’s Game to my side, English letters marching across its spine. I was too tall, standing hunched in sky blue espadrilles. My stomach burgeoned with meals of hamburgers and cheese. A nameless uncle took the rolling suitcase out of my hands. ―Xie xie,‖ I muttered. Thanks. I scrutinized the cherry red-yarn looped five times around the handle, the hard shine of my uncle‘s shoes. The airport floor was crusted with dirt. A smear of phlegm gleamed near my foot. Around me, a sea of voices surged and swelled and raged in a language that was and was not my own. I picked at shards of conversation, scrambling for pieces I could understand. A violin wailed and, at last, I looked up. A suited man swayed against a wall, his face haloed by black hair and fierce lighting. His left foot tapped; his arm pumped frenziedly to yield Tchaikovsky. He did not pause as passersby plinked coins into his open instrument case. I scrambled in the pockets of my jeans and clamped my fingers over something round and cold. I pulled it out, and a silver dollar glittered in my palm.
The auditorium walls enfolded me, clasping me in hands of wood and stone. My breathing was rapid; my heartbeat ticked like a devilish metronome. I shuffled into a folding chair, facing a stage awash with dust. The chair rose behind me and before me like an amphitheater against corrugated walls. I could imagine a Roman play unfolding in the center, men crowned with ivy and draped in white, shouting and singing in Latin. I could imagine gladiators battling till the center bloomed with blood. I heard the teacher come in before I saw her— the click of heels and rodent squeak of wheels. She pushed a plastic cart bearing mounds of broken chalk, trailing rainbow dust behind her. She grasped the blackboard on the stage, turning it to the side that was scuffed and scarred. I could see the phantoms of boxy ideograms and English script, even some math problems scrawled in a wide, rapacious hand. The clean side was reserved for the theater class that used the room on weekdays.
I wondered what was written on the forbidden side when I should have been reading a Chinese fable. I thought rebelliously in English even as I answered questions in Chinese, but I spent most of my energy trying not to draw attention to myself. My teacher paced in circles like a bird of prey, and she scared me. She turned, rooting her gaze to my face, and the air struggled through my trachea. ―Fan yi,‖ she barked. Translate. I stood hastily and squinted at the board, where a Chinese idiom balanced haphazardly in the center. The writing was broad and erratic, not my teacher‘s precise hand. Perhaps one of the other students had written it when I was daydreaming. Wei had handwriting like that. ―Qiaopan!‖ My teacher called. I could feel the blush rising to the surface of my face. ―Xiong you cheng zhu,‖ I muttered hoarsely. ―I told you to translate it, not to read it, please.‖ I was buying time. I wondered if she wanted a literal translation. Within the breast, the bamboo is whole? It sounded like fortune cookie jargon to me. If only I remembered the story that explained it— every Chinese idiom had its own accompanying tale. Visions of bamboo forests, endless rows of green, filled my mind. I could picture a man ambling through them with slow, zigzag steps. That was the illustration from the story in my textbook. He had the look of a scholar, and his eyes were large and bright, but I couldn‘t remember what it was that he did. Had we gone over it last week, or in the early moments of class, while I had stared at the ceiling and dreamed myself to Rome? The bamboo rows multiplied like a virus in my mind. I could feel the teacher‘s stare on my face. ―Bu zhi dao,‖ I murmured at last. I don‘t know. I sat down shakily and focused on my desk. But tears blurred the woodgrain on my desk. I wondered if my classmates could peer through my pigtails to my tearstained face.
In later years, I recited things to quell the impulse to cry. I began to gather sheaves of intellectual security blankets, mining them from dusty tomes and online databases, music discs and calculator screens. Now I know the Gettysburg Address and ―The Lady of Shalott.‖ I can recite a hundred and sixteen digits of pi, in English. It takes me a second to translate from the robotic rhythm of it to the sight of numerals in messy rows, a second longer from those rows to the rolling cadence of Chinese.
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What I cannot remember is a poem— any poem— from the dozens I dutifully memorized in Chinese. I picture them printed on each page of my textbook— the one imposed over a cartoonish sketch of a temple, an indigo structure with dragon-tooth shingles. And the other one, with black print that had faded to gray, after I doodled over it and had to erase. That one I won a prize for reciting. The words are unclear, faint and ghostly blurs. They have been replaced by sections of ―Paradise Lost‖. I can remember some of the idioms. Xiong you cheng zhu means ―confident‖.
As class wore on, I became desensitized to my own tears. I thought of them as sacrifices to cool my teacher‘s wrath. Once I paid a few droplets of salt, I would face no more threat of humiliation. It was a safety of a sort, and it made me calm. I was calm enough to wonder if my dread was irrational, casting false shadows onto an innocent time. It was like comparing my confabulated childhood memories with those idyllic scenes from Zhejiang, a province far to the south of my gray and dusty Heilongjiang. Like comparing Zhejiang with the din of the Beijing airport. By the time class ended at the sound of a bell, I was numb. I filed out of the classroom behind Wei, walked through the hallways and out of the gleaming doors. I caught a glimpse of Qiaopan, distorted through fingerprints, on the glass. Her braids were unraveling, but her face shone with bright relief. I couldn‘t see the tear streaks winding down her cheeks. I nodded at her; and she nodded back. A faint smile flickered around the mouth we shared. I thought, Xia ge xin qi zai jian. See you next week. If it were winter, I would have climbed into a scuffed blue sedan, napping away the touch of a ghost-world as I rode home. But it was March, so I walked on. The dragon‘s breath of sunlight fell on my limbs, until my crystal nerves pulsed with feeling again. With each step, my legs grew livelier until they danced, and I tossed my pigtails into the sky. The bell tones of Chinese faded into the distance, and a sea of black hair diverged into narrow streams. The clashing consonants of English, sweet with chitchat and philosophy, caressed my ears like a jazz melody.
Lucia Tang was born in Jiamusi, China and has lived most of her life south of the Mason-Dixon. She attends Yale University, where she plays at postcolonialismâ€” memorizing characters, attempting Asian folk dance, and producing stiff, hyperliteral translations of the Mencius in an attempt to atone for her childhood disavowals of Chinese. Her writing has been featured in flashquake, VOYA, and Strong Verse.
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INTERVIEW WITH AMY CHUA Interviewed by: Sunny Woan
At the start of 2011, Amy Chua published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and that same year made Time‘s list of the 100 most influential people in the world, next to President Obama, Oprah, and Mark Zuckerberg. In what may be one of the quickest ascents to household recognition, Chua was everywhere—on NPR, morning news shows, Comedy Central, buzzing everyday in broadcast news; and her Wall Street Journal essay, ―Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior‖ inspired literally thousands of response pieces and commentary. The phrase she coined, ―tiger mother‖ mounted itself into conventional lexicon overnight. The controversy surrounding Chua is certainly interesting, though that is not the focal point of this interview. Of the many hats Chua wears, the editors were most intrigued by Amy Chua the writer. Chua first came onto the literary scene in 2003 with her book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, a treatise on the ethnic conflicts that arise as a result of socioeconomic inequities. Specifically, Chua discussed the tensions that the wealthier Chinese created in the Philippines. She made a splash even then in 2003, though mainly among academics and readers of current affairs. In 2007, she released Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall, a historical chronology of global superpowers—or ―hyperpowers‖—and how ethnic diversity brings about the rise or the fall of a hyperpower. This interview covers Amy Chua‘s third book Battle Hymn, on her role as a memoirist, and on her relationship with the Asian American community. Regarding our community, while there may be a split in camps among Asian Americans on whether Chua has made a positive or negative impact, the impact is certain. She put a name to a pain and a character that is all too familiar: the tiger mother. This may be one of Chua‘s most profound contributions to the APA landscape: a naming of the pain, as bell hooks would say. ―Naming of the pain and theorizing from that location‖ is an invaluable element to critical race discussions, and Chua‘s memoir generated a national, free dialogue on that pain. Asian American journalists, activists, bloggers, poets, and writers chimed in with their stories and narratives, their thoughts, their concurrences or their dissents, and most significant of all, added their voices to the dialogue. That is a value few have been able to inspire, and Amy Chua did just that.
The book opens with an unreliable narrator. How conscious were you about the voice? Did you intend to write the memoir with the unreliable narrator or did that aspect of craft manifest itself organically? Was the memoir easier or more difficult to write with the “unreliable” voice? AMY CHUA: I‘m so glad you asked this question! Many of my favorite books (e.g., Italo Svevo‘s Confessions of Xeno, Vladimir Nabokov‘s Pale Fire, Dave Eggers‘ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, David Sedaris‘ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim) have unreliable narrators, and I definitely had those models in mind when I wrote Battle Hymn. I am not the ―I‖ that speaks in the opening chapters of the book (which were quoted at length in the Wall Street Journal excerpt under a headline I never saw and did not choose!). The narrator of my book is a patently flawed character – initially obtuse, boastful, outrageously overconfident – who goes through a crisis and transformation. That transformation is basically what the book is about. I am closer (I think) to the ―I‖ at the end of the book, who has been brought down several pegs. This narrative structure – with the ―I‖ at the beginning of the book revealing her flaws while seemingly unaware of it – practically required an unreliable narrator. I meant for the book to be hyperbolic, satirical, and funny. Much of it is self-parody. Right from the beginning, there are obvious clues that the book can‘t be read literally. For example, on p. 11: Speaking of personalities, I don‘t believe in astrology – and I think people who do have serious problems – but the Chinese Zodiac describes Sophia and Lulu perfectly. Sophia was born in the Year of the Monkey, and Monkey people are curious, intellectual, and ―generally can accomplish any given task‖. . . . I was born in the Year of Tiger. I don‘t want to boast or anything, but Tiger people are noble, fearless, powerful, authoritative, and magnetic. The obtuseness of the voice, and the constant self-contradictions, are clear indications that the narrator can‘t be entirely trusted. Another example is when I‘m talking about my dog, and I say, ―I had finally come to see that Coco was an animal.‖ Anyone who read that line straight must have assumed that I had pretty low cognition skills. Using an unreliable voice definitely made writing the book easier. I could avoid being sentimental, and not worry about being consistent, hoping instead that the reader would read between the lines and know how much I adore and love my daughters. I could write loftily at one point, ―Unlike Western parents, reminding my child of Lord Voldemort didn‘t bother me,‖ then reveal eleven chapters later how painful it feels ―to be hated by someone you love and who hopefully loves you.‖ Memoirists tend to make a distinction between themselves and the narrators of their work. That is, they would argue there is a difference between Amy Chua in “real life” and the tiger mother of the memoir. Did you align yourself with the narrator, or like other memoirists, did you try to separate the two while writing? Talking now from your experiences as a creative nonfiction writer, do you find any benefit in making that distinction between self and narrator? 78
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AC: The truth is that the tiger mother in Battle Hymn – even including all the transformations she goes through – is still only about 1/5 of the ―real‖ Amy Chua. It‘s an authentic 1/5, but only 1/5. In addition to being a tiger mother, I‘m a snuggly mother; a very social person who loves cocktails and parties; a very supportive and decidedly unstrict professor who‘s been on top of a human pyramid with her students (photo available); a chronic worrier who wakes up the next morning after every dinner party and feels depressed about all the stupid things I said; and someone who goes through phases of wearing sweatpants all day and barely being able to get out of bed. While writing the book, I put myself in tiger mother mode, allowing only the occasional sneak peak at some of the other Amy Chuas. How did you find time to write between teaching at Yale and being a tiger mother? What is your writing process? When did you find you wrote best (i.e., time of day, location, mood, etc.)? AC: I‘m super disciplined, but can only write effectively for at most a few hours a day, and they have to be first thing in the morning. I started writing Battle Hymn in the summer, when I didn‘t have to teach. I‘d get up around 6:00am, and write for a few hours before anyone else got up. During the day, I‘d show the pages to my husband and my daughters, we‘d argue over facts, and then I‘d revise to reflect everyone‘s comments. There were four separate sets of memories to accommodate. It wasn‘t always easy, but it brought our family together. Was your process for crafting a memoir different from your process for writing World On Fire (2003) and Day of Empire (2007)? AC: Totally different. I did eight years of research for World on Fire and five years of research for Day of Empire. I did zero academic research for Battle Hymn, which I began writing in a moment of genuine crisis -- when I thought I was losing both Lulu and my sister Katrin, who got leukemia at the same time. Although I usually have writers‘ block, this time the words just poured out. In retrospect, I think writing the book – going back eighteen years when my elder daughter was born and I was a very different person – was an attempt to put the pieces back together and work things out for myself. Some writers of Asian descent bristle when their works are categorized absolutely as “Asian American literature” and some writers embrace the label. How do you feel about “Battle Hymn” being categorized as Asian American literature?
AC: I don‘t think of it as Asian American literature. For me, it‘s about things we all worry about. It‘s about maternal love, irrepressible personalities, fear of generational decline, the relationship between happiness and success, and what it means to live life to its fullest. At the same time, when a young Chinese American woman said to me at one of my book talks, ―I feel that that you captured perfectly the love, the humor, and the pain of my own Asian American experience,‖ I was honored and happy. How do you think your class background influenced the choices you made in what to write about, for your previous books as compared to your memoir? Also, do you think the same (or similar) memoir on tiger mothering could be written by a working class mother (in other words tiger parenting is not class-specific), or do you think a certain level of privilege allows for tiger parenting? AC: I definitely don‘t think tiger parenting is class-specific in the sense of requiring high income. My mother was the quintessential tiger mom, and when we were growing up, we had very little money. (Because my father was the black sheep in his family, he and my mother had only student scholarships to live on when they arrived in the U.S. in 1960. They were two poor to afford heat their first two winters in Boston, and they wore blankets around the apartment to keep warm. ) When my three sisters and I were little, my mother did absolutely everything herself – drilling math with us, teaching us to read and write Chinese, cooking, cleaning, cutting our hair, sewing our clothes, everything! We attended public schools, we never had any tutors for schoolwork or SATs (my parents didn‘t even know what standardized tests were), and our piano teachers were always inexpensive people who happened to live in the neighborhood. It‘s probably true that many of the immigrants who tend to be tiger parents (e.g., from China, Korea, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cuba, Jamaica, Ireland, etc.), while not necessarily wealthy, often come with educated backgrounds, so they are privileged in that sense. But some of the most moving e-mails I‘ve received since my book came out are from working-class mothers who tell me they share my values and are tiger moms in their own way too. Here‘s one: I was a single mom of twins. I was 18 when I had them, and I made it my mission that my daughters would never follow in my footsteps or those of the neighborhood kids. I spent every waking hour making sure their time was filled with education not entertainment. I was known by my family and friends as the MEANEST, TOUGHEST, and most DEMANDING mother to give birth. I could care less, I love my girls, and their future means everything to me. I never feared working two jobs, even as a police officer to provide for them. And I broke the cycle. My daughters are 26 and have an MA, and I broke the cycle. I just wanted you to know that there are other moms out there (I am Polish/Irish) like you. Please stay strong.
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As for my two previous books, my parents‘ ―outsider‖ status as ―overseas Chinese,‖ and my family‘s immigrant background in the United States, clearly informed them. After writing this book and seeing how it's been received in the world, do you see any blind spots in your narrative, any areas you would go back and fill in with more detail or explanation? AC: If I had known what a firestorm my book would create, I could have made myself a lot more likeable! I could have written that I tell my daughters I love them every day – which I do – and mentioned all the fun things that we do together. I could also have deleted the most provocative parts. But then it would have been a less honest book. Here‘s one passage that particularly upset many people, about when Lulu is started to rebel, and we are fighting constantly: So I did the only thing I knew: I fought fire with fire. I gave not one inch. I called her a disgrace as a daughter. . . I compared her to Amy Jiang, Amy Wang, Amy Liu, and Harvard Wong – all first-generation Asian kids – none of whom ever talked back to their parents. . . I told her I was thinking of adopting a third child from China, one who would practice when I told her to, and maybe even play the cello in addition to the violin and piano. This over-the-top passage was intended to be tragic-comic, capturing me getting out of control. Some of my critics seem to have forgotten that I‘m the one who wrote the book, which is defiantly self-incriminating. You mention that the published book is a pared down version of a larger manuscript and that you cut out sections dealing with your husband. What else did you cut out, and how did you make the final decision of what to include in the book? AC: Actually, it was never a much larger manuscript. My husband – who has a very strong personality – just told me that he didn‘t like being a character in someone else‘s book, so he asked me to keep him mostly in the background. But again, if you read between the lines, what should come through is how central he was to everything and how he dealt with my excesses – supporting me in front of the girls, advising (sometimes challenging) me behind the scenes, and bringing balance to the family What kind of guidance did you get from your editor and publisher on the manuscript? Did they have suggestions for what to emphasize, omit, or modify? AC: The book is actually very similar to the first draft I submitted to my editor. She told me she saw it as a ―snapshot,‖ not exactly a full memoir, and she didn‘t feel it needed to be any more complete. She also didn‘t want me to edit it much, or ―sterilize‖ it, because she liked the raw voice.
You navigated the national controversy with grace! What or who kept you grounded and sane through all the hostility? AC: First and foremost, my family: my husband and two daughters; but also my wonderful mom, dad, and three sisters, who supported me every step of the way. Iâ€˜m also incredibly grateful to my friends, colleagues, and students, and my daughtersâ€˜ friends and teachers. There have been some tough moments, but everyone I know in my community has been just amazing.
Author Amy Chua, with daughters Sophia and Lulu.
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INTERVIEW WITH JESSICA HAGEDORN Interviewed by: Jennifer Derilo
Until I moved to San Diego, my younger sister and I had always been the only Filipinos we knew at school, in our neighborhood, and in all of Redlands, California. Any mention of my culture in the public sphere immediately made my ears perk or was cause for celebration. I was ecstatic, for example, when we were introduced to tinikling, the National Dance of the Philippines, during a physical education class at our otherwise all-white elementary school. It didn‘t even faze me that my mother was unimpressed when I mentioned I met a girl at school who was related to the Marcos family. When I finally discovered Jessica Hagedorn‘s Dogeaters right after high school, I remember thinking, where has this writer, this woman, been all my life? I knew very little of Asian American literature, especially that of ―my people.‖ Our high school curriculum was sorely lacking diverse literature, even though a majority of the student body was comprised of under-represented groups. Of course, we had clubs and cultural nights, but those were extra-curricular not mandatory. And it didn‘t matter that I found my way to Dogeaters after those formative years. I was only beginning to grow as a writer myself, and wow, did I ever find the right writer—a Filipina, even!—to worship. Jessica Hagedorn was a force to be reckoned with in the 90s. In any corner of North America, in any university setting, dialogue on APA literature simply did not take place without mention of Jessica Hagedorn. Like spitfire, one after another, Dogeaters (Penguin Books 1990), The Gangster of Love (Houghton Mifflin 1996), Dream Jungle (Viking Press/Penguin 2003), and all the plays, poems, and writings in between—Including the two most powerful APA anthologies ever put together, Charlie Chan Is Dead (Penguin Books 1993) and Charlie Chan Is Dead 2 (Penguin Books 2004)— rocked the literary scene. Hagedorn's works awakened the sociopolitical consciousness of many an APA (the Kartika editors inclusive). Actually, forget the APAs! The mainstream literary world sang Hagedorn's praises, a la the National Book Award and the American Book Award. But is Jessica Hagedorn still relevant today? Yes. Read: Toxicology, Hagedorn's latest novel released in April of this year. Toxicology follows the double narrative of Mimi Smith, a filmmaker whose claim to fame is a low-budget horror movie, and Eleanor Delacroix, an aging scandalous writer. Both women, who are as talented as they are self-destructive, work at untangling the mess that has become their careers. Toxicology is also about artistic 83
creation and destruction, secrets and ghosts, mortality and immortality, celebrity and fallen idols. It‘s an intoxicating novel with layered voices and narratives. It‘s like a gritty, beautiful film folded up in your hands. KR Consulting Editor Christine Zilka and I even had the giddy fangirl pleasure of seeing her read—or perform, rather—at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn this past March. In line with the ―meta-meta‖ feel of Toxicology, Jessican Hagedorn and actress Kathleen Chalfant (Angels in America, The Laramie Project, Wit) read the interview portion in which the young editor (played by Hagedorn) of a fledgling litmag Volga Review finally gets to sit down with the infamous but elusive writer, Eleanor Delacroix (played by Chalfant). Taking this one step further, we decided to continue on that meta-continuum in our own ―playful‖ interview, drawing from and even lifting a few interview questions from Toxicology. But we also asked our own burning questions about the novel and the craft of writing.
On Toxicology the book The idea of toxicological screens that test blood or urine for contaminants, poisons, and other chemical or biological substances is intriguing for thinking about the novel. Why did you choose Toxicology as the title? JESSICA HAGEDORN: To my ears, toxicology is a beautiful, mysterious, and sinister word, with many levels of meaning. And it suited my overall story, so there you go. The language of mobile phone text messages appears periodically in the novel. What do you think about new media technology's changing of how we use language? JH: As I said in another interview, right now it‘s about speed, abbreviation, twittering & tweeting every second of daily trivia to your 703 ―friends‖ on Facebook, but not really knowing how to communicate when you are confronted with an actual living, breathing, human being. It‘s more about the gadget in your hand then looking someone in the eye. But sometimes a weird kind of poetry erupts from the barrage of snapshots, emoticons, hollow noise and chatter. I wanted to capture some of that accidental poetry in my novel. As with your other work, this new novel features a number of important queer characters. Eleanor comes across as one of your more fully-fleshed out lesbian characters. What were your thoughts on exploring her sexuality for the story?
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JH: I told myself that I had better do a good job with Eleanor‘s sexuality, her dreams, her secrets, her grief, her vanity and narcissism, et cetera. I strive for complexity when creating any character. This novel is set almost exclusively in New York City with some flashbacks to characters' experiences in Mexico and the Philippines. What aspects of NYC's character or personality are most relevant for the novel? Do you see important shifts in the city since 9/11 that your novel tries to sketch? JH: I had to do one of those Q & A‘s for my publisher, and a similar question about Manhattan as a setting came up. This was my answer: New York is one of the great, dazzling, most intimidating cities in the world. The energy is palpable – inspiration is everywhere you look. People live on top of one another, or pressed up against each other. Anything can happen at any time. Cultures either clash and collide, or cultures come together. I‘ve lived in downtown Manhattan for over thirty years and witnessed tremendous changes and events -- some sad and inevitable like gentrification, some terrible, like 9/11. In Toxicology, I wanted to confront and savor what it means to be a certain kind of New Yorker: the artist who is frozen by despair, the artist who confronts mortality, the reckless artist who is in a downward spiral. There were multiple sources of inspirations for this book. Grand female artists & writers, for one. The divas who are confronting the twilight of their lives. That haunting line from Dylan Thomas, ―Rage, rage against the dying of the light…‖ The notion of downtown, of bohemian life, of New York City as a cultural mecca. High-brow, lowbrow, ever evolving. In addition to being, on one face of things, a story about artists and writers, the entire book—from its structure and style to the characters themselves and plot points—seems to be about the process of creating art. Was this a process you were you were trying to explore or demystify? JH: Absolutely! It also blurs the lines between a literary reality and the characters' reality, which is still our literary reality, so it's literature within literature. Were you experimenting with that “meta meta” approach? JH: Not experimenting, but embracing the ―meta meta‖ as part of the overall reality. However, if only one theme could prevail as dominant over the other, is Toxicology ultimately about creation or destruction? JH: I never intended one theme to be dominant. Too boring.
On Craft and Process What inspired you to write Toxicology?
JH: An artist asked me to write a little story to go with a sculpture she had created of a woman I decided to name Mimi. The story & a photograph of the Mimi sculpture would be part of a collection she was compiling for a book. It was 2008 and the nation was in a deep funk. That was the jumpstart for the novel. Like Dogeaters, Toxicology doesn’t follow a traditional narrative arc. But unlike the density of Dogeaters, Toxicology is more spare. Still, it is every bit as layered, with shifts in voice, time, location, style. What attracts you to this “collage” format? JH: It‘s the way my imagination works, I guess. And how do you handle these layers? JH: With caution. Like peeling the skin off an onion with a switchblade. How would you compare your writing process and state of mind when writing Dogeaters vs. writing Toxicology? JH: I was much, much younger when I started writing Dogeaters, but my passion and the burning need to write what I wrote was no different. The process for me is always a delicious struggle – involving dreams, overheard fragmentary dialogue, visions, a series of arguments with myself. In an interview with Terry Hong for AsianWeek, you mentioned that you wrote the ending for Dream Jungle first, admitting that it was “so typical” of you to do so. In fact, many writers do approach their novels in the same way. Did you write the ending for Toxicology first? JH: Nope. The ending came as I wrote the story and the character of the kid, Violet, became more important to me. It felt right that I should end with her voice. Do you believe in Hemingway’s “Writing’s not for sissies” attitude the way your character Eleanor Delacroix does? JH: Yep. And in your experience, what inflicts the most pain? JH: A brutal sort of honesty. Do you have any writing rituals or habits? JH: Coffee. Cigarettes. Music. A half-hour stroll across the highway and down by the river, maybe with a pal. I call it getting my oxygen. Or maybe I turn on the Tennis Channel and zone out. Then back to work. Or: nothing. Silence. I stay in my cave and just write until it‘s over.
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We noticed that Toxicology has a filmic quality to it—even if one of the main characters wasn’t a filmmaker. Does Toxicology have a secret soundtrack or playlist? JH:
Martires del Compas: Mordiendo El Duende. Concha Buika: Mi Niña Lola. ―Supermujeres‖, a special mixtape made by Rodney, a friend in Barcelona. An Anita O‘Day mixtape made for me by another friend named Alan.
Do you write for yourself? Readers be damned and all that? JH: What do you think?
On the Present & Future What are you currently reading? JH: Am in the middle of R.Z. Linmark‘s painfully funny new novel, Leche. Just finished Part One of Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias. What else awaits me on my nightstand: Teju Cole‘s Open City. Tea Obreht‘s The Tiger’s Wife. Who are your influences? JH: I have many. But the novelist who turned on the lights in my head was Manuel Puig. Do you have any upcoming or concurrent projects? JH: A music theatre piece with composer Mark Bennett. Are there other formats you’d like to explore, e.g. libretto, film, graphic novel, creative nonfiction? JH: I want to explore everything. You’re on Facebook. 703 people “like” your page. Les Triplettes de Belleville is the only thing listed under “Likes and Interests.” JH: That‘s a pirated site which I had nothing to do with; I‘ve never seen Les Triplets de Belleville, though I hear it‘s an excellent movie. Do you have other interests we should know about? JH: Taco trucks, Filipino pop-up restaurants, flamenco, and an ongoing sense of creeping dread about the fucking mess we‘re in. 87
Tell us about being a drug dealer. JH: Cute. We heard that you know where the best bubble tea salons are in lower Manhattan. Which one of the characters in Toxicology would you have tea with? Which one would you stand up? JH: Wanda the Seer. Dash. Finally, what do you think of our scrappy little journal? JH: Love me some scrappy.
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CONTRIBUTOR BIOS FICTION Michael Lee was made in Taiwan and grew up in various parts of the United States. He is a MFA candidate at Columbia University for Fiction Writing. He lives with his wife in New York City. Dena Afrasiabi was born in Iran and raised all over California. She studied English at UCLA and Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark University and now resides in Austin, Texas. Ang Ang was educated at the National University of Singapore and the University of Pennsylvania. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Electica Magazine, the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Ceriph and elsewhere. Her work was recently featured in SYNÆSTHESIA, an exhibition of visual and literary art supported by the British Council and Singapore's National Arts Council. She teaches A-level Literature in Singapore. Talia Kolluri was born and raised in Silicon Valley in Northern California and is of mixed Indian and American descent. She holds a B.A. in History from UC Santa Barbara and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota. Her short fiction has appeared in The Houston Literary Review and The Battered Suitcase. She currently lives in California's lush Central Valley, where she works as an attorney. POETRY Gina Barnard has published in New Madrid, Web Del Sol, Poetry Now, Cosumnes River Review, and in Japanese translation in Poemaholic Café (Tsukuba, Japan). She is currently a contributing editor for Poetry International. She was born in Fussa, Tokyo, and spent her early years between Japan and the Sacramento Valley, California. She currently lives in San Diego, California. Margaret Rhee writes poetry in the morning, teaches ethnic lit in the afternoon, and researches race, gender, and sexuality at night. Dreams—digital or otherwise— tend to occur all day long. Currently, she is a doctoral student in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She has published poems in the Berkeley Poetry Review, Altered Barbie, and the Kartika Reivew. Her first chapbook, Yellow, is forthcoming from Tinfish Press. She is a Kundiman fellow.
Shelley Wong was born in Long Beach, California and has lived in New York City and San Francisco. Over a century ago, her great-grandparents immigrated to the United States to work on the transcontinental railroad. Her poetry has appeared in The Hat and is forthcoming in Eleven Eleven and Flyway. She received her BA in English from University of California at Berkeley and will be an MFA candidate in poetry at the Ohio State University this fall. NON-FICTION Katie Hae Leo poetry, essays, and monologues have appeared or are forthcoming in Asian American Poetry & Writing, Water~Stone Review, Midway Journal, 60 Seconds to Shine: One Minute Monologues for Men, Utne Reader, and Asian American Plays for a New Generation, among others. Her chapbook Attempts at Location was a finalist for the Tupelo Press Snowbound Award and is available through Finishing Line Press. Her most recent play Four Destinies will premiere through Mu Performing Arts in October 2011. She holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota. Timothy L. Marsh is a writer-in-residence at the Montana Artists Refuge. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Evansville Review, The Los Angeles Review, The New Quarterly and Weave Magazine, and are indexed at www.timothylmarsh.wordpress.com. Recent honors include a 2010 fellowship residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and a 2009 Arts Jury Award from the City Council of St. John's, Newfoundland. His work has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. Tamiko Nimura is a Sansei/Pinay writer, teacher and editor, originally from Northern California and now living in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, the Rafu Shimpo, the Journal of Ethnic Studies, and Crosscurrents Literary Journal. In 2010, her book proposal reached finalist status in the SheWrites.com ―Passion Project‖ nonfiction contest. She received her degrees in English from UC Berkeley and the University of Washington. She has received awards from the Ford Foundation, the Asia Pacific Fund, and the National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). She now practices writing at her "own private MFA," http://www.kikugirl.net. Lucia Tang was born in Jiamusi, China and has lived most of her life south of the Mason-Dixon. She attends Yale University, where she plays at postcolonialism— memorizing characters, attempting Asian folk dance, and producing stiff, hyperliteral translations of the Mencius in an attempt to atone for her childhood disavowals of Chinese. Her writing has been featured in flashquake, VOYA, and Strong Verse.
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ART/PHOTOGRAPHY Sandy Choi is very much a dreamer, truth-seeker and a student of life. Through the details of everyday life seen as a trivial drudgery, she is revisited with a familiar ambition to pick up her old paintbrushes after a 10 year hiatus. Inspired by vintage and tattoo art, she hopes her art will reflect on her many muses. Come check out her works through Unsavory Characters at unsavorycharacters.blogspot.com. Wing Young Huie is an independent artist. He runs Wing Young Hue Photography & Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His many photographic projects document the dizzying socioeconomic and cultural realities of American society, much of it centered on the urban cores of his home state of Minnesota. Find out more about Huieâ€˜s projects by visiting his website, wingyounghuie.com. Mona Wu attended Stony Brook University and graduated with a B.A. in Economics. She currently works in Finance but her passion lies in the arts. Wu got into photography shortly after starting her first job; it was a way for her to get away from the mundane day to day. She purchased her first DSLR about 6 years ago and while her equipment has changed, her passions have not.
EDITOR BIOS Managing Editor, Sunny Woan Sunny Woan likes to dote on cats. She has a difficult time maintaining thermal homeostasis. Her creative works have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Blue Earth Review, Houston Literary Review, and SoMa Literary Review, among others; and legal research in Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice Law; Temple Journal of Science, Technology and Environmental Law, Cal. Western Law Review, Santa Clara Law Review and have been anthologized in casebooks. By day, Sunny works as general counsel for a global investments firm. By night (and by way of weekends and holidays), she is a designer of briefcases, power handbags and accessories under the label Taryn Zhang. Fiction Editor, Paul Lai Paul Lai teaches Asian American literature at the University of St. Thomas. He has also studied and taught at Yale University, UC Berkeley, UNC Chapel Hill, and Duke University. He has co-edited scholarly journal issues about Asian American fiction and alternative contact between peoples in the Americas. He frequently presents essays on Asian American literature at academic conferences where he has the opportunity to meet other scholars and writers. His publications include reviews of books about Asian American literature as well as academic essays on notable Asian North American writers. He is on the executive committees of the Circle of Asian American Literary Studies and the Modern Language Association's Asian American Literature Division. Paul lives with his partner and their crazy dog Giles in Minnesota, and he is working on a collection of horror short stories, all featuring dogs. Poetry Editor, Kenji Liu Kenji Liu is a 1.5 generation Japanese-born Taiwanese American expatriate of New Jersey suburbia. His writing arises from his work as an activist, educator and cultural worker. Kenjiâ€˜s poetry chapbook You Left Without Your Shoes was published by Finishing Line Press (2009), available on Amazon.com. His writing has appeared in Tea Party Magazine and the 2009 Intergenerational Writerâ€˜s Workshop online anthology Flick of My Tongue. Kenji was awarded a writing residency at Blue Mountain Center and was a presenting literary artist at APAture 2009, a multidisciplinary Asian Pacific American art festival. He is currently working on a multi-genre full-length collection of poetry, prose and visual art. He is a freelance graphic designer and also holds an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Transformation from California Institute of Integral Studies. When not writing, Kenji paints, boulders, chases sunshine and hangs out with puppies. His biggest writing pet peeve is when people don't know the difference between its and it's.
ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2011
Non-Fiction Editor, Jennifer Derilo Jennifer Derilo received her MFA (creative nonfiction emphasis) from Mills College, where she was its first Jacob K. Javits scholar. She enjoys reading (and writing) about people and things unseen. She often has nightmares about zombies. And abandoned predicate parts. Editor-At-Large, Christine Lee Zilka Christine Lee Zilka has appeared or is forthcoming in journals and anthologies such as ZYZZYVA, Verbsap, Yomimono, and Men Undressed: Women Authors Write About Male Sexual Experience. An adjunct instructor at a local college, she received an Ardella Mills Fiction Prize from Mills College in 2005, placed as a finalist in Poets and Writers Magazineâ€˜s Writers Exchange Contest in 2007, and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Trainâ€˜s Fiction Open in 2009. Christine earned her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. In addition to writing short stories, she has a novel in progress and writes at the Writers Room in New York City.
ADVISORY BOARD Elmaz Abinader Justin Chin Peter Ho Davies Jessica Hagedorn Randa Jarrar Gish Jen Elaine H. Kim
Maxine Hong Kingston Gus Lee Li-Young Lee Min Jin Lee Ed Lin Nami Mun Fae Myenne Ng
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES The editorial board reviews submissions on a rolling basis. Thus, we accept submissions by electronic mail year-round. Please do not send previously published work. We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you notify the respective editor immediately when your submission has been accepted elsewhere. Submit online with the submishmashâ„˘ submissions manager:
http://kartikareview.submishmash.com/Submit Fiction | Attn: Paul Lai Short stories, experimental or interpretive works of fiction, flash fiction and microfiction pieces fall under our category of fiction. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 7,500 words. Poetry | Attn: Kenji Liu Narrative, prose, or lyrical poetry, free verse, eastern or western poetic forms, or works meant as spoken word are all welcome as poetry. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 2,500 words. Creative Nonfiction | Attn: Jennifer Derilo For creative nonfiction, we are particularly interested in works (memoir, reportage, letters, essay, etc.) that touch on themes including--but not limited to--identity, memory, family, culture, history, trauma, dislocation. Alternative formats and subject matter are nonetheless welcome. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 7,500 words.
For more information, please visit http://www.kartikareview.com/submit.html.
ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2011
ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2011
THE 500 PROJECT Does Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) literature matter? The 500 Project seeks to profile 10 APIA individuals from each of the 50 States who answer YES. On February 3, 2011, incidentally the Lunar New Year, the editors of Kartika Review, a national Asian Pacific Islander American literary arts journal, got together with award-winning poet Bryan Thao Worra and took on the 500 Project. However, the concept started well before February 3rd, by Thao Worra, the first Lao American to hold an NEA Fellowship in Literature. Over the last 15 years, he has worked with Asian/Pacific Islander American writers from across the country to revitalize our literary and artistic traditions, in particular that of Lao and Southeast Asian American writers. A key part of that journey has been connecting emerging enclaves of writers with more established APIA artists across the United States. One recurring conversation the writer activists have is the question of the modern audience for Asian American literature. We are in a time when there is a vocal demand for diverse voices, and yet APIA writers are hard-pressed to find the same passionate, sustaining demand that mainstream writers or genre fiction enjoy. That presents a contradiction, one we writer activists cannot ignore, and one that we should respond to loudly, proudly, from every storied corner of Earth. In Thao Worra's home state of Minnesota, there are over 60 ethnic communities tracing their heritage to Asia or the Pacific Islands. These communities thrive across the United States, coast to coast. For each of these communities, writers must ask: Can't we find, among all of those thousands, 10 individuals who are passionate about Asian American literature, writer activists who will express without equivocation that Asian American literature matters? For each of the 50 states, there must be at least 10 Asian / Pacific Islander Americans that answer yes. And thus Thao Worra, joined by Kartika Review seek out those 500. Why should it be so hard to identify them and build a vibrant, amazing network of readers and writers? How can a canon of contemporary Asian American literature be built if we cannot even find these 500? And so our quest begins.
ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2011
THE 500 PROJECT TO SUBMIT YOUR PROFILE TO THE 500 PROJECT, E-MAIL US AT firstname.lastname@example.org In the subject line of your e-mail, include the state you reside in followed by your full name. For example: Minnesota - Bryan Thao Worra Please be sure to attach a full color photograph of yourself to the e-mail. In either the inline body of the e-mail or as a Microsoft Word attachment (.doc or .docx), include the following information about yourself: Full Name Date of Birth Ethnicity Residence (City, State) Occupation Professional Affiliations (optional) Then answer the following questions: Does APIA literature matter to you? Why does APIA literature matter to you? Cite the last 3 works of APIA literature you read. Who are your favorite APIA writers or poets and why? In your own words, you are: In your own words, APIA literature is:
500 PROJECT SUBMISSION DEADLINE: DECEMBER 31, 2011
For more information, please visit http://www.kartikareview.com/500project/ PLEASE HELP US GET THE WORD OUT!
ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2011
ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2011
Kartika Review is a national Asian American literary arts journal that publishes fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, author interviews, and art/photography. The journal launched in 2007 and as of 2011, is fiscally sponsored as a 501(c)(3) by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center in San Francisco.
OUR NAMESAKE In Vajrayana (or Tibetan) Buddhist tradition, the kartika, a crescent-shaped knife, symbolizes the cutting away of ignorance and superficiality, with the hopes that it will lead to enlightenment. The kartika is kept close during deep meditation or prayer. It serves mainly as a metaphorical reminder of our self-determined life missions and never is it actually wielded in the offensive against others. We took on this namesake because the kartika best represents this journalâ€˜s vision.
CONTACT Kartika Review API Cultural Center 934 Brannan Street San Francisco, CA 94103
ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2011
Kartika Review: The 2009 - 2010 Anthology
For ordering information, visit: www.kartikareview.com
Issue 9. Spring 2011. Cover Photography by Wing Young Huie. © May, 2011 by Kartika Review 2 P ROGRAM C OORDINATOR Jennifer Banta M ANAGING E...
Published on Jun 24, 2012
Issue 9. Spring 2011. Cover Photography by Wing Young Huie. © May, 2011 by Kartika Review 2 P ROGRAM C OORDINATOR Jennifer Banta M ANAGING E...