Issuu on Google+


Cover Art: “Children of Viet Nam 2” by Simi Kang (7" x 9" ink painting on canvas board, acrylic background) © August, 2012 by Kartika Review

Kartika Review publishes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction 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.

2


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

ADVISORY BOARD

MASTHEAD

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 FICTION EDITOR Paul Lai POETRY EDITOR Kenji Liu NONFICTION EDITOR Jennifer Derilo EDITOR-AT -LARGE Christine Lee Zilka

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Vinay Patel PROGRAM COORDINATOR Jennifer Banta

Kartika Review is a proud member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

3


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.

4


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

TABLE OF CONTENTS Editorial

Paul Lai

7

More Jaggery

Aditya Desai

9

The Cost of Farming in the Mekong Delta

Simi Kang

17

Rag Dolls

Mai Nardone

19

Geoffrey Miller

27

They Say This Is How the Heart Works

W. Todd Kaneko

36

Cast

Neil Aitken

38

Three Dreams of Korea: Notes on Adoption*

Lee Herrick

40

Steamed Dungeness Crab with Nanay’s Sauce

Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga

43

Shuffling Water

Jen Palmares Meadows

48

Interview with Lee Herrick

By: Kenji Liu

51

Interview with Aimee Phan

By: Sunny Woan

59

FICTION

ART Ominous Fear POETRY

NONFICTION

WRITER INTERVIEWS

END NOTES Contributor Bios

64

Editor Bios

66 * Reprinted with permission.

5


Four Writers Converge on the APIA Literary Continuum May 24, 2012 | SOMArts, Main Gallery

Left to Right: Lysley Tenorio (Panelist); Aimee Phan (Panelist); Andre Yang (Panelist); [illustrated] Paul Lai (Editor) & Giles; Jennifer Derilo (Editor); Christine Lee Zilka (Moderator & Editor); Sandra Park (Panelist); Kenji Liu (Editor); Sunny Woan (Editor).

Read about

or watch it online at

http://litseen.com/?p=10255

6

:


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

EDITORIAL Paul Lai

On May 24, 2012, Kartika Review drew a full crowd to the SOMArts Gallery in San Francisco for an event cosponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC) and the Zellerbach Foundation. This event, Literasians: Four Writers Converge on the APIA Literary Continuum, included panelists Sandra Park, author of If You Live in a Small House (2010); Aimee Phan, author of We Should Never Meet (2004) and The Reeducation of Cherry Truong (2012); Lysley Tenorio, author of Monstress: Stories (2012); and Andre Yang, poet and founding member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, who edited the anthology How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology (2011). Our Editor-at-Large Christine Lee Zilka moderated a discussion about the authors’ writing processes and their thoughts on writing as Asian Americans about Asian America. The panelists discussed the importance of history and of cultural representation but also raised questions about the expectations that Asian American writers should or can only depict certain kinds of stories in their work. Literasians was a chance for writers and readers to share their visions about the body of work we understand as Asian American literature. In this issue, we offer as always a broad range of writings that each give startling and moving insights into particular aspects of Asian America and the critical perspectives that Asian Americans have on the world at large. In Aditya Desai’s short story “More Jaggery,” the son of Indian immigrant parents navigates the microcosm of family and the Indian American community of New Jersey, finding himself always in comparison with his cousin who is fed up with life in the States. Simi Kang’s flash fiction, “The Cost of Farming in the Mekong Delta,” ruminates on farmers’ lives and the tradeoff between making a living and getting an education (in order to make a different kind of living). Mai Nardone’s “Rag Dolls” plunges us into urban life in Thailand, where the sharp social divisions defined by money, skin color, and mixed-race status contribute to tense intimate relationships. Neil Aitken’s poem “Cast” takes as a touchstone the work of Charles Babbage, the mathematician who designed mechanical calculators and theorized computers as symbolic language manipulators. The poem dives into Babbage’s startlingly simple insight of translation, “How easily one thing becomes another in a language / prone to fluidity.” W. Todd Kaneko’s poem “They Say This Is How The Heart Works” meditates on the language of the model minority myth, which emerged initially in the post-WWII 7


moment to turn Japanese Americans from enemy aliens into docile citizens. Working through family members’ bodies, transmuted into appendages of non-human animals, the poem churns through the deep, conflicting emotions and experiences of the “Quiet and furious labor” that allowed internees to survive the war. The creative nonfiction pieces reflect on family relationships and the interweaving of cultural identity in everyday experiences. Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga’s “Steamed Dungeness Crab With Nanay’s Sauce” takes as its topic the preparation and eating of crab with sauce, using the occasion to consider how the messiness of eating crabs is something delightful and affirming of family and history. Jen Palmares Meadows’s “Shuffling Water” traces relationships with her sister, lola, and a lover in the context of her body. This issue also contains interviews with poet Lee Herrick, author of This Many Miles from Desire (2007) and the forthcoming Gardening Secrets of the Dead (2013), and with novelist and short story writer Aimee Phan who appeared on the Literasians panel with us earlier this year. Finally, I’d like to say a brief farewell as I am stepping down as Kartika Review’s Fiction Editor after completing this issue due to other work and school obligations. Luckily for the journal and you wonderful readers, Christine Lee Zilka, the previous Fiction Editor, is ready to step back into the role with the next issue. Though I will no longer be working with the classy editorial team on a regular basis, I will continue to champion Kartika Review wherever I go and offer other behind-the-scenes support as I am able. For the authors I’ve had the great fortune to help publish in the pages of this journal—thanks for sharing your work with us! For those who submitted work for considerations, thank you as well, and please do continue to write. Keep in touch, everyone, and I will look forward to seeing more of your work published in the years to come. Best, Paul Lai Fiction Editor

8


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

MORE JAGGERY Aditya Desai

Once you came off of the I-295 onto Route 1 somewhere around Princeton, the shock was immediate. We usually came this way when going to my aunt’s house, saving us the hassle of driving along the crowded Turnpike and paying three tolls: one to get on, one to get off, and one somewhere in the middle just for the hell of it. Instead, Route 1 goes parallel, and even with the traffic lights, it took only about ten minutes more to reach, and at least this way we could catch some of the exotic scenery. The first out-of-place building that came up, on the left, was the Chutney Manor, a restaurant with a large, attached banquet hall decorated with papermache Indian sculptures and rose-red draperies. You could have a wedding or a reception there, or both, and catering was included in the deal. The next few miles were mostly rife with car dealerships and motels—lots of motels, with continental breakfasts and even more Indian weddings during the weekend. Slowly after a few more miles, there were the standard suburbia hallmarks—CVS, Shop Rite, Dunkin Donuts, and JC Penny’s, owned by Indians, staffed by Indians, serving Indians. There was Sukhadia’s, a sweets and snacks shop, that without shame had retained the distinct pointed roof of the Pizza Hut it once was. And even though you couldn’t see it from the road, you passed a park where they filmed an entire song and dance sequence for a Bollywood movie. After awhile I would begin to look in the cars next to us, alternating between Honda and Toyota, and I sighed in the futility of recognizing and accepting where I was. Driver after driver passes us—white face, brown face, white face, brown face, black face, light brown face, dark brown face, East-Asian brown face, more brown face. There were little rosary beads hanging from the rearview mirrors, and if you opened your window and listen hard, it was quite easy to make out Kishore Kumar blasting from the radio. My aunt and cousins lived in an apartment community where all the units were built with a dark, rough, damp-colored burgundy wood. I watched my foot as I stepped out of the car. The parking spaces were littered with cigarette butts and empty packets of chewing tobacco. Withered in the rain, it had all begun to cake up inside the cracks of the fractured asphalt, collecting and decomposing, collecting and decomposing.

9


We had come up to celebrate Navratri, the Nine Nights festival of praying and dancing to Goddess Durga to mark the arrival of winter. But I only expected another weekend in Edison, New Jersey. Another useless weekend of watching the circus unfold before me—the cooking, the television, the cricket, the plans for going out and staying in, the spiked hairstyles and blue eye shadow. But when the door opened that evening, Aunty stood before us with an enraged look in her eye. It was nothing new; she was a very emotional woman and would throw fits at the slightest hindrance to her day. But never at the threshold to her home. She was upon us like a tiger, ushering us into the second-floor apartment, saying “Come on, come in!” and waving a frying ladle in the air. A drop of oil landed onto my cheek and made a slight burn. The shades were all drawn, darkening the home into a sullen cave. Before we even had our shoes off, Aunty was off and running her mouth: “He’s been packing all day.” “That stupid idiot.” “He doesn’t understand.” “What is he going to do for food? How is he going to live? Does he know how expensive it is?” “I haven’t raised him this far for nothing. Doesn’t he know I am his mother, that he should listen to me? What would his father say? How can he leave me here alone?” My parents threw off their sandals with a quick flick of the ankle and managed to sit her down in the living room and assuage the fury. I drowned the ranting interrogation out, sitting on a little footstool at the door and undoing my laces. I wanted to avoid the tension as along as possible, hyped into melodrama. As usual, Aunty’s rants weren’t too world-shaking. Whatever they were about, they would be assuaged quick by my mother. Once I got my shoes off, I tuned my ear back. “Where is Karan?” my mother said. “He said to finalize his ticket. Just like that! He’s already bought it without asking me!” She said it with some forced humility. I took my coat off and rejoined them. “Why don’t we wait till he comes back, then we’ll talk to him?” “Huh?! Why should I? If he doesn’t want to wait for me, have patience with me, why should I have any for him?” She was in tears.

10


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

“Calm down, don’t worry. Don’t worry,” my father said, stroking his sister’s back with a passing touch. Aunty just stared at the floor. Now that she was quiet, the sounds of ZeeTv filled the void, restoring the home’s ambience as I was acquainted. My grandmother was plopped directly across the large flat-screen TV, her eyes fixed on it despite the commotion that was happening on the couch next to her. “How are you, Ba?” I asked, but she didn’t respond. She was hard of hearing, and I didn’t feel the need to speak louder right now. Usually the volume on the TV was higher, inviting one of the neighbors to come to the door and complain. It got especially bad during the soaps, when the proverbial thunderclap sound effect would rumble through their surround sound system, quaking the rickety old apartment building. “I even made his favorite tonight, ladoos,” Aunty said, “because all of you were coming over. It’s your favorite too, right?” She was talking to me. I looked up and nodded at her with a smile. I hadn’t eaten a ladoo for six years. Round, tennis ball-sized mounds of sugar, flour, milk, jaggery, and ghee—clarified butter. Lots of ghee. My stomach turned. “Well, we will see,” Aunty said, getting up and walking into the kitchen. Mother followed, saying she would make the tea, and within seconds I heard pots clanging. Dad looked at me from across the room and raised his eyebrows, sharing my attitude: let women be women. He would simply mention a word of kindness and instead let it be at that. Mother would try to comfort and cradle her sister-in-law, taking over the job that Ba had stopped long ago. Though the two didn’t share a bloodline, the bond was strong. My mother was from a lineage of academics and doctors, and became a nutritionist as a compromise with her parents to avoid medical bureaucracy. She was interested in nurturing, not repairing. Those maternal obsessions were matched when she married my dad and met his sister, whose profession was solely housewife, and later mother. My grandmother instead just pondered her shows. On the glowing screen, a woman with too much make up on—solid, inch-thick black eyeliner and a quarter-sized red dot on her—scolded a younger girl for her shame and her impetuousness. The girl, with less makeup and kind of cute, held her head down. There were arguments, something about how she loved him and he loved her, and the woman interjected. My working knowledge of Hindi went only as far as greetings and pleasantries. I read the subtitles —He loves only 11


me!—but both spoke at the same time, and I wasn’t sure to which one that referred. The thunderclap roared again through the speakers and lighting struck through the large palatial windows of their staged house, and a fan blew the two actresses’ hair back, turning the scene into a mash-up of gothic horror and telenovela. Above the TV sat my uncle’s photo, in its ever-permanent place since his death almost a year ago. The red powder dot smudged onto the picture frame’s glass had dried over the course of the day. He smiled back at me, with the same jolly disposition that uncles worldwide tend to have, remaining alive in the room. But, I thought, still aloof to what his son was up to. He had a sudden heart attack, around three in the afternoon, in the middle of his afternoon nap. Karan had called me that day to let me know. “I don’t think I’m ready man,” he’d said. At the time he’d meant it, I assumed, for the funeral, for moving on. But then last week when we’d talked, he had said it again, I don’t think I’m ready. Then two days ago Mother got a call from Aunty, and the story related to me was that Karan had booked a one-way ticket to Mumbai for the end of the month, that he had had enough of America, enough of his life and his opportunities here and wanted to go and become a Bollywood star. I split apart in laughter, but Mother just looked back at me, her morose and stern eyes telling me, “If you try any of that stuff, know that I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” She’d told Aunty not to worry, and that I, as the generational brother, would talk him out of it. Back on the television, the cute girl ran out into the rain, crying for her beloved while the older woman sneered inside and cued the cliffhanger ending. A song clip from one of the new movies played, showcasing a shirtless heartthrob dancing on a beach to a bass-filled club beat, followed by advertisements from the sponsors for products from India and fortune-telling astrologists. Aunty’s voice grew again from inside the kitchen. What would his father say, I heard, through a cracking voice. Ba mumbled something and drew the remote out of the folds of her sari. With her right hand she pointed it directly at the TV and with her left pressed down on one of the buttons. Nothing happened on the screen, but she seemed satisfied and placed it on the couch next to her. Dad got up and declared we should go get the bags from the car. Once we got outside he spoke, “Where could Karan have gone?” 12


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

I thought of the many places—his friends’ houses, the Afghani café he likes, his college campus, or maybe just cruising the highway. “I could call him?” I said. “Yes, do that.” He walked past me toward the car as I tried to fish my cell phone out of my pocket—I was wearing tight jeans, the kind that cost fifty dollars extra because of the rusted color and small ripped cuts in the denim. Karan had recommended them to me one day when we were at the mall. “Mad player, yo,” he’d said. I stood there in the October chill with the phone pressed to my ear. A breeze skirted the apartment parking lot, and I watched my father taking the bags out of the back of our Toyota Corolla. He was for the most part large and well built, at five foot eleven standing well above the normal Indian man’s size and sporting the classic round belly to signify good financial stability. The ring tone buzzed in my ear, but after three I let it fall to voicemail. I heard Karan’s voice, deeper and more forcibly masculine than it actually was: “Hi, you’ve reached Karan, leave a message and he will call you back when he gets time.” The third person reference annoyed me. “Hey bro, we just got to your place, just wondering where you were. Your mom is waiting on you.” I turned the phone off. “Look at that.” He motioned his head behind me, and I turned to the apartment stack behind Aunty’s. At the top third floor, someone had strung up a lot of Christmas lights on their balcony. They twisted and wrapped around the metal fencing, up the walls and across the ceiling. Even at this distance in the night, the lights shone so brightly I could see the dirt and grime collected on the backs of the tacky plastic lawn chairs. In the center, on top of a stool, sat an idol of Goddess Durga, made of the authentic white marble, her eight arms brandishing bow and arrow, saber, conch shell, lotus flower, trident, and chakra disc. Along with the blue, green, orange, red, and yellow bulbs, she was adorned with a glistening red sari that clashed glimmers with the lights. A withered marigold necklace was strewn around her face, with eyes that looked solemnly down at the parking lot, at the cars, the cracked pavement, at Dad, and me. Two middle-aged women walked by us in faded salwaar dresses and shawls and white Nike sneakers. One kept talking about her son and how he wanted ice cream, how she kept arguing with him on the point, and he kept yelling 13


and screaming. “Mathu ketlu khathu,” she said. He kept eating at my head. The other woman began interjecting about the health effects of ice cream she heard on the news. Once they came in Durga’s sightline, both stopped and nodded their heads toward the mini-Las Vegas of a balcony. Then they kept walking and resumed the conversation. “You know,” Dad said, “That probably costs so much on the electricity bill.” Back inside the apartment, Aunty had already set out two plates on the table. “Chal,” Aunty said. “You sit down and have a ladoo; you must be hungry.” Mother brought out cups of piping hot chai and placed them on the table. Steam rose out up in full clouds, and I could smell the cardamom and sugar still marinating in the milk. She leered at Dad, already breaking off crumbs of ladoo and popping them in his mouth, and gave him not the look of a wife but a health specialist. Aunty rushed out with a small steel bowl. “Here, have some jaggery,” she said, holding the sweet pebbles above my cup. “No, thanks.” I said. “No? Sure? Karan always asks for more jaggery in his tea.” “Jaggery in tea?” Mother asked. “Oh yes, it tastes great. I put it in everything since he was a little boy. He loves it.” Mother cringed at the thought. Her love for me was a strict diet that would keep me right-minded. Perhaps so I wouldn’t run away like this, I now thought. “You should try it,” Aunty said to me. “You can never have too much jaggery.” “I’m fine,” I pleaded. “I don’t like it too sweet.” “Oh, ok,” she relented. “Let me know though.”

14


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

She took pappadum out of a tupperware container, broke off a piece, and popped it into her mouth. For a while, the four of us just sat or stood, the sounds of thick slurps and brittle crunches filling the air. “Did you see the Durga murti?” I asked after a minute or so. “What?” Mother asked. “Yeah, it’s been there since last week,” Aunty said. “There, look out the window,” I motioned, and Mother went to the other side of the apartment to peek through the curtain. Aunty began expounding how the apartment management had spoken to that tenant about putting so many lights on, but he had kept it anyway. Even a cop had come by to speak to him about it. “It’s a discrimination!” she said. “If they can put up lights for Christmas and New Years and all that, why can’t we for our holidays?” “True,” Mother said, “It is Navratri. Why can’t he?” “Of course.” A pause later, she yelped with her heart in her throat, “Arey! Aarti!” I was hoping she wouldn’t remember. Every night of Navratri meant the tired fifteen-minute sing-along Durga prayer, where I mustered a feigned conviction. Inside one of the cupboards in the kitchen was assembled the home’s personal shrine: miniature ornaments and pictures of various Gods and Goddesses looked back at us, demanding piety from their household nook. Aunty lit a cotton wick inside a steel dish, ladled fresh ghee on top to fuel it for the prayer, and set it in the center of the deities. Ba, without invitation, got up from the couch and waddled over. We waited for Aunty’s cue to begin singing, but instead we hung in silence. She cleared phlegm out of her throat, back toward us, palms folded in prayer. “You don’t want to wait for Karan?” Dad asked. “He knows we do aarti every night. He knows he should be here.” She sniffled a little, and I imagined a tear forming at her eyes.

15


I heard the keys clinging outside the front door as they slid into the lock, and the metal bolts scratched against each other. The door flew open, and there was a tense buzz in the air. Karan entered, looking solemnly at us. It was clear he hadn’t lost his resolve. His mind was sound and solid. He opened his mouth, licked his lips, and didn’t speak. I tried to say hi, but a scornful look from Mother kept it at bay. My aunt stood staring with fierce daggers, her hands not in prayer anymore, but instead stuck under her elbows, arms crossed. Ba cried from behind: “Where did you come from? Good, you’re back. Now get me a chair.”

Aditya Desai received his MFA in Fiction at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he currently teaches. He spends the rest of the time in wanderlust about Baltimore and Washington DC, soaking up good, fun culture.

16


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

THE COST OF FARMING IN THE MEKONG DELTA Simi Kang

“There is no time. I am a farmer. My life is work, labor.” She holds her hands out, marking the calluses with a finger, the smile leaving her lips quietly. “I work hard. I do not want my daughter to have this life.” The television’s crackle punctuates from behind a grass wall covered in Cargill bags, their creaks puckering in the monsoon heat. Looking at me, she begins to list expenses for third grade: tuition at the year’s start, a uniform and books, monthly payments for an extra class, the distance between her childhood and this one. She looks out at a boat burrowing into the shore. Her parents had wanted an education for her, but the cost had been too high. Rice, she says, is the best crop because it has two seasons in Việt Nam, two harvests in February and July, just around the school year’s zenith: lives measured in a field’s acidity and a fickle market. I can see the shafts in her hands as she dances them across space, feel the grains beneath her skin, the soft powder lining her toes. Free moments are rare, given over to another task, another hobby-turnedscheme. Debt worries away hours, meals. A good crop means another year of hope: a child’s smile. “When she brings home work, I always check her notebook to make sure she is studying. It has been so long for me. The system has changed. I try to help her, but most nights, she does it alone. She does not work on the farm. She is young. She must go to school.” Rain: new shoes; drought: plots of broken land, plots against time. There is no secondary school close by. Her niece and nephew start each day early, cycle for the promise of flight, their mother praying for their safe return each day. “My brother-in-law was gambling with friends. He lost badly. It was dark when he started home and someone hit his head with a baseball bat from behind. There is his picture.” 17


“If my daughter goes to secondary school…” She kneads her toes into the bed, their arches coloring. Her smile returns. “She is beautiful, my daughter. So are you. You are from America?”

Simi Kang is currently working as an anthropologist and will begin a Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota in the fall. As in her art, Simi’s academic focus will be on Asian American Diaspora.

18


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

RAG DOLLS Mai Nardone

We’re outside the Metropole when this native thirty-something in a miniskirt takes Bean's hand and tells him in English, Mister, my friend, want sexy massage mister? Stella and I stamp our heels and laugh. It's funny because she's so floorcountry Thai that she could be his mum. Well, his mum before she married up and into the city, settling into his Yankee dad like he's a retirement plan. Except this woman's not a sugarwhite Thai like Bean's mum, which is why he looks white too, why this native picked him out for a foreigner, because he looks bland and full farang and not a little smoky like the rest of us mixed-bloods. Bean's face splits a smile and says in Thai that he's alright, thanks, and this native looks like she's swallowed a straight capful of som and she splutters it out in front of us and laughs and jokes: Then I'll give you half-off because you're luk-kreung. Half-off for a halfchild. Sometimes, these natives are even funny. I shoulder the woman aside and lead Bean and Stella through the doors. The dancing natives twist apart like they're just cloud until we're up the stairs and on the higher half-level. It's midnight. The Metropole is a split-storey black box, always candlelight dim and real loud, but we can feel one another in our crescent booth. We order a carafe of som for the table with four thimble glasses, one for each of the troupe. Baba Ganoush hoofs over and sinks his bull frame into the seat on my left. He’s been waiting for us, or for me, truly, because his eyes wrap around me like I’m not here. We split a month ago, and haven’t talked since. He’s another stain on the wall. I turn away for a thimble with Stella and Bean. My frilly doll skirt is bunched at the hips and I can feel the stick of skin on leather cushion. The som drips out golden and familiar. It smells like metal. Bean's on my right, sitting between me and Stella, and when I lean up and over for my thimble, his hand goes around my thigh. Hey Doll, he says, and I scowl back—Get stuffed—but he grins. I’m not real bothered because Bean’s pawing pulls an eye from Baba Ganoush’s jealous head, too toothless to touch Bean, the owner of this here club. Anyway, Bean’s cooped-up—he watches the men dance even if he doesn't know it yet. I lean in like I want him there. Baba Ganoush huffs away on the warpath. Bean's hand is under my skirt when my phone buzzes against my leg and I slip away from his fingers. It's Mum. The screen blinks her like a warning and I pocket it. I chuck another thimble and now I'm pretty krumy. Stella's 19


already dancing, close against the ledge that breaks the floor up in half. The luk-kreung side that we're on is raised, a tall stage, eyelevel for the natives below. Ours is the high ground. And up here, it's only English that's spoken. Stella's moving on the edge, looking like she'll fall into the native sea beyond and crack her eggshell skin. Chewy the stairguard (he keeps the natives down) nudges her away and she smirks at him and goes whirling back into the waiting upper-tier boys. Her dress of wide red ribbons fans out, whips away from her, opens to the eye like a zoetrope so the boys could touch her body if they reached. The phone hums warm on my hip when Mum leaves a message. I don't look. When I'm here, I leave that all behind. I lock it away in the house like tonight’s fight; or the Music Theory IV for the Contemporary Colonial Flautist; or the picture of Dad on a Londontown bench, his coat collar popped and pointed against a chill we never have in Bangkok. I shut it in drawers like my midnight outfits: short frills, sheer knickers and net or no leggings and low vees in colours like a tulip patch. I escape house, room and that kwai of a wall where Mum painted a meditation mandala that looks like the maze I'm trapped in. It’s all circular and flush with colours and terraced Buddhas lapping against each other. The lines bow and box, hypnotising me until I'm on my back with eyes squeezed thinking: Mum, get this thing off the wall. I'm not even Buddhist. Bean nudges my arm. Trouble at the gate, he points to the stairs. Some Aussie farangs are knocking with Chewy but he won't let them by because of the natives trailing around their party's tail-end. They can't get away with that, not even in our (re)colonised Thailand. Chewy is the bee's knees and he knows it: you can see it in the way his head stands, and in the shine on his boot toes. He'll budge if he has to but not for these imperial vagabonds. Chewy's a native himself, but he's made of sterner stuff. We like him. He knows us like we're known to the Metropole. It's our nest. With us he doesn't have to see the nutty, not all-black nor all-straight, hair or the milkier skin to know that we're luk-kreung, that we've got white in us. He doesn’t need to look at the clothes that speak money, quality. Sometimes, some uppity natives with premium-bright whitening cream and quiet perms or soft hairwax and maybe a touch of brown in the locks try to steal by. Chewy's wise to them. But once, in the beginning, Chewy stopped Baba Ganoush, who's Anglo-Indian, who was called Taj-my-Raj back then but the Brits didn't like that much, too rebellious, what with their empire going all pearshaped in our twenty-first century. So Taj-my-Raj is not strictly a Thai lukkreung like us, but one has to expect it with the farangs grabbing countries and their native women like hot pies. Now, Baba Ganoush is Baba Ganoush though he says, That's not even Indian, to which I say, Mashed eggplant 20


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

sounds about right, and him and Chewy are mates. I tell Bean, Ups to Chewy. We ring thimbles together. We drink it down. Baba Ganoush comes off the dance floor with his plumbing pressed against his pants. He spreads out arms and legs as if he needs to dry. He looks at me. Doll, what you staring for? Looking for a piece? He grins and rocks his hips forward. You're not my flavour anymore, I tell him. I'm out for something sweeter. He says, Give me five for rest and I'll show you something real sweet. His hand snakes under me and snatches my bum, the fingers crawl on my skin. I jump upright and throw his arm back at him but he snags my wrist and guides it to the bulge between his legs. I whip myself away, holding my hand out all grubby like his cock. You're sick, I hiss. I lean into Bean’s ribs. Stella comes back to see what this is about. Someone nick my som? She squeezes in. I look away from Baba Ganoush and send over the carafe. Stella’s got sweat slick beads running seams through her body polish. Her maid steps off a dark wall and dabs it for her. Estella, Bean jokes, because Stella's always got a handmaid on her like an appendage, like she has a spare set of arms. We all laugh. Baba Ganoush laughs too. What's that Bean? Stella says. Nothing, Bean smiles. I thought so. I can hear the testy tap-tap of her long black boots. Where's Ford now? Stella asks, breaking the quiet that’s crusted our booth. Her arrow nose points at me because I’m his closest. On the road to Mandalay, I say. Ford’s the chief of some Brit-colony district, recently promoted. He’s also a year ahead because he finished Uni in a rush, not even nineteen, like he was hot to get away from Bangkok or to work even though his family is stout with wealth just like the rest of us. He hungry for money or something? Bean says. Hungry for natives, knowing Ford, I hoot. We split smiles. The time is two. But here in the Metropole, it's always midnight. Doll, you overboard or what? Stella asks, seeing me cave into my seat when Baba Ganoush buggers off. I'm stealing the floor tonight, where are you? she says. Taking time, I tell her face. I'll be up. But all I can feel is that block hot phone on my thigh. And suddenly, even though I'm down some thimbles, I'm feeling dry and cold and not the least krumy. Any bets? I ask her. One, she says. In the corner, snappy body and hair like a lion. Stella tilts her head towards him and smiles. I ask, Playname? Lennon, she says. Lenin the Bolshevik? Bean guffaws at me. No, Lennon like the pop star, she sighs. I tell her, That other tall one was up against you for a while though. Stella laughs. Pope? I don't think girls are his flavour but, she elbows Bean playfully and makes a mickeymouse face, maybe someone else might be interested in him? Immediately, Bean is stiff and callused. What are you saying? Stella dries up quick, saying, I'm kidding, hey, loosen up, just a joke. 21


But Bean's already pointed, sharp, and I want him to put his hand under my skirt again so he can pretend and we'll play too and it'll be okay. Bean doesn't. Stella looks at me like she's sorry and I want to say, It's your own fault, you kwai, but what comes instead is, Thimbles up! We take a whole golden one each. Stella slaps her thimble face-down and skulks off and it's just two of us on the leather, Bean still touched and embarrassed. I need Ford here. He's a speaker and knows what to say in a spot like this. When he left he slipped me a kiss on the head like he's an older brother and said to me: Be loud. Don't let them box you under and when you're done with Uni you should come away from this, to Burma maybe, come visit me and tour the colonies. Yessir, Mr. Ford, I joked and he smiled at me, mighty saow and sympathetic like I didn't understand him, but I did. He was running away. He did it with a job, in some sexy black mobile, an Armstrong-Whitworth, moseying down a highway to Mandalay like he belonged there and not in Bangkok with the rest. Mum had held Ford up like some mythic creature, grasped at the ankle and dunked into a puddle of bhoon. Ford's good. But the good ones always leave. Bye Ancha, he said, because it was only him and Dad who didn't use my playname. Ford called me by my given name. Dad had his own name for me. Bean? I say. What's that, Doll? Hey Bean you know my given name? And maybe if he weren't so sodding saow himself he might've just laughed at me. But we're both in the pits so he says, No what about it? Who uses a given name anymore? I lay my phone on the table where it rattles. But you've never been curious? I ask. Go on then, he says. What's your given name, Doll? I chuck another thimble and already I'm shaking my head and maybe squeezing out eyewater but I always cry from copious som so that's not new. My father used to call me Hon, I tell him. It's not my given name, but that's what he called me. Hon like Honey. Even though he meant Hon for Hoongrabok, his puppet. He said it wrong every time. I giggle because it might be funny and now I'm done speaking but Bean's a little shell-shocked like he doesn't know what to say. I don't really notice because I'm speaking in my head in a voice that's Dad's. Hon. There, there. Dad's patting me or it's Bean but I stand and move away with a soft laugh like a choking noise. I'm looking over jealous at Stella because she's all kindled tonight and I think that I can be like that. Some farangs are by the bar. We don’t usually touch them because for them it's all the same. Thai or luk-kreung, they don't look for the distinction, for the worth in us. We loop in and out of our own kind of mixes. Farangs are for our mothers. But tonight I'm dangerous and when I eye one he's twenty years too old, nearly Dad's age. I stand in front of him 22


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

and cross my legs, present myself like a question mark: Yes or No? Hi, he says. Name? I ask. Harry. I say, A true Brit name. I like that. You a farang then? Of course he is. He says, Farang? Meaning the fruit or the foreigner? I can tell he's playing along. Ah, I say, Harry knows his Thai. A hidden lukkreung? I push against him, stare up into his eyes, move my thumbs under his belt. I stir him. You don't look like a guava to me, must be the other farang I'm talking about. You're right, he tells me. Fully foreign, farang. I arch my back away and we're pelvis to pelvis but shoulders apart. I don't believe that, I say. I lean in. I whisper, Let’s peel you and see. Harry gets me a glassful of wine that's sour and not a quick chuck the way our som is. I swirl it like we’re at some rooftop ball where men like Dad talk business above a big view. Dad once taught me how to sip wine like a real taster, swilling it around on my eleven-year-old tongue, pursing my mouth and making that sucking noise, like slurping air through a straw, or blowing some boy, making an ‘O’ with my mouth and waiting for those juices— white, red—to settle on the tongue with an acrid flavour and sour smell, like cigar spit. It's the smell that makes me think of Dad's scratchy good-night kisses on those evenings when he put me to bed, the leggy wineglass perched on my bedside like a busty woman in red waiting for Dad to finish with his child. But Mum was never that curvy woman, not even now in her next-tospinster age when she's supposed to fill out from the middle. Mum's narrow through and through. Like a boy. Harry and I bend over the bar and I have to look up to talk at his face. He's here with East-Indies Trading. Staying where? The Oriental Hotel, he says, You know it? I nod, Yes, yes, everyone knows. I tell him a story. A doorman there, a real kwai, I say, once mistook me for a floorcountry snakehead, you know, like the ones outside the Metropole looking for a bite. I hoot, A snakehead tried one on Bean tonight and I nearly fell splitting my face so hard. Bean? Harry says like a dull nut. I wave an arm, gulp the purple juice and say, Anyway this doorman tells me that I can't be making an earning around the hotel, that I’m not allowed in. And so I start yelling at him, in English, quite sharp like I might actually tear into him, saying, Who you calling a sodding Thai you chimp! I laugh. Harry frowns and I think: Gosh, head thick and icy as a fridge. Then he says, But aren't you Thai? I throw my juice in his face though I know he doesn't deserve all of it. His drooping wet face makes me want to laugh so I move away but my legs are too narrow, too heavy in my heels and I'm beginning to tip. I'm overboard from too much som and juice. I near the edge. Doll, you're not looking too bold. Chewy's here, his arm and chest against me, and looking daggers at Harry when he tries to follow. Chewy's good at 23


that. Bold as beets, I giggle and purse my purple lips but then I slip and he sets me down quick on a stair beside him. You sit here, Miss, he tells me. Okay, okay, I'm sitting. The stair is spiny metal and mighty chill like winter on my skin and I'm thinking that maybe my knickers will snag and rip but what the hell I shouldn't be in this nest tonight anyway. I should be in the house with Mum who I was real sharp with when we had a rager earlier. She was pushing the meditations—the curbing, the balancing—even if I’d rather drum my head against that mandala than stare at it. She said no midnighting now that Ford’s not here to look-out, and called the troupe all sorts of rag names as if my friends were the inferiors. What came out of me then was something I've kept smothered since Dad left. It was her fault that he went, left us, me only twelve then, for England and maybe another family or just that winter in the photocard he sent back. It was Mum and her gently crooked accent, her limp curtain hair. I said this. Then I told her like I've never done, even at our worst, that it was because of her floorcountry dirt skin. And maybe she slapped me for the kwai daughter that I sometimes am, but I was already climbing into my skirt and onto heels and out the door where Bean & Co. waited to take me away in a sleek mobile that made me think of Ford. I'm on the top step looking down onto natives. We’re half of them, Ford once reminded me, to which I replied, No. They’re half of us. Don’t you forget it. I pressed his chest like that was where we forgot. I remember where my mother comes from, I said, thinking of the snakeheads outside the Oriental, of the natives below me. They’re dancing in a small space, which is artful because up here we're already nose-to-tail, brushing up and warm against each other. There's this one boy in the centre, all solo, no bodies front or back but he's dancing like he doesn't know it. I get sunken in and notice that though it’s desperate, they dance pretty different. This boy doesn't move like he's krumy or loose. When we dance upstairs, we're out to conquer, to take and touch. We snatch at flesh, clothing, hips and hair. But him, he's shying away from the world, arms folding in not out. He moves like he has something to lose. I watch him and think that if I let him go on there will be nothing left of him, only a movement caught on camera, a brown curve of arm. I stand, catch and tear the sheer black of my knickers just like I said and curse. My thumb fits through the hole to smooth skin. The slack fabric is a hanging tail. I slide them off and let the bunch go over the edge like falling confetti. Because I want to, I kick off my heels against the stairs and I'm immediately more solid and natural on the flat of my feet. Feeling open, numb and new like this, I take the steps to the boy. One monsoontime, when I was twelve, Dad came back from a jaunt to Ceylon with a toy, a shadow-puppet, sticks attached to her legs and arms. He 24


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

said it was for me and I thought then that it was me. Her lashes were doublelong—So you can see them once projected, Dad said—and her hair was curling grape vines. Her fingers pointed up at the ends the way dried leaves can. We strung a sheet and I tried to make her dance for us. It was mighty hard to get her into motion. The swinging leg or folding arm was jerky at first, but grew soft and smooth with some coaching from Dad and some coaxing from me. She whorled around the house until one night I crawled into bed with her. In the morning she was all splinters, and in the evening of that year Dad was off to England and not coming back. I'm drawn to the puppet movements in the boy, to the twists too careful they must be manipulated. If he's surprised when I put my hands to his wrists and wrap my body on his body then he doesn't show it, just takes me with him. We don't move together. He moves first and I follow him; he jerks and I'm jolted. We're pressed close. My skin colour on his tree colour and his eye in my eye. Our sweat on my throat. I take his hair in my fingers. Backs rub into me as people bend by, making me feel like we’re all attached. Above us is the edge, the black roofline where another floor still splits the space so square and straight that it looks factory-made. He slows eventually. Music passes overhead. What's your name? he asks in Thai. Rendered in Thai, Doll becomes Don. Ancha, I say instead, and curl my toes under. He moves our lower halves together and nods like he knew it all along. My name is Bhon. I put my chin on his shoulder and shut my eyes. I say it to myself: Bhon. Yes, that sounds just right. And for a moment I've found it: something to keep, to pore over, like my picture of a windy man on an England bench, pushing against something I can't see, his hair mussed. That was the only piece of Dad that Mum kept, a palm-sized photocard so creased that you can't even tell if he’s smiling or grimacing, if he's happy to be there. Bye now, Hon, he had said, like he was just stepping out for an evening puff. There, there. Your mum will be here, which was not an explanation. Ancha, are you alright? Bhon asks because I’m sniffling at his neck, gumming his skin with spit and snot. The Thai makes me think of Mum and my phone that’s still humming at the booth. I want to call her. I’ll maybe tell her that I’m done midnighting and offer to try the mandala meditations again. I’m sorry, I say. I open my eyes and that's when I see Baba Ganoush coming in from a puff. He sees me too.

25


Doll? Baba Ganoush takes Bhon's shoulder, turns him roughly to get an updown eyeing. Baba Ganoush looks like he'll bash Bhon a good one and Bhon just standing there a little lamb-like. Then Baba Ganoush looks at me and sees the hand in Bhon's hand and the feet in no-heels and he knows it's me and not Bhon that needs a bashing. The hell Doll? he says, real muddled now and getting sharp. What's this? he asks. It's like a broken spell because I don't know what this is. I don't look at Bhon when I let go of his hand. It's nothing. Well who's this? He's no one. Baba Ganoush rocks closer to us and I can smell him, his meatsweat and smoky teeth. He lets go of Bhon’s shoulder. Alright, let's go then. As soon as Baba Ganoush turns he's forgotten about Bhon and maybe it could've been well except when we go to take the stairs Bhon follows like he doesn't know his place. Baba Ganoush catches this and twists on the step to give Bhon a mighty shove, sending him over on his head and back. I snap around but there's no cracking or breaking, no blood. Bhon's whole, unharmed except in his narrowed eye which is in my eye for a moment, long enough for me to see something wrecked there. Baba Ganoush puts a cold hand on my frill’s bum to push me up and away. At the top of the stairs, Chewy looks me in the eye like he never does. I’m moving to the table but in the heat of the dance floor, near the core where the bodies are tightest, Baba Ganoush pulls me to him and wraps a strong arm around my back, his hand going behind and under my skirt to the bare skin. I squirm and he hooks me harder against him, grabbing naked flesh and lifting me. I gasp, You kwai! Get—! But then he lets go. Disgusting, he says and steps back. You gave it all away to him. Sometimes, you Thais take after your mothers with your floorcountry habits. He points at the stairs, Your floorcountry roots, he says like he's spitting. You're an animal, I snarl. He smiles. Not animals, he says. Natives. He turns away into people. At the booth, Bean has a rosy girl's head bobbing on his lap but he looks dry and defeated. I squeeze onto the leather feeling stuffed with rags. Mum’s still rattling on my phone. This girl's face comes up and she smiles krumily at me. Bean groans. I dish out the som. What time is it? he asks. It's midnight. We ring thimbles together. We drink it down.

Mai Nardone, a current MFA candidate at Columbia University’s fiction writing program, was raised in Bangkok, Thailand, by an American father and a Thai mother.

26


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

FEATURE ARTIST:

GEOFFREY MILLER

OMINOUS FEAR

27


ARTIST STATEMENT This series of photographs marks a change from my last collection, Indifference (2005), of works; covered is the previously simplified dualistic chromatic vision of the milieu by a varnish of grays shading a world seemly caught in the act of feigning naturalness in order to appear forgotten . The ocean, the primordial beginning of life, is transformed into an icon of the ultimate commencement and the only womb in which the deepest of man’s wounds can heal. The sea is here both baleful and specious, a thing whose lack of motives makes them unknown and sought. But still there is no doubt that it is the referent upon this visual delineation. Taken in Osaka, Japan, Kouchibouguac, Canada and Phuket, Thailand between 2004 and 2006, these works are assaying to reside among a space unoccupied by myself. There is a maturity here previously camouflaged; when I seemed incapable of interaction with the world. Moving through the ambit of the series there develops a circulation of thought which cycles a dichotomy in three steps; the nexus of which holds the hypothesis of this collection – Ominous Fear. The premise here is that the now is actually false, to the extent that it has any universal property, construct, existing independently for each individual – a mental state designed to understand a person’s movement through the fourth dimension of time. The present, the now, is actually a state of uncertainty as one attempts to translate the possible futures into a path of the past. This fluidity of future and past time is transcribed to the viewer here through the subject matter of the compositions – clouds, water and sand – elements of nature to which no present or permanent state can be attributed. Elements to which motion is a first order condition granting us almost a window to the fifth dimension; a place where all possible futures are held. But there is a stopping point given to the viewer, a solid, immutable past – a boardwalk of wood. This is the inaccessible past, a thing which can be remembered but from which the viewer is denied recourse. Working through the series this past is a starting point, as if a compass heading is being taking, before turning to the future. The viewer is then asked to move through the possibilities of the future finding there what they need to step out of the falsity of this now. Going back again to the previous series of work, Indifference (2005), it is obvious that I have ended my hibernation from humanity but sit now wondering both where and where is next. The universality of these questions or conditions is what lends to this series its relevance; we are very much living in a world obsessed with the ‘now’ so much so indeed that at times it seems very little attention is given to the future. To conclude, this work is asking us to wake up from the falsity of the now and become active again in finding a future.

28


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

29


30


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

31


32


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

33


34


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

Geoffrey Miller is a lecturer of composition currently teaching at Qatar University in Doha, Qatar. His most recent publications are “Ascension” (short fiction) in Stepping Stone Magazine, May 2012, “Worldly Temptation – 005” (photography) in Existere Journal of Arts and Literature, Vol. 33 No. 2, “Hanoi – Dissemination” (photography) in Superstition Review, Vol. 9, “On a Balcony in Cusco - 008” (photography) in THIS Literary Magazine, Vol. 14, “Manila” (short fiction) in Anok Sastra, Vol. 6, "Motionless Movement" (photography) in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Vol. 15 and "Istanbul" (photography) in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Vol. 10 No. 4. His photography series “The Streets of Sri Lanka” is also on permanent display in the Prick of the Spindle Online Gallery.

35


THEY SAY THIS IS HOW THE HEART WORKS W. Todd Kaneko

“Today, Japanese Americans are not often viewed as unassimilable aliens; since the racial turmoil of the 1960's, indeed, they have been portrayed as the "model minority," a group with high educational and professional achievements, model citizens free of most social pathology who do not agitate or disturb the status quo. Has this once vilified ethnic group managed to escape at last the effects of its wartime incarceration?” —Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Quiet and furious labor—they say this is how the heart works to safeguard a home. Sanctuary or confinement—they say this body aches for transformation into animals that refuse to be eaten. Men have locked their bones in upright configurations, patient now

36


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

for new trees. Women have grown accustomed to beautiful hair, long for fresh plumage to set the backwoods ablaze. The cranes steer clear of me afraid of fingers that tear tail feathers from fragile forms, in fear of fishermen who shear wings from seabirds. They say this is how my grandfather lost his tail, how my grandmother lost her will to sail over seascapes. Furious shame, goddamn moon— this is how my body wants to curdle something sweet, how my skeleton aches to be filed into points. This is how my teeth chew my name.

W. Todd Kaneko lives and writes in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His stories and poems have appeared in Bellingham Review, NANO Fiction, Los Angeles Review, Lantern Review, Southeast Review, Blackbird and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop. He teaches at Grand Valley State University.

37


CAST

Neil Aitken

—to convert a variable from one type to another How easily one thing becomes another in a language prone to fluidity. A shadow thrown against a wall now willed into a number or a word—a strange alchemy of sorts, somehow akin to the conversion of the apparently common and worthless into the valued commodities of this world. The skins used by the goldbeater, Babbage writes, are produced from the offal of animals. How is it, he ponders, that from the hoofs of weathered horses and cattle come such beautiful crystals of yellow salt? What lies at the heart of such litany? Babbage, with pen moving, translating the world into a series of unanticipated revelations, each more intimate than the last. Just as the compiler now ponders like a god at judgment, weighing each line of code with what it means or fails to mean. How each casting of a thing engenders the creation of another.

38


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

Nothing ever is the same after translation, after the name has been hefted, then posited to the waves. The dark world dimming in its simple downward trajectory of terms, the endless run of zeroes widening back to the farthest shores. This melancholy of form. To be. To become. The shape of nothing, how it is skinned and laid to rest. In the hour of our words and their departures, we are captive here to whatever comes, whatever returns, be it beauty or love, or the unfurled wings of their manifold ruin.

Neil Aitken is the author of The Lost Country of Sight, winner of the 2007 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, and founding editor Boxcar Poetry Review. A former computer programmer originally from Canada, he is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California. His poems have appeared in Barn Owl Review, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Sou'wester, and elsewhere. He is currently working on a new book of poetry entitled Babbage's Dream which explores the themes of beauty, exile, and transformation in the world of computers and computer programmers.

39


THREE DREAMS OF KOREA: NOTES ON ADOPTION Lee Herrick 1. This one happens in morning as a nearby crow wakes me, calling God, God, look at this : I am on the steps of a church, wrapped in Monday’s Korea Times telling of the drought in Pusan. You can live by the water and still die of thirst, and I, there on the cold brick steps, am dying. But dying means the presence of breath. This one happens on Hangul Day, Independence Day in Seoul, where girls in purple satin hanboks parade through downtown streets. In this dream I make eye contact with every single one of them. Another boy, a few years older than I, rides a tricycle in the parade, trailing the girls. He sees me. He winks, as if he knows how everything will end. 2. This one happens in the evening just as daylight surrenders to the moon, and the flute of dusk arrives. It is cool. I am wrapped in a sky blue blanket, so whoever finds me thinks kindly of whoever left me. The one who finds me is a nun. 40


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

She opens the door, looking beyond me into the tired night, then looks down. She gasps softly. She says, ahneyong, you sweet beautiful child. She bends down like an angel and takes me into her arms. 3. This one happens in the cruelest moment of the day, as heat curls flowers into dirt. A man, drunk with despair, screams at the sun. His sorrow is a collage of moths and ants, crawling from his face to his chest. I watch from the steps. It is the year of the dog and I am a part of it : unable to speak but an expert at listening : to the old man from Laos who sits on the steps two buildings down : he is telling another man how Hmong children become human on the third day of life, after the soul calling ceremony and the burning of animal flesh. He smokes from a pipe and closes his eyes as he inhales. I can hear all of this. I can hear a woman rustling inside the church. She is a dancer, so she speaks with her hands. I hear her rise, sweetly from her knees to her feet. This means she believes in dreams. I hear her slide her hand, sweetly 41


along her hair. This means she believes in the sun. I hear her move towards me and place her open palm on the door. This means she welcomes me. This means she believes in the miracle of possibility.

Reprinted with permission.

42


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

STEAMED DUNGENESS CRAB [1] WITH NANAY’S SAUCE Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga

Gambling websites are now placing odds on what species will be first to become extinct as a result of the oil belching from BP's ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico. -- Care2, website

At your local Asian market, purchase enough live crabs for your entire party, plus one. [2] Items you need: Giant stock pot (80 quart or so for more than 3 crabs), a 2-quart glass bowl [3] (should cover pot’s bottom), tongs, cookie sheet. Prepare your pot before cooking: add enough water to fill bottom of pan (about two inches), place bowl in pot, put pot on stove on medium high heat. Clean crab. Pull crab one by one from bag with tongs. Carefully [4] scrub crab with dish brush [5], place in pot, replace lid.

1. After our second date, Bob asked me if I like crab. “Of course I do,” I replied, expecting cold legs packaged in styrofoam, wrapped in plastic and purchased at a grocery store that sells only parts of fish. 2. San Francisco crabs claw up case slime, swat one another in their desperation to reach the top where a plastic-aproned man in galoshes reads our fingers, outstretched hands: six, large. We peer into clouded tank looking for slick, separation. Though we know, or think we know, they do not come from where oil bubbles from busted pipes, we clutch snapping paper bag, rush toward exit—trying to move faster than thought. 3. In order to keep the cats from reverting back to beasts and house from smelling like the underbelly of a fishing boat, we catch crab fat before it hits water. 4. Bob assigns each crab to an eater, depending on its personality. The 43


crab climbing, pinching, fighting, refusing: “This one’s Bridget’s,” he says, flinging it into boiling bath. Each rebel crab I consume verifies my struggle, feeds my otherness. 5. Bits of sea green, speckles of weed: what we found before the spill. A year later we wonder if we’ll have to add dispersant to our cleaning regimen. Soon, perhaps there will be no more crab to clean. Tradition will become memory—or memory, tradition.

Prepare Nanay’s Sauce while crab cooks. Find your balance: Soy sauce, cracked pepper, red wine vinegar, crushed garlic: you’ll know it when you’ve got it. [6] Let crab steam for 20 mins: boil till the fat emerges. [7]

6. Nanay seeps into each meal we make; we grind out her love in crushed garlic, splashed soy, cracked pepper. Family treads on in death through cracks in wood, the sheen of smooth surfaces. Yet we assume we’ll be forgotten, fear it, procreate to defer it, but we linger on in our decisions, in what we protect, what we care for. Nanay used rice vinegar; Bob’s uses red wine: tradition should be open to change. Each time we prepare the sauce we give thanks that we still have crab to dip. He rests his head on my shoulder, whispers into my ear: “a little more pepper, splash of vinegar.” Dips spoon into sauce. “Yeah baby, that’s it.” He tickles my side, fingers slip under my shirt. These are the rewards of making another’s tradition your own. 7. We don’t know for sure whether crabs feel pain, and if they do, is it the same pain we feel? And if it is, would that stop us from cooking them alive? Leave kitchen if you cannot bear the cling, cling scrape of crab legs against metal, the horror of knowing you’re steaming a life away. 44


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

Gone are the days of clobbering fish on banks, chopping off chicken heads, plucking feathers; we prefer clean deaths, animal parts parsed, packaged. Antibacterial hand treatments, bleached counters. We sterilize ourselves, take museums and Disneyland as real, buy branded educations. But simulating life via simulacra does not take those feelings away; does a crab cling cling against a pot if no one is there to hear it? So as not to frighten our guests, we display crab crackers and meat diggers on the table—a centerpiece. We prefer gnashing teeth through shell, spitting leftover bits from tongues, slurping juice, sliding out meat chunks.

The Art of Breaking Crab Get out your crab crackers Place garbage cans next to chairs and paper towel rolls on table Divvy up crab; don’t forget which belongs to whom (see note 4) Flip crab upside down Remove intestines and mouth Flip crab back over and remove the lid (top part of shell) Catch thick green tomalley in the lid, discard—or scoop onto rice. [8] Place hands on either side of crab, legs woven between fingers. Rest fingers on body bend in and out until body snaps in two Wrap fingers over a leg and gently pull leg from body leaving flesh hanging from shell Peel shell from body meat, place meat on tongue Dip second bite into Nanay’s sauce Cracking shells: dig forefinger into softest part of shell and twist away with a smooth motion Crack, peel, dip, chew. [9] Delight in every morsel. [10]

45


8. There’s something empowering about pushing it onto its back, forced submission. Maybe this is what we don’t want to lose to the sludge. Digging fingers, silencing the dead. Tear at it the way you sometimes want to tear at yourself. This is one place when an act of violence is forgiven, even expected. Kkuuuuaaaaa, the shell releases sending shivers up your arms, liquid seeping down your wrists. No longer will you find eggs under the shell; when Bob was little, they banned female crabbing, over-crabbed females with delectable eggs. Today we find green tomalley: a funny name for cholesterol-filled glop; it jiggles around the lid, seeps into the body; they say it’s delicious on rice. In the Philippines, they bottle and re-sell the tomalley. Perhaps one day we will have only preserved tomalley, jars of gelatinous green, no more fresh meat to devour, just bitter butter on rice. I shake my tomalley into the trash. It’s worth a taste, at least once. We must eat of other cultures in order to embrace difference. 9. Where else can you snap a corpse in half in front of dinner guests? Close your eyes, hear the crab crack, feel warm juice trickle down your forearm: imagine what you will. It is your adventure. If the civilized press and twist doesn’t bust him open, press the leg between your teeth—chomp down. He’ll give sweeter meat than you can imagine. Pry, twist, bite. Each whole chunk a reward. The claw still intact sans its crust waves a bouncing finger at you, shaming you—or inviting you forth. Do not dip the first bite; you must partake of the salty sea, milk-white meat tender between teeth. You can never get that first taste back. No matter how hard our stomachs push against our belts, the sight of one last crab sleeping on the cookie sheet—cream shell turned brick, pale yellow fat oozing, smell of boiled sea—someone reaches in, offers it up, sits back and begins peeling. 10. We ravage the sea, pile shell upon shell, dig, purge, spill, disperse. How much longer can this go on?

46


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga holds an MA in Creative Writing from CSU, Sacramento where she won the 2009 Bazanella Award for Graduate Creative Nonfiction. Her work has recently been published in Under the Gum Tree where she served as a guest editor for the summer 2012 issue. She is also the Contributing Editor for the food blog foodloveandtradition.com and an Assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine. She works as an Adjunct Assistant English Professor for the Los Rios Community College District and is currently working on a hybrid-creative nonfiction book-length work, a novel, and various annotated recipes.

47


SHUFFLING WATER

Jen Palmares Meadows

I’ve never heard my sister apologize for anything. I’ve never seen my sister cry. She does both now, her voice slow, hollow. As the eldest daughter it is her responsibility to make the calls, to wake the dreamers. He sleeps next to me and I shake him, nails digging into the flesh of his upper arm, my hand still gripping the telephone. He doesn’t wake. Perhaps he dreams of robots in an Asimov world, or of another woman, all peach breasts and bony ankles. Water gathers at the ends of my arm hairs and the stick of cold moisture clings to my sheets. Outside, a lamppost glimmers an orange slice of light into my bedroom. My eyes wander to a bookshelf, and I mourn the gray blocks standing upright, spine to spine, like small tombs marching. When I thumb through their pages later, they will have ruffled from the wet, curling into themselves. I dream of another dark, another bed.

I am sandwiched between the wall and the warm feel of loving fat securing my place. My sister sleeps in the bed next to ours, and I can hear her smile. This is her smile before adulthood, when it didn’t curl up and turn into rolling eyes. A cheap fan stirs the warm Long Beach air, the repetitive thumps from a loose mooring lull me into my grandmother’s stomach. This is my earliest memory of being born into a second mother, my grandmother. My Lola. Her lips turned down in the corners and were the same grey brown of the carabao. In the afternoon, she sinks into her recliner to watch soap operas, a blanket pulled over fat calves and dark feet with hard hoofed nails. I crawl under her blanket and curl beneath the tent her knees make, breathing the not unpleasant medicinal scent of Salonpas and muumuu. This is my second womb. 48


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

During a commercial, I sit on her lap and ask that she lift her arms. She complies, and I push and pull at the swinging fat of her sagging tricep, which reminds me of a brown elephant’s ear. “Lola,” I say, pinching at the loose skin of her wrist, “doesn’t that hurt?” To grow old? “No,” she smiles her downturned smile. A long hair blossoming from a mole at the corner of her mouth moves when she speaks. Her lucky mole, she calls it. At dinner, I watch her eat fish and rice, the hair moving up and down with each chew, slipping in and out of her mouth like a piece of grain. Always I am dreaming of her as some animal soaring, grazing, treading over distant shores. My mother remembers differently. “Inay was so strict,” she recalls. “And oh—if she got mad, she would put her hand between your legs and—” she makes a twisted fist like she’s about to snap her fingers. I remember instead a woman with a womb below her knees.

My fingers run along his shoulders and back. It used to be that if I woke him in the middle of the night, he’d roll over and I’d be on my back for thirty minutes until I could fake a believable orgasm. Three years we’ve been together, and I can barely shake him awake, let alone fluff him into a hard on at two in the morning. I shake the shadow again. He wakes mid-laugh, a swallowing laugh, absent from waking, an awkward sound in the darkness. My sister’s voice explains the necessity of dialysis, the removal of excess water from the blood. I understand only the failures of waking.

In the time leading to her passing, Lola spoke of dreaming. Aunt Julia, long dead, beckoned to her from a shore. Whether these were real dreams or water induced stupors, we weren’t sure. Lola’s hands made 49


the repetitive movements of a mahjong player shuffling tiles in midair, stirring the blankets at her waist. Eyes closed, she spent her last moments enjoying the satisfactory passing of time at a card table amongst family and friends. Masarap ang tulog niya, my mother said. Her sleep is sweet. I too fill with water, shaking with the wet around me. I hear the mahjong tiles shuffling and shuffling, rolling beneath her hands, and my hands begin to move too, shuffling, shuffling, the tiles crashing over one another, not unlike the sound of breaking waves over sand. And we two, my Lola and I, wade along the shore together laughing. Aunt Julia runs ahead, holding the hem of her duster above the water. And we are shuffling and laughing, only—I am elsewhere. Waking. He laughs and my hands go to pluck the apple from his throat, the moles from his skin. I long to see arms and legs flail. I rise from the bed, tear the pages from their spines, moisture whipping the lines from my thumbs. I sit awake, books intact, his laugh still lingering.

Jen Palmares Meadows is a Filipina American writer and the author of the chapbook Annotated Pai Gow Poker. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Denver Quarterly, Chicken Skin & Impossible Trees, Tayo Literary Magazine, Walang Hiya and Filipinas Magazine. She received her MA in Creative Writing at California State University, Sacramento.

50


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

INTERVIEW WITH

LEE HERRICK

Interview by: Kenji Liu

It might sometimes be trite to describe poetry as a meditation or prayer, but Lee Herrick's poems in This Many Miles from Desire are exquisitely so and much more. Lying among these pages is a heart wide enough to encompass everything human-made – identity, family, nation – in compassion. I often read poetry for its ability to lay bare the painful and beautiful details of society and mortal life, and once in a while forget that poetry can also zoom out, put it all in startling perspective. The contradictions and complexities of human life, the true and false, are held inside Herrick's poems, without judgment. Lee Herrick was born in Daejeon, South Korea and adopted at ten months. Lee Herrick is the author of Gardening Secrets of the Dead (forthcoming January 2013, WordTech Editions) and This Many Miles from Desire (WordTech Editions, 2007). His poems have been published in ZYZZYVA, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Berkeley Poetry Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Many Mountains Moving, The Bloomsbury Review, MiPOesias, and others, including anthologies such as Seeds from a Silent Tree: Writings by Korean Adoptees, Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita, and Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California's Great Central Valley, 2nd Edition. His essays have been published in Korean Quarterly and college textbooks, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was a 2000 Los Angeles Poetry Festival Award finalist. He is editor of New Truths: Writing in the 21st Century by Korean Adoptees, for Asian American Poetry and Writing.

51


ON WRITING, GENERALLY KL: Please share some of your writing rituals--do you have a special time or place to write? What does your desk look like, and what lives on it? LEE HERRICK [LH]: I love the story of John Keats’ writing rituals, when he would bathe and then get dressed in his best clothes and sit at a desk and write. I don’t have such formal traditions, but I have come to know when the muse calls, as it were, and I have become adept at responding, whenever and wherever it’s necessary. Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in a library basement at UCLA on a typewriter he rented for ten cents per half-hour. I write on a Macbook Air, and I have an old typewriter I love, as well as a handful of my own little rituals. I write in many different places and times. I suppose if I have a ritual with regard to a writing place, it’s that I cannot write for very long in the same place. While my daughter naps, I sometimes write a few lines at the kitchen table. I’ll type phrases into my iPhone if I am in a long line. To generate something substantial in length, I write in a coffee shop with my headphones on. Sometimes there isn’t even music playing. The headphones signify that I am not in coffee house chat mode, so I can write without being interrupted. I sometimes write to music: The Ahn Trio, Pavement, Grandaddy, or something heavier like Rage Against the Machine. I don’t write at a desk very often. My desks are nice places for other teaching and poetry-related work I do, though. In my office at work (at Fresno City College), I have a nice view facing east, so I get a nice morning sun through the trees while students walk to and from class. The desk is surrounded by books, two framed Nikki McClure prints, “Revive” and “Voice,” some cards and photographs from friends and family, and a few things I’ve gathered from various travels---a mug from the DMZ in Korea, a piece of pottery from Mexico City. A photograph of my daughter and fiancé. At home, my office is sort of a disaster zone at the moment. If I write at home, it’s usually on the couch or in a recliner. Much of This Many Miles from Desire was written outdoors (plazas, cafes, parks) in South Korea, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. White 52


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

legal pads. When I traveled a lot, I found most countries in Asia and Latin America to call out the writing. KL: How do you know when a poem is ready for publication? LH: I normally do not send out poems for publication for a year or so after I have written them. This is not a steadfast rule, but it just usually turns out that way. I have many poems that sit for a long time. I feel like a poem is ready for publication if I am simultaneously surprised and rooted by its language, imagery, and intent after many months or a year. Poems should sit a while. I know what weaknesses my poems sometimes have, and it often takes a while for it to surface or for it to become apparent (to me). I also have to be beyond the concern whether or not an editor or publisher will accept it or not, because that does not have any bearing on the poem’s birth, quality, or finality much of the time, in my opinion. Those aspects of the poem are between the poet and the poem, as far as I am concerned. KL: Many of your poems are free verse while retaining for the most part a sense of form or pattern. How intentional is form and pattern for you in writing and editing? LH: Form, the line, and the stanza are all important concerns for me. I remain most enamored with the Petrarchan sonnet. I respect the historical and cultural aspects of form----the Korean sijo, for example. Form and the line are two of the important factors that make poetry what it is, after all. I think in terms of the line a great deal. But I’m not overly concerned being contained by a form. I am always mindful of it, but I am never restrained by it.

ON WRITING THIS MANY MILES FROM DESIRE KL: How was This Many Miles From Desire born, and how long did it take to complete? Please share some of your process of compiling and ordering the manuscript. LH: In 1999, I had a chapbook of poems called Coping With Vertigo published by a small press in Oregon. A handful of those poems, including “Belief,” were published in This Many Miles from Desire, which was a title I had in mind starting around 2000, many years before it was ever published. At first I wasn’t even sure what 53


it meant. I just liked the sound of it. This is often enough---the sound of words placed together. I told myself that if I ever published a book of poems, it would be called This Many Miles from Desire. Fortunately, the poems I wrote in the years after that fit with the title, although I wasn’t writing with the title of the book in mind. In 2001, the trajectory of my life changed---I got married and we began to travel a great deal. My marriage ended relatively amicably about four years ago, in 2008, and so most of This Many Miles from Desire was written in a six year span between 2000 and 2006 while I was in my early thirties. During this time, I spent a lot of time in Latin America---hiking through the Andes Mountains to Machu Picchu in Peru, the Amazon Basin in Bolivia, exploring Teotihuacan and the San Cristobal area of southern Mexico learning about the Zapatista movement, visiting the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala and Copan Ruinas in Honduras. I felt like I could write forever in these countries. I would sit in the plazas for hours and write while pigeons strutted around. The poetry is palpable---the colors, the faces, the history, the reverence for the dead---how could one not write? I also developed a great reverence for the poets of the region---Octavio Paz, Claribel Alegria, and Roque Dalton are some of my favorite poets to this day. I also traveled to Asia--small towns in China, the vibrancy of Seoul, and the rugged beauty of many countries in Southeast Asia. I wrote on the sloped hills of Seoul while smartly dressed twenty-somethings spilled drunk out of the clubs. My second book was written with more of Korea in mind, while the first book had elements of Latin America and Southeast Asia mainly. I felt like the ghosts of every city were with me as I wrote. It was an amazing stretch of writing. I will never write in that particular mental space again (before I had spent a significant amount of time in Korea, before birth family search, before fatherhood) but I am grateful for the time and grateful for the book that was written. I was writing a lot during that time. Before I knew it, I had enough poems to compile the manuscript. From years prior, I had a title that I would end up using---perhaps I had been writing that book unconsciously all my life. The idea of the title, in short, is the desire for the natural world’s beauty and not the material or the possessions of it. In the years of writing that book, I gained tenure and bought a house, and while I value these things deeply, I strove and wrote in an opposite direction, away

54


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

from the desire for objects and toward a simple love for the natural world and a higher power. I found poetry there, mostly. I took the advice of some friends when I began to think about an order. I printed up all the poems, spread them out on the floor, and began to piece them together. It took a few weeks, if I remember correctly. I wasn’t sure how the poems could work together. The sections helped, I think. The poems in the first section relate to the idea of suffering. The poems in the second section relate to music. The last section’s poems relate to the Chinese proverb that begins the section: “Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.” The ordering process took me several months. KL: When the individual poems in this collection were being written, was the intent to create a book on certain themes, or was it a more fluid and perhaps random process? LH: It was random and fluid. Themes emerged eventually--perseverance, grace, music, God, individual search, the self in the world. KL: You use three quotes to separate the manuscript into sections. The quotes all point in some way to awareness or enjoyment of the moment. If someone described your poetry as "spiritual," how would you respond? LH: I would be pleased. I know what the poems are to me, and of course a reader will bring his or her own world(s) to each poem. I can see how a person would read my work that way. I’ve been told that and other similar things at readings. One word I hear sometimes in conjunction with my work is “calming.” I like that. The Latin etymology of the word “spiritual” implies “of breathing or of the church, of the spirit.” I don’t think I had an ordinary upbringing (if that exists)---I was born in South Korea, for some reason given up for adoption, and then adopted by a couple who were living in San Francisco. It makes sense that I should think about spirit, God, language, and intimacy, then, doesn’t it? I also think “spiritual” is a fair term to describe my poetry because I have seen people and places around the world, mostly in developing nations, that remind me how ever present God is and how grace is everywhere and within us.

55


It’s hard (for me, at least) not to write of the spirit, or of a personal, cultural, or (inter) national spirit when you think of human trauma, war, the quiet losses we suffer, and the beautiful resilience required to survive and even prosper. KL: The theme of dreams plays a big role in these poems. How do dreams influence your writing? LH: Dreams, which one has at night while sleeping, do not play any role at all. I can only remember about five dreams from my entire life. I don’t keep a dream journal or concern myself with my dreams’ meanings. As a day-to-day habit, though---dreams in the day as an involuntary creative thinking space, something that enters my consciousness from years ago while I should be focusing on the steering wheel or what I am cooking---dreams are crucial. Aren’t we almost always thinking or dreaming? Don’t we almost always think of the poem? Or, how often do we realize that we are possibly living one? As an in-between space, dreams are vital. They transport us, but they also serve as channels between us and the dead, between us and the people like us, our common dreams or aspirations. On a specific writing note, I sometimes use the dream as a trigger strategy. For example, “Three Dreams of Korea: Notes on Adoption,” is entirely made up. I never had those dreams. I wrote them. But it was incredibly liberating because I knew I must have had dreams of Korea--I just couldn’t remember them. I also wrote that poem before I ever went back to Korea as an adult. I couldn’t access any specific images or sounds, so I wrote them. I created an important reality in the poem, so to speak. KL: Are there any poems in the collection that in their final/current forms look nothing like the first drafts? Could you discuss one of those poems from the collection and its editing/revision process? LH: One poem that went through many major structural revisions was “Korean Adoptee Returns to Seoul.” There were two levels of struggle with that poem. That was the first poem I wrote after returning to Korea as an adult, which was a life-changing and very difficult, eye-opening experience, so I struggled accessing the specific parts of my return that should appear in the poem. Secondly, the form did not take root for a while. Eventually, it was

56


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

published in couplets. It also grew in length the more I revised. I can’t even remember what it looked like as a first draft. KL: As a collection, Desire leaves me with an impression of prayer and a desire to seek beauty. Would you agree with this characterization, and how or how not? LH: Absolutely (and I appreciate the close reading). I was not raised in any church, but I can tell you that I have a close relationship with God and am grateful for his grace for reasons that I will keep for myself, but they have to do with finding acceptance and peace after sorting some very difficult times related to being given up for adoption, raised in a Caucasian (albeit loving and wonderful) family, and understanding race and racism as they have affected my life in the United States. Maybe the book is one long prayer. Maybe it is one long story of one person’s learning about God. Maybe it is one long meditation. As far as beauty goes, the book is about seeking, yes, but even more so it is about realizing it is around you and in you at all times. You shouldn’t have to search very long if you really pay attention, even in a city like Fresno, which has so much grit. I wrote that book while I was in some breathtaking places. I walked on The Great Wall. I walked on the beach of the Yellow Sea in Qingdao. I spent three days at Angkor Wat. The little towns outside San Salvador. The Amazon Basin in Bolivia. The natural physical beauty is stunning. In the poems, I keep in mind the human element and historical and political aspects of those places. I was most taken by the human struggle and loss involved with the corresponding beauty. As breathtaking as the cities are, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful things in the world is a person’s perseverance through major adversity or trauma. Struggle. Overseas or right there in your own city, near your own computer. Of course, we cannot admire or view it like architectural wonders in a foreign country. But, perhaps that is what the poems and novels and essays are--little temples of truth, survival and homage. KL: What’s next? What kind of writing are you doing these days, and what kinds of themes are you exploring? LH: My second book, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, comes out in January 2013. The tone is very different than the first book. I’ve now been to Korea and seen more of it, including the city of my 57


birth. I am a father. My marriage ended. Through this, there is rebirth and growth, so the poems have those themes. To be honest, I feel like a very different person than I did in 2005 or 6. I hope there is still prayer and beauty in the book. I hope this isn’t too trite, but I would say the major theme is love. At the moment, my third book is slowly taking shape in my mind. I am not sure what it will look like in a year or two, but right now I want to pursue my love for the sonnet more than I have in the past. I am also playing with the idea of memoir-like poems that dismantle and re-assemble cultural and linguistic norms. I want to do something new. I am enjoying fatherhood and family and friendships like you wouldn’t believe. I am getting married next year to an amazing woman. Mostly, I am enjoying the vast open road ahead, whatever poems may come.

58


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

INTERVIEW WITH

AIMEE PHAN

Interview by: Sunny Woan

I started reading The Reeducation of Cherry Truong (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) on a Friday evening and could not put it down until I finished it. Then immediately, I contacted my circle of reader friends to recommend the book. Reeducation exceeded my expectations. Initially I wasn’t sure whether it would transcend the Asian family sagas we read throughout the 90s. Well, it does. Why? Characters like Kim-Ly, for starters. She comes to life right off the page, flaws, biases, fierce love of family, survival instincts, and all. What’s more, to reconcile three generations, multiple continents, disparate histories, and colliding family values precipitated by marriage would have been a daunting task on any writer. For Phan, the craft seems effortless. Her stories resonate with sincerity. I grow fond of her characters; I empathize with them, even the ones who do harm. Aimee Phan has been quite the rising star. Her debut collection of short stories, We Should Never Meet (St. Martin’s Press, 2004) was named a Notable Book by the Kiriyama Prize and a finalist in the 2005 Asian American Literary Awards. Reeducation will no doubt earn deserving accolades as well. Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Guernica, The Rumpus, and The Oregonian, among others. She was awarded the 2010 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship and currently serves on the faculty of the MFA Writing Program and the Writing and Literature Program at California College of the Arts. Phan earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she won a Maytag Fellowship. After the critical acclaim both We Should Never Meet and Reeducation have received, Aimee Phan is en route to becoming the leading luminary of Vietnamese American literature. From her works "Miss Lien" and the title story in We Should Never Meet to characters like Cherry Truong and her brother Lum in Reeducation, Phan's books are 59


memorable, resilient against the passing of time, and her writing style positively vivid. SW: How did you come across the title of your novel? Why is "reeducation" so central of a theme? AIMEE PHAN [AP]: Cherry somewhat naively believes that if she just learns “the truth,” if she is able to uncover all of her family’s secrets, she will be complete. She will be able to repair her family and move on with her life. But she acts under this assumption that there is only one truth, when there are in fact many. I think the intention behind the reeducation camps in Vietnam—these prison camps that South Vietnamese loyalists were forced to suffer through in order to survive in Vietnam— operated under similar misconceptions. If only the South Vietnamese perspective could be corrected—if they could only understand the Communists, then we could all live together as one country and attain peace. But instead, I think the reeducation camps turned into this symbol of everything the South Vietnamese feared about Communists: forced labor, propaganda, brainwashing. So the title was my way of working around these notions of truth and misunderstanding, how they continue to bring together and separate people, despite their best intentions. SW: Your treatment of time/history with Cherry Truong's family is amazing--that you can span decades and continents inside of a novel is credited largely to your novel's structure. How did you come upon the structure of your novel? How did you know that was the right structure for your story? AIMEE PHAN [AP]: This novel came together from several short stories and a novella I’d been working on over the years. They all centered on characters of Vietnamese descent dealing with familial relationships and pressures. It dawned on me one day that perhaps they were from the same family. Suddenly their relationships and connections became much more interesting and complicated. I come from two very large families. I have over twenty biological aunts and uncles. When you count the people they married and my cousins, the number of relatives triple. I wanted the novel’s structure to reflect the vastness and complexities of such a large, multigenerational 60


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

family. I realized that while this was Cherry’s narrative about uncovering her family’s history, it was important to have other chapters narrated by family members who had differing perspectives and information that she didn’t have. So to alternate and interrupt her narrative with other, possibly conflicting, voices was intentional. And of course I worried that it would just look (and sound) like a holy mess. But seeing it all together now, this structure made the most sense, and I’m very happy with it. SW: Did you feel any pressure to cut characters or certain narratives out of your novel? If yes, what got cut and why? AP: No, though I had to remind myself more than a few times that Cherry’s narrative was central and I had to make her a priority. As a writer, I think you can sometimes favor one character over another to write, and Cherry was often low on my list. I realize now it’s because she challenged me the most. I think the other characters that only have one chapter to narrate could potentially feel sexier and more exciting because they didn’t have to carry the novel the way Cherry did. But Cherry was the driving force of the book, and I needed her to be as compelling—if not more—than the rest of the narratives. SW: One theme that Reeducation touches on is the concept of memory and perspectives. The Truongs and the Vos hold very different perspectives of the same memory and even while Cherry struggles to get a grasp on both sides’ memories and perspectives, she then loses a critical part of her memory herself. It isn’t clear whether the novel offers a reconciliation of these tensions, other than suggesting that truth is elusive. What were your intentions behind the exploration and development of this theme? AP: Cherry begins the novel as sort of a naïve detective. She believes that if she can sort out her family’s past, uncover and understand why everyone is mad at her, then she can fix her family, and fix herself. Many of the characters in this novel are haunted by their past—or obsessed with their version of the past and the people who betrayed them. And they all believe they are right. But as Cherry begins collecting these stories and perspectives, piecing together her family’s history, the result isn’t what she expected. So I do think her journey is one that 61


many people can relate to. It’s growing up and realizing that the past is much greyer than we ever imagined it. SW: In designing your novel, were there any activist objectives or motivations? If yes, how were they implied in Reeducation? If no, then what were your main reasons for writing Reeducation and what compelled or inspired you to write this particular story? AP: I really did want to write about characters that felt sincere and important to me, characters that I loved as much as my family. I do find the Vietnamese Diaspora after the war to be an incredibly powerful narrative because I grew up absorbing these stories from my family. They mean so much to me, and I love the idea of leaving behind a book that will capture some of these impressions. It’s difficult to walk into a bookstore and realize that in the Vietnam section, the overwhelming majority of literature is written from non-Vietnamese authors. More specifically, it is written from the Western perspective. Whatever readers think, whether they believe me or not, whether they think I wrote a good book or not, at least I’m putting it out there. And I’ve tried my hardest not to write a story about martyrs, war victims or prostitutes. SW: A general, broad criticism of Asian American women writers is their negative, arguably unfair representations of Asian American male characters. However, Reeducation offers a balanced treatment of its male characters. They’re flawed, but real and threedimensional. Were you conscious of such characterizations when writing or did these male characters develop organically? On that note, have you received any criticisms of your male characters? AP: They developed organically. I haven’t heard any complaints about my male characters, but there is still time. I do only have two male perspectives in the novel, so on a larger macro level I worried that the novel leaned too heavily with the women in the families. But I felt as close to the male characters as I did to the female characters in this book, especially Sanh and Lum. Their chapter, which comes near the end of the book, felt like one of the most important sections for me. They surprised me in ways that my women didn’t.

62


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

SW: You’ve said that “literature can have a profound impact on your social and cultural identity.”1 In what ways do you hope Reeducation impacts the social and cultural identity of Asian Americans? Of Americans generally? AP: I hope my characters feel as vivid and complex as I intended them to be. I do not see them as types or clichés, as martyrs, war refugees, or victimized prostitutes. They lie, they betray, they love, they forgive. Just like many other human beings do. So I hope my novel can do what other excellent pieces of Asian American literature can do: contribute and complicate the Asian American identity.

1

Source: http://www.asiaarts.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=16799 (last visited July 19, 2012). 63


CONTRIBUTOR BIOS FICTION Aditya Desai received his MFA in Fiction at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he currently teaches. He spends the rest of the time in wanderlust about Baltimore and Washington DC, soaking up good, fun culture. Simi Kang is currently working as an anthropologist and will begin a Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota in the fall. As in her art, Simi’s academic focus will be on Asian American Diaspora. Mai Nardone, a current MFA candidate at Columbia University’s fiction writing program, was raised in Bangkok, Thailand, by an American father and a Thai mother.

POETRY W. Todd Kaneko lives and writes in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His stories and poems have appeared in Bellingham Review, NANO Fiction, Los Angeles Review, Lantern Review, Southeast Review, Blackbird and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop. He teaches at Grand Valley State University. Neil Aitken is the author of The Lost Country of Sight, winner of the 2007 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, and founding editor Boxcar Poetry Review. A former computer programmer originally from Canada, he is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California. His poems have appeared in Barn Owl Review, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Sou'wester, and elsewhere. He is currently working on a new book of poetry entitled Babbage's Dream which explores the themes of beauty, exile, and transformation in the world of computers and computer programmers.

NONFICTION Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga holds an MA in Creative Writing from CSU, Sacramento where she won the 2009 Bazanella Award for Graduate Creative Nonfiction. Her work has recently been published in Under the Gum Tree where she served as a guest editor for the summer 2012 issue. She is also the Contributing Editor for the food blog foodloveandtradition.com and an Assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine. She works as an Adjunct Assistant English Professor for the Los Rios Community College District and is currently working on a hybrid-creative nonfiction book-length work, a novel, and various annotated recipes.

64


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

Jen Palmares Meadows is a Filipina American writer and the author of the chapbook Annotated Pai Gow Poker. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Denver Quarterly, Chicken Skin & Impossible Trees, Tayo Literary Magazine, Walang Hiya and Filipinas Magazine. She received her MA in Creative Writing at California State University, Sacramento.

ART Geoffrey Miller is a lecturer of composition currently teaching at Qatar University in Doha, Qatar. His most recent publications are “Ascension” (short fiction) in Stepping Stone Magazine, May 2012, “Worldly Temptation – 005” (photography) in Existere Journal of Arts and Literature, Vol. 33 No. 2, “Hanoi – Dissemination” (photography) in Superstition Review, Vol. 9, “On a Balcony in Cusco - 008” (photography) in THIS Literary Magazine, Vol. 14, “Manila” (short fiction) in Anok Sastra, Vol. 6, "Motionless Movement" (photography) in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Vol. 15 and "Istanbul" (photography) in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Vol. 10 No. 4. His photography series “The Streets of Sri Lanka” is also on permanent display in the Prick of the Spindle Online Gallery.

65


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 fashion designer and has launched her own label, Taryn Zhang, a line of briefcases and handbags for working women. 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 Liu is a 1.5 generation Japanese-born Taiwanese American expatriate of New Jersey suburbia. His writing arises from his work as an activist, educator and cultural worker. Kenji’s poetry chapbook You Left Without Your Shoes was published by Finishing Line Press (2009), available on Amazon.com. His writing has appeared in Tea Party Magazine and the 2009 Intergenerational Writer’s Workshop online anthology Flick of My Tongue. Kenji was awarded a writing residency at Blue Mountain Center and was a presenting literary artist at APAture 2009, a multidisciplinary Asian Pacific American art festival. He is currently working on a multi-genre full-length collection of poetry, prose and visual art. He is a freelance graphic designer and also holds an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Transformation from California Institute of Integral Studies. When not writing, Kenji paints, boulders, chases sunshine and hangs out with puppies. His biggest writing pet peeve is when people don't know the difference between its and it's.

66


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

Nonfiction 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 Magazine’s Writers Exchange Contest in 2007, and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open in 2009. Christine earned her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. In addition to writing short stories, she has a novel in progress and writes at the Writers Room in New York City.

ADVISORY BOARD Elmaz Abinader Justin Chin Peter Ho Davies Jessica Hagedorn Randa Jarrar Gish Jen Elaine H. Kim Maxine Hong Kingston

Gus Lee Li-Young Lee Min Jin Lee Ed Lin Nami Mun Fae Myenne Ng Lac Su Bryan Thao Worra

67


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 submishmash™ 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. 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.

68


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

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.

69


THE 500 PROJECT TO SUBMIT YOUR PROFILE TO THE 500 PROJECT, E-MAIL US AT 500project@kartikareview.com 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, 2012

For more information, please visit http://www.kartikareview.com/500project/ PLEASE HELP US GET THE WORD OUT!

70


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

Kartika Review is a national Asian American literary arts journal that publishes fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, 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 journal’s vision.

CONTACT Kartika Review API Cultural Center 934 Brannan Street San Francisco, CA 94103

71


72


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

73


NOTES

74


ISSUE 13 | SUMMER 2012

NOTES

75


76


Kartika Review 13