Cover Art by Kristine Joy Mallari. ÂŠ October, 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.
Kartika Review API Cultural Center 934 Brannan Street San Francisco, CA 94103
ISSUE 10 | FALL 2011
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 Lac Su Bryan Thao Worra
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 The Loves of Marcado Mercado Forgotten Injuries Buying Eggs, Lending Soup Black Dog
Anna Alves Sam Katz Teresa Shen Swingler Shruti Swamy
9 12 16 17
POETRY This is My Manifesto, Homecoming Rain Manzanar Chinese Silence No. 6
Melissa Sipin Kathleen Hellen Timothy Yu
26 27 29
Lizelle Festejo Dickson Lam
Patricia Y. Ikeda
ART Joyland Untitled
Kristine Joy Mallari Mark Canto
WRITER INTERVIEWS Interview with M. Evelina Galang Interview with Ed Bok Lee Interview with Jean Kwok
By: Jennifer Derilo By: Editorial Board By: Paul Lai
63 72 78
CREATIVE NON-FICTION Nanay Cross the Line The Vortex: An Account of My Fatherâ€˜s Death, in Two Parts
END NOTES Contributor Bios Editor Bios
Jennifer Derilo Dear Readers, To kick off the month of October, I recently attended the sixth annual FilipinoAmerican Arts and Cultural Festival in San Diego, known simply as FilAm Fest. It‘s held in a predominantly Filipino-American neighborhood called Paradise Hills, which is tucked in between the wealthier unincorporated enclave known as Bonita and the more textured and poorer National City, a set piece in a handful of Tom Waits songs. Main thoroughfares are blocked off and crowded with thousands of bodies under warm fall skies—autumn doesn‘t exist in Southern California. You wouldn‘t know it, but according to local history, this community was built on landfills not paradise. I‘ve lived in Paradise Hills for twenty-three years, aware of the strong FilipinoAmerican community but have never attended the festival until this year. I don‘t know why. It was moving, empowering, familiar. I was floored by the number of advocacy and activist community groups and by the number of non-FilipinoAmerican attendees. Booths promoting literacy, language, and scholarship; advocating for the rights of Filipino veterans and a stop to human trafficking; reinvigorating the traditions of dance and martial arts; and raising awareness about the rising health problems unique to the Filipino population dotted the typical landscape of food and merchandise vendors. It occurred to me then, more than ever, how important it is to keep pushing these issues, themes, tributes, whatever you want to call them, through storytelling and how important it is for community to keep a culture alive. I was honored, then, to rep Kartika Review at the fest. Even though we didn‘t get the number of visitors to our booth that I hoped for, I networked and sweet-talked the hell out of KR to people I knew who would brag about, read, or submit to us. I promoted our mission statement to those who regarded community and culture in the same way, sneaking in the importance of literacy and narratives. I encouraged attendees to participate in a ―put your writing on the line‖ exercise by having them complete a response to one or more of the following prompts: I remember, I miss, Community is, Home is. Then each slip of memory, confession, declaration, and meditation was pinned up on a makeshift clothesline. Soon we had quite a few rows of half sheets dancing in the wind. Before I sat down to write this, I could conceive neither of this editorial nor a fitting explanation for why I wanted this issue to celebrate Filipino-American History Month, aside from the fact that we‘re publishing it in October and that we made an effort to over-represent FilAm writers and artists in this issue.
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But now I know. This definition of community by an anonymous attendee captured it: Community is… -
A place to share A place to build A place to learn A place of power
Of course, this is the implicit and succinct mantra of KR. Each issue demonstrates this, and convergences emerge without provocation. Currently, all of the pieces touch on similar struggles, images, ghosts, trajectories. The desire for belonging and exhalation is the same. Community is here within these pages. In ―Forgotten Injuries‖ and ―Black Dog‖, we are sutured to two culturally different but strangely similar lonely men—both stories just skimming the veneer of strained and estranged relationships while unspoken and unrequited desire threaten to surface but ultimately remain submerged or even sublimated. ―The Loves of Marcado Mercado,‖ a magical realist piece about a man born with two hearts and afflicted with two loves, demonstrates a quiet humor and sentences gorgeous for their simplicity and rhythm. ―Buying Eggs and Lending Soup‖ is a compelling narrative of acculturation in which American customs are seen as Other. It‘s the kind of flash fiction that delivers a deadpan sensibility and restrained characterization in tiny, potent scenes. Each poem in this issue exhibits a voice that is at once immediate and universal, as well as confrontational and reverent—voices that are bound up with identity and the body. The poetic persona in ―Manzanar,‖ for example, is a haunted body while the denizens of the camp are haunting bodies. In ―This is My Manifesto, Homecoming Rain,‖ the body becomes a site of multiple inscriptions while ―Chinese Silence No. 6‖ uncovers the historically buried bodies of 19 th century Chinese immigrants. Indeed, the poetry here focuses on deep attachments to place, historical violence, and, to borrow from Carlos Fuentes, a struggle against silence. The creative nonfiction pieces, too, aligned in surprising ways around vital familial figures, loss, love, duty, and resilience. ―The Vortex‖ and ―Cross the Line‖ deal with the impact of a father‘s absence—the former as a result of death, the latter estrangement. Still, the narrators in both discover that the absence of a key figure bears as much weight as presence, that duty can be mistaken for love, that love carries its own complicated weight—whether it‘s couched in betrayal, in an elegy, or in elusive shapes. In ―Nanay,‖ a granddaughter discovers the resilience of love and memory after loss via food, recipes, and caregiving. Even our author interviews with Jean Kwok, Ed Bok Lee, and M. Evelina Galang converge in meaningful and inspiring ways, including work Lee and Galang so generously allowed us to reprint. Emerging artists Kristine Joy Mallari and Mark Canto illuminate that continuum of generosity and inspiration further with their bold works that explore the fantastic, sublimate reality, and re-imagine the self, all shaped by a connection to landscape and environment and a reverence for visual narrative.
Finally, to break away from gushing about this issue, I shall gush about these important announcements: Molly Gaudry, whose fiction we published in Issue #5, is a finalist The Asian American Writers Workshop prize in poetry; Tamiko Nimura‘s creative nonfiction work, ―How It Feels to Inherit Camp,‖ which was published in Issue #9, will be reprinted in New California Writing 2012, a forthcoming anthology by HeyDay Press; and last, but certainly not least, a fictional piece by our very own Editor-at-Large Christine Zilka, ―Erasure,‖ has been published in the anthology Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience, which is out now. I hate to be one of those selective parents, but this issue is my favorite thus far. Even though I‘ve been on the editorial board for only five issues, and I pushed for a little FilAm History Month flavor, the fact remains: Issue #10 fucking dazzles cover to cover. Everything here is incredible. EVERYTHING. So, what are you waiting for? Treat yourself. Warmly, Jennifer Derilo Creative Nonfiction Editor
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THE LOVES OF MARCADO MERCADO Anna Alves Marcado Mercado lay in the doorway of one of his true loves, grasping lilting daisies in his lean brown hand, listening to the galloping rhythm of his two hearts. Scarcely eighteen summers past, Dr. Taguinod pronounced those staccato sounds emanating from Marcado‘s infant chest as an ―excessive anxiety to love.‖ This was ill-boding, as the Mercado family, populated throughout time with males (except for the necessary females they married to perpetuate the line) were already renowned as intense and passionate lovers. They did not love many in number. No Don Juan nor James Bond amongst them. In fact, the opposite was true. Once loved by a Mercado man, a woman was always loved, for better or worse, whether willing or not. Forever. Yet Marcado had not been anxious to love; he was born already loving. Not only did he hold the distinction of having two hearts, he was also part of the first set of twins in the Mercado family. His two hearts beating, first one, then the other—a balance of rhythm and productivity—he emerged bearing an extraordinary love for his twin brother, Roberto. Ensconced in their mother's womb for one year, three weeks and two full days, the indomitable Maria Magdalena finally forced them out into the world around midnight at the edge of a sleepy spring day during which their father, Rosales, and his older cousin, Romben, played the longest game of chess in recent memory, here in Sarcedo, a tiny province in the Philippines, so full of big histories. Marcado had not wanted to leave their warm dark world; he was happy in the company of only the other. However, Roberto could not care less. He was born without a heart. Dr. Taguinod puzzled over this—was it malady or miracle? He laid his ear against Roberto‘s chest, his cheek against warm baby-flesh, listening for a heartbeat. Lungs respired. The baby coughed. His brother, Marcado, cried. Then the doctor heard it—a faint rumble, a tapping, almost a sigh—remembrance of a heart in one baby, overzealous excess in the other. Roberto was considered ―The Heartless One.‖ Yet he was not evil, nor was he mean. A beautiful boy, he appreciated all beauty with an admiration of like reflections. Though Roberto and Marcado were identical twins, it was not difficult to distinguish one from the other. Where Roberto was serene and bland, truly without a care in the world, Marcado was stormy and animated, feeling emotions twice as deeply. Maria Magdalena determined that Marcado would love enough for both of them, so she paid special attention to him with her nurturing, filling him with surplus stores of affection. Bolstered by his mother‘s ardent energies, Marcado devoted his childhood days to loving his brother. Roberto accepted his love with detached curiosity, as if regarding a piece of glinty-green bottle glass on the road in the sun. Fascinated for only a moment, before passing on into the shadows of all the trees beyond. No one likes to stand in the sun too long. Though steadfast and supplemented, Marcado still often suffered from the unremitting intensity of his emotions, his hearts beating so hard, so fast, there was always a danger they would slip into sudden simultaneity—a 9
detriment to their necessary life-ensuring alternation. ―Too much love will kill you,‖ his father Rosales warned. Yet Maria Magdalena never worried. She knew that another would come to take up the love of the second heart and a perfect balance would occur. Two hearts were meant to love twice. It was Mercado destiny. Thus it came to pass that Elena de Leon came along, many years later, to take up that mantle—the one woman a Mercado man must love. She arrived from Manila one morning, and running late for a party at her Lola Benecia‘s home, she rushed through a dense curtain of green, orange, red, and yellow streamers set up for the day‘s barrio fiesta. They parted as waterfalls do once solid form passes through, leaving just a mad fluttering amidst a rush of breeze. Irritated, Elena tossed back long silky black hair over dainty slim shoulders, casting an incidental look at the young, shirtless man lurking at the periphery of her vision, tending to a slow roasting lechon baboy. The succulent pig seemed caught in midsqueal, impaled from snout-mouth to curlicue tail on a sturdy, turning stick over the spit. Marcado glanced up from where he stood, sweating over the fire, and caught Elena‘s accidental gaze in the midst of wiping his brow with a casual forearm. He began to smile at her. She started to smile back. Unaware of his surroundings, Roberto came strolling over, casually yet as if compelled. Elena, distracted by his approach, swung her gaze over, in mid-smile. In the moment it took for her to make her choice, a lifetime flew by and she caught on and held on tight as they took flight, she and her choice, above all other matters on earth. The moment she looked into Roberto‘s nonchalant eyes, she fell in love. So now, Marcado Mercado lies upon the doorstep of Elena‘s family home, his sad gaze locked upon the expiring flowers clasped within his closed palm. Upstairs in her Lola‘s sitting room, from the large picture window punctured into the building‘s west wall, Elena sits staring at Roberto, adoring him, even in the absence of any reciprocal adoration. Roberto, disinterested, sprawls beneath the green and white awning of the halo-halo stand across the street, ignoring the children clamoring for that ubiquitous shaved ice drink as he flips insouciantly through a romantic serial comic book. He only likes the illustrations, not the stories. Stranded, his two hearts now suddenly beating as one, Marcado Mercado dies, bursting with loves unrequited.
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Anna Alves was born in Elmhurst, Queens, NYC, raised in South Sacramento, CA, and got her BA in English and History and MA in Asian American Studies at UCLA. She was a PEN Center USA West Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellow in fiction and has held residencies at Hedgebrook (Cedar Cottage) and Voices of Our Nationâ€˜s Arts (VONA). Her writing has appeared in Amerasia Journal, disOrient, Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing, Our Own Voice: Filipinos in the Diaspora, and Strange Cargo: The Emerging Voices Anthology. A former softball jock, she looks forward to resume rooting for the Brooklyn Cyclones when she returns this fall to the East Coast for her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Rutgers University-Newark.
FORGOTTEN INJURIES Sam Katz
He was walking east to the park to meet Yoonmee. The sidewalks were stirring with young families high on the prospect of leisure. Bomi, his dog, was at his side. A boy with purple sneakers coasted by on a longboard and waved at him. He waved back. Yoonmee did not see him as he approached. She had called earlier that week with an edge in her voice to confirm their biweekly engagement, and he was already regretting not ditching to catch the Vikings game. He watched for a moment as she wet her lips, as she brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. Since their last meeting she had cut her hair to a shoulder length, which made her look older, especially against the white flowered sundress she wore under her fall coat. He tried to recall if he had ever seen her wear it before, the dress, and remembered a stormy spring day on a North Fork vineyard when they had drunk a bottle of Syrah on the winery‘s covered porch. He was lingering in the memory when she turned to him; there was no surprise in her expression, just a soft gaze that asked to be a part of what he was thinking. He closed the distance between them and accepted her kiss on his cheek, gave his own too close to her ear. ―Yoonmee,‖ he said. The dog nuzzled in between them. They started off up the hill. Bikes hummed by; runners passed. They stopped at the ice rink, as usual, and watched a skating club figure-eight the oval, a couple glide past, and a mother and son—with matching flushed cheeks—holding hands for balance. He pictured his own mother‘s pale grip guiding him around the rink. He looked over at Yoonmee—eyes, mouth, breast in profile—and looked away as soon as she turned. The letter had come two days ago, signed by Pastor Carson Gladd from his parents‘ old church in Minnesota. It stated that a Mrs. Sun Ah Kwon had undertaken an ―exhaustive search‖ for him, that ―circumstances beyond her control‖ had forced their separation, that her fire to reclaim him had never extinguished. He wondered who had chosen this word, exhaustive—the pastor? his assistant? a volunteer? Who had been the arbiter of exhaustion? When he and Yoonmee reached the top, they could see the buildings along the park, his apartment somewhere to the north, the one they once shared south. A swift wind blew across his face, swirled around them, bringing a susurrus up through the leaves, a nimbus of birds overhead. After their last walk together, he‘d followed her out of the park, down 8th Avenue to Herald Square. He‘d watched as she‘d led Bomi along 32nd to her favorite bakery where she embraced a man he had never seen before. They kept on, passing by waterfalls and boles of sunlight, under a stone bridge with the speckled reflection of a trickling stream, their footsteps echoing crisply. They came to a baseball field, blue shirts versus red, one blurring around the diamond with
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cheers following. Yoonmee fingered the necklace he had given her on their fourth anniversary, working it over in the thorough way she did when her body mimicked her thoughts. ―Eye on the ball, Jay. Eye on the ball,‖ a man yelled. The crack of bat on hide. Their two heads lifted in unison like children watching fireworks as the white speck ascended, stopped, thumped down as a different thing on the soft earth before them. Bomi barked. Yoonmee knelt as the ball rolled to her feet and picked it up, turning it over in her hand so that her fingers were along the laces. She was the first Korean woman he had ever been with, and when he looked down upon her that first time and she upon him, his body remembered a history, whispered a language of blood, and he felt a sense of belonging as if he‘d never belonged with anyone before. A boy in a blue uniform approached. He had once imagined a boy of their own in such attire. ―Could I have it, miss?‖ he asked. ―Yes, of course,‖ she said. When they first met, he‘d been put off by many of her mannerisms: her rigid posture, her unnatural smile, the stilted quality of her speech like a translated text, but as they‘d continued talking, he‘d caught a glimmer beneath the stolid demeanor, the way her laugh undid her defenses, and he marveled at the tiny admission, how it made him feel included. They descended into a valley and sat down on a bench: Barbara: my love, my heart, my angel, marry me—Barry. Stretching out before them was a still pond with willows overhanging, floral debris upon the water, ducks, larks, picnics and families beyond, and beyond that, renascent Norway Maples rising up a gradual incline. ―This is nice,‖ he said. ―Isn‘t this nice?‖ ―It‘s beautiful,‖ she said. ―This is how it used to be, this whole island. Just like this.‖ ―I don‘t know about that,‖ she said. The dog, tied to the bench, huffed and lay down on the ground. ―How‘s Bomi been?‖ she asked. ―She had stomach problems the last time you dropped her off.‖ ―She‘s fine.‖ ―You don‘t feed her the right food—‖ 13
―Yes, I know. The lamb and rice. Feed her the lamb and rice.‖ ―That‘s what the vet said.‖ ―She‘s fine,‖ he said. ―I‘m just repeating what the vet said.‖ ―I know.‖ She flattened her dress over her knees. ―I‘ve found a good mover,‖ she said. He looked away, up over the ridge where antennae glinted past. ―They‘re really reasonable. They‘ll pack up the books for you and label all the boxes.‖ ―What‘s the rush?‖ he said. ―Getting a new roommate?‖ She looked at her feet. ―I‘m just trying to clear space.‖ He thought about how their books had once been mixed together and wondered how long it had taken her to separate them. ―What will we do about Bomi?‖ he asked. ―We‘ll do what normal people do. No more of these walks.‖ ―I thought these were friendly walks,‖ he said. She didn‘t say anything. ―You should keep the books,‖ he said. ―There‘s some good stuff there, some of my favorites.‖ ―I can‘t.‖ ―Just toss them then.‖ ―Don‘t say that.‖ ―Why not?‖ he said. ―This mover, they‘re really reasonable.‖ They watched as a small boy ran in circles, a toy bird in hand, his mother speaking harshly to the person on the other end of her cell phone. 14
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―Let‘s not talk about this,‖ he said. ―It‘s too nice out.‖ ―We can‘t put this off any longer.‖ ―You‘re still here, aren‘t you? You keep coming, just like me.‖ The boy walked to the pond‘s edge and dipped his fingers into the murky water. She was erasing him, all the bonds they shared or might share, an entire life together he would never get to know. He thought of the letter at the bottom of his trash bin and felt the past impinging on him like a forgotten injury. ―We can start over,‖ he said. ―You could stay. There aren‘t any circumstances here beyond our control.‖ ―No,‖ she said. ―I‘m too tired for all of that.‖ Who was the arbiter of tiredness? She nodded and stood. Bomi lifted herself languidly onto all fours. As her short, tense steps took her away, his cheeks grew hot and a cold sweat overtook him. He wanted to jump up, chase after her, but found no energy come to his muscles; such an act would make no difference. He caught a final glimpse of her as she crested the hill, her slender figure a wisp of smoke signaling a distant fire. He began to wonder when she had given up, what she would remember of him. He tried to imagine what she thought was worth reclaiming. By the pond, the mother had put her phone aside. She clutched the boy, her son, tenderly.
Sam Katz was born in Korea and grew up outside of Philadelphia. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Bluestem, Boston Literary Magazine, The Good Men Project, and Grey Sparrow Journal. He earned an MFA from The New School, and now he serves as a reader for One Story and teaches at La Salle University.
BUYING EGGS, LENDING SOUP Teresa Shen Swingler Buying Eggs Mrs. Lin opened the egg carton before she placed it in her cart. In it, she saw one broken egg spilled over in its cup. She finally understood why, all these years, she opened the egg cartons. For she only mimicked what she saw others do: flashed it open, secured it shut, and placed it into the grocery cart, this strange American ritual.
Lending Soup One evening, around five, Mrs. Lin heard a knock on the door and saw her blonde neighbor through the stained glass. She opened the door. ―Sorry to bother you,‖ the neighbor said. Mrs. Lin noticed the neighbor was dressed in a fluorescent orange and pink top with a repeated flamingo pattern. ―I‘m making this recipe and clean ran out of cream of mushroom soup!‖ the neighbor said, laughing. Mrs. Lin smiled politely. ―I‘m sorry, we not have cream of mushroom soups.‖ ―Darn it!‖ the neighbor said. She lifted her hand and patted the back of her head while she thought of what to do. ―Perhaps neighbor has …‖ ―How about cream of chicken? That might work,‖ the neighbor said. Mrs. Lin shook her head. ―Not either.‖ The next time Mrs. Lin went to the grocery store she went to the soup aisle and surveyed the red and white labels of soup. She picked out two cans of cream of mushroom and two cans of cream of chicken. When she got home, she dusted the tops off with a clean washcloth and placed them in her pantry.
Teresa Shen Swingler is a Taiwanese-American fiction writer who lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her work has appeared in The Del Sol Review and Diagram.
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BLACK DOG Shruti Swamy There was a woman with small, yellow teeth who had framed her head with her arms on the pillow as she lay on Vikram‘s bed with her breasts small and bare as a girl‘s. She was a student at Sophia Ladies‘ College, and Vikram, a student at IIT Bombay, had never made love to a woman before, a fact he feared was obvious. The terror of bungling the whole thing had given way to the exhilaration of the act itself; after, for a handful of precious minutes, giddiness had come over him. She seemed on the precipice of sleep, even with her eyes half-open. When her breathing slowed, a mixture of habit and impulse made him reach for his Polaroid camera. He hesitated, then arranged the shot of her naked torso, taking care not to include her face, and she didn‘t wake, hardly stirred, as the machine spat out her image. At dawn they sneaked past the guard at the gate who pretended not to notice. By the time Vikram had put her in a taxi, the giddiness was gone, replaced by an animal fear, and then a strange feeling in the throat and mouth. He spat. Had he allowed it, the photograph of the breasts would have been continuously passed around Hostel 7; he would be made a hero among his peers. Instead, Vikram tucked the photograph between the pages of his physics book and inspected it in spare moments. She had a mole in the hollow of her throat, and her nipples were large and dark as candies, but the photograph washed out her skin and could not capture its delicate texture. Then he put it away. After class, he studied for hours alone, without stopping to eat or to use the bathroom, sometimes late into the night. He thought of this work as a kind of penance, like a monk‘s. Down the hall his friend Raju practiced the flute in the evenings and Vikram put down his books to listen. When night had fallen and spread out the hours, Vikram broke his evening fast with Raju, wildly eating snacks. ―I‘ve heard that New York is just like Bombay,‖ said Vikram. Outside the trees, jacaranda, and jasmine were all in bloom, scenting with the heaviness of a jungle. ―I‘ll live in New York only.‖ Raju wanted to be a poet. He was much shorter than Vikram, but that was only because Vikram was exceptionally tall, tall and pale, with dark features, like Frankenstein‘s monster, and had a stooping walk. Raju was heavy; not plump, but his body was dense with muscle. He cultivated a fashionable moustache on his upper lip, and dressed in tight polyester shirts and bell-bottoms. There was an amulet in the shape of a silver bullet that he wore around his neck on a piece of black thread. ―Aree, then why leave Bombay at all?‖ Vikram would have liked to live in Paris and be a bohemian, though by that point it was too late. They knew, already, they would both become engineers. Still Vikram smoked cigarettes, despite his asthma. ―Maybe Chicago,‖ said Raju. ―My father has an uncle there.‖ ―San Francisco,‖ said Vikram, dreaming. ―London, Prague, Berlin, Boston.‖ ―Will you come with me?‖ 17
―I‘ll come with you.‖
Once they found a dog that was almost dead on the side of the road. It was late at night and they had gone out for street food, a formerly illicit dealing that still maintained the residue of the forbidden. Raju had gotten several pani puris, gulping down one after another until he looked sick. Vikram had gotten bhel puri and eaten it delicately with a plastic fork. They threw their bowls on the street and began to walk back to campus. Then Raju said, ―Look.‖ It seemed as though someone had cut open the poor creature‘s belly. It lay on one side, a black dog, skinny and wheezing with pain, covered in blood that was darker than what Vikram thought blood would look like. Blood and dust covered the dog, and it closed its eyes and made a sound like a child‘s cry. ―Oh,‖ said Vikram. Raju‘s eyes began to fill up with tears, and he brushed them away. He had spent his whole life in this city, but somehow he hadn‘t hardened himself against it. Each wound was fresh, each time: Vikram marveled at it. Long ago he had grown his city skin. ―Vikram,‖ said Raju. Vikram could hear a bright note of pain warbling in his voice. ―Vikram, look.‖ Behind the high walls on either side of the street slept the rich, and the street was long and oddly empty, even for this time of night. A rickshaw clattered by, slowed, but they waved the driver away and he left. They stood twenty or so paces from the dog, and Vikram moved closer, until he was kneeling beside it. Raju stayed where he was. His eyes were wet, his hands hung down sadly by his sides, opening and closing. Vikram removed his shirt and turned to the dog. The breathing was heavy and slow, and somehow sweet, like the breathing of a sleeping woman. ―Hello, friend,‖ he said, quietly, so that the creature would not be alarmed by his presence. He put a hand on its back. Then he wrapped the shirt around the muzzle of the dog and pressed its jaws together so it couldn‘t breathe. Vikram imagined his face as the dog was seeing it, before it closed its eyes. He imagined his face to be death‘s face, colorless as the moon‘s. To Raju, too, he must look like death, but he could feel Raju‘s eyes on his back like two warm hands. The dog was weak, and didn't fight him, just whimpered low in its throat. He glanced back at Raju, who had jammed his hands into his pockets. He was sweating, still crying, and took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his face. ―It‘s okay,‖ Vikram said, as the dog stopped breathing. ―It‘s okay.‖ When Raju looked up at Vikram, his eyes were glittering. Gratitude or admiration, there was something that flared up, nearly electric between them, and Vikram had to hold himself away until it faded. He wiped his hands on his pants. 18
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In November, Raju learned how to balance a passenger up on the handlebars of his bicycle and took his girlfriend Esther for rides in the afternoon when class had finished. From the window, Vikram watched them circle the courtyard before launching off, headed for Lake Park. Raju, when Vikram could see his face, was laughing; Esther‘s expression was quiet and serious. Sometimes he felt lonely with his room all to himself, so he closed the door and pulled down the shades. He lay down on the bed and took out the photograph of the breasts. He had studied it so many times he didn‘t even need to look at it any more, but he did. They were pretty, but he had forgotten the smell of her hair and the dampness of her skin. Of course he couldn‘t miss her, only the idea of her, the space she had taken up in his bed. At ten p.m. there was a knock on his door. The sound woke Vikram up. He was quick to hide the photograph and then he wiped his face; in his sleep he had drooled a little puddle onto his physics textbook. ―Raju,‖ said Vikram, and smiled. The air was almost unbearably heavy, as it was before it began to rain. ―I‘m going to marry Esther,‖ said Raju. He came inside. He had been sweating, and his face was alight. Vikram sat down on his bed. He wanted a cigarette, but Raju didn‘t approve of his smoking, so he stayed where he was. ―Esther?‖ ―Yes, Esther,‖ he said. ―Don‘t you like Esther?‖ ―Of course I do,‖ said Vikram. ―I‘m only worried—what will your parents say? And hers?‖ ―They‘ll come around.‖ He went to the record player and put a record on. It was the Rolling Stones album he loved so much, and he smiled, then did a funny, tripping little walk in the style of Mick Jagger to make Vikram laugh. When he didn‘t, Raju said, ―Come on, yaar, aren‘t you happy for me?‖ ―Of course I am.‖ Vikram smiled, with his mouth, not with his eyes, though he was trying. Esther was beautiful, yes, a wide, smooth forehead and black eyes. But Raju and Esther had only been going together for a few months at most. Her Christian parents, and Raju‘s Hindu ones, surely would not approve of the union, and Esther was poor. Vikram saw her walking sometimes from ballet class, looking fresh in her cotton dress; she walked miles just to save the few rupees of bus fare. He had never once seen her sweat. Vikram got up and pulled open the shade. He was itchy for a cigarette, or for one hit of marijuana, which he could hold in his lungs until the world became liquid and suffused with lightness. It had begun, finally, to rain. At first the sound was soft, then 19
it grew and grew, muscling in against the music. He opened the window, his hand began grasping for the falling water, it was warm outside. Vikram realized that Raju was looking at him strangely and shut the window. ―You know what happened to me yesterday?‖ said Vikram. ―I was taking the train to Juhu; it was very crowded, the train, people just packed together. I felt someone brush against me and turned and saw this little fellow‘s hand in my pocket, pulling out my wallet. He was tiny, no taller than a child. So I held his wrist in an iron grip until we got to the next station, and I dragged him out, and he was so scared of me because I was so much taller than him.‖ ―You rode all the way to Juhu with his hand in your pocket?‖ ―I didn‘t hurt him.‖ ―Don‘t you like Esther?‖ said Raju. He rubbed his upper lip, newly bare. It had been a mistake to shave it; it took away a bit of gravity from his face. They were the same age, but Vikram felt so much older than Raju, whose quick and bright movements reminded him of a sparrow. ―Of course I like Esther,‖ said Vikram. ―Of course I‘m happy for you.‖ Then he said, ―I wanted to make him sorry. Do you know what I mean? I felt so angry.‖ ―He was just poor, that‘s all. He wasn‘t being cruel.‖ ―You always give beggars your money and then they follow you in hordes.‖ ―Better than not,‖ said Raju. He spread out his hands.
Over the December holiday Vikram went with his father to their ancestral home in Dheradun, where he raced his strong, tall cousins on bikes. It was cooler there, the air was thinner, but the hours pooled together and became sticky and more unbearable than Bombay‘s heat. His male cousins were constantly ribbing him about one thing or the other. Like him they were tall, but they had learned to wear their tallness, and had grown up with each other, while he was an only child. They didn‘t like the quietness he had, and tried to draw him out like they had cruelly drawn out the stray cats and dogs in the street when they were younger, provoking them into hissing anger. Vikram for the most part kept his cool. Some afternoons he went with his dad to the sports club, where he would swim in the pool while his father played tennis with Vikram‘s uncle. In the water, slicing through it like a blade, he thought of Raju. The water was cool against his chest and mostly calmed him. But he began to sprint from one side of the pool to the other, as if towards Raju, or away from him. He knew Raju couldn‘t swim, and was afraid of the ocean. Raju was so afraid of the ocean that he fretted about how he was going to get to America if he was ever able to leave India and become a poet; the plane ride would be a constant terror because of the endless 20
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stretch of ocean it would traverse. Vikram imagined himself on the plane with Raju, how he would be able to calm him, on his way to Paris, or maybe he could be a bohemian in New York instead. At dinner Vikram sat very straight in his chair, and all around the table were the faces of men, his cousins, his uncle and father. The women were in the kitchen, where they helped with the cooking and stayed until the men ate. The noise of them cooking and laughing permeated the house and made the dining room seem cold and empty. There was a girl cousin everybody called Baby with whom he felt a certain affinity; he liked her around, in the same space as him, laughter always in her eyes, though alone they would never have much to say. The men talked about war and weather, cricket, the economic weakness of the rupee. Vikram‘s uncle was a retired colonel and always encouraged Vikram to enlist in the army, like Vikram‘s eldest cousin, but his father would make some excuse for him. One night Vikram had an asthma attack and woke up with lungs tight and burning, sat with his hands on his knees and tried to calm himself and to be still. For a moment it was so dark he had forgotten not just where he was, but who, and a deep welling panic rose up, his heart pumping desperately, and his lungs were bruisy and weak. With his lungs so tight he was somewhere else. Endless days in bed, as a child, when the world marched on without him. He could hear the noise of other children playing after school through the open windows, the sounds of the neighborhood dogs and the vegetable wallahs and the rickshaws. Pinned down and helpless, his weak lungs struggling inside him like the drenched wings of a moth, the black knot of himself, like a weeping sore, the room changed color, leeched of the light outside, became a pale sick yellow, the bitter color of rind. Then he remembered his mother, the way she sang to him to calm him. He could remember the smell of her, and her hand on his chest in the night when she put him to bed. He could hear her saying his name: Vikram. He pushed each feeling aside. The world was sour, and then it was nothing.
Raju returned to campus in a state of dejection, his December vacation having been significantly less successful than he had hoped. At Esther‘s house he had been welcomed, even celebrated; in his own, Esther had been the subject of tears, scolding and general scorn from him parents and from his sister, who could not see Esther‘s clear eyes and good heart. They thought she wanted his money. At Christmas he had gone to mass with her family in St. Thomas Cathedral, lit candles and prayed to an amorphous god, for Esther‘s sake—there had been a vague promise of his conversion to Christianity, which Raju had no intention of following though. He told this all to Vikram, looking tired. There was no change in Esther, from what Vikram could see. She carried herself well, with dignity. In the afternoons they still went for rides on Raju‘s bike. ―The marriage will still happen?‖ ―Next spring, after we finish.‖
―What‘s the rush? Are you in trouble?‖ Raju blinked at him. ―Trouble? No trouble. Esther is a good girl. She would never…‖ He looked down, blushing. ―Tell me, does it hurt?‖ ―Does what hurt?‖ said Vikram, and then he said, ―Oh. No, it feels nice.‖ ―Nice like how?‖ ―Sort of warm, and kind… It is a kindness. I can‘t say.‖ ―Too much,‖ said Raju, after a moment, shaking his head. ―I didn't know it would be such a big tamaasha, this Hindi-filmi nonsense. Do I look like a hero to you?‖ ―Yes. Not Amitabh, though, you‘re too short.‖ ―I‘ll tell you what we did. Esther made me promise not to tell. But I married her, Vikram. Already I married her.‖ ―What? Why?‖ ―We woke up early in the morning and met at her church. There was nobody there. She gave me this ring,‖ he held out his hand, ―and I had this necklace I bought on the street on the way over for her. She wore a white sari. She said, ‗In the eyes of god we are married,‘ and that was that.‖ ―You know in Islam, they get divorced by saying, ‗I divorce thee,‘ three times. That‘s it. I don‘t think they even need to be in a mosque.‖ ―Vikram—.‖ Raju seemed to be arranging a sentence in his mind, a difficult sentence, and Vikram did not know if he would be able to bear it, what Raju would say. But after all that, all he said was, ―Well, good thing I‘m Hindu. That sounds too easy.‖
Then Raju got sick. There was a big exam coming up and everyone was in a state of mild panic. Sometimes Raju would emerge from his room, sweaty and gray faced, to vomit in the toilet down the hall. His days and nights were occupied with fever dreams. Vikram brought him concoctions of honey and ginger in hot water, the only thing he could stomach, and met Esther downstairs in the courtyard, since she wasn‘t allowed in the hostel. She was wearing a green cotton dress that showed her shins and her thin waist, and her black hair was pulled neatly into a braid. ―How is he today?‖ ―No better, no worse. But the doctor came and prescribed something.‖ ―Western doctor or Ayurvedic?‖
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―Western.‖ ―Good,‖ she said. He realized that he had never before seen her sweat because he had never stood this close to her, never met her without Raju. Now he could smell her coconut hair oil and the dampness of her underarms, mixed with the sweet scent of talcum powder and wet cotton. He held out the empty tiffin container he had brought down for her. ―Did he eat?‖ ―He ate.‖ ―Good that he never lost his appetite.‖ In fact it had been Vikram who ate the food, not wanting to let it go to waste, or to hurt her feelings. Her food was delicately spiced, with a particular balance of sweet and salt; she used golden raisins in her rice and in her curries, which were dry without meat. ―Is he okay here? He should go home.‖ ―He won‘t talk to his parents.‖ She was studying him, studying his face, sizing him up as one would an enemy. But when he caught her eyes she looked down modestly, showing the neat part in her hair. ―He told you, didn‘t he?‖ ―He did.‖ ―Everything?‖ ―I think so. Many congratulations.‖ She looked at him, and for the first time he felt pity for her. She did not know Raju as well as him, he saw now, and she would spend her whole life fighting for him, fighting against his family. ―They were so angry, Vikram, his family—.‖ ―Don‘t worry,‖ he said. He could not touch her, so he smiled at her to reassure her. ―The whole thing will blow over if you are patient.‖ He could tell that she recognized the lie, but they both pretended otherwise.
On Saturday after the exam Vikram let himself into the room of his friend with his camera around his neck. It was dusk, and the windows were open to it, the tiles of the floor cool underfoot. Raju was wearing a cotton kurta, damp around the arms and the 23
chest, sleeping on the bed. He looked wholly different in Indian clothes; Vikram hadn‘t realized before how clownish Raju‘s former costume had made him look. Despite the illness he looked at ease in his own skin, and brightly handsome. Raju was mumbling. ―If velocity is equal…amount of leaves in the universal neem, and the initial velocity is…to the time of rain in personal winter…theta t is how much…love to speak to dogs in monsoon…Vikram, Vikram.‖ ―Raju, you‘re dreaming,‖ said Vikram. He came close to the bed. The sheets smelled damp and animal, and Raju looked quite thin. His eyelids were fragile, spread tightly against the balls. Vikram could see the quick saccade of his eyes quivering underneath. Then his eyes opened. ―Vikram,‖ said Raju. Even his voice had thinned, become full of breath. He looked a little embarrassed. ―I was sleeping.‖ ―How are you feeling?‖ ―Not so good,‖ said Raju. He smiled. ―Did you see Esther?‖ ―She‘s worried about you.‖ ―Are you worried?‖ ―You‘ll be fine,‖ he said. ―The doctor just says you need rest.‖ ―I feel very lonely here, Vikram,‖ said Raju. He turned over in the bed. ―I come visit you every day,‖ he felt anger in his voice, and pressed it out. ―Esther doesn't come.‖ ―Esther can‘t come, here, Raju, they won‘t let her in.‖ Raju looked at Vikram. He had the polish of illness in his eyes, and his skin, yet his eyes were clear and lucid. He looked at Vikram in a way that he never had looked at him before. He said, ―Tall people wear sadness differently.‖ ―I‘m not sad.‖ But Vikram was pierced though by Raju‘s gaze. He knelt by the bed, so his face was level with Raju‘s. Raju‘s breath was slow, and he looked very fragile, like a little bird there. Seeing his friend in such a state, all the care he had taken to hold himself at a distance from Raju fell away. It was a sudden feeling. Down, down, down, sliding headfirst into it, terrifying, yet delicate, like the fine surface of Braille. Vikram reached for Raju‘s hot hand and held it in his own cool palms. Vikram felt the way he did when he was a child, and he forgot himself. Even then it was rare, so conscious he was of his face, his height. But there were times in his childhood, often after 24
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emerging from a bout of asthma-related confinement, when his body had been nothing more than a receptor of the senses, pure taste, pure sound, pure light. His mother was the only one who really touched him. ―I‘m frightened of what it is,‖ said Raju. He let go. Vikram remembered again his face, and how it must look. Pale and colorless as the moon to a dog, to a sick friend, the color of death. He thought the look in Raju‘s eyes had been admiration or gratitude or love, but now he saw that same look again, and realized he had been mistaken. He moved away from the bed, a creature running from the torches. Raju had closed his eyes again, seemed to be moving into sleep. Vikram raised the camera to his eye and adjusted the lens. Raju mumbled something. The blankets were thrown off his torso and his hands lay open on either side. He hardly winced at the flash of the bulb. Before the square of gray showed even the faintest outline of Raju‘s form, Vikram had left the room.
Shruti Swamy lives in San Francisco where she is finishing her MFA in Fiction at San Francisco State. She is at work on her first collection of stories.
THIS IS MY MANIFESTO, HOMECOMING RAIN Melissa Sipin
―Others never see you: they surmise about you from uncertain conjectures; they do not see your nature so much as your artifice. So do not cling to their sentence: cling to your own.‖ – Michel de Montaigne This is my manifesto, homecoming rain. When you board the redeye flight to Los Angeles, say flesh: I’m coming home. Say flesh, lesson four is the deep-cut pamilya circuits around your ankles, attached to your soul. You have kept your voice silent, letting them blame you, dark-haired aswang. But say flesh this: I’m coming home. When you color your tongue Tagalog, you‘ve extracted a gamble. You‘ve let yourself wish harder than a mottled, dulce song. You have opened your hands, found summer among your body, remembering his nephews and nieces who grab you from the inside. You‘ve let them run in the rye, let them hear the voices of their parents, sisters of those spiteful circuits, let them blame the jasmine mouth, black your eyes, things you‘ve sipped for your lola told you so. But say flesh this: I’m coming home. The way you stutter envelops your silence. To his family you are only an aswang among aswangs—slut, money stealer, liar, brown-skinned woman who has sucked their bunso away with her tongue. But say this flesh: you’re coming home. The rain has touched your mistakes. You remember now the street of Dolores, the sampaguita garden in the middle of the front yard, the cactuses lining the pavement. You remember flailing arms, your ate‘s sigh, your father‘s longer exhale, your lola‘s voice that says: anak, you are home.
Melissa Sipin is a writer from Carson, California. A VONA writer and graduate of the University of Southern California, she currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina, with her Navy husband. Her work is forthcoming in Kweli Journal and has been published in Lantern Review and Maganda Magazine, among other publications.
ISSUE 10 | FALL 2011
MANZANAR Kathleen Hellen Summer The wind blows dust like hulls of rice. We stand in line for everything. Old or orphan doesn‘t matter. Not strong enough All of us fenced in like chickens. Keep busy. Do not think about the things we cannot change. Winter We use the lids from ration tins to cover the holes in the floors. Nothing to the east but the white wall of mountains rising up Barbed wire Present Remember? It was all over sugar. They thought he had a gun but it was only a light bulb that shattered. It‘s no use fighting. What is life but dying? Past Only take what you can carry, they had said. And then the buses came. The signs in the shops, nailed to the fences: ―Aliens and non-aliens of Japanese ancestry report as ordered ....‖ My mother wore her hat and Sunday gloves to board the bus. A few hanged themselves. Night The moon is rising over Pleasure Park. There is the waterfall; there is the pond we dug with our hands. See how the moon reflects? In every sorrow there is joy. . Day We dig and carry stone; we plant trees; we write our poems on supports under the water. I see inscribed on the concrete settling basin: ―jap camp.‖ Leaves in the pear tree shiver. Who is grieving for this floating world? Ghost The things that used to make me happy only hurt me now.
The sun rising over mountains breaks my heart. Every night you cry into your sleeves. I hear you call my name. Bird Again and again, I hurl into glass. My father, my mother my country They hate us because they can‘t change us. I was born yet have no place to rest.
Kathleen Hellen is the author of The Girl Who Loved Mothra (Finishing Line Press, 2010). Her work has appeared in Cimarron Review; Frogpond; Hawai’i Review; Japanophile; Lantern Review; Mythium; Natural Bridge; Nimrod; Pirene’s Fountain; Platte Valley Review; Poetry International; Prairie Schooner; Southern California Review; and Witness, among others; and on WYPR‘s ―The Signal.‖ She is senior editor for The Baltimore Review. Link to the interview at: http://www.urbanitebaltimore.com/baltimore/web-extra-a-conversation-withkathleen-hellen/Content?oid=1247942
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CHINESE SILENCE NO. 6 Timothy Yu after Billy Collins, â€•Despairâ€– So much reserve and silence in our poetry. Our words are quiet peonies looking at themselves in a covered mirror. Our corpselike bodies cover the ground and moan in the opium pipe. Our equanimity devours the air. I wonder what my ancient Chinese predecessors would make of all this, these engineers and monkish masters? Today, I hear your tinny voice blaring from the rooftops in praise of my reticence, and my thoughts turn to my honorable ancestors: Fuk Yu, who gnashed Pacific rails between his eloquent teeth, and his great-grandson, glaring out from the Middle West, Yu No-Hu.
Timothy Yu is the author of the poetry collection Journey to the West, which won the Vincent Chin Memorial Chapbook Prize from Kundiman, and a book of criticism, Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry since 1965 (Stanford University Press). His poems have appeared in SHAMPOO, West Wind Review, Another Chicago Magazine, and The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century. He is an associate professor of English and Asian American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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slice but to me it was an eternity. In those impatient moments, we would taking turns scraping the brown crumbs from the pan with a spoon, shoveling them into our mouths. That was the best part - until you showed me how to decorate. You taught me to create shells, borders, write my name in red icing, first on a piece of waxed paper. Then, I‘d graduate and write on the cake and you‘d gently take my arm, guiding me and encouraging me, making each stroke feel momentous and me feel important. G you’re so good to me, H you’re so heavenly, I you’re the one I idolize... I wish I saved the recipes you had written for me one summer afternoon when you showed me how to make the cakes that Dad now remembers having every birthday. My first birthday photograph, me in your hands against the picnic table, just enough over its edge, teaching me to form my lips into a circle to blow the single lit candle. Fourteen years later we went to the store together with a simple mission: a bundt cake pan, Softsilk cake flour, various flavorings and a flour sifter- all essentials of my very own to create the perfect delectable cake, your cake. I was eager to learn and you, at times, were impatient at my unwillingness to listen and attempts to do it my way. I learned to make mistakes and ultimately, learned to listen. Together we made your infamous mocha chiffon cake. And together, we ate it too. J we’re like Jack and Jill, K you’re so kissable... Our final meals together weren‘t meals at all. It was Christmastime when I came home from school, cautiously entered the living room where you were resting. I reached out to gently pull your hand to my forehead. Mano, a simple gesture of revering our elders, one in which is now rarely observed by Filipino-American grandchildren. Your hands were thin, limbs with muscles wrapped so that I can see each movement. I kiss your cheek, the chemicals they pumped into you had robbed you of their blush. I‘d kiss the inner part of your wrist after pinching them delicately to see if you have enough hydration while blue and white cans of vanilla-flavored Ensure lay unopened, scattered around your room. As the cancer spread from your colon, crept up your lungs into your throat, you stood fast, stubborn as ever. We spent the days together, taking naps between the grayscale tones of Turner Movie Channel classics. In exchange for taking your medication, you asked if I could smuggle you pieces of fruit beef jerky, the Hong Kong brand in the beautiful gold and red box that was almost too pretty to open. Should anything pass through your system, you would be up all night writhing in pain. You chewed the pieces, spit it out onto the napkin in my hand. What difference does it make? you‘d ask. I’m gonna die anyway, why not enjoy life? For you, life was the pleasure of food. You could have drunk more water, used less patis to make your meals salty, eaten more fresh vegetables and exercised at least 30 minutes, three times a week. If I would have known, I‘d ask you to quit smoking earlier, to not eat that last piece of crisp roast pork or sans rival, the dessert that had no rival to its rich daquoise layers of butter, cashews and meringue. But I knew that this food meant something to you and that somehow it throbbed the cartography of your life stories. The high peaks of how you met Tatay through Manang Unor, how you both eloped and only came back home after two years of marriage. I wanted to ask you if it was worth it, was love 31
really all it was cracked up to be. I wanted to ask you if you still loved him, through the hills and valleys of his silence and rage in the arguments waged in the kitchen, the room I loved the most. The room you both fought over who reigns supreme, where passion flavored and caressed every bit and morsel. I kneel beside you, holding out the Senecot pills and watching you as you struggle to swallow water to help the green spheres slide down your swollen throat. Your esophagus muscles strain to pull the medicine down, ease your body. More and more frequently, I‘d squirt drops of clear liquid morphine onto your tongue, the same way you used to drop the pink milkshake medicine into my mouth when I had an ear infection. You were always courageous. I was always afraid. L is the Lovelight in your eyes... I‘d lay on the couch awake each night, still and straining my eyes in the dark at nothing in particular, waiting to hear you call out my name to help you get to the bathroom. I‘d worry when I don‘t hear a sound so I would sneak into your room, curl at your foot, careful not to lean too heavy on your fragile ankles, listening and feeling your chest rise and fall while little puffs emerge from your thin, jagged lips. Your eyes were once glistening, now they are sunken in. The eloquent folds on your face holds the weight of bearing and caring for six children, the mourning of two, and the exodus of your family to live in a foreign land with foreign foods you learned to love as much as I. M, N, O, P . . . You could go on all day . . . I wish more than anything to have another day to show you how I‘ve turned out, to share my hopes, to draw out those three weeks spent with you that last Christmas that are forever frozen within my heart. I imagine us baking again together while I tell you that now, I am helping others follow their dreams, nurturing bakers the way you had nurtured me. I‘d sing to you this lullaby you sang to soothe me to sleep, you folded in my arms and remembering all that you are to me. One last day would be all I‘d need, Nanay. To tell you what you mean to me.
Lizelle Festejo dreams in unwritten recipes contained in the heart. She is a 1.5 generation Pin@y living, writing, learning and eating in Oakland, California. Her most fondest childhood memories were created in the kitchens of her Nanay Cion, Mama Tessie, and mother, Elizabeth. It is her life's mission to pass on stories to others through food and writing. ―Nanay‖ has appeared in the chapbook Eating Our Words, published by the Kearny Street Writing Workshop; the alphabet song is adapted from ―A You‘re Adorable‖ by Perry Como.
ISSUE 10 | FALL 2011
CROSS THE LINE Dickson Lam I should‘ve listened to the veteran teachers and not signed up for this silly diversity program. I stood in the cafeteria, crammed together on one side with staff and a hundred high school students. John, the facilitator of the day-long program, folded his arms and stared a pair of giggling girls. A Hawaiian pattern tattoo wrapped around his arm. He had a deep tan like he was from an island, and he wore a red T-shirt that read, ―Be the Change.‖ Sunlight entered through the windows lined with wire mesh. Light landed across the floor in grids. ―My bad,‖ one of the girls said. She covered her mouth with her hand. Her magenta nails were long and curved. We waited for John to read a statement. If the statement applied to us, we had to cross an imaginary line. Our students had transferred into Dewey Academy behind in credits, and instead of spending the day making up assignments, they had to spend it crossing imaginary lines. Brilliant idea, Oakland Unified School District. The organization that sent John had convinced the district they could bring our school closer. I‘d figured they‘d do those touchy feely games I'd despised in college: icebreakers. I‘d gotten involved in a student group in college, and every meeting began with an icebreaker, often a perplexing question like, ―If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?‖ The group did workshops to motivate youth to go to college, and something about giving back made my life suddenly more meaningful, but the meetings wore on me, especially when the icebreakers turned personal. We‘d have to create Life Maps, posters that represented our journey in life. I‘d have to explain how I grew up in the projects, how I barely graduated high school but turned my life around in community college. Perhaps I felt uneasy about sharing because my mom had raised me to believe that going on about yourself was a selfindulgent thing that white people did. Others would judge you. John began the day by gathering the staff in a huddle. The more we shared about ourselves, he said, the more the students would open up. ―When I introduce a new activity,‖ John said in gruff voice, ―I want you to jump and yell 'Yeah!'‖ This was going to be a corny day, I thought. The first statements John read seemed pointless. Statements about race, gender, age. We didn‘t need John to tell us our demographics. Maybe he‘d read statements about family. My chest thumped, and I got dizzy for a couple of seconds, but I didn't know why. I was twenty-six, and by now I thought I‘d processed everything about my family. I‘d even worked on a brief narrative of my family to use on first dates. The story was sure to earn sympathy, or at least make me sound complex. This was the latest version: I didn‘t use to be close to my dad. He moved to 33
Minnesota when I was ten for a job as a dim sum cook. He didn‘t quite abandon us; he sent money that paid our bills. My mom didn‘t work. Said raising three kids was enough work. The thing my dad didn‘t know was that my mom had a sugar daddy on the side. Same dude for years, even when my dad was living with us. The guy would buy my mom jewelry, take her on cruises to Mexico, trips to Hawaii, and to her favorite destination—Disneyland. I covered for my mom when my dad called. It was easy. Soon as I said Mom was out with her girlfriends, my dad was ready to hang up. Didn‘t even bother with small talk; he seemed content being strangers. But my pops is trying to change. He invited my brother, sister, and me to spend Christmas with his side of the family for the first time. We had to accept. Life is too short to hold grudges.
―Cross the line,‖ John said, ―if you have ever been awakened by gunshots.‖ A few students cross the checkered floor and others followed. I thought about crossing. Once when I was still living in the projects, I heard bullets rattling off from a submachine gun as though someone was firing it right in front of my bedroom window. The sparks flashed through my blinds. A neighbor was celebrating his new toy. I walked across the line. I could feel the eyes of staff members on me. None of them had crossed. I didn't know what to do with my hands, so I kept them behind me. ―Take a look,‖ John said, ―at who's standing next to you.‖ ―Everybody's on this side,‖ JB said, revealing his gold fronts. I'd thought JB was his nickname, or that it stood for something, but according to the school attendance sheet, his name really was just those two letters. His white doo rag contrasted with his dark skin. He held a baseball hat, which I had to remind him to take off every day in class. I thought we'd gotten closer when he showed me a picture of his four-month-old daughter, but our skirmishes in my history class continued. I had a tough time getting respect when I began working at Dewey. Most thought I was a student when they first met me. If I dressed more professionally, it might have helped, but a suit and tie wasn't me. I wore corduroys and plaid buttoned-up shirts to work, and that felt like enough dressing up; I still sagged my jeans on the weekends. The school year was nearing its end, and by now I'd won over most of the students. JB was an exception. I thought he‘d warm to me eventually, as Rodney had. I‘d caught Rodney drawing a picture of me as a monkey. His grandpa lectured him at the parent conference, saying the drawing was racist, and that he'd grown up in the South hearing white people call Blacks monkeys. He told me that Rodney subconsciously saw himself in me. ―Your facial features are similar,‖ he said, ―and we always 34
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thought Rodney had Asian eyes.‖ The conference changed nothing. Rodney continued to torment me, heckling ―Rookie‖ long past when others had stopped. I had to keep kicking him out of class. Finally, I tried an unconventional tactic—basketball. I wasn't confident I'd beat him. He was taller by a couple of inches, and my shot was erratic, my dribbling clumsy, but I prided myself on defense. I knew if I could block Rodney‘s shot, he'd respect me. A small crowd formed on the basketball court outside. We‘d barely begun, and I already blocked his shot three times. Students on the sidelines laughed and pointed at Rodney. I could tell he was humiliated, even though he smiled. We slapped hands at the end, but soon Rodney acted up in class again. A student named Antonio spoke up. ―You better listen to Lam, before he takes you out to the court again and swats your shit.‖ Rodney sunk in his seat. The whole class laughed at him, and I was thankful. I knew I‘d never have to kick him out of class again, and I was right. He began doing his work and became the star debater. I knew I‘d won over him when he gave me a nickname: Lamskino. Told me Lam was my slave name; Lamskino was my hip-hop name. I taped a picture of us by my desk, to remind me that people can change.
―Cross the line,‖ John said, ―if you have lost a friend due to gun violence.‖ A flock of students dragged their feet across the line, silent except for the smacking of gum. They turned to face us. They reflected the diversity of the school: mostly Black, a scattering of Latinos, a handful of Southeast Asians, and the lone white student at our school—Carmelina. She pulled a girl in for a hug and gave her a tissue. Some students accused Carmelina of ―acting black.‖ That‘d set her off. She‘d snap her head and launch into a spiel about her Italian heritage. The boys who crossed stood arm‘s length from the nearest person. Some of them stared through the window at cars passing by. Some stared at the ceiling tiles. A couple of boys chuckled in the rear, and John glared at them, putting a finger to his lips. Antonio looked straight ahead. He had golden skin, a short fro, and thick eyebrows. Strange to see him so motionless, so quiet. He was a talkative kid, loved to argue about politics. So much that I'd taken him to a local radio station to discuss what youth thought about the Iraq war. JB shook his watch, which was decorated with fake diamonds. ―Man,‖ he mumbled, 35
―ain‘t it time to cross back already?‖ His eyes were downcast. I thought of Randy and crossed. I‘d found out about Randy‘s murder earlier that week. We hadn‘t hung out since high school, but I‘d felt connected to him as if he was my cousin. That's the way we all addressed each other back then—cousin. I remembered the time we slap boxed in an empty basketball gym. He switched into a martial arts stance, and I knew I was in trouble. I'd forgotten he'd taken Tae Kwon Do lessons for years. A roundhouse kick came at my rib cage. I blocked it with my palm, and I felt confident, dropping my hands, but the kick was a setup. He didn't bring that leg back; instead he recoiled at the knee and snapped another kick at my head. It landed across my cheek, a loud smack. ―Oh shit,‖ he said. ―Sorry Dickson.‖ I laughed and thought it was the coolest shit I'd seen. I held onto my cheek and told some of the fellas outside. Randy demonstrated his double kick again. I'd felt embarrassed not knowing martial arts—I was the Asian one. The friends I'd hung with in high school were the main reason I became a teacher. Many of them didn‘t finish or even go to college. I cut class often in high school, so my grades had been poor; community college was my only option. I pulled up my grades and transferred to UC Berkeley. My old friends weren't less intelligent than students at Berkeley; they just had fewer opportunities. I graduated and vowed that I would change schools that failed kids like my old friends. John looked on. A student wailed and buried her head in the shoulder of another teacher. I tried not to cry. I did the old make-like-you-got-something-in-your-eye trick. I thought I had it down because of the way I'd rub my fingertips as though I'd found an eyelash. I worried that the students would think I was weak and use it as ammo against me. ―You can return now,‖ John said, ―to the other side.‖ Feet shuffled back across. We waited for the next statement. ―Cross the line,‖ John said, ―if you have been touched inappropriately as a child.‖ The whole room took a deep breath. No one moved. It was silent long enough that I doubted anyone would. Then Nichelle crossed. Sometimes I'd forget about her in class. She was that quiet, the soft spoken type who did all her work, though in a very average way. She turned around to face us with her hands in the pockets of her pink jeans. I thought of my sister. I was surprised I didn't immediately think of her, as though I'd forgotten what she had told me a year ago—that my father, my Bah Ba, would touch her at night. My older sister, my Ga Jeh didn‘t tell me the details, only referring to the abuse as ―It.‖ It happened when he was drunk. It happened when I began to develop. It happened when Mom went on vacations with her boyfriend.
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I had convinced myself that Ga Jeh had forgiven Bah Ba for what he'd done, or if not forgiven, had overlooked it enough to have a relationship with him. Why else would she have gone along with us to visit him for Christmas? Or told me to chip in to buy a watch for him, for Father‘s Day? And if she was still willing to have Bah Ba in her life, who was I to persuade her otherwise? I wondered if Ga Jeh would cross if she was here. Would she admit it by crossing in front of so many people? If she knew it would help someone else, perhaps. I only realized how compassionate Ga Jeh was now that I was an adult. We used to battle over the phone as teenagers. She'd argue her phone calls were more important than mine, more urgent, as though her conversations were about brokering peace treaties, when they were probably about a guy she liked at the bus stop. I'd read that in her diary. I'd felt I had to sneak a peek, as though completing a rite of passage for little brothers. Once, I called her a bitch for not picking up my friend's call, and she got in my face, ―What the fuck did you say,‖ she said. ―Did you call me a bitch?‖ ―I said, 'You are acting like a bitch,' not that you are one.‖ Now we ended our conversations with, ―I love you,‖ which no one said in our family. I knew she was a different person when I'd driven her car and scraped the fender against a parked flatbed truck. I'd just started to drive and got distracted trying to change the CD. I thought about lying. She'd trusted me with her car which I'd thought she cared for more than anything. The thought that I was still scared of my big sister made me feel like a wimp, so I told the truth. Ga Jeh was calm and supportive. She asked if I was alright. This was the kind of person she was, and knowing this made it easier to believe she might have forgiven our father.
―We all have a balloon,‖ John said, ―that we fill up with our hurt. If we don't deal with that hurt, one day the balloon pops, and everything in it, spills onto others.‖ We sat in small groups to debrief the day, and I bit my lip to remind myself not to cry.
―For the last activity,‖ John told the group, ―we want to hear from you on the mic.‖ I'd never been drawn to public speaking. I stuttered at times and wasn't confident about my pronunciation. I had given speeches in college, but I‘d sounded like I was rambling, forgetting my point. That's when I'd throw in a ―fuck,‖ and the crowd would cheer. Even though I felt like an inept speaker, I didn't shy away when people asked me to speak. I felt a responsibility. There weren't many Asian guys involved in campus politics. Back then I was a sucker for the argument, ―if-you-don't-do-it-noone-will.‖
―You can say anything about how you feel,‖ John said, ―or about what you've learned today.‖ I thought about that damn balloon, and I raised my hand. We‘d heard about how the hurt could translate into anger, how the hurt explained why kids lashed out, but no one said anything about how to deal with the hurt, only to be aware of it. I thought the students needed to hear that forgiving could release their anger. Otherwise it would consume them, drive them mad. I believed my sister's actions had taught me that we needed to move on from the past, even though she hadn't actually said it. I walked to the microphone, past clusters of small groups. I heard some students cheering my name, but I kept my eyes on the floor, so I wouldn't trip over anything. John put his hand on my shoulder. ―What's on your mind, bro?‖ I grabbed the microphone and wished I'd thought more about what I was going to say. Couldn't throw in a ―fuck‖ with these students. I could hear my breath on the microphone over the speakers. ―My father moved out when I was ten, and I grew up feeling that he didn't care about me. I started to hate him, and that filled my balloon. But I'm telling y'all, you don't want to live with that hate. You need to let it go. If you don't, it'll make you go crazy. You'll do things you'll regret, drop out, get locked up. I forgave my dad recently, and I really did feel like all the air left my balloon. I woke up a new person. I forgave my dad for not being there for me. I forgave him for being cruel to my mom. I forgave him for what he did to my sister—‖ I couldn't continue. I leaned forward, my hands on my knees. The microphone dropped, and I heard the thud over the speakers. I began bawling. I saw my sister as a child in her bed and Bah Ba next to her. The image of my sister and father moved forward like a video as though someone had hit the play button. Bah Ba tugged at Ga Jeh's pajama pants, and I felt the sensation as though it was me under his hand. My legs felt weak like I'd been working out. A gentle push would've tipped me over. I closed my eyes and felt myself being drawn into a dark place I didn't have the strength to resist. I felt a hand rubbing my back, then an arm lifting me up, but I was limp. ―It's your favorite student,‖ Antonio said. Another arm helped me up. ―No,‖ Carmelina said, ―I'm his favorite student. Tell him, Lamskino.‖ Other students surrounded me, ready to help. I picked up the microphone. I don't even know if I made any sense at that point, but I remembered why I'd gotten up to speak in the first place.
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I spoke through my tears to finish what I had planned to say, ―If you don't want to forgive for the sake of the other person, do it for yourself.‖ I heard the crowd clap as I walked back to my seat. I grabbed the Kleenex box to blow my nose, and sat down. I looked up and saw JB. He shook my hand and pulled me up for a hug. ―You're a deep man, Mr. Lam.‖
Later, I was in my classroom packing up, sorting essays on my desk, and I realized I had lied to my students. I couldn't have completely forgiven Bah Ba because I hadn‘t dealt with what he'd done. That's why the image felt so fresh; I was seeing it for the first time. I couldn‘t be sure if Ga Jeh had really forgiven Bah Ba, or had merely hidden the images from herself. We hadn't talked about the abuse since she'd revealed it to me. What exactly happened? Did she blame our mom? Did she blame me? Her room had been directly across from mine. How could I not have heard her door open and close? I told myself that I'd call Ga Jeh as soon as I finished grading my papers, but I didn't. Admitting to myself what Bah Ba had done was one thing, broaching the topic with my sister was another. Should I initiate the conversation, force her to confront the past or wait for her to bring it up, when the time was right for her? I didn‘t know how I should help Ga Jeh with her balloon, how to keep it from popping—I was still a rookie.
Dickson Lam was born in Hong Kong and raised in San Francisco. He received his MFA degree in fiction from Rutgers-Newark University and is also a graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University. He is currently an MFA candidate in nonfiction at the University of Houston where he is working on his memoir.
THE VORTEX: AN ACCOUNT OF MY FATHER’S DEATH, IN TWO PARTS Patricia Y. Ikeda Part One The two men from the Dobbins-Johnson Funeral Home were large-bellied and white, solemn and damp-skinned. Either they were dressed in white shirts and black ties or they should have been. They also appeared to be identical twins, which was disconcerting yet handsome in presentation, like a twin pair of prize draft horses. They were professionals, and they sized things up when they arrived. They backed up their white van to the garage doors and scoped out the route through which they could exit with my father‘s body in the most efficient manner. For all of this, I was grateful. Most Americans, myself included, don‘t know what to do with a corpse of a family member. The morning that I found my dad‘s body had been eventful, and not without various small trials. The first phone call I made was to my husband, who was three hours earlier than me. It was around 5 am California time but, being a tax accountant, he was awake and working on a return, the ides of April deadline looming close. ―Hi honey,‖ I said. ―My father died in the night and I‘ve just found his body.‖ ―What?‖ he yelled. ―He‘s dead,‖ I said. ―Looks entirely peaceful – I think he just went to sleep and never woke up. But he is definitely dead as a doornail. His foot feels stiff and crunchy, like celery. He‘s blue. It‘s probably a good thing this happened while I was visiting my parents, since I can help Mom.‖ ―Did you call the police?‖ he said. ―No, am I supposed to?‖ I said. ―Yes, you definitely need to call the police and report this,‖ he said. ―OK, I‘ll do what I can,‖ I said. ―Please tell your office that your father-in-law has died and you need to fly to Virginia. I know it‘s the last few days of tax season and the timing is awful, but I don‘t think Dad did this on purpose.‖ ―OK,‖ he said. We had a plan, and this improved my mood. Husband has been informed and is flying cross-country to give support. Check. What next? My mother was in the hospital, about an hour‘s drive away in Richmond, Virginia, waiting for me to pick her up after three days of routine cardiac tests. I definitely needed to think carefully about how to inform her. She and Dad had been married for over 40 years and even though she was in a place where medical help would be readily available, I didn‘t want her to have a heart attack. Table that item. Next on my rapidly forming 40
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mental list was my brother, a research scientist who taught in a university in the South. I found his phone number in my mother‘s handwriting, on a paper taped to the refrigerator door and dialed it. ―Dad died in the night,‖ I said. ―What?‖ he shouted. ―We just saw him at Easter. He seemed no worse than before.‖ ―Yeah, he‘s entirely dead,‖ I said. ―You‘re the medical doctor. What do you think? He had those strokes, you know.‖ ―Arrhythmia,‖ Dave said. ―His heartbeat was irregular. Probably while he was sleeping his heart skipped one too many beats, and stopped. I‘ll load the family into the car and drive on up. We should be there in ten hours.‖ ―Thanks,‖ I said. Brother and his family informed. Check. Next, our younger sister. Thinking long and hard, I remembered the name of the hotel in Honolulu where she had said she would be staying in order to give a talk, ironically, on Japanese death poetry, to an academic society. It was 4:00 am in Hawai‗i, and I woke her up. When I told her that Dad was dead she began crying. I needed her to inform her husband in Virginia, who spoke Japanese and Portuguese, and after a minute or so she said she‘d call and tell her husband what had happened. Language barrier overcome with Brazilian brother-inlaw: check. All of this part, which was family communications, had been relatively smooth, although there was the Mom problem which I needed to keep working on. It was still only around 8:30 a.m. and I had time. Somewhere in there I‘d told my son, and we‘d had a silent breakfast of cold cereal and milk. I‘m lactose intolerant but this was all that was available and my stomach hurt anyway. I‘m going to be busy this morning, I‘d told him, but I‘m here for you if you need me. You can look at Grandpa‘s body or not, it‘s your choice. You‘re seven and I trust your judgment, I had said.
I wasn‘t ready yet to call the local police, so I phoned the neighbors on the next property over. Like almost everyone on this side of Lake Abby, they were retired white people, Southerners, who had been close friends of my mother‘s. Mrs. Bardman, a vivacious grandmotherly type, and my mom took walks regularly down the gravel roads and played cards together. Their friendship had suffered some since my mother‘s cancer was diagnosed. ―Mrs. Bardman won‘t even mention the word ‗cancer,‘‖ my mother had told me. ―She‘ll talk about everything else but cancer, and since I‘ve been in chemo and my hair has fallen out, that makes me feel kind of bad.‖ When I broke the news to the Bardmans, who like all of the other neighbors did not 41
like my crazy father, Mrs. Bardman got hysterical and Mr. Bardman took the phone from her and said, ―I‘ll call the police for you. Then I‘m coming over. And we can drive you and your son to the hospital in Richmond later today to pick up your mother.‖ ―Thank you,‖ I said. I felt a little sad that the situation had escalated so quickly to being placed in the hands of people I knew less and less well. The American Zen Buddhists I knew in the Bay Area were big into washing and dressing the body of a deceased person, packing it on dry ice, and holding a kind of open house for three days, during which time people could come and meditate peacefully next to the body, bring food, and pay their respects. That seemed more civilized than leaving Dad‘s body alone and calling the police as though something untoward had happened. Nevertheless, it was next on the list: call police. Mr. Bardman had volunteered. Check that, too. After Mr. Bardman, who was a calm, take-charge kind of guy, came over to talk to me, there was a knock at the door. I ushered another neighbor, the Colonel, into my parents‘ kitchen. Menfolk, it seemed, were designated to handle these sorts of crises; there was a protocol, I sensed, in this spread out yet tightly knit homeowners association group of elderly, retired people. They knew that their ranks would diminish steadily as they fell, broke hips and had to move into town, or died of whatever ailed them. It irritated me for a long time that whenever my mother and father drove in and out of the forested area on the Lake where they lived, they would stop at the bank of mailboxes and plastic newspaper tubes near the main road and discuss who had taken their newspaper and who hadn‘t. It seemed obsessive and nosy to me until I realized that it was exactly the opposite, and by doing this these seniors were respecting one another‘s privacy while keeping tabs on who might have fallen or fallen ill or died, if newspapers were piling up or mail was spilling out of a mailbox. The Colonel and his wife lived down the road. Although retired, and frail due to a massive heart attack some years earlier, the Colonel was still fully military in his bearing and wore his neatly pressed civilian clothing as though it were a uniform. Unlike Mr. Bardman, who was ruddy and vigorous, the Colonel was brittle, and seemed depressed by the death of a neighbor who, after all, was a U.S. army veteran. In his later years, Dad had even taken to wearing a camouflage jacket when he and my mother drove out to the nearest shopping area 50 miles from their home, and he would beam when people asked him if he was a war veteran. In fact, he was a veteran of World War II, I suppose, although since the U.S. had been at war with Japan, it was always slightly confusing to us what Dad‘s role in Japan had been. He definitely hadn‘t been in the famed 442nd or the One Pooka Pooka. He‘d always told us that the Army had designated him a translator, and since Dad‘s Japanese was so poor he said he‘d mostly faked it. ―I am here to help,‖ the Colonel said. ―I will answer the phone for you and write down any messages with dates and time.‖ He pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table, first placing a Samsonite briefcase directly in front of him on the table. He did not open the briefcase. Judging 42
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by his mournful demeanor, it is possible that the Colonel thought he‘d be next to go, and this was a sort of rehearsal for calling the police and going through the drill. He was resolute, and it was obvious that he and I understood one another perfectly. In this situation, as Next of Kin until my mother returned, I was the commanding officer, and the Colonel and Mr. Bardman were next in the chain of command. They were doing an excellent job. Their wives, presumably, were home cooking casseroles or hams in case there was a wake, I guessed. Things were going well, although how to inform my mother had begun to feel pressing. I am a Zen practitioner, and solving conundrums, floundering murkily in the zone of unknowing for however long it took, was well within my capacity. One thing at a time, I told myself. ―Would you like some coffee, sir?‖ I asked the Colonel. His gray moustache bristled slightly, as though I had affronted him in the line of duty. ―I will take care of myself,‖ the Colonel replied, courteously. He snapped open the gray case with military precision. It was empty inside except for a frozen dinner. Lean Cuisine, chicken breast and vegetables. ―I have brought my own lunch,‖ the Colonel said. ―I can microwave it at any time.‖ He closed the briefcase, fastened the latches, and placed the phone to his left and a pad of paper and a pen to his right. ―I think I‘d better call the hospital in Richmond,‖ I said. ―I don‘t know exactly when we‘ll be able to pick up my mom.‖ I could see I had the Colonel‘s full support, even though he remained silent. I‘ve always felt rather comfortable around military personnel, having been raised by a father who used to drill my brother and me in the living room of our house trailer in Ohio, teaching us how to snap to an erect posture, legs together, when Dad barked ―Ten…. SHUN!‖ and salute, then swing our arms in back of us and take a wider stance when he shouted ―At…. EASE!‖ Punishment was meted out in push-ups, in sets of ten. I sat down next to the Colonel, grabbed the phone, and called the hospital. I explained what had happened to a sympathetic administrator and we discussed the options. ―I agree that you should be the one to tell your mother,‖ she said. ―We‘ll just tell her that you‘ve been delayed but you‘ll be at the hospital later today to pick her up. I‘ll have the hospital chaplain on call when you tell her, in case that is helpful.‖ ―Very helpful,‖ I said, ―and please make sure that the staff is notified in case she has a heart attack and needs resuscitation. I‘ve got my hands full here, and I don‘t want a two for one.‖ ―Of course,‖ she said. ―We‘ve got everything covered on this end.‖
Thus far this story is about many good and human things, like the response of supportive neighbors and family members to the death of a father. Bob, my dad, was not well liked by the neighbors or, in fact, by anyone at the time of his death. When I finished making arrangements with the hospital in Richmond, the Colonel and I shared a satisfying moment of silence. We knew this was it for the two of us, and we would never be closer, swept together in this particular karmic eddy and later washed down separate branching streams. The human connection was deeply pleasant and the Colonel felt safe to unburden his true feelings to me. ―The garage….‖ he said. ―Ah, yes,‖ I said. ―The Garage.‖ I capitalized the ―G‖ in my mind, recognizing that the Colonel, who like the other neighbors was orderly and took great pride in his house, must have had many feelings about my parents‘ two and a half car garage over the years. ―It bothered me that your father filled it up with so many… things,‖ the Colonel said. His eyes watered. ―I know what you mean,‖ I said sympathetically. ―Dad wanted to fill the whole garage and asked my mom to park her car out in the driveway but she refused.‖ I was egging the Colonel on. Now was the time, if ever, for truth telling. This was a good thing, since at the small funeral when I later invited comments about my father, no one said anything, presumably to spare my mother‘s feelings. Dad, unfortunately, had become a sort of famous asshole in the community, even considering that he probably had senile dementia and people did try to cut him slack. ―So stuffed with junk!‖ the Colonel moaned. This could not be denied. My brother said he‘d once seen Dad scavenge a broken paddle that had washed up on my parents‘ section of lakeshore and store it in the garage. ―It may help,‖ I said, ―to think of it as a kind of archaeological dig site, with various strata representing various eras of our family‘s life.‖ The Colonel began to weep, quietly and without moving his body. ―I‘m sorry,‖ I said. ―I didn‘t mean to make it worse for you.‖ I had made it worse for him, and I needed to back off and allow him to grieve about the mess in the garage. Navigating these delicate interactions with elderly Southern white neighbors was tricky, and I was not in my best form. Yet in general everything seemed to be unfolding rather well, and I knew that I wouldn‘t be at the top of the chain of command once my mother got home, so I needed to stay the course, remain calm, and keep asking for help. What I‘m trying to get to, really, didn‘t have anything to do with remaining calm and asking for help. There was, at this time, a big difference between the world outside the small bedroom where my father‘s body lay on the bed, the door closed, and the world inside the room. There was nothing in that room except for my father‘s death, and it was huge and Rilkean and powerful and unexpected. It was like a sci-fi movie 44
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where another dimension opens up like a fold in the space-time continuum in some completely common place, like a laundry hamper, or a corner of the living room behind the TV. I tried to explain this recently to my friend Jeannie, whose octogenarian parents are still alive. ―The point is,‖ I said to Jeannie, ―that when a parent dies, it‘s an entirely new experience. You should definitely try to prepare yourself, of course, but when it happens, it‘s a whole other realm of reality. It can‘t be imagined, it‘s enormous, and that is where God enters the picture for many people as a way to cope. There are no words for it. You‘ll just have to believe me.‖ ―I feel a lot of contraction and resistance,‖ Jeannie said. She‘s an atheist, and has done a lot of physical training so she knows when something is happening in her body. ―It‘s as though I don‘t want to hear what you are saying.‖ ―Yep,‖ I said. ―Who does? You‘ll like this even less: before the guys from the funeral home took my father‘s body away, which was required by Virginia law before I could leave the house to go to Richmond, I decided I should go back in and pay my respects to him one last time, and I almost got sucked into a huge striped vortex that appeared next to my dad‘s body.‖ By then, I explained, the sheriff and assistant sheriff had come and gone. They had asked questions, such as, ―Was the deceased your husband?‖ ―No,‖ I had answered, ―he was my father.‖ ―What did you do after you found the body?‖ ―I had breakfast.‖ The sheriff didn‘t like that answer, and had leaned forward and cleared his throat ominously. I waited. He thought it over then leaned back and decided not to comment. I was, unexpectedly, the prime suspect in the potential murder of my own father, if they believed he was my father. The two paramedics had run into the bedroom, carrying their equipment, and came out to the kitchen to show me a paper tape proving that my father was flatlined. This truly was a case of strange haoles invading our house, one of my parents‘ greatest fears, and I knew enough not to ask any of them to take their shoes off at the door. Last but not least was an African American detective, who arrived later and separately, walked around the house quietly, thanked me, and left. My father‘s doctor, an East Indian, had been called by the paramedics and had relayed the somewhat startling message that my father‘s heart was very weak and his doctor was surprised that Dad lived as long as he had. The paramedics had asked me what medications my dad was on, and I had said, ―A lot of stuff – but the only thing I can remember specifically is Worforin, a blood thinner.‖ When I led one of them into Dad‘s bathroom, he slid open the medicine cabinet‘s mirrored front, revealing at least twenty orange plastic cylinders of prescription medicines.
―Pay dirt!‖ he exclaimed, carried away by joy, then quickly reverted to a more professional mien. ―He was on a lot of medications,‖ he said to me. ―I told you he‘d had strokes,‖ I said. ―Help yourself.‖ They had come and gone, and except for the moment of tension in which I had said I‘d had breakfast, things had gone well. I probably should have left it at that, and allowed the two handsomely paired large men from the funeral home to shroud Dad in a white bedsheet, roll him onto a stretcher and take him off to a refrigerated locker in the funeral home. If I had done that I wouldn‘t have seen the large black and bluish-purple vortex that unexpectedly opened in the space next to the bed on which he lay. ―It was a swirling vortex with pronounced bands of color,‖ I explained to Jeannie, feeling a bit tentative. ―I guess it was a sort of psychotic break, due to the stress I was under, or a shamanic vision. Who the hell knows?‖ ―A psychotic break?‖ Jeannie said, looking interested. ―Well, I don‘t know that I‘d call it psychotic,‖ I said, defensively. ―You just did,‖ she pointed out. ―That‘s because ordinary language breaks down at this point,‖ I said. Part Two I found the vortex difficult and embarrassing to talk about, so I made a drawing of it for my therapist, Roberto. Opening the big bound journal with blank pages, I pointed to the crude drawing I‘d made with my son‘s art supplies. I‘d used the purple, the dark blue, and the black Sanford Mr. Sketch markers, which smelled horribly of chemically faked grape and blueberry and licorice. Looking at the drawing of the vortex, which slightly resembled a hexagonal God‘s eye yarn weaving, made me feel nauseous for a number of reasons, but you can‘t avoid such topics in therapy forever. Roberto looked interested. Judging by his age, I figured he‘d been through the drug era and, as he said, he‘d lived. He is a Mexican American diversity consultant who can recite poetry from memory and who has done men‘s work. He was probably no stranger to shamanic practice and ritual and he was bound by therapist-client confidentiality. I felt safe enough to go on. ―That‘s me,‖ I said, pointing to a stick figure in the space below the vortex. ―It almost sucked me in. It didn‘t feel evil, just powerful and pulsating, like water swirling down a huge drain. The force of gravity. Purple.‖ I had begun to babble so I stopped talking and stared at my drawing. Roberto, politely, said nothing.
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―That‘s Dad‘s body,‖ I said after a while, pointing at a cobalt blue, irregularly shaped hot dog with lines of energy spiking outward from it, Keith Haring style. It represented my father, lying on his side, beginning to bloat badly, immediately before the twin guys from the funeral home took his body off to be drained and embalmed and made to look, as they say, more lifelike.
I remember that my father‘s body‘s face was enormous and overarching, like a dimly lit sky dense with storm clouds, and his eyes were fortunately closed and his jowls had begun to swell tightly like purple balloons so that it looked as though his face were being inflated from within, in danger of exceeding containment capacity and exploding. This was terrifying and it was not something I saw with my eyes, not something I could observe and describe as one might describe objects in a photograph. It was more like a visual impression, a kind of residue or precipitate of what we call a vision, which people have from time to time, in moments of stressful holy awe. Ezekiel saw the Wheel, Jacob the Ladder of Angels, Carlos Castaneda the cloud bridge, and, I have heard, some Vietnamese boat people clearly saw Kwan Yin, Quan The Am Botat, materialize in the air over and above them in their time of deepest uncertainty and need as they floated without food and water on the open ocean. What separates these famous and significant visions from numerous hallucinations experienced by mentally ill people whom no one has ever heard of, or people high on various drugs, is an open question. My son and I had entered the bedroom where my father‘s body lay, to say goodbye to him before he was taken to the morgue, I told Roberto. The vortex appeared to my right, first about the size of a smallish window. It pulsated like a leviathan heart, while the deep purple and black and blue bands of color glowed brightly and the whole thing began to rotate and grow larger. This was unexpected, and, startled, I could have fallen unquestioningly into it, like a stunned insect on a 33 rpm record whirling on a turntable. I could have been sucked right in. Then what? ―I don‘t know where you would have ended up,‖ my husband said later when I told him what had happened, ―but you might not have returned.‖ Before I met him, he had spent a number of years, on and off, living with a Huichole shaman and the shaman‘s family in Mexico. So I took what he had to say seriously. But I can‘t take any credit for having returned to the land of the living, where I could eat breakfast and check e-mail and consider whether to cook pasta or rice for dinner, the land of the ordinary and the rational where the vortex, perhaps biding its time at the back of the sock drawer or behind a pile of extra bedding in the closet, was not expanding and filling the room and threatening to wormhole me into the bardo. I can‘t take the credit for returning, and I would have gone, unquestioning, with my father. I was, after all, his first child, and perhaps that is what is required. It was my seven-year-old son, who had accompanied me into the small bedroom to say goodbye to Grandpa‘s body, who let loose a choked cry, and launched his compact body at me, grabbing my leg and reeling me back to him like an escaping helium balloon.
Shaken, Jake and I left the room, hand in hand, and I nodded to the handsomely paired Dobbins-Johnson Funeral Home undertaker twins, admiring their stoicism and their patient demeanor. They had refused to sit down, and were holding a stretcher. ―You may take the body now,‖ I told them. It didn‘t look like my father anymore, and it was time for the corpse to exit the house and be tended to by professionals. I was a little curious as to what came next. Because now I was ready. I took a seat on the living room couch and waited. It was around noon and the Colonel might be eating his lunch in the kitchen.
Patricia Y. Ikeda appears in the documentary film Between the Lines: Asian American Women’s Poetry, http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c553.shtml, ―rare interviews with over 15 major Asian-Pacific American women poets.‖ Her work has appeared in Asian North American poetry anthologies such as Breaking Silence and Premonitions, and she is the first recipient of the Ragdale Foundation's Alice Hayes fellowship for work on a social-justice related writing project. The fellowship supported a month-long retreat on her book-in-progress, Elegy with Blue Shirt, Tie and Gun and Other Stories, a collection of autobiographical fiction. Patricia also teaches Buddhist meditation retreats for people of color, women, and social justice activists nationally. (See www.mushim.wordpress.com.) ―The Vortex‖ appears in Elegy with Blue Shirt, Tie and Gun and Other Stories.
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KRISTINE JOY MALLARI
JOYLAND ARTIST STATEMENT My art is a way of asking questions and telling stories. Each piece begins as an environment. As it takes form, I begin to understand the story it has to reveal. This develops an interaction with the work as I reflect on who I am in the present and what I have experienced in the past. What occurs in the setting serves as a response to a question, and thus, each piece has its own sense of time and place. I believe that events are intrinsically tied to their surroundings. When traveling, I am most affected by places with a palpable sense of history. The narratives in my work depend on the landscape they are set in. The landscapes I create depend on my many fluctuating moods. These landscapes are always dreamed and imagined. Real world rules like gravity or linear perspective do not apply to them. As I explore this uncharted terrain, I uncover stories from my subconscious. I respond to colors and textures with symbols and motifs. After each piece is completed I have a clearer sense of my emotions and the relationship to my environment. --Kristine Joy Mallari
monoprint, screenprint, collage, yarn 22â€– x 22â€–
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monoprint, screen print, collage 11.5‖ x 15‖
monotype, screenprint, watercolor, collage 23‖ x 15‖
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monotype, screenprint, relief, collage, thread 22‖ x 22‖
Sounds Behind the Fence
relief, screenprint, collage 30â€– x 23â€–
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Kristine Joy Mallari was born and raised in West Texas. She moved to San Antonio for college and felt artistically frustrated. She then transferred to the small music town of Denton, TX. While there, she randomly decided to study printmaking which opened up a whole new way of creating art. Different processes of expressing color, line and texture excited her to think of portraying narratives in deeper ways. She currently lives in Portland, OR making prints in a member-run print studio and stitching books at home.
ARTIST STATEMENT As an artist, a person of color, and a human being, I see myself like a tree, uprooted and transplanted into a different yet familiar habitat. And like any other living thing upon this Earth, I adapt and persevere to preserve what makes who I am. My art is, then, the reality of how I see the world as an individual, a youth, and as a Filipino living in America. With this understanding, my goal as an artist is to document my reality in this society. Therefore, I aim to unify the form and the content of what I call art. I believe that form rises from objective reality to become a language of symbols within the culture. I conceive this form, which is often beyond the realms of realistic representation, by submerging reality and edifying it with symbols. Moreover, I believe that images should not be confined through conventional and traditional media, surface, and methods. I enact such conviction by mixing different mediums and surface in painting, and unconventional approach in printmaking, sculpture and watercolor. Since Iâ€˜m currently living in an urban environment, and exposed to vast ocean of people and culture, my art reflects what I see as an individual and how history materializes itself into tangible and intangible form. This is what I call content. Even though these convictions are strong, I admit that my attempt to unify form and content is still in its developmental stage. I believe that this can be fully achieved through continuous study of art and history as well as through constant dialogue and meaningful integration with the artistic community, the greater community and the self. --Mark Canto
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Breath in the City
Mixed media on paper mounted in wood panel 8‖ x 11‖
I Came to Save
Mixed media on paper mounted on wood panel 8‖ x 11‖
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Mixed media on wood 22‖ x 32‖
Mixed media on wood panel 2‘ x 4‘
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Serve the People
Mixed media on wood panel 12‖ x 24‖
Mark Canto is a cultural worker currently living in Long Beach, California. Born in the Philippines, he has graduated from drawing in the dirt with a stick to splattering paint on a surface till it bleeds visual sunshine. He strives to achieve a unity of form and content through utilizing indigenous, traditional, and modern elements of art. He believes his art should reflect the present day conditions of the Filipino community and show the connection to their roots in history.
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M. EVELINA GALANG
Interview by: Jennifer Derilo Author photo by: Hydee Ursolono Abrahan For this special issue of Kartika, it wasn‘t difficult for me to think of a FilipinoAmerican author whose work about and presence in our community is visceral, progressive, and vital, someone who is not only a writer, teacher, and activist but also a mentor, an advocate, an ate (ah-teh = a term of endearment and respect in Tagalog for older sister). I had the honor of working with Evelina during a Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) residency in June of this year. To say it was an incredible and heart-opening experience for our tight-knit group of writers would be an understatement. Right away we could tell that Evelina was passionate about lending voice to the silent, finding conflict, answering difficult questions. Writing was facing what we were avoiding, cutting the excess, reaching for the jugular. Sometimes this would bring us to tears but always, always did we walk away from a class meeting and our one-onone conversations revived, unafraid, determined. All it took was someone to listen, to hear our stories breathe. And Evelina‘s body of work breathes, too, with characters who live on the periphery or have been so used to living in the margins either quietly or silenced. In her short story collection, Her Wild American Self (Coffee House Press), and her novel, One Tribe, she handles narratives with care, opening them up and revealing the dormant and poignant, the tender flesh of collective stories and connective threads. The anthology that she edited, Screaming Monkeys, pushes those collective stories and connective threads further, culminating in a text that speaks to and against the marginalization and representation of Asian Pacific Islanders. The result is a powerful assemblage of essay, poetry, fiction, critical work, and art by established API writers giving voice to those who must be heard. Now, with her work in progress, Lolas’ House, she has given Filipina comfort women of World War II, the survivors as well as the ghosts, a place to roam, breathe, and speak their stories, proving that absence and silence have gravity, texture, and 63
meaning. And as a creative nonfiction writer, I wanted to know how Evelina approached this story while being so sutured to the history and land. I wanted to know how she listened to these ghosts, how she found her own breath while bearing witness to such broken silence.
You’ve been researching the stories of the surviving Filipina “comfort women” of World War II since 1998. Take us back to the moment that sparked your interest. Did you know that your involvement with LILA Pilipina would inspire a writing project? M.G.: In 1996 my collection of short stories, Her Wild American Self, had come out. I was getting a lot of letters from teens who could relate and even as their letters were coming to me, the Center for Disease and Control put out a study that said the highest rate of attempted suicide among teenagers in San Diego was among Filipina American teens. Dalagas! This information got to me as I first witnessed Pearl Ubungen‘s Bamboo Women, a dance she choreographed to the testimony of surviving Filipina Comfort Woman Lola Amonita Balajadia. That was the call. The question for me was what do these surviving lolas know that our youth do not. My project was born of a question I could not answer. To paraphrase Peter Ho Davies, fiction has this unique power to slide into the ripples and spaces of history. But there’s something about these womens’ stories being those empty spaces in official recorded history. Other writers might have tried to reach the “truth” of this story by fictionalizing it. What do you/we gain by telling these stories as nonfiction and oral history? Had you thought about approaching this as fiction? M.G.: I like the way you put that – the women‘s stories are the empty spaces between the events of World War II. They were silent for 50 years before the first Korean ―Comfort Woman‖ stepped forward. Lola Maria Rosa Henson was the first Filipina to speak her story. First it‘s important to understand what happened. What happened to over 1000 Filipina dalagas, babae, titas, mothers and lolas? What happened to 200,000 women all over South East Asia? Why were they silent for so long? For me, the stories begin with their voices and their testimonies. That is the mission of Lola’s House: to share the testimonies I received from the women who experienced them. Are the stories objective? Is it fair and equal reporting? Hell no. It is a documentation of what happened to them as they experienced it and as they share the stories with me. First, I want to give the women who have been silent a chance to speak for themselves, in their way. But that truth Peter Ho Davies talks about. I know that too. That is where I explore the possibilities of truth—in my fiction. The first piece I published about the ―Comfort Women‖ was ―Labandera,‖ a short story of a survivor and her apo, her teenage granddaughter. My novel, Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious 64
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Mystery, uses the stories of the lolas as the backdrop of Angel‘s journey. The material is finding its way into my stories and ironically, my story is finding its way into the nonfiction essays I am writing. The key image in the excerpt details how the participants in the LILA Pilipina project re-stage these traumatic personal episodes. How was the transference of roles/play acting conceptualized? Also, the reenactments seem to have given you an incredible privilege not only to transcribe these stories but to inscribe them on your own body. There’s an element of channeling. Did you anticipate this affect on your writing process? M.G.: Once, after a long interview session with 13 women, my student Ana Fe and I found ourselves wrecked from all the crying. So intense were the women, so moving. And I won‘t forget the other dalagas on the project coming to us and putting their arms around Ana Fe and me, as if to protect us, as if to hold us up. And one of the lolas, Lola Regina, who had been cooking all day and watching us, told the other girls, ―The stories have entered their bodies.‖ And that is exactly how it is. They enter the body and for me, have invaded my life in such a way that I have no choice but to write them. Rid my body of them. Make their stories loud enough to shatter 50 years of silence. On the day of those dramas, I had no idea my body would react that way. In fact, I‘m the one who came up with exercise. I had no idea. It wasn‘t until I was on that cement floor and my body responded did I realize the power of that moment. Lola Precila‘s role as Japanese soldier was something unexpected too. All that aggression pent up and rising out of that small body. It was cathartic to say the least. Since the publication of The Rape of Nanking, there’s always the ghost of Iris Chang looming over texts like this. How were you able to distance yourself as writer and narrator? What was it like to bear the weight of these stories? How do you deal with that not only as a writer but as a Filipina, someone who is bound up with this history? M.G.: The death of Iris Chang moved me. I understood. I was working on the lolas‘ stories long before she took her life. And her death confirmed what I knew—you have to take care of yourself in such a way that you bear witness but do not take on the stories. I don‘t know what the circumstances were for Iris Chang, only that her death was so real to me. The way they described her—first generation American-born Chinese, loved by the survivors. Joyful. She must have loved them too. Promised them she‘d help make their stories known. Their lives moved her in similar ways I was moved by the lolas. The experience I had with Ana Fe, where we were spent and swollen and aching from hearing 13 testimonies in one day taught me that I must bear witness but cannot take the stories on. When I went back during my Fulbright I made sure to keep a balanced life. I am a spiritual being. That first. I meditated. I prayed. I grounded myself. I spent Sundays with my families on both sides. I played with my tiny nephews and nieces and I made sure to laugh with my ates and kuyas. I maintain these practices to keep me balanced. Even now.
When I first started writing their stories, I would grow fatigued after two hours and I‘d have to stop. It‘s like my body was also protecting me. I am always reminding myself that I am only a witness. Not easy when their stories are so moving. While there are some progressive Japanese historians who are arguing for a full account of imperial Japan’s activities in P.I. during WWII, what does it feel like to be up against the more reactionary official history of Japan? M.G.: I am grateful to them for the challenge. If Prime Minister Abe would have never said, ―There is not enough evidence to prove they were coerced,‖ activists in the United States—me included—would not have risen up and shouted back in such an organized manner. Perhaps House Resolution 121 (asking the Japanese government to make a formal apology to the 200,000 women) would never have passed and other governments in Canada, Australia, the Philippines, and the European Parliament might not have passed similar bills. Listen, this may not be the apology we have all been waiting for—since Japan ignored this global request—but it‘s the first time many nations have acknowledged the experiences of surviving WWII ―Comfort Women.‖ Now it‘s in our books of law—and not only in one nation, but many. That is a step to recording this history and it‘s not to be taken for granted. Who started that movement? Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his stupid comment did. So I am grateful. And I am more determined than ever to write these stories. Based on the excerpt we’ve included, we can observe that the narrator is extremely present, though we don’t know much about her. Does this pervade the entire text? And if so, how do you balance that undeniable presence of the narrator while at the same time not making her the focus—that is, by revealing personal details about her. Was this difficult to do? M.G.: She is present because the stories are being told to her. She is the witness. The stories are not being told to the air. They are being told to a daughter of the Philippines and the stories are meant to answer that question I talked about earlier—what do these old women know that our youth do not? There is a grace and a wisdom that have grown inside of the lolas. There is a joy. They tell the stories to protect the generation coming after them. So the narrator is that audience and how the stories ultimately affect her is also part of the story. But no, it is not about her. And yes, this is a constant struggle to find the right balance.
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Literary critic Frederic Jameson has argued—not without some pushback—that narrative is always a socially symbolic act, that even nominally apolitical texts have political undercurrents. For example, writers who don’t position themselves as activists publish works that activists laud and uphold. Of course, narratives don’t always have a progressive agenda. Given your previous published work, which often grapples with or is sparked by political and social tensions, do you see art—in particular, writing—as political? Do you feel that your work exemplifies Jameson’s claim? Did you set out to be a writer who speaks to such tensions? M.G.: Everything is political. Every choice is political. Even the choice to be apolitical is political. I see art as a wonderful vehicle for the very reason that Peter Davies Ho asserts when he suggests fiction has the power to swim into and ripple over historical events to give rise to some human truth. He probably didn‘t say it that way, but you know what I mean. I never set out to be political. I am drawn to stories from the inside out. I begin with character. And usually something about that character‘s journey commits me to work her story out. And if you‘re one of my writing students, you know that I am a great believer in the story‘s conflict. I suppose these are the tensions I am working out in my own existence. How long did it take you to write Lola’s House? What kinds of challenges did you face? M.G.: I am still writing it. So I will say a lifetime. I just finished a full draft this past summer. So that‘s what, 13 years? I feel honored to have known the 15 women in this book. They have trusted me with their stories. So one of the big challenges has been making sure I have the stories right. I am not giving readers the first testimony they gave me. I have been back many times to ask them to tell me their stories in different ways. I have gone to their sites of abduction, stood in the rooms where they were kept and run my hands over the scars they have retained. I have read testimonies they‘ve written or given to other researchers and to the Japanese government to make sure I have the facts right. So that has taken me years to establish. Then there is the matter of more than 30 hours of testimony—transcribing, translating and processing the stories. Writing them is the easy part. These days I am working on finding a structure for all 15 stories. How do you deliver 15 stories of rape and military sexual slavery without damaging the writer, the reader and the essence of each woman‘s experience? How do you put that all in one book and neither harm nor numb the reader? The answer is coming. You‘ll see it in the shape of the book. How many lolas are featured in this work? How do they feel about their stories becoming written legacies? M.G.: 15 women. They are very practical. The stories are to be told. To be written down. People need to know. The belief has been that once people know, it will never happen again. They are not so concerned with being legacies as they are with stopping military sexual abuse to children and 67
women during times of war. The stories, for me, are a form of protest. I went to so many protests where we stood in the streets with our fists before us, shouting, ―Laban! Laban! Laban!‖ And this is what their stories are: Laban mga lola! Every year when I see them they ask me, where is the book? Do you have any writing rituals or practices? M.G.: Only to sit my ass down and do it. It is work and it is not always inspired. At some point, one just needs to cut to the chase. It is not romantic and it is not magical. But once I am writing and I am in the zone, submerged in the work, there is no better place. The only way to get there is to sit your ass down. Who or what inspires your writing? M.G.: In the case of Lolas’ House, my life‘s work, I would have to say, it is the Lolas.
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LOLASâ€™ HOUSE: WOMEN LIVING WITH WAR, AN EXCERPT M. Evelina Galang
Lola Prescila Bartonico Born January 6, 1926 in Cabagdalan, Burauen, Leyte Abducted by the Japanese Imperial Army, 1943 in Tamburaga, Burauen, Leyte
Today is drama day. My students and I pair up with a survivor and we take her to a corner of the Lola House patio. Each of us sits with our survivor and we listen. They are whispering abduction, hissing aggression, sometimes mouthing words as if speaking might ignite a great fire. Lola Prescila Bartonico and I face each other like two women having tea. Her eyes tear up and I gaze upon her, the way her hair has been pulled up and away from her face in an elegant and simple way, the way her eyebrows have been plucked and drawn in thin. I give her my hand and she squeezes it, her eyes going wide. She whispers to me in Tagalog and I cannot hear her so much as I can feel her. Before she went public with LILA Pilipina, Lola Prescila kept her history a secret from her husband and children. Every night, while the rest of the house slept, she rose and painted beautiful murals, using tissue, cardboard and children's tempera paints. She created beautiful dreamscapes, images of saints and self-portraits where she was worry-free. She tells me that she didn't want to close her eyes. She didn't want to dream. And even now, with her family knowing about her past, she has not slept through the night. Not since she was kidnapped. I think about not sleeping for fifty years. How does a body keep that up? Lola Prescila shows no sign of insomnia. During our gatherings she is always the first one up, dancing effortlessly for hours after each meeting. She has even taught the dalagas and me how to tango.
When our time is over, each of us rises with our lola and we share her story with the group. The dalaga plays the part of the Lola as a young woman, walking home from school or cooking rice for the evening meal, washing clothes in a bin or pulling fallen coconuts from the forest floor. And the lolas, the old women rickety with pain and years of labor, they take on the role of the Japanese Imperial Army. Then something strange happens. The light shifts, the wind blows hot. The lolas take on a super power and the dalagas grow small and quiet. They are no longer the loud American girls I brought with me. Their chests do not puff out; their voices do not reach across the room loud and articulate. At one point, Lola Benita, as the soldier who captures Ana Fe, lunges at her and the two crash to the ground, taking with them nearby audience members. We have to stop the drama to make sure no one has been hurt. When it‘s our turn, I announce that Lola Prescila Bartonico was born on the island of Leyte on January 6th, 1926. I tell everyone that the Japanese Imperial Army captured and incarcerated her in vicinity of Tamburaga, Burauen in the late months of 1943. Then, the drama begins. On the patio, Lola Prescila and I pantomime the abduction scene between two Filipina teenage cousins and three Japanese soldiers. I am both the cousin and Prescila at 17. First I am hiding in an air raid shelter, listening to the guns and the bombing. Around me are my extended family, my neighbors, my baranggay captain. Everyone is there. And then Lola Prescila barges in as the Japanese Imperial Army. She is all three of the soldiers. She begins by tying up the men, invisible characters she fashions out of air. She moves to the women, also thin as air, and as she goes to grab them, she suddenly spies me under the table. We are girls. We are small. We are scared and she drags me, the cousin, out into the open and she begins to push me and knock me down. I shout back. I kick. I scream. I cannot believe the audacity of these little yellow men. The soldiers push me to the ground and we wrestle. I do not give up. I kick and I bite and I scratch their faces. Two of them hold me down and then they take turns raping me. Next to me, Prescila the 17 year old is crying, though in my suffering I do not notice. And after raping me, the three Japanese soldiers kill me for resisting them. There is a break in the drama and I say in English. ―Now I am Lola Prescila.‖ I rise again. I am staring at the spot where my cousin lies with her eyes wide open and her dress torn to shreds. I can feel the heat from her body leaving. I want to touch her, but dare not move. Instead I shake and my skin aches. I close my eyes, hoping the soldiers do not see me. The soldier grabs me and throws me down and I am wondering where my younger cousin‘s going now. I am thinking her spirit is still hovering over me, whispering to me, warning me to stay quiet. Stay living. Let them do what they will. And I let go the fight. I release the tension in my body. I let the Japanese Imperial Army straddle me. I let them push me down. I let them enter me over and over again. I close my eyes so I might disappear, but the grunting is so loud and the bodies so heavy.
And here is what happens to me, the actor in Lola Prescila‘s abduction story: I step into her shoes, a little tentative at first. But the story comes out of me faster than I 70
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expect, and as I am lying on the cold pavement with the Japanese Imperial Army soldiers holding me down by my wrists, a sharp pain jabs me in the chest. My stomach convulses. My body wants to push them off me, but I know that if I do, I will die. And when I hear the grunting in my ears, the foreign words falling down on me like spit, I cry. I really cry. Something guttural spills from me, an ache that releases and fills the open space. I donâ€˜t know where it comes from, but I am howling. I forget that she is Lola Prescila. I forget that I am not 17. I forget that I am in the middle of Metro Manila, play-acting on a concrete floor. I am lying on sadness and there is pain emanating from my body. My imaginary cousin lies next to me and I am mourning her death. The gentle woman that is Lola Prescila looms before me, grunting fiercely, thrusting herself into me and even though I want to fight, I acquiesce, I let go.
ED BOK LEE
Interview by: The Editorial Board Author photo by: Dani Warner
Ed Bok Lee‘s worldview is capacious. His poems seek out startlingly insightful perspectives and stories across the globe and on our very doorsteps. At times unexpectedly, his poems help us see the familiar in new ways and the unfamiliar in profoundly identifiable ways. Raised in South Korea, North Dakota, and Minnesota, Lee has also studied in, visited, and performed in places such as Kazakhstan, Russia, Mexico, Taiwan, and numerous locations across the United States. As a poet and playwright, he shares his vision widely in print, on the stage, on television, on the radio, and online. You can find his website at http://www.edboklee.com. Lee‘s first collection of poems, Real Karaoke People (New Rivers Press, 2005), received many positive reviews and won a 2006 PEN Open Book Award as well as the 2006 Asian American Literary Award (Members‘ Choice) from the Asian American Writers‘ Workshop. He recorded one of the most powerful poems from that collection, ―The Secret to Life in America,‖ for a collection of work by spoken word artists and poets called ¿Nation of Immigrants?: Minnesota Spoken Word Artists and Poets Question the World (The Loft Literary Center, 2009). In that poem, an older brother sits the speaker of the poem down and tells him about the difficulties of life as a racialized immigrant. His anger seethes, even as a sense of impotence pervades his advice. The editors of Kartika Review had the opportunity to read Lee‘s second collection of poems and prose, Whorled (Coffee House Press, 2011), and to ask him some questions in the interview that follows. Lee also graciously agreed to reproduce ―The Riddles,‖ slightly revised from the printed version, in this issue.
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ON CRAFT IN GENERAL What was your first work of creative writing, how did it come about, and what impact did that first work have on your path toward becoming a writer/poet? E.L.: My mother once told me that I wrote a poem about God when I was in kindergarten. The teacher had given it to her, but by the time she‘d told me this in passing one day when I was an adult, she‘d lost it. I don‘t remember the poem at all, so I can‘t say much about its impact. But I wish I had it, maybe as a guidepost. It‘s a lot harder as an adult to fully embrace what is incomprehensible to you. How many drafts do you usually go through before you consider a poem ready for publication? E.L.: One to dozens upon dozens, I don‘t really count. Many of your poems are free verse while retaining a sense of form or pattern. What are some of the considerations for you in picking the shape of a poem? E.L.: My mood, what happened the day or night before, what I ate, etc. There are so many variables that go into the shape of a poem, it‘s hard to ever really know. I‘m not saying it‘s all random, any more than what one dreams is completely random. There‘s an element of randomness, of course, but when someone tells me about a dream they had, I‘ll usually ask them how it made them feel vs. what they think it means. And how the dream made them feel often has to do with something going on in their lives. So there is a connection, on some level. It‘s not totally random: what one dreams, or the shape of a poem I end up with. But it‘s more about the state of my psyche or emotional substructure, I think, and what shape the words like magnetic shavings to metal under the page take. That said, breath is important too, both physical and psychic. Because, again, I think my physical state, even physiognomy, etc. all factor into the shape of a given poem. Since I‘ve quit smoking cigarettes, I have more physical breath, and that‘s affected my poems I think. Maybe it‘s coincidental, but I feel the lines are a little more expansive. The irony is, sometimes I feel like I had a little more psychic breath when I was smoking. Or, actually, while I was smoking. Maybe because in the act of smoking, a kind of layer of skin between this world and the next becomes that much thinner. But hopefully I won‘t start again.
ON WRITING WHORLED How did Whorled coalesce, especially in terms of the four-part structure? Did that structure evolve organically or did you put a lot of critical deliberation into it? E.L.: Beyond what I‘ve already said about the shape and structure of a poem, it‘s occurred to me that maybe the overall structure of the book fell into place because I was working on, and definitely editing the book for about a year in the Midwest, where the four seasons are very distinct. I did want each section to have a distinct feel, psycho-geographically, or something thereabouts, in exploring the theme of ―whorling‖/worlding. . . In short, I‘m very affected by the environment I‘m in when I‘m working on something, for better or worse. How long did it take to complete Whorled? E.L.: I wrote for four years or so, then took about one year to put some of them together into a manuscript. If someone described your poetry as "activist," how would you respond? E.L.: Well, knock on wood, so far in blurbs and reviews the writing in this book has been described in a lot of ways, from ―ethereal‖ to ―political,‖ ―funny‖ to ―cosmic,‖ and other adjectives in between. . . I mean, I hope Poetry like any roomful or nation of people becomes richer with each different description, because it seems to me the more descriptives any work of art receives, the more closely it approaches, for lack of a better word, the ―universal‖. . . so I‘m sure I‘d just say thanks, especially because I think all effective writing is activism, in that it‘s attempting to sway away from the ―normal‖ a reader‘s preconceived notions of the world and people, reality, even the universe. Or maybe rather than sway away from. . . expand.
ON THEMES IN WHORLED A number of your poems beautifully excavate the difficult histories of diasporic peoples, tracing war, colonialism, poverty and other causes of displacement, and reference specific political and news events, or certain time periods. In fact, your epigraph quotes Milosz, a poet strongly influenced by the political milieus he lived in, and Empire by Hardt and Negri, an influential text on imperialism. What is the relationship between poetry and social commentary for you? E.L.: To me, the best journalism is a mirror whose cleanest face is cast out onto the world. Then there‘s fiction, which can be an even better form for social commentary. It‘s hard to generalize. Poetry for me is a sort of
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warped mirror the writer fashions simultaneously out of and within a recreated world of words. In that mirror‘s artful warpedness, we are then, when everything is working, able to glimpse ourselves and the world anew, afresh. Like wandering through a metaphysical funhouse. So, more than social commentary, I aspire for poetry to be more about social disorientation. Because the very practice of poetry has shown me when all the wax build-up falls away from our senses and instincts and thoughts. . . that‘s when the best things for oneself and others happen. "Mourning in Altaic" sprang from a quote by the Dalai Lama, which I will reprint here for our readers: "People from different traditions should keep their own, rather than change. . . . In the United States [people] take something Hindu, something Buddhist, something, something. . . . That is not healthy. For individual practitioners, having one truth, one religion, is very important. Several truths, several religions, is contradictory." -- DALAI LAMA
While "Mourning" itself struggles with the questions raised by that quote, the poem also seems to suggest that a collaboration of many traditions might help one arrive at a single truth. I don't think this contradicts with what the Dalai Lama said, but it certainly diverges from it. Since writing "Mourning," have you any additional thoughts on this notion of several truths, several religions versus one truth, one religion? First off, some other folks I‘ve encountered have struggled to read ―Mourning in Altaic‖ as a long poem, so I want to just state for the record, it‘s not a poem, but a prose piece. I thought that was clear, but if I could do it again, I‘d make sure the book was labeled poems and prose. But I‘m glad you brought that up. As for your question, I like to think I can understand where the Dalai Lama is coming from in that quote. At once, he‘s charged to travel the world as, for many, the living face of Buddhism. . . and on the other hand, he has to deal with college grads and others who spend, say, a summer backpacking through Tibet and then return home to speak (sometimes publicly) on behalf of the religion with newfound fervor and good intentions, but no real deep knowledge of Buddhism. That must be very frustrating, or saddening for the Dalai Lama. And especially so to see someone mixing what they learned about, say, yoga in India, with what they learned about meditation in Tibet, with what they grew up loving about Jesus Christ, and shaolin kung fu, etc. And some people have fashioned whole and successful careers like this. Imagine what Christian theologians would think about a person from Tibet coming to the U.S., attending Lutheran, Native American Catholic, and African American Baptist church services, as well as a series of satanic rituals, and then going back and opening up her own Jesus Saves weight loss clinic in Mongolia that during prayer serves vials of cherry juice as a symbol of Jesus‘ most-beloved buffalo‘s blood? Potentially very frustrating and saddening for those Christian theologians, and especially saddening for those who choose to begin practicing such an, at best, 75
superficial religion. But the truth is, we live in very confusing times, that, for many like me growing up, are becoming more and more confusing. It seemed false for me to go to India or even Korea to study Buddhism (though I tried), yet I was in part raised by Buddhist family members, whose beliefs have shaped certain things about me. Likewise, it, at some point, seemed equally false to devote myself to Confucianism, or Shamanism, or Christianity. Yet all have contributed both directly and indirectly to my very existence, in their influence on my ancestors, the history out of which I was born, the various styles of my upbringing, etc. Yet I hear what the Dalai Lama is warning against. . . ―Mourning in Altaic‖ is an exploration of the confusion I‘ve experienced in that area of my life. As a collection, Whorled is populated with a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-national cast of characters. Are these human observations reflective of your world travels, or are they simply characters from your imagination? Does Whorled take a stand in response to the Dalai Lama quote? Whorled is like a drunk person going on about the world, who can‘t even stand. But hopefully can carry some interesting tunes. As for Imagination vs. Observation, I‘d say it‘s both. Because memory, like a suspension bridge that needs to expand and contract depending on the season, needs to be somewhat flawed or faulty in certain realms of our lives. That‘s how we survive. Yet at some point, even the most skilled survivalists can become harmful to themselves and others. Lacan said, ―The reason we go to poetry is not for wisdom, but for the dismantling of wisdom.‖ To cop that, I‘d say one big reason I write poetry is not for memory, but to dismantle it utterly and follow where the animating spirits go from there.
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THE RIDDLES Ed Bok Lee When I was six in Seoul, Jimmy Riddle, son of an American businessman, five-fingered cash from my mother‘s purse while hiding in our closet. As the decades unfold like a secret fist, I'm less sure whose idea it was to play hide-and-seek in the first place. Stranded between admitting Jimmy played me and the possibility that I set the kid up. Experts say not until age seven are children aware of race and its consequences in psychological violence. So maybe no cocky, superiority (complex) on his part. Maybe I pitied the American. Mrs. Riddle heavy with makeup and highballs, always in a bathrobe. Maybe in understanding some damage, I longed to gift him the ₩17,000 as when I‘d let my sister win at baduk. Or, and this one improbably saintly—maybe I perceived the need to teach him a lesson; to save my friend from future, greater shame. Mr. Riddle in sideburns like Reuben Kincaid on The Partridge Family, nodding in a three-piece suit when my mother called a meeting in our kitchen to discuss the theft, then threw up her hand at the man's gold money clip— That’s not my point. They‘d been in-country a year, which to a white family in the seventies must have been like a luxury liner broken ashore. Mr. Riddle traded titanium and precious metals. The few other American boys I‘d seen on smoky Seoul streets—feisty brown halfies by U.S. servicemen. Jimmy Riddle—pale, blond, never came around again. I was forbidden to traverse the alley to his concrete foreigners‘ compound. Once a tiny Third World outpost, South Korea now the globe‘s (and still U.S.-controlled) 15th largest economic producer. A lifetime later in America, I think of Jimmy Riddle in certain moments—random as our summer of stickball, yakult, and screams. But there had to be some other impulse, some reason why a rich white boy playing in a Korean‘s humbler apartment would pocket cash then deny, pretend, blame— and never once cry. Attention, yes; loneliness, perhaps. Or here‘s another: to shame his parents, maybe even his race and nation—some inverted perversion to belong. Or am I just making excuses for all who manipulate, cheat, lie, steal, colonize? Or is this all too sound? Is the blinding dynamo here my own inner rationale? Not only for Jimmy Riddle and his misplaced, dysfunctional family. But also my own small spun soul tangled there, with his, somewhere over that cold, inscrutable ocean?
Interview by: Paul Lai Author photo by: Sigrid Estrada Jean Kwok‘s debut novel Girl in Translation (Riverhead Books, 2010) tells the story of a young girl, Kimberly Chang, who immigrates with her mother from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, New York. The aunt who sponsors them runs a clothing factory sweatshop, and soon the two newly-arrived family members find themselves working long hours in dangerous conditions and living in a building with no heat, a serious roach infestation, and broken windows. At once a story of how immigrants‘ hopes for a better life are often frustrated by the exploitation of immigrant labor and a story of how education can ultimately lead to a brighter future, the novel offers much material for considering Asian immigrant experiences. Jean Kwok has toured widely with this book in support of its initial publication in 2010 and for the paperback release in 2011, and we are pleased to have a chance to interview her for this issue. She now lives in Holland with her husband and children.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews the crazy schedule you kept while working on this novel—adjusting to a new country, learning Dutch, teaching English, and caring for your children. How do you fit in time to write in your life generally? What are some things you do to help yourself keep working on a draft of a novel? J.K.: I am extremely busy. Especially since Girl in Translation has been published in 15 countries, it has been a real challenge to balance the international publicity demands with finding time to write my next novel. I recently returned from Ireland and will be leaving for the United States in a few weeks to speak at schools and universities. Meanwhile, I am trying desperately to finish my next book. Basically, I start my day by evaluating which tasks are time-sensitive and need to be completed immediately. I do those first. Today, for example, this interview landed at the top of my list since the deadline is approaching. I try not to leave things until the last 78
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minute because if I did, I'd fall behind on everything! When I‘ve finished addressing urgent issues, I turn to working on my new novel. I do the actual writing on a large desktop computer but I‘m always thinking about my work. Even when I‘m away from my desk, my mind is constantly turning over issues in my new story and trying to solve them as creatively as possible. I keep notepads everywhere to scribble down my thoughts: in the kitchen, by my bed, in my gym bag. Sometimes, when I‘m deep into a book, I'll even dream I‘m writing it—lines and lines of text scroll by in my dreams so I feel like I‘m reading all night long. It‘s pretty exhausting, actually, but the next day‘s writing is usually easy since I'm mostly transcribing then! The truth is, I always feel guilty when I‘m not writing. No matter how else I‘ve gotten done, I feel like the day‘s been wasted if I haven't done any actual writing. There are times when I have so much other work that I can't get to my own writing at all and I always feel lousy then. When I can, I start the day with writing but that‘s often impossible these days because I always have emails I need to address. I think that there is never really enough time for writing—you just need to do it anyway. What kind of research did you do for Girl in Translation? What kind of research are you doing for your second novel, set in the ballroom dancing world and Chinatown? J.K.: Both Girl in Translation and my next novel are based upon my own life experiences so in some ways, I already know the worlds they are set in quite well. However, I do always do quite a bit of research to make sure I‘m not making any mistakes. I create a time and age chart where I can track how old all of my characters are at any point in the book and I do research to make sure that they suit the period they‘re living in. Whenever I can, I talk to people who are insiders. Something I really enjoy doing in my books is introducing my readers to worlds they may not be familiar with, like that of the Chinatown sweatshop or the professional ballroom dance world. For my new novel, for example, I‘m realizing just how closed the dance world is because there is almost nothing available on the Internet. Luckily, I‘m still friends with some world-class professional ballroom dancers and we can talk to each other honestly about the beauty and corruption we‘ve seen. I see fiction as a means for me to tell the truth in disguise, and I enjoy sharing that with my readers. Girl in Translation is set in the underground world of New York City’s sweatshops that often rely on both documented and undocumented immigrant labor. For many people who might come across your book at their local bookstore or library, this world is likely far outside of their experience or knowledge. How do you feel about your book as possibly a reader’s introduction to sweatshops? Do you have any suggestions about how readers might become more aware and involved in anti-sweatshop activism? 79
J.B.: It‘s very meaningful to me that some readers have been moved by my book. The sweatshop described in the novel is absolutely as I remember it from when I worked in a Chinatown clothing factory as a five-year-old child. Since I didn‘t exaggerate what I experienced, I am glad that more people have been made aware of how hard many immigrants‘ lives are. I very much believe in improved working conditions but I also know that those sweatshops provided many families with their livelihood. The working conditions were atrocious and illegal. However, if they had been improved, would the factories have continued to hire recent immigrants? Or would they have turned to college graduates and left the immigrants jobless? Many Chinese clothing factories have already moved back to China. In an ideal world, working class immigrants would be offered fair work that was properly paid, with sanitary and safe working conditions. I like some of the new brands that guarantee that the workers producing the clothing were treated well. I don‘t mind paying more for a piece of clothing if I know that money goes back to the people who produced it. Another change that I find beneficial is the increased availability of free childcare. I was brought along to the clothing factory because no one in my family could afford to stay home with me, and there was no other safe place to leave me. I think that many working class parents have the same dilemma. When every adult needs to work every waking hour in order to make ends meet, there isn‘t anyone who is able to stay home to take care of a child. I hope that as more people become aware of the issues that working class immigrants face, that more can be done to help them. The young protagonist Kimberly Chang finds herself hiding the truth of her work and home worlds from those in her school world, both teachers and classmates. She even keeps her home life a secret from her best friend Annette. Though being poor and exploited should not be shameful, Kimberly nevertheless lives in the closet about her poverty. What was it like writing a character with such conflicted emotions about her life? At what point does she emerge from that shame? J.K.: I went through an experience very similar to Kimberly‘s, since I never spoke about our poverty either, so I understood very well how Kimberly felt. It was partly shame and it was also that I felt the truth of my background was so far from the reality that my friends knew that I couldn‘t even begin to make them understand. Since Girl in Translation has been published, I‘ve received countless letters from readers who have said, ―I‘ve always wanted to let my loved ones know what my past was like but I didn‘t know how. Thank you for writing this book so I could show them.‖ When my family and I were living in an unheated, roach-infested apartment in Brooklyn, I was too ashamed to let anyone come visit me. Now that I understand how many other people have also experienced extreme poverty in America, I feel glad and proud that I can help bring their experiences into the light. I think that it is the same for my character Kimberly Chang. 80
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It is only after she gains more confidence that she is able to be proud of surviving her circumstances. What do your friends and acquaintances from childhood think of your novel and your success as a writer? J.K.: The funny thing is that none of my old friends and boyfriends knew about my past. I never spoke about it to anyone. The few times I tried, I was told, ―That‘s ridiculous. Children don‘t work in factories in America.‖ I had written this book as a novel because I didn‘t think that anyone would ask me if it was based upon my real life. However, when it began to receive so much international attention, I realized it was an important part of the message of my book for me to stand up and say, ―Actually, this can and does happen.‖ So my old friends were very happy for me for my success but they were also stunned to learn I had worked in a sweatshop as a child and lived in an unheated apartment among rats and roaches. Your novel also does a lot of fascinating things with representing language—for example, how a young Kimberly mishears English words and how the Chinese workers in the sweatshop speak to each other in idiomatic phrases. How did you settle on the particular kinds of translations that you chose? Now that you’ve learned yet another language, Dutch, do you any influences on your writing? J.K.: This was a technique I hadn‘t seen done before and I developed it to try to put the reader into the head and heart of a Chinese immigrant. I wanted the reader to only hear and understand what Kimberly could, so when Kimberly doesn‘t understand English fully, neither do we. On the other hand, we become native Chinese speakers like her, so that we can hear the nuances and humor of Chinese perfectly. I did have to work hard to get this right. Since the book was written in English, I sometimes had to go back and switch my mind into Chinese, then re-write the dialogue the way a Chinese-thinking person would. I live in Holland now among Dutch speakers. Knowing Dutch has giving me a deeper appreciation of English, since many words have common roots, but I have to say that it also has the ability to destroy my English, too, in some ways! Sometimes I catch myself making mistakes with prepositions in English because a certain expression is said another way in Dutch. I try to compensate by reading a lot in English but I do catch myself thinking, ―Oh dear, was that in Dutch or English?‖ But in general, I am grateful I‘ve had the opportunity to learn several different languages. I also studied Latin for 8 years as well. Knowing Chinese, English, Latin and Dutch have certainly enriched my ability to write, as long as I can keep them all straight!
You mentioned in another interview that you like reading books on craft and by writers you like such as Maxine Hong Kingston on your Kindle. In addition to Kingston, are there other Asian American writers you particularly like? I think we‘re so lucky to be living in a time when there are many great Asian American writers. I admire the work of Chang-Rae Lee, Lan Samantha Chang, Gish Jen, and Julie Otsuka very much. While growing up in New York, did you have a chance to read Asian American authors? Which writers, both Asian American and otherwise, did you like the most as you began writing? J.K.: Maxine Hong Kingston was the first author I read who spoke about the Chinese world I knew. Her work made a great impact on me. I also read many non-Asian writers. I love the work of Margaret Atwood, Italo Calvino, Kazuo Ishiguro and Donna Tartt. The writing voice is usually what draws me in first. I also enjoy books that combine character and story with something experimental and exciting in terms of craft. In Margaret Atwood‘s Blind Assassin, for example, I like the way she intersperses the text with newspaper clippings, and the way a science fiction story is threaded throughout. Who do you hope reads your book? What message would you give to them? J.K.: When I was a young person, I felt quite alone and it was in books that I found comfort and salvation. It is my hope that my book could bring a bit of hope and light into someone‘s life. If someone reads my book and finishes it with a bit more compassion and understanding than they had before, then it will all have been worthwhile for me.
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CONTRIBUTOR BIOS FICTION Anna Alves was born in Elmhurst, Queens, NYC, raised in South Sacramento, CA, and got her BA in English and History and MA in Asian American Studies at UCLA. She was a PEN Center USA West Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellow in fiction and has held residencies at Hedgebrook (Cedar Cottage) and Voices of Our Nation‘s Arts (VONA). Her writing has appeared in Amerasia Journal, disOrient, Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing, Our Own Voice: Filipinos in the Diaspora, and Strange Cargo: The Emerging Voices Anthology. A former softball jock, she looks forward to resume rooting for the Brooklyn Cyclones when she returns this fall to the East Coast for her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Rutgers University-Newark. Sam Katz was born in Korea and grew up outside of Philadelphia. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Bluestem, Boston Literary Magazine, The Good Men Project, and Grey Sparrow Journal. He earned an MFA from The New School, and now he serves as a reader for One Story and teaches at La Salle University. Shruti Swamy lives in San Francisco where she is finishing her MFA in Fiction at San Francisco State. She is at work on her first collection of stories. Teresa Shen Swingler is a Taiwanese-American fiction writer who lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her work has appeared in The Del Sol Review and Diagram. POETRY Kathleen Hellen is the author of The Girl Who Loved Mothra (Finishing Line Press, 2010). Her work has appeared in Cimarron Review; Frogpond; Hawai’i Review; Japanophile; Lantern Review; Mythium; Natural Bridge; Nimrod; Pirene’s Fountain; Platte Valley Review; Poetry International; Prairie Schooner; Southern California Review; and Witness, among others; and on WYPR‘s ―The Signal.‖ She is senior editor for The Baltimore Review. Link to the interview at: http://www.urbanitebaltimore.com/baltimore/web-extra-a-conversation-withkathleen-hellen/Content?oid=1247942
Melissa Sipin is a writer from Carson, California. A VONA writer and graduate of the University of Southern California, she currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina, with her Navy husband. Her work is forthcoming in Kweli Journal and has been published in Lantern Review and Maganda Magazine, among other publications. Timothy Yu is the author of the poetry collection Journey to the West, which won the Vincent Chin Memorial Chapbook Prize from Kundiman, and a book of 83
criticism, Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry since 1965 (Stanford University Press). His poems have appeared in SHAMPOO, West Wind Review, Another Chicago Magazine, and The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century. He is an associate professor of English and Asian American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. NON-FICTION Lizelle Festejo dreams in unwritten recipes contained in the heart. She is a 1.5 generation Pin@y living, writing, learning and eating in Oakland, California. Her most fondest childhood memories were created in the kitchens of her Nanay Cion, Mama Tessie, and mother, Elizabeth. It is her life's mission to pass on stories to others through food and writing. Patricia Y. Ikeda appears in the documentary film Between the Lines: Asian American Women’s Poetry, http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c553.shtml, ―rare interviews with over 15 major Asian-Pacific American women poets.‖ Her work has appeared in Asian North American poetry anthologies such as Breaking Silence and Premonitions, and she is the first recipient of the Ragdale Foundation's Alice Hayes fellowship for work on a social-justice related writing project. The fellowship supported a month-long retreat on her book-in-progress, Elegy with Blue Shirt, Tie and Gun and Other Stories, a collection of autobiographical fiction. Patricia also teaches Buddhist meditation retreats for people of color, women, and social justice activists nationally. (See www.mushim.wordpress.com.) Dickson Lam was born in Hong Kong and raised in San Francisco. He received his MFA degree in fiction from Rutgers-Newark University and is also a graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University. He is currently an MFA candidate in nonfiction at the University of Houston where he is working on his memoir. ART Kristine Joy Mallari was born and raised in West Texas. She moved to San Antonio for college and felt artistically frustrated. She then transferred to the small music town of Denton, TX. While there, she randomly decided to study printmaking, which opened up a whole new way of creating art. Different processes of expressing color, line and texture excited her to think of portraying narratives in deeper ways. She currently lives in Portland, OR making prints in a member-run print studio and stitching books at home. Mark Canto is a cultural worker currently living in Long Beach, California. Born in the Philippines, he has graduated from drawing in the dirt with a stick to splattering paint on a surface till it bleeds visual sunshine. He strives to achieve a unity of form and content through utilizing indigenous, traditional, and modern elements of art. He believes his art should reflect the present day conditions of the Filipino community and show the connection to their roots in history.
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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 hopes one day to live in a library. He is pursuing an MLIS degree at St. Catherine University. Previously, he has studied and taught at Yale University, UC Berkeley, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University, and the University of St. Thomas. 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 C. Liu is a 1.5 generation immigrant from New Jersey. His Pushcart Prizenominated writing arises from his work as an activist, educator and cultural worker. Kenjiâ€˜s poetry chapbook You Left Without Your Shoes (Finishing Line Press, 2009) was nominated for a California Book Award. His writing has appeared in Kweli Journal, Doveglion Press, The Best American Poetry Blog, Lantern Review, Flick of My Tongue and other places. He writes, designs and lives in Oakland, away from the San Francisco tundra.
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 teaches creative writing and English at Southwestern College. While she blogs for the mAss Kickers Foundation, a cancer advocacy and support group, 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 Fae Myenne Ng Maxine Hong Kingston
Gus Lee Li-Young Lee Min Jin Lee Ed Lin Nami Mun Elaine H. Kim Lac Su Bryan Thao Worra
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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.
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.
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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!
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
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―A harrowing story rendered in balletic prose, The Last Repatriate draws us inside a war of the body and of the heart—a confirmation of Salesses‘ inventive, ambitious, big-hearted brilliance.‖ -Laura van den Berg, author of What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us ―Matthew Salesses is a writer to embrace. In their beauty, strangeness, and heart, his fictions are a gift.‖ -Paul Yoon, author of Once the Shore ―Salesses‘ examination of the troubled mind of a Korean War POW returning home is pensive and brooding. A subtly painful psychological journey.‖ -James Franco, author of Palo Alto
ISSUE 10 | FALL 2011