Cover Art: "Grow Grow Grow" by JooYoung Choi, Acrylics on Canvas Cover Design by Ligaya King ÂŠ October, 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.
Kartika Review (Print) ISSN 2161-5713 Kartika Review (Online) ISSN 2161-5705
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Elmaz Abinader Justin Chin Peter Ho Davies Randa Jarrar Gish Jen Elaine H. Kim Maxine Hong Kingston Gus Lee Li-Young Lee Min Jin Lee Ed Lin Nami Mun Fae Myenne Ng Lac Su Bryan Thao Worra
MANAGING EDITOR Sunny Woan
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Vinay Patel PROGRAM COORDINATOR Jennifer Banta
FICTION EDITOR Christine Lee Zilka POETRY EDITOR Kenji Liu NONFICTION EDITOR Jennifer Derilo CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Kartika Review is a proud member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.
MISSION STATEMENT Kartika Review serves the Asian American community and those involved with Diasporic Asian-inspired literature. We scout for compelling Asian American creative writing and artwork to present to the public at large. Our editors actively solicit contributions from established virtuosos in our community in hopes their works here will inspire the next generation of virtuosos. We also showcase emerging writers and artists we foresee to be the future powerhouses of their craft. Ultimately, Kartika strives to create a literary forum that caters to and celebrates the wordsmiths of the Asian Diaspora.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS Editorial
The Golden Turtle God
Naomi J. Williams
FEATURE ARTISTS JooYoung Choi
POETRY Pavor Nocturnus
After Julie Green’s The Last Supper
"Did You Eat? Means... I Love You"
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
The Story of Us
V. Jo Hsu
Letter to Julia in Kapi’Olani Medical Center for Women and Children, Honolulu, Hawaii
END NOTES Contributor Bios
Jennifer A. Derilo Dear Readers, Happy 5th Anniversary to Kartika Review! When the first issue was published in 2007, APIA literature was, at last, granted national visibility as the U.S. Library of Congress initiated a collection of our community’s works. Prior to that, although there were pockets of publications in specific APIA communities, nary a literary journal was dedicated solely to promoting APIA writers and artists on a more unified front. Moreover, according to Founding and Managing Editor Sunny Woan in her editorial for Issue 1 of Kartika, “…after the APA Journal ceased publication in 2005, no other publication stepped up to fill the void that [it] left behind. Kartika Review aspires to fill that void.” And here we are. Five years later, KR has filled that void with fourteen issues and three anthologies, and we do not intend to stop testing the limits and enlarging the scope of APIA literature and art. As such, you will not be disappointed with this quintessential issue, beginning with the gorgeous artwork of JooYoung Choi. While her cover art for poet Lee Herrick’s forthcoming book Gardening Secrets of the Dead is both hypnotic and fierce, we have the incredible honor of debuting her newest pieces in this issue. Believe me, it is difficult not to love her or her work. The vigor of the poetry section will seize you next. In Khaty Xiong’s “Pavor Nocturnus,” you will be gripped by its spare language but terrorizing images and the speaker’s incisive but poignant voice. “After Julie Green’s Last Supper” by Rachelle Cruz—with its homage to visual artist Julie Green’s series of painted ceramic plates based on what death row prisoners request (and are ultimately denied) for their final meals—is a poem that is unbelievably sprawling and powerful even in its visual compactness. The fiction selections are also solid, and coincidentally, each revolves around obsession. “The Moth Man,” an adventurous and risk-taking story by Naomi Williams, is about a woman, her downstairs lover, and his fascination with, well, the moth man. Fiction Editor Christine Zilka says, “I often pick pieces by Asian Americans that aren't API-centric. There are no rules, and Naomi Williams breaks them with brilliance.” Kiki Whang also sidesteps the rules with “Pyotr,” a short fiction piece that belies its depth as the older cousin of a little girl in love with Tchaikovsky yearns to hear what her little cousin hears while the specter of her dead uncle looms over. The “Golden Turtle God” by An Tran re-imagines the power and currency of myth. Here, we meet a chemist who, in his bereft state as a recent 6
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widower, insists that “the gods owe [him] their blessing” and fixates on seeing the golden turtle god. Lastly, the unique voice in “Princess America” by Ramola D almost veers away from fiction as it very closely reads like creative nonfiction. And on that note, the creative nonfiction in this issue certainly pushes the limits of its genre, drawing on poetry, fiction, images, testimony, confession, and research. First, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, in “Did you eat? means…I love you,” culls prose poems, love stories, and family photographs to explore the contours of intimacy, longing, and absence. Next, reminiscent of Isabel Allende’s Paula, Jimin Han’s “Letter to Julia in Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women and Children, Honolulu, Hawaii” is a love note addressed to the narrator’s niece who is in an Intensive Care Unit. However, this personal letter begins to read as a more public meditation on what the body can sustain, as the narrator shares a family anecdote about strength and survival. Finally, V. Jo Hsu’s “The Story of Us” is a masterful lyrical essay in bas-relief, a complete reshaping of what the body of creative nonfiction itself can endure and where it should take both reader and writer. You will be immersed, unable to forget the story for at least a handful of days. Finally, we cannot have a quintessential editorial without some crush-worthy announcements. Peter Tieryas Liu's story collection Watering Heaven was published this month by Signal 8 Press and is available now. His short story, “Searching for Normalcy,” appears in Issue 7 (Spring ’10) of KR. Donna Miscolta’s essay, “Home Is Where the Wart Is,” which appears in Issue 11 (Winter ’11), will be reprinted in the forthcoming New California Writing 2012 anthology published by Heyday Books. Last but not least, Iris A. Law’s first chapbook, Periodicity, will be available from Finishing Line Press in February 2013. Her poem “Stoichiometry” appeared in Issue 6 (Winter ’09). And as always, my gratitude goes to the unflappable and ambitious KR editorial board, to our generous and talented contributors, and to our faithful and sparkling readers. So fall into this issue, friends. Before you know it, winter will be here. Warmly, Jennifer Derilo Creative Nonfiction Editor
THE GOLDEN TURTLE GOD An Tran
Mr. Le joined the maintenance crew for Hoan Kiem Lake as a volunteer not long after returning to Viet Nam. The lake had become noxious in its pollution and the government of Hanoi feared the turtle could survive for only a short time more. He threw on a jumpsuit every day, waded the shallow perimeters collecting garbage. When the coordinator discovered he had been a chemist before the war, Mr. Le was also charged with rowing to the center of the lake to collect samples. They wanted to analyze pH levels, alkaline content, and nitrogen saturation – any data that could have proved useful in saving the hallowed lake. From time to time, Mr. Le saw the white and silver lips of fish break the surface of the water, sucking up miniscule debris for food, before submerging again into the depths. When this happened, he leaned over the edge of his canoe, stretched his neck to get a glimpse of what creature might have surfaced. There was a chance that it could be the great turtle, that he would receive the divine blessing of the gods. The god-beast first appeared in the fifteenth century when it gifted the hero Le Loi with a heavenly sword. The sword was used to unite Viet Nam and drive back the Chinese. Out of respect to the gods, Le Loi returned the sword to Hoan Kiem Lake and the golden turtle god grasped it in his beak to deliver it back to the heavens. The turtle was given the name Cu Rua, the “Great Grandfather” of Viet Nam. Last year, a net tangled itself with the golden turtle. It had been nearly a century since the Cu Rua’s last appearance. The lake was swarmed; even the southerners went on pilgrimage at a chance to see the divine turtle. They left offerings of rice at the lake’s edge and burnt incense in the turtle’s honor. While biologists – who had discovered the turtle was sick – worked to restore the creature’s health, Mr. Le was still in America watching his wife whimper away to silence. When Mr. Le heard of Cu Rua’s return, he searched for and read everything he could on it. How the turtle was trapped. How the turtle was sickly, lesions splotched all over its body. How, contrary to the stories, Cu Rua was female. And Mr. Le thought, How fantastic! Mr. Le was staying outside of Hanoi with distant relatives when he began taking day trips to Hoan Kiem Lake, a venerated location within the city walls. He rode a Honda 1961 moped, more rust than engine, out to the lake and detoured to his old friend Hoang’s temple for dinner and tea before bed. It felt 8
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appropriate: his days at the hallowed lake, his evenings in the temple, his nights alone. Mr. Le thought that if he could connect again to the heavens, he would not feel so alone. He could be reassured. He could touch some remaining fragment of Mrs. Le. Mrs. Le had fallen to a cancer that took her legs two years ago. In those days, Mr. Le could be found at her hospital bed, clutching her bony limp hand in his grip. Her skin sagged into neat columns of wrinkles and her cheeks were sucked in. Mr. Le looked his wife in the eyes, promised her it would be okay, that the chemo would exorcise the cancer. She was his wife for fifty-two years. It was hard for him to look at her eyes and see how they had aged so suddenly, recessed in her skull. The moment the cancer finally took Mrs. Le, her eyes were closed and relief stirred something rancid in his stomach. He flew with Mrs. Le back to Viet Nam for the funeral. A rusted saw buzzed inside him on the plane and then thrashed wildly during the wake. His old friends came, tied white strips of cloth across their foreheads in respect. Afterward, they drank with him. They helped to bury the pain in rice wine. Mr. Le couldn’t remember these people. He had spent so long away their faces had been scrubbed smooth in his memory. Their friendship felt mechanical. A performance of duty and ritual. Any fraternity had been burned in napalm forty years ago. An old monk bowed his head to Mr. Le and said the prayer, “Adida Phat, Professor.” The monk’s voice was soaked with a very personal compassion. It directed itself into Mr. Le, made a home of his heart and warmed him. He thought maybe the holy voice could eat away the fermenting poison. When he looked up, his mind smoothed out the wrinkles of the monk’s face and saw that it was Hoang. “When did you become a monk?” he asked through an unexpected smile. “A lot can change in forty years,” answered Hoang. Mr. Le’s eyes fell away as he nodded his agreement. This was not the Viet Nam he remembered. It was was no longer rolling hills, pink lotus flowers, and the calming wash of a waterfall, the way it was still depicted in watercolor paintings he found in America. Hanoi returned to him a city whose veins were populated with millions of cone-hats and bodies on bicycles. His lungs filled with the stench of their sweat, the musk that came with old age and poverty and the molded rot that came from some homeless man’s putrid shit in an alleyway. His rolling hills were only the black 9
mounds of the cyclists’ heads. His waterfall was only the drench of collective sweat that slicked the streets. Hoang – bald, robed, smiling serenely as if the world hadn’t been eviscerated – was a relic, an echo of another world. “I am sorry for your loss. She was a wonderful woman. If you need to talk, you should visit the temple.” The monk placed his hand on Mr. Le’s shoulder. It halted the quiet desperation for a moment, the tiny ruptures in his soul that divided day by day, like new-born baby cells in mitosis. When Hoang removed his hand, there was a vacuum. Weeks passed. Mr. Le went to the lake every day and the temple every night. Rueful words spilled into the temple, entwining with the curling threads of smoke that lifted from incense sticks. Hoang offered Buddhist teachings like fortune cookie wisdoms. Let your grief be only a moment in the river of consciousness. Or, Death is in the nature of life. Suffering stems from the delusion that life will not change. The words did little to help. They stirred Mr. Le’s anger. Mr. Le studied Hoang’s face each night, noting the peaceful way his skin and musculature surrendered into the bones of his skull. When Mr. Le looked at himself in the mirror, he saw knots of tension pulling his brow down and his lips back. Hoang’s face revealed nothing of the war, not the way that Mr. Le saw sculpted into his own. He wanted to claim that sense of peace for himself, to wholly devour Hoang’s enlightenment. One night, Mr. Le admitted that he volunteered on the lake in hopes of seeing Cu Rua. Hoang said, “The turtle hides for centuries sometimes. I don’t understand your persistence. Whole generations go by without seeing the turtle.” “Did you see the turtle last year?” “When the biologists came to heal it? No, I did not. It is an old tale, my friend. One of superstition and mythology.” Hoang smoothed out the waves of folding fabric from his robes. When Mr. Le scowled, he added, “Of course the turtle is real. We have photographs. But it is just a turtle.” “The turtle is a god,” said Mr. Le. “It is written into our history books!”
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“A god that only appears when she is sick and dying?” Hoang shook his head slowly. “I am not one to believe in gods.” “You're supposed to be a holy man.” “The people of Viet Nam are too fixed in the ancient myths. Buddhism does not care for theism.” “But you used to.” “Yes, I did. But I used to believe in a lot of things.” Hoang had supported the Viet Minh in driving out the French; he had been an idealist revolutionary. When Mr. Le made the decision to leave for America, his colleagues accused him of siding with the democratic separatists in the south. They were wrong. Nowhere was there a greater disdain for the illusion of democracy than Mr. Le. He was not a Communist for the mere reason that he was a pessimist. He shared none of Hoang’s optimism, none of the fire to fight for a better world. And Mr. Le loved his wife more than he loved his country. He wanted to be with her somewhere that they never again would hear the tin squeal of a descending bomb as its pitch plummeted in octaves, wondering if death was waiting for the song to scale to its lowest note. Mr. Le could see Hoang no longer believed in the regime. He wondered how his friend could be so at peace when he had lost both his countries and his gods. The mystery invaded him as he tried to sleep that night. Maybe Cu Rua would unravel that puzzle as well. Maybe the turtle could reveal to Mr. Le how the monk could at once be so faithless and so exalted. His thoughts were collisions of grief and blasphemy as he collected his samples. The turtle had been sick when it was found. Maybe it had died. Maybe this was an era where gods could die. One morning, he rowed far into the center of the lake and positioned himself so that Thap Rua, the monument called Turtle Tower, drew a line between the lake and the sky in his vision. When he leaned over the side of the canoe, thrust his hands deep into the green murk of the lake to uproot seaweed, he meditated on how the tower’s reflection warped. The water’s oscillation tore the tower into pixels and rearranged all its parts; then it tethered the tower back together before shredding it up again. Mr. Le thought maybe the gods were born and died and reborn like the buddhas. 11
The previous night Hoang had asked, “Why are you still here?” Mr. Le was taken aback. He thought his friend was asking him to leave. Then he clarified, “In Viet Nam. You live in America now. Why stay here for so long?” “I won’t leave until I see Cu Rua,” answered Mr. Le. “The gods owe me their blessing.” Hoang sighed heavily, rose and left Mr. Le on the temple floor. His robes disappeared through a door and a moment later reappeared from another, pen and paper in hand. The monk floated back to the ground, eased effortlessly into lotus, and scribbled. “I have something to show you, my friend. Instead of this temple, go here tomorrow evening.” There was an address on the paper. Mr. Le had looked at Hoang with confusion. “This is the old gambling district.” “It is.” In the 40s, the district had been a seedy place where men secretly retreated to late at night, after their wives had fallen asleep, to gamble on card games and cock fights. Hoang had been a regular, although Mr. Le hadn’t known why until after the revolution broke out. There had been whispers in that the intellectuals traded coded essays through the card decks, whole discourses on rights and injustices. The coup had started on playing cards. The address was folded into Mr. Le’s back pocket as he collected seaweed. When he was done for the day, the sun was still slung high into the sky. He waited on the water for an extra hour, hoping and praying for any sign of the turtle. His thoughts found drifted to Mrs. Le, the clouds forming a perfect picture of her. And this caused him to double over and weep. The surface waves formed a carpet of mitts to catch the sound of his cries. He cursed the gods before he left; he was owed this blessing. As Mr. Le rowed angrily back across the vast and godless surface of the lake, his eyes snagged on something in the water. Something moving. Something goliath burst open the skin of the lake. Mr. Le sped his moped to Hoang’s address. The gambling district had dilapidated since Mr. Le left Hanoi. The buildings, squeezed tightly side-by-side, seemed to stand in sad deflated postures. Mr. Le wondered 12
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what Hoang wanted to show him here. When he knocked on the door of an old building, it shook loosely from its hinges. Mr. Le peered through the crack between the door and its frame. There was a dim light that undulated in its luminescence and told Mr. Le that it was candlelight. He heard his old friend’s voice. “Come in.” It was a small room. Rows of dusty shelves were bolted to the walls on all sides, save for a small doorway in the far corner. There was an outline on the wooden floor where a counter had once been. One of the shelves was a small glass oil lamp, a tiny tongue of flame licking the air. Mr. Le assumed this was a bookstore or a video rental before it had been abandoned. Hoang sat lotus on the ground in the center. He smiled. “What is this place?” Hoang slowly brought himself up to his feet. “Did I ever tell you why I became a monk?” Mr. Le didn’t answer; the two hadn’t seen each other in forty years since the funeral. They never talked or exchanged letters. Hoang took the oil lamp from its shelf and began walking toward the back door. Mr. Le followed. “After you left and the Americans came, the Viet Cong marched through Hanoi to recruit. They spoke of patriotism.” They walked down a staircase. Mr. Le wanted to tell Hoang about the afternoon and ask his opinion on what had occurred, but it was a rude thing to interrupt. He remained silent. “While the intellectuals brought Communism, they could not maintain power. You see, education is privilege and we were fighting for the peasant class. Suddenly the whole world changed; our culture became fixated on suppressing the intellectuals. Real men, productive men, work the rice paddies. They do not read books.” The room at the bottom of the steps was barren save for a wooden table whose surface was cut as an octagon. Even in the poor glow of the lamp, Mr. Le could see the thick gray layer of dust like a sheet of wool draped over the wood. “How is your family?” asked Hoang as he set the lamp on the table. He bowed his head down to it, stared at the flame. Mr. Le’s eyes wandered the room. The ceiling was low; spiders had ornamented each corner in polygonal lines of woven silk. He couldn’t think to answer the question. Mrs. Le was everything. He responded, “The heavens owe me a blessing.”
“The heavens owe nothing.” Hoang’s face softened with concern. His voice came with weakness, tinged with love. “The heavens cannot heal you.” Mr. Le did not admit that he lost the very world. He would not admit – not to Hoang – that the lake felt like a private plane of existence all for him, that he would live on that boat if he could, rest between the earth and the heavens, the air and the sea, until he could be carried off to death. His private shame was that he fought every day to not leap into the lake and bury himself in water. Worse, he could not articulate why he fought at all. He could not convince himself why rowing back to land was a good idea. He had wanted to dive after the turtle, but the undulating surface of the water had seemed a barrier. The divine below, the wicked earth above. This was the opportunity to tell Hoang about what happened this afternoon on the lake. Mr. Le opened his mouth, but Hoang’s voice came first. “You never asked how my son was,” said Hoang. His eyes still were fixed on the flame. It was true; Mr. Le hadn’t even thought to ask. Many had been lost to the war and he assumed casualties. Hoang’s son had been a teenager when Mr. Le left. The boy, named Khoa, was probably drafted into the Viet Cong, fired aimlessly into mobs of southern democrats, died in a fiery blaze where the pops and crackles of sizzling tree sap in the jungle could drown out even the rat-tat-tat chorus of rifles. But Hoang said instead, “He was executed.” And now Mr. Le learned how Khoa had fought during the war, not as a soldier but rather for the preservation of Viet Nam’s culture. In his idealism, he felt the French had stifled Viet Nam’s identity. That the Viet Minh – and later the Viet Cong – were threatening the same. Khoa collected books, reprinted them on a rusted iron press he hid in this basement. Mr. Le saw the stain of oil and ink that colored the concrete ground like a flood of coffee someone lazily mopped away. At ground level, the book store sold only approved titles; beneath were the ancient tales, folklore, the old religions, the Buddhist sutras, the forgotten kung fu manuals from Binh Dinh that had for centuries been banned. All of Viet Nam’s rich history contained in four walls, buried under the earth, sharing the same toxic air as the gasoline powering the press. Eventually the regime uncovered Khoa’s treason; he was apprehended, jailed for nine months, shot in the forehead one night for an unknown transgression. There was no news of it save for the short three-sentence letter mailed to Hoang by the government.
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He laughed softly, the sound from his throat soaked in sadness. It was like the aftermath of a tsunami, all people silent and carrying corpses, the only sound being the slush of water draining from the earth. “Bad luck,” said Hoang. “Now religion is legal again – no longer a threat, they said – and the regime is changing. Trying to recover all the lost artifacts of our culture. A matter of national pride, they say! Doing exactly what Khoa was killed for.” Hoang placed a hand on Mr. Le’s shoulder, like he had done at the funeral. This time, rather than comforting, it seemed a pleading touch. “I became a monk because it was where my grief led me.” When he let go and turned away, there was no vacuum. Instead it felt like Hoang had left something behind, had given something dear to Mr. Le. Maybe a hope or a prayer or a gift, he couldn’t tell. Hoang started for the steps and Mr. Le moved to follow. He could feel the shadows converging behind him as Hoang carried the lamp up the stairs. The way the darkness moved back into the room was like an ink well filling up. At the base of the stairs, Mr. Le turned around and stared into the tenebrous space. He marveled at how vast and infinite the room looked without the light. He imagined he could step forward into the blanket of blackness, forward and forward into eternity. Past the far wall of the room. Past the edge of the world. Past the Pure Land of Adida Buddha and the entrance of Heaven. On and on to oblivion. He wanted to stay here, in the enormity of the tiny basement, until the darkness could converge on the light of his soul and take him into the infinities. He imagined that here, in this subterranean darkness, was the tunnel to the gods. It led him back to his memories of the afternoon: a green-yellow bulb like a tree branch enveloped in algae emerging from the water. Its shell broke the surface behind its head like a tiny golden island. It had been as long as he was, as wide as two of him. Cu Rua’s shell was the size of Mr. Le’s bed. Enormous, beautiful, emerald-gold. He had stretched to touch its head, but Cu Rua slowly backpedaled, drifting from Mr. Le’s reach. It blinked once more and then gracefully descended; the scar it opened in the water’s surface again closed. Its figure became a dark orb, like the shadow of a new moon, before Mr. Le couldn’t see it at all anymore. Then Mr. Le sat back in his canoe, looked up at the heavens. When it was over, everything still ached in a hollow defeated way – his bones, his joints, his stomach and heart. Breathing, thinking, living exhausted him. He hadn’t been able to tell if anything at all had changed. He had carried the stillness with him into the basement room. It was only now starting to stir. Hoang spoke quietly from the top of the steps. His voice slithered down the stairway, bounced and amplified in the acoustics of the small room 15
such that the sound of his words surrounded Mr. Le, who was now drowned in both the monkâ€™s divine words and darkness. â€œI assure you, old friend, what you are looking for is not in that lake.â€? Mr. Le looked up at Hoang, who was haloed in the light of the doorway. He nodded and climbed the stairs. Outside the bookstore, he thought for a moment to finally tell Hoang what had happened in the lake. But then he remembered how Le Loi returned the heavenly sword to the depths of Hoan Kiem. He thought for the first time that the divine belonged buried below the world and that maybe his blessing had only broken the surface of that water in brevity, had been swallowed in the sutured scar of the lake. Maybe it too belonged there in the dark holy waters.
An Tran is a Vietnamese-American writer living in Washington, DC, where he is a tutor for 826DC. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Our Stories andConnotation Press. He has begun his MFA at Queens University of Charlotte and is currently working on his first novel.
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PYOTR Kiki Whang
My seven-year-old cousin is falling in love with Tchaikovsky. She calls him by his first name, Pyotr. She adds his patronym, Ilyich, as a sign of affection, when she serves him noodles or cleans his ears. She calls me Bori, a name from nowhere. None of us know why I have been given this name. My aunt says she must have picked it up from one of her friends at school, or from some TV show. But my cousin doesn’t have any friends, and she doesn’t watch TV. Her father, my uncle, was also a Tchaikovsky junkie. There’s no way my cousin could know this, though—she was only an infant when her father died. Besides, in that summer we buried him, my aunt threw away everything her husband had ever brought into the house. Tchaikovsky left with his hundred-thousand-won CD box sets. Yet here they are, the same concertos, filling up the house again. I’m glad my cousin can’t remember her father. He was one of those people who shook all over if he had to go five minutes without a cigarette. His face was swollen and scarred from the broken blood vessels under his skin. I imagined he would hurt me if I stared too long. If I stared too long, his puffy blue mouth and fingertips would jet me with squid ink. My cousin doesn’t know yet that the few pictures left of him are from decades ago, when he didn’t mind being looked at. He had poisoned his body so much that when he finally died, I only felt sorry he had managed to live like that for so long. My aunt must recognize the music, but so far she hasn’t said anything. “Maybe there’s no point in talking about it,” I tell my mother. “Maybe there’s just too much emotion, and for nothing.” “Emotion,” my mother replies. “That’s the problem with the women in this family. Too much of that. And not enough of reality.” But emotion has been on my mind, ever since my fiancé called it quits. We haven’t spoken in almost a year. I’m told he’s still looking for a new wife through several matchmaking agencies. A typical arranged marriage, something we agreed was outdated, unwise and artificial. Something we agreed we would never do. If I really thought about it, I’m 17
sure I could understand his reasons for believing that method will somehow turn out better. It’s just that the understanding is hard to begin. For now, I have my cousin to keep me busy. Whenever I go over, she’s sitting on the staircase, waiting for me. “Help me, Bori,” she says, so I do. We climb up to her computer with a bottle of cold rice milk and surf through all the Tchaikovsky torrents we can find, in case someone has uploaded a new recording since the last time. I try to explain to her that many are out of print, and that some were never recorded in the first place, but my cousin wants them all. For a while, I tried to get her into other kinds of music – music that would help her make friends. We went on YouTube to look at some rappers and pop stars, until I had to admit it wasn’t going to take. So now I’m learning about Tchaikovsky—his orchestral colors, his stuffy bureaucratic job, his heart broken by a wealthy widow who never wrote him back. I pick up some biographical trivia to share with her, but she doesn’t care for any of that. She doesn’t even want a piano. So Pyotr it is. All the Pyotr she wants, all that she can handle. I want to hear what she hears in him, whatever it is that makes him good company, but I can’t. At first he gives you what you expect, some massive sound, minutes upon minutes of calling out like a jungle elephant. Then he takes it away. The elephant, of course, but if you keep listening he takes away the whole jungle too, the fat rain and the tall trees and all of the undiscovered species pulsing in the dark. When my cousin listens, she stretches out on the floor of her bedroom, which used to be my uncle’s study. I follow. Mostly I just take in the smell of tobacco ash rubbed into the carpet. So many others to choose from, but here we are.
Kiki Whang was born in Seoul. She spent the majority of her life in Singapore, Beijing, Budapest, and Tokyo before coming to the United States. She earned a B.A. in Health & Societies from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in The Pinch and has won the Enizagam Literary Award. She studies fiction at the University of New Orleans, where she is a shoe-in for M.F.A. Prom Queen. Find her at www.koriental.com. 18
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THE MAN-MOTH Naomi J. Williams after Elizabeth Bishop
Many years ago I was briefly involved with a man who hunted man-moths. He tried so hard but never did catch one, whereas I, who did not even believe in them, happened upon one on the subway. The relationship ended then, of course. I think the man understood that my discovery had been entirely accidental. Nevertheless, my find was a kind of betrayal, and we had to part. The man who hunted man-moths lived below me in an apartment that exactly mirrored my own. We were on the seventh and eighth floors of a 25-story art deco building called The Lowell. I could never have afforded the place myself; I was house-sitting for an aunt who had followed a lover to Zurich. As for the man downstairs, the apartment belonged to his parents, but they were never there. He didn’t have a job and didn’t seem to need one. At first the man resented my presence upstairs. My aunt had been gone a few weeks before I moved in, and he’d grown used to the silence above him. But in time he found himself listening for me as I walked from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen and back in the mornings. He appreciated that I took my shoes off when I came home; he could hear that. He came to know my habits—the half-hour of stretching I did every morning in the living room, my propensity for standing by the north-facing bedroom window when I talked on the phone, the late hours I worked one week out of every month. I know all of this because he told me. He listened to me for two months, then came upstairs and knocked on my door. He was older than I, though by how much, I couldn’t say. With his unlined face and thin, silvering hair, he might have been anywhere between 35 and 50. He was pale and thin, and wore a white dress shirt and black slacks, clean and pressed but not new. He spoke softly and urgently at the same time. “I feel like I know you,” he said after explaining how he’d been listening to me downstairs. “It started to seem rude not to introduce myself.” He looked and sounded like an artist, or how I imagined an artist might look and sound. I didn’t know any artists. I let him in. He didn’t tell me right away that he hunted man-moths. It’s not the sort of thing one springs on a new acquaintance, even if the new acquaintance becomes a new lover before the evening is out. He started visiting me most evenings after I came home from work. He would bring a bottle of wine, then sit on my couch and watch me move around the 19
apartment in my bare or stocking feet. After dinner he would make love to me on the floor. Always on the floor, preferably where there was no carpeting. He said he wanted to know that we were audible downstairs. “But no one’s there,” I told him. “Isn’t it a little like the tree that falls in a forest with no one to hear?” “How do you know no one’s there?” he asked. I imagined a listener below—another woman, awaiting his return; a roommate; a thief—and quickened my movements under him. Later I would learn that the man left his windows open at night, hoping a man-moth would come in, that that was the someone he thought might overhear us, that he left bait on the floor—cut flowers, stunned insects, shiny sequins he’d snipped from old costumes—anything he’d heard might attract a man-moth. But I didn’t know that then. Not that I would have cared. He was strange, but he was also beautiful. No one had ever desired me so much while asking so little. I, on the other hand, asked a lot of questions. I thought knowing a man meant knowing things about him. That’s how I learned about the manmoth hunting. It came out in pieces in response to my queries about his childhood (vague), education (impressive), jobs (none), previous girlfriends (few). He’d been hunting most of his life, it turned out; his parents had done it too. I asked where they were. He frowned, then said, “Well, they found one.” “Found what?” “What else?” “A man-moth?” He nodded. I stifled my first instinct, which was to say, But that’s ridiculous. “What was it like?” I asked instead. He shrugged, and his eyes retreated for a moment in pain. “I didn’t see it.” “Why not?”
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“That’s just how it works,” he said. “It changes you. You can’t be around other people in the same way afterward. I haven’t really seen them since.” “How old were you when this happened?” “Not that old,” he said, then changed the subject by drawing me down to the floor. I never tried to reason with him, never tried to persuade him manmoths didn’t exist, never asked him to forgo one of his nighttime forays or weekend hunts with fellow hunters. I doubt I’ve ever been as accepting of another human being as I was of him. Not that my open-mindedness was ever put to the test. He never met any of my family or friends. Nor did I meet any of his. I didn’t care that our relationship wasn’t public, wasn’t part of the larger spheres of our lives. I just wanted him to keep climbing the stairs to my place. I wanted him to keep bringing me wine. I wanted him to keep taking me on the floor. He had passions that defied explanation. One of them was me.
In those days I worked as a copyeditor for a monthly magazine, now defunct, that had its offices outside the city, in Richmond. The week before we went to press always required long, late hours. I would stumble exhausted out of the building just before eleven o’clock to catch the last train back to the city. A small man in a too-large gray overcoat sometimes rode that last train. We got off at Central, where I would head for the north exit, which came up at the foot of the Lowell, and he would head down the tunnel for the south exit, toward the taller buildings of the Finance District. Small and of unplaceable ethnicity, the man had a sort of elfin grace that made me wonder if he’d once been a dancer. He wore the same gray overcoat regardless of the season and nearly always had his hands in his pockets, as if he couldn’t stay warm. He never carried a briefcase or anything else. I thought he might be a night watchman. I wondered if he noticed me. One night, arriving at Richmond Station with only a minute to spare, I saw the man standing on the platform, the back of his coat dirty and torn. A thin strip of fabric hung down like a sad streamer below the hem.
I’d never spoken to him before, but now I said, “Are you all right?” The train was pulling in already, its metallic squeal filling the air around us. He didn’t hear me, so I repeated myself, louder, and gently touched his shoulder. “Are you all right?” He sprang back, then looked at me with alarm and question from dark, heavy-lidded eyes. The train pulled in and stopped before us. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just—your coat—it’s torn.” He whirled around, trying to see the back of himself. He sighed when he saw the ripped fabric. “I fell,” he said. His voice was scratchy, as if he were getting over a cold or hadn’t spoken to anyone for hours. The train doors opened, and the man and I got on. I sat in the nearest bank of four empty seats. He hesitated a moment before sitting across from me. We rode in silence. I couldn’t tell if it was uncomfortable or companionable silence. At Central we both got off, the only ones to do so. Few people lived near Central. Not people who rode subways, anyway. Homeless people occupied alleys and hidden street-level alcoves after dark. Wealthy people lived in buildings like the Lowell. Neither group rode the subway. “Well, take care,” I said, heading north. “Good night,” he whispered hoarsely, heading south. When I got home, I wanted to be with the man downstairs. He usually stayed away during my busy week each month. “You’re tired. You don’t want me around,” he said. I was tired, but I wouldn’t have minded being tired with him. I didn’t complain, however. He was probably catching up on his hunting. That night, however, I went downstairs and knocked on his door. I’d never been in his apartment before, and I wasn’t sure I would be welcome. I didn’t even know if he’d be home. I had just knocked when I heard footsteps behind me, and there he was, wearing a motoring cap and a light brown jacket and carrying a large flashlight. I almost never saw him dressed for the outdoors. He spent a great deal of time outside, of course, almost always at night, but he and I rarely went anywhere together. Maybe, I thought, that was what people meant when they said a relationship was “going nowhere.” 22
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He didn’t smile when he saw me, but he came to me and buried his face in my neck, which I took as welcome. I could smell the night air on him and something else too, something less nice, like disappointment. He unlocked his door and let me in. The room was cold; all the windows were wide open. This was when I learned about the windows and the bait. He poured two glasses of wine, then motioned me toward an elegant, faded sofa that I guessed had once been his parents’. We sat facing each other on the couch, our bare feet just touching, and I thought, This is what it means to sit companionably with someone, and I wondered at my earlier confusion, when I’d sat in silence on the train, across from the man with the torn coat. “Out hunting?” I said. He nodded unhappily. I felt sorry for him; I wished for his sake that man-moths were real and that he might find one, even if it meant he couldn’t be around other people in the same way afterward, even if that included me. I smiled at him in what I hoped was an understanding way; he poured me another glass of wine. The alcohol went straight to my head. I’d had nothing but vending machine snacks all day. “What will you do when you find one?” I said. I hoped he noticed that I said “when” and not “if.” He lifted the long, black flashlight from the floor and held it out toward me. “I’ll shine this big light in its eyes and hope it starts crying,” he said. It looked as though it emitted a powerful light. It looked like something you could use to bludgeon someone. “Their tears are special.” “You’d collect its tears?” “I’d drink them.” “Why?” He frowned. I was being too nosey now. Or maybe he didn’t know. He turned the flashlight on and shone it in my face. It was bright, painfully so. I put a hand up before my eyes, then felt the flashlight pressed between my legs, the bright, warm end buried in my lap. 23
It was after nine a.m. when I woke up, still on the couch, feeling cold, hungry, and slightly nauseated. I sat up and peeled off a light wool blanket. Things scattered off my naked body and out of my hair as I stood— sequins and shiny buttons, a few coins, some gold ribbon, flower petals, a couple of dead flies. The man stood in his bedroom doorway, watching me. “It didn’t work,” he said. I climbed back into the previous day’s outfit. There wasn’t time to shower or get a change of clothes before leaving for work. I ran my hands through my hair and loosed a small cascade of tinsel and metallic confetti. “I should be freaked out, you know,” I said. “By what?” “By all this.” I pointed to the open windows, to the bait that had been sprinkled over my body and was now pooled on the floor and littering the couch. “By you.” “But you aren’t,” he said. “Not really.”
That night, I was the one surprised on the train platform. I whirled around, feeling something touch my head, and there was the man in the gray coat, drawing his fingers through a strand of my hair. “Th—this was stuck in your hair,” he said, showing me a sequin. His fingers looked terrible—the nails broken, his palms and the pads of his fingers raw and scratched. When he saw me looking, he put his hands back in his pockets. “There’s more.” His voice was a rasp. “What?” He pointed to my head. “More—in your hair.” “Oh, I know.” Embarrassed, I tried to cover my head with my hands. “It’s a long story.” “I could get them out for you.”
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I barked out a high-pitched laugh. “No. That really isn’t necessary.” The train arrived, and we took the same seats as the night before. He stared at me, his eyes widening every now and then, as if he kept finding more bits he wanted to pick out. I wasn’t frightened; he seemed too fragile to be a real danger. But I was annoyed—with my sequin-scattering lover as much as with this odd fellow-commuter. I looked away from him, out the window, into the darkness of the subway tunnel. “You shouldn’t look out there,” the man said. “Why not?” He lowered his voice. “It’s too dark.” I regretted bringing myself to his notice the day before. When we got off at Central, I strode off toward the north exit, looking back a few times to be sure he wasn’t following me. Once inside my building, I took the elevator to the floor below mine, but my lover wasn’t home, or wasn’t answering the door. My own apartment felt unfamiliar, as if I’d been gone for weeks instead of just two days. I turned on the shower. While the water warmed up, I looked out the bedroom window. Opposite was the windowless side of an office building; between it and the Lowell was a narrow, abandoned lot and an even narrower one-way street that saw little traffic. Someone was climbing the office building. Trying to, anyway. He was about twenty feet up, clawing his way forward with his hands and feet, but tentatively, with none of the strength or agility of a rock climber. At first I thought he was trailing a black cloth beneath him, like a super-hero whose cape had gotten snagged in his shoe. Then I realized it was his shadow, and then that the climber looked just like the strange man from the train. The moment I recognized him, he fell from the wall and landed with an inaudible thud on the dirt of the abandoned lot. I cried out, ran to turn off the shower, threw on some clothes, and dashed out of my apartment. Getting into the elevator, it occurred to me that if the man downstairs were home, he would have heard the commotion and my sudden departure. I almost expected the elevator to stop at his floor and for him to step in, his artistic head tipped to one side in question. Everything would have been different then. But he didn’t. The elevator went to the ground floor without stopping. By the time I ran behind the building, the man from the train had gotten back up and was trying once more to scale the wall. It was him, I could see that clearly as I approached; I recognized the torn coat. He was 25
nearly as far up as he’d gotten before. I didn’t say a word or breathe, all my will bent on him not falling again. But he did anyway, crumpling in a heap at my feet. It was the worst sound I’d ever heard. He turned to me, eyes wide in fear. I couldn’t tell if it was the fall or my sudden appearance that scared him. “What are you doing?” I cried. “Are you trying to kill yourself?” He sat up and sucked on his shredded fingers. Now I knew why his hands looked so terrible. Then he got up, apparently—amazingly—unhurt, and turned himself once more to the wall. I grabbed his arm. “No,” I said. “No. You’re not doing this here.” “I have to get up there,” he said in his strange hoarse voice, pointing upward. The full moon peeked over the edge of the Lowell, as if it were spying on us. “Up where?” “To the top.” “Why?” “I need to get out.” I tightened my grasp on him. “No,” I said. “You’re not jumping off any buildings.” He looked at me with hurt surprise. “I’m not going to jump,” he said. “I’m not falling on purpose, you know.” He looked up. “I just need to get up there.” “On the roof?” He looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded. “Did you follow me?” I demanded. I could feel him shrinking inside his coat. “Not on purpose,” he said. “Not on purpose,” I repeated. “Seems like you do a lot of things without meaning to.”
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I had never spoken to a man like this before. I’d been raised to be pleasing and demure, yet now I pulled this man, a virtual stranger, away from the blank wall of the office building and around the block to the entrance of the Lowell. He blinked in confusion in the bright lobby. The doorman watched us with repressed curiosity and said “good night, miss” when the elevator came. I pressed the button for the roof garden. In the dim interior of the elevator, the man relaxed. I let go of him and watched in the mirrored wall opposite as his eyes filled with tears. But this was no ordinary tearfulness. Nothing else about his face or body signified crying. And the tears didn’t collect in his eyes then overflow from the corners and down his face. They were like raindrops collecting at the end of a long blade of grass. Each one grew and grew, water tension holding it in place, magnifying the pupil, till it fell from his eyes, a giant teardrop, right into his hand—first one, which he promptly swallowed, then the other, which he palmed and was about to drink when I stopped him. “Can I have that?” I said. He looked down. His eyelids were large and thick. I could sense he didn’t want to cede the teardrop, but I also sensed that he could not refuse. I already had my suspicions about him, and when he opened his hand, I knew for sure. The water sat pooled in his palm like a transparent drop of mercury—utterly self-contained and miraculous. I drew his hand toward my mouth and tipped it in. It was cool, salty and sweet at the same time, and unlike anything I’d tasted before—or since. I laughed, then pressed him against the wall of the elevator and undid, first, the buttons of his gray coat and then the cloth belt, and slipped my hands under his coat and pressed myself against him. I was young; I didn’t know how else to thank a man for a gift. He didn’t resist, but he didn’t respond either. He just stood there with his hands in his pockets, a polite smile on his lips, his body even smaller than I’d expected, his coat lined with the softest material I’d ever touched. The elevator whooshed us up toward the roof. When it shuddered to a stop, I released him, drawing my fingers through the velvety lining as I pulled away. He seemed to wince, and then I looked down at my hands as the doors slid open. My fingers and sleeves were covered with fine, colored powder—gold and orange and brown with hints of metallic blue. I pulled open the coat and gasped at the sight of the complex and gorgeous patterning inside, marred now by furrows I had made across its surface.
“Your wings,” I cried, pulling him out of the elevator and onto the roof. “I’m so sorry.” “It’s all right,” he muttered. “I can’t fly. You saw that.” He looked away from me, distracted, then his eyes widened in surprise. “We’re still not high enough.” I followed his gaze. “You want to reach the moon?” I said. I wanted to touch him again, but I was afraid of hurting him. “I have to.” “What for?” “I need to go through it.” “Through it?” He turned back to me, his strange face patient and kind. “It’s an opening.” “To what?” “I don’t know.” He looked so sad I thought—hoped—he might shed more tears, but he remained dry-eyed. Instead, he grew suddenly weak where he stood, his knees giving out under him. I helped him to the wall of the elevator structure we’d just stepped out of, and we sat against it side by side, looking in silence at the too distant moon. After a while I realized he was finding sequins and other metallic bits in my hair and eating them. I let him. When he felt stronger, we walked the perimeter of the garden. I had never been on the roof before, although it was one of the most cited perks of living at the Lowell. It was a nice enough place, with potted palms and pines and wooden benches on all four sides, but hardly worth the fuss, I thought. And it was cold. We looked across the way at the office building he’d been trying to climb. It was a few stories higher than the Lowell. “That rooftop wouldn’t have done me any good either,” the man said. “No,” I said, then pointed down to the street, holding the man’s arm a little tighter as we looked over the parapet. Down below, standing in the strip of dirt next to the office building, was the man who lived downstairs, 28
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my man-moth hunter. The moon was almost directly overhead and cast a pale, circular shadow around him that made him look like a target. “If you were to go down and meet him,” I said, “it would make him very happy.” He stared down for a while. “Would that make you happy?” “In a way, yes.” “Could he help me get to the moon?” “Probably not.” “That man will never be happy,” he said, moving back from the edge. “Some people just aren’t.” “I need to go to him,” I said. The man nodded. “Can I stay here?” he asked, and when I didn’t answer right away, added, “I promise I won’t jump.” I rode the elevator alone and walked once more behind the building. My lover was still standing on his tiny circle of shadow, holding one hand out as if to warm it in the moonlight. The large flashlight was in his other hand. “Where have you been?” he cried when he saw me. “I thought I saw you out here with someone, and then you wouldn’t answer your door.” “You didn’t answer yours either,” I said. He looked away. “Who was that man?” I liked the distress in his voice, but the way he bounced his flashlight against his leg dissuaded me from telling the truth. “I don’t know,” I said. “He seemed hurt, so I helped him. Come inside. It’s cold.” I held out my hand toward him. He declined to take it, but he followed me indoors. The doorman didn’t even bother nodding in our direction. In the elevator, the man sniffed the air. “What’s that smell?” “What smell?” “It’s spicy.” 29
Some instinct made me draw away from him. He noticed the movement. “It’s you,” he said, stepping toward me. He grabbed a handful of my hair and brought it to his face, then leaned down and sniffed my shoulder, then my arm. He pulled back and looked me up and down. “You’re covered in glitter.” I looked down at myself. The man-moth’s iridescence was still visible on my sleeves and on the front of me, where I must have wiped my hands after touching the lining of his coat. The man pushed the elevator’s “stop” button with the butt of his flashlight, and we lurched to a halt. “How had that man hurt himself?” he demanded. I had no energy for prevarication. “He fell trying to climb the building out back.” “Where is he now?” When I didn’t reply, he grabbed my arm, hard. “Where is he?” I shook him off. “Hey,” I said. “This isn’t some movie where the guy shakes his girlfriend to make her talk.” We were both surprised by my use of the word girlfriend. Neither of us had ever referred to our relationship that way. I wanted him to sigh and ask me if I loved him. Instead, he sighed and leaned against the opposite wall, away from me. “Please tell me where he is,” he said. “On the roof.” He pulled the “stop” button back out and pressed “Roof Garden.” Our ride resumed. We watched the door open and close at my floor, then rode in silence to the top. There was no one on the roof. I looked over the edge of the building on all four sides to see—I’m not sure what—perhaps a body on the street below or a man climbing down the wall. Later it would occur to me that the man-moth could have gone down the elevator—or the stairs—before we’d come up. But at the time I was convinced he’d flown off, notwithstanding his professed and manifest inability to do so. I thought he might have made it through the moon after all. I stood for a moment gazing upward, wondering
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if I might see him silhouetted against the white opening in the sky. I knew I would never see him or one of his kind again. The man-moth hunter came and stood next to me. He spoke with effort. “Did—did he cry?” “A little.” He inhaled sharply. “He didn’t give you his tears, did he?” “He gave me one.” “Did you swallow it?” His voice cracked with misery. I’d never seen how dangerous a disappointed man could become, or I might have lied at this point. Instead, I looked at him and nodded. I thought he would crumple into grief at this revelation; I wanted him to. I wanted him to turn to me for consolation. But it was his flashlight he turned on me, dazzling me with its light, and then he was on me, the long fingers of one hand holding me by my hair while he forced my lips open with his tongue— not to claim me against a rival, not to wring some comfort from me, but to see if he couldn’t steal back a drop of the man-moth’s tear. He tasted only me, however. I felt his tongue grow slack in my mouth and heard the flashlight clatter to the concrete, and then he began to cry, and so did I. Still he tried to wrest from me any trace of the man-moth, pressing me to the wall of the elevator structure, pawing over my body to rub the wing dust on himself, licking my fingers. Our bodies responded as they’d grown accustomed to doing with each other, and I learned that night that fear and resentment do not always cancel desire. “How did you find him?” he asked afterward. “I didn’t,” I said. “He was on the subway. I think he followed me.” “Why you?” I shook my head, then said, “He noticed the sequins in my hair.” “It worked?” His lips quivered into a smile, but he pulled himself off of me. “I can’t see you again,” he announced. I remembered what he’d told me, about how people who find manmoths can’t really be around other people afterward, the implication that his 31
parents had abandoned him after they found one. It wasn’t true, I realized. It was the disappointed hunter who couldn’t be around us. I imagined his aging parents living in a condo somewhere, paying his bills and sending him birthday cards he never acknowledged. He picked up his flashlight, then went around the corner to call for the elevator. I quickly straightened my own clothes and turned to watch him. There’s a terrible indignity to dismissing a lover then having to wait for an elevator to take you from the scene. I wanted to see what that looked like. He used the end of his flashlight to strike the “Down” button, then tried turning the flashlight on. When it didn’t turn on, he shook it, and when that failed, he unscrewed the top of it and toyed with the light bulb inside, but to no avail. When he unscrewed the other end to mess with the batteries, I looked away. It’s one thing to not let a man off too easy. But a disappointed man with a broken flashlight deserved some privacy. I stared instead at the moon, still high in the sky and beckoning like the bright end of a tunnel.
Naomi Williams's short fiction has appeared in numerous journals including One Story, A Public Space, Ninth Letter, and The Southern Review. She has a Pushcart Prize and an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis. She writes and teaches in northern California.
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PRINCESS AMERICA Ramola D.
You remember how the whole thing unfolded through that summer and fall, how innocuously it began, how quickly it ended. You often believed it would end; I still remember you leaning forward one of those early times we met at La Vie Troisième on K Street, ostensibly to wipe flecks of turnover pastry off my cheek. Your hand lingered, slid to the edge of my mouth. You sighed, saying, You are too beautiful for this to last. Whatever does that mean? I frowned. You are very young, you said, if you must ask me that. Another time, you pulled me hard against your chest as we walked by the river at Great Falls, two cyclists were tearing past, and the hickories flaring yellow, the sunlit bodies of hawks circled in the blue October sky, we were clinging, not pulling away, you said, these moments are beautiful because they won’t come again. You must have wanted me to feel uncertain then, as if the ground beneath my feet was moving, not still, for those are not the thoughts that naturally occurred to me. I was so wrapped up in you then. So enamored of who you were, what you did, that aura of worldliness that clung to you, that sophistication that came, I imagined, from being an American journalist for a London newspaper, that mixture of cynicism and all-knowingness and amusement must have accrued I thought from traveling and airports and state dinners with heads of state and drinking one- hundred-year-old-wines from once-royal French vineyards in the south of France. You were already married, already divorced, already a parent, your children nine and eleven then, your life settled in so many ways, routines centered on your kids, when we met. You had routines. I discovered that too soon. I was young, twenty-two to your forty-one, just out of college, volunteering in DC at an international non-profit, because I couldn’t find paid work yet, and my parents wanted to keep supporting me, at least, that’s what I said to you, tongue in cheek, that first night at Chapters, and you laughed, because who could afford to share an apartment in Dupont without a job, even if there were housemates to help with rent, but someone with doting medical parents like mine—my father an orthopedic surgeon, mother an obstetrician, both intent on providing for their kids a superior educational experience, although in escaping to DC from Boston and pursuing what they termed, bemused, “social work,” I was doubly subverting their expectations. 33
Or at least, I hoped to. There were small seeds of rebellion in me then, not large, I was the youngest after all, my sister was the neurosurgeon, my brother the geneticist, I had accomplished my rebellions at the age of two, pronouncing a passion for dance, and stumbled through my childhood and adolescence dabbling in a variety of arts, turning from ballet to Irish dancing then jazz to visual art to fabric arts and modern guitar, I think my mother, tired from the structured piano classes and endless soccer games she had endured for my siblings, allowed me to sign up for whatever took my fancy, especially if the school offered it as after-school enrichment, and I grew tangentially in every direction and singularly in none. Undeclared for most of my time in Tufts, I scrambled for a major in art and minors in French and art history after classes in psychology, film, biology, dance, I came out of college with the haziest idea of a vocation. I wanted to do Europe for a year, I had been to London, Amsterdam, Paris on art field trips, but my parents were keen on my doing a Master’s degree—in biology, they hoped, against all evidence—and I resisted. Then a friend with majors in Psychology and Social Work who was working in DC at a nonprofit for refugees said I could volunteer there, it might turn into a job. Plus, DC was full of opportunities. So I came on this hope, only slightly embarrassed I could not pay rent like my housemates. It was just a matter of time, I believed, grandiose in my naivety, something would arrive which hopefully could utilize my every multiple talent. Instead, I found you first, and that was thrilling in itself, a distraction, sure, from my intentions, but an irresistible one. There was such flow between us from the beginning, that night you stood behind me in line at that book signing at Chapters, a writer we both loved, a lyric fiction writer, and we started talking about her prose, her repeating themes. At least, we did, once I got past that shock of finding you there behind me, eyes on blue fire behind your glasses, your body lean and closed-in within your clothes, darkhaired, elegant, you were smiling. You were never the kind of man to picture behind a desk, not one to sit still or situate himself within a welter of custom and habit. It was fitting to learn you traveled, you had once been a frontline reporter, you drove through deserts in Iraq and clambered with troops up remote hills in Afghanistan, covered refugee camps in the Sudan and Kenya, talked to rebels in Libya, you exuded a restless energy. I didn’t expect to hear though, as the days unraveled, that you’d started to look for more local reporting work, ever 34
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since the divorce you had tried to keep things stable for your kids, you covered Washington now, and Virginia, and local ecological issues, you wanted a desk, you said, but you looked strained, and I did not respond, just looked up inquiringly, and you sighed and said, Kids change everything. Really? I kept my eyes calm and unrevealing when I looked at you, I was thinking, that will never happen to me, that will never—I would simply not let it—I mean the kids changing things, not the having them part, my work would always be primary, my work would burn in me, shape me, guide me, lead the way forward—kids were secondary—this work would come first—what work would it be? I frowned, not too clear what I would be doing, this primary, burning thing that would consume me, not having found it yet—but really, surely there was time? You looked long at me as if about to say once more, You’re very young, thought better of it, and we got up at the same time and left the café we’d started to share midmorning coffee at and walked into the summer sun on K Street and mingled with the morning crowds and didn’t bring up the subject again, for a while. Not, that is, until that news story about an unidentified strain of disease-causing bacteria from chicken on a well-known farm in North Carolina broke and you began to do those articles on factory farming in America, and traveled in the deeper South and Midwest to return with horror stories of overcrowded feedlots and confinement and excessive amounts of waste. I listened, disbelieving, at first morbidly fascinated. You were focusing on pig-farming you said, or hogs, as they called them, although you’d seen cattle too, and hens, sheep, turkeys, thousands herded into narrow barred spaces in warehouses, locked in metal caging, claws and beaks cut back, ears tagged, sides branded. I didn’t know how you could do it, constantly go to these places and look on these things and come back unchanged. I’m not unchanged, you said, mildly, even as you bit into your Philly sub rabid with roast beef and looked ruefully down at it and we both grinned and you shrugged. I’m learning where our food comes from. It’s why my ex was so keen on grass-fed beef and free-range eggs she always bought from local farms that pastured their cattle, not fed them soybeans and cardboard in troughs. Are the pigs treated badly too?
It was an idle question. I didn’t eat beef, my family didn’t cook it, I never grew up with a taste for burgers like my friends did, but I grew up with pork, my mother is from Goa, she was raised eating pork and chicken cooked in exotic, Portuguese ways, using Malabar spices, and she taught me how to make it myself, coated with paprika and cinnamon and crushed-up bay leaves, slathered with pastes of vinegar and red chilies and ginger and garlic and cloves. I didn’t have so much time to cook but occasionally I made my mother’s pork curry, my housemates swooned over it, saying it was so tender and moist and spicy and perfect they couldn’t resist it, they began to invite boyfriends over when I cooked. You were nodding, saying, yes, pigs too, in fact, especially, but I was blanking out, not taking that in. True, I’d asked, but it was not something I was ready to do, equate one thing with another and come up with a credible solution. Or resolution. I wanted to change the subject, speak of more pleasant things like the prospect of a moonlight cruise on the Potomac, but you were lost in thought. You said, I’d like you to come to this Appalachian farm. I stared. I don’t want to see animals in horrid conditions, I said, what purpose would that serve? I felt resentful even, that you’d expect me to visit places I myself would never voluntarily go. You said, oh no, this place is not like that, this man keeps his pigs in open pastures, it’s a small farm in the mountains. Nice country, you would like it. Still. A pig farm in the mountains. It’s a great drive especially now, leaves turning, all that—the Shenandoah mountains, you know. Old farm country. Apple orchards, blueberry picking, wine trails. We could stop at an inn along the way, have lunch, a glass of wine. Oh? I found myself warming to the prospect. Yes, this is a rather progressive place, this farmer runs a small operation, he cares about animal welfare, he literally keeps his pigs in clover. I must have not reacted encouragingly for you grinned, said, Pigs like clover. Oh it all makes sense now, I said, rolling my eyes. 36
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I never told you this but things around me at work had started those weeks in a slow, granular way to chafe, unsettle me. It was about three months into my volunteering. We had started working on cases of children, held in detention by ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, children who had tried to cross by themselves from Central America into Texas and Arizona and been caught by the ICE officers, children aged five to seventeen, held for years in detention facilities across the US, never re-united with their familiesâ€”many of whom were here in the DC area, but afraid to claim them because of their own undocumented status. Some families had not seen their children for ten to twelve years. Some were single mothers or fathers, who had left lives of great poverty or danger behind to come to Los Estados Unidos to find work, and who worked as security guards and janitors, farm workers and landscapers, babysitters and maids, often paid less than minimum wage, living in crowded townhouses and apartments and even single-family homes with relatives of relatives or friends of friends of friends. We traced their children for them, located the detention center where they were placed, found pro bono legal services to help their child be represented in immigration court. We also began to work with the detention centers in DC and Virginia to help the high-risk casesâ€”orphaned or abandoned children and those who had escaped situations of war, abuse, drug violence, and trafficking, and now were in danger of being deported back to their home countries. When I say we, I really mean those others in the office, the ones with the JDs and Masters in Social Work and years of experience who worked on the cases. This is what was beginning to chafe at me. I was slowly becoming aware of a certain reality no-one had prepared me for. I was learning an undergraduate degree in the arts was something poised to secure a temp job more than anything else. I had not expected the layers of hierarchy I suddenly had to deal with, this place was obliquely formal yet rather ruthless about it. I must have vaguely imagined a modern, American sense of equality in the non-profit workplace, but titles seemed to mean something here; people actually pursued them. I was lucky if I got to work with the case reports. In between Xeroxing and faxing letters and reports and doing the occasional proofing I was asked to do, I read the case studies and summaries and reports. I was asked to watch Rebecca Cammisaâ€™s documentary Which Way Home at lunch one day, I did, and I went home that day, disturbed. Before I was born, my parents too had migrated to the States from India. But they came borne on 37
cushioned seats over continents, served filling if flavorless meals of green peas and roast chicken and buttered potatoes in floating, heated cabins. They carried notice of scholarships and aid, statements from their parentsâ€™ bank accounts and temporarily padded balances. They proffered visas that were signed and approved, retained their newly minted passports. These Central American children, carrying neither papers nor print money, risked their lives and literally limbs to ride on freight trains across open country, swim across rivers, hike for miles across burning desert, all for the hunger to come to N. America. Some of them died in the desert, or fell and broke their limbs under the trainâ€™s merciless wheels. Some drowned. In their hearts, in each of those who crossed or who attempted the crossing, burned a passionate longing for the something more, something better that the US meant to them. The worst was: these were children. Children like six-year-old Martha or ten-year-old Miguel or thirteen-year-old Jesus, from our case files. Missing their mothers, weeping for home. Many came from less than ideal home situations, a cruel stepfather, an absent mother, a family on the edge of impoverishment, yet each wanted desperately to work to send money home. And many were caught and detained, their childhood crushed, held for years between two realities, denied access to either. Trapped in an America not of their dreams, but their fears. The whole thing made me upset. Especially since I could not actually help them. It would be reprieve of a sort I thought, to break for a day, drive up into the mountains. I wondered if your kids would come too. Once before I had met them, Rosellen with her wavy corn-colored hair and freckles and unabashed questions, Sawyer, the older, reserved one with your penetrating blue eyes, we went strawberry-picking once in Delaplane in the summer at Sky Meadows State Park, but no, when you drove up and honked outside our apartment, it was just you. It took us a while with the weekend Mall traffic but we finally drove out of the city and past the ever-extending northern Virginia suburbs with the sprawling malls and outlets, we slipped off the highway onto winding country roads, sides knee-high still with Queen Anneâ€™s lace and goldenrod, here and there late summer sparks of vivid blue chicory, everywhere trees turning, burning sugar maples, salmon-pink dogwoods, starry purple and red sweetgum. In the distance the low blue hills of the Shenandoah loomed, wreathed in mist Beyond Manassas, grass turning to straw rolled beside us. All as picturesque as you had promised. 38
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Mid-morning, we stopped in a little town before we climbed. We ate a slice of heated-up raisin apple-pie at a breakfast-place quaintly named Aunt Hildy’s, drizzled with sugar and sweet with cinnamon; I carried that taste of luscious sweet apple in my mouth. You leaned forward in your seat, looking for the farm, we almost missed the narrow turning into a lane filled with stunted apple trees and honeysuckle, we followed the winding twists of it nearly a mile to the farm. Small wooden arrow signs said, “Pasture.” We drove past the barn and red-brick farmhouse with smoke curling languidly out of the chimney, past wild rose and blackberry, thickets of forsythia, randomly growing walnut and locust. Then we saw it, the wire- fenced enclosures, tall wooden gates between fields, the smell of animal already reaching us as we slowed to take in the sight, in every one of the four square fields verdant with high grass: waves of pigs. Pale pink, snouts large, ears extended, swollen from head to foot, a vastness of pigs, variously engaged in snuffling the grass, rooting at the base of the shade trees, wallowing in mud. I had never seen so many pigs, all together, in one place. Nor such a pristine pinkness, jostling and shuffling, a vast, muscled movement which looked in places like a single undulation, punctuated by pairs of handkerchief ears and inquiring snouts and curlyupheld tails. I could not get over how large they were. Small sounds reached us, snuffling sounds, oinking sounds—it was extreme, I laughed. You joined in, we were both a little unbalanced by the scene. Four hundred strong, you murmured, I didn’t think it would look like this. Why did you say it was small? It is small. There are farmers who hold four hundred thousand pigs at a time. I shuddered. We got out of the car and walked through rye grass and seeding dandelion toward the field marked A, where you said the farmer would meet us. I was wearing a dark green pencil corduroy and brown suede boots; I was already collecting winged seeds, burrs, tiny brush-offs from grass. We saw and heard the static buzz of the wire fencing around the nearest field as we approached and the signs, Electric Fence, Do Not Touch. 39
The pigs themselves seemed oblivious of the fence and of our approach. They continued in their snuffling. Cicadas droned in the grass as we stood in that lucid sunlight, gazing on pigs. The farmer did not appear however, and we walked toward the farmhouse. It was a day for a walk. Blue skies, fuchsia on the five-fingered Virginia vines and in the turquoise and fuchsia porcelain berries, purple and red in the trees. Crisp and cool, not damp, I was grateful for the halo of yellow sun on our shoulders. We were absorbed with our own thoughts. I had wanted not to think about the stories I had read, the documentary I had seen. But the images rushed in and rose before me, they arrayed themselves like gleaming, wellwashed stones from a northern beach all around the hillside. Each child carried heartbreak with her, as if it were a worn possession. Each child was roiled in danger. Some more rending than others. Some journeys played like rewinding tapes in my mind, over and over. I was torn just then, remembering the boy, Miguel, from Guatemala, whom we had just found, and the young woman Maricel Ava Gabriela from Honduras, who was lost, whose family could not find her. Miguel was like the child in the film who cried for his mother. Sent away by his mother in remote, mountainous Tejutla in central Guatemala to join his father in northern Virginia, who had crossed into Arizona many years ago, with his uncle and two brothers, all of whom were married now with children and lived together in a rented house in Sterling, he was thirteen now, having spent three years in detention in California. How could his mother send him away, at ten, by himself, entrusting him to the care of another boy in the village, a twelve-year-old? But she was poor, she made a living by selling food and housekeeping for sick people, and had four other children to feed, two baby half-brothers and two sisters older than Miguel, as well as an old mother. Her new husband had two sons and was not kind to his stepson. Miguel endured years of abuse at the hands of his stepfather before resolving to run away and find his real father in northern Virginia. His mother gave him her blessing. With two older boys Miguel amazingly had crossed the desert into Phoenix and worked for two days at a car repair shop before ICE found him.
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Miguel was someone we had found through our inter-organizational search. His father, although fearing for his own security, and his new US citizen children, had approached us after hearing from a church friend about us. How many more like Miguel languished in detention, I wondered, unfound by anyone? We saw one lone pig in a pen beside the house as we approached. A large, sleepy, black and white pig, lying on his side in mud, head and ears black with it, grunting to himself, obviously content. Two children played with long sticks beside him, wearing rainboots and denim overalls. Boys I thought at first but as we approached we saw one was a girl with a shaved head and the other a boy. My twins, said a voice, and we turned to see the farmer behind us, in heavy boots and a green barn coat. He had emerged from a chicken coop at the far end of the field and was carrying a bucket. We shook hands, introduced ourselves, and Craig Herbert gestured to his children. They’re very attached to her. I realized the pig was a girl. They don’t want to give her up, he said. I’ve delayed it long as I could, but her time is coming up. She’ll have to go. Not a pet? you asked. Craig Herbert laughed. We don’t have feed for pets, he said. Our hogs come in and go out, every one of them. We gotta keep the numbers. But he looked uneasy as he looked at his children, and I wondered about that. Her especially, he said after a moment, pointing to his daughter. She’s nine years old, has lymphoma. Chemotherapy did that to her hair. The child was tickling the pig on her side with the stick, gently running it up and down her muddied skin. The pig heaved and grunted. I noticed then the child was overly thin, wisps of light brown hair plastered to one side of her head, she hadn’t really been shaved, her hair had slipped off her scalp, as if it were a cap, and strands remained, here and there, giving her a plucked, exposed look. We came closer and I saw her collarbone, protruding and pale. Hello, she called, we called hello back. Want to pat Princess, she asked, and I shook my head, smiling. No way was I going to 41
enter that mud wallow with my Victoria’s Secret boots. Princess won a prize, shouted the boy. He looked older, although I could see the resemblance to his twin—his hair was thick and wavy brown, his frame sturdy, health in his cheeks and bright, sparkling eyes. What kind of prize? Best finishing pig in her category—two weeks weaned to full-size, said the farmer. We have a local contest on the Fourth. She was the smallest runt when we got her, less than 40 pounds. But she made her size in a hurry. Shortest growth cycle. She still has her markings, see. Princess America! It was true. On the sides of Princess, still visible, through layers of mud and hair, were the cherry-red stripes of the American flag, and dotted artistically about her body were navy-blue stars. Around one eye, a larger star had been painted, midnight-blue rubbed now to a dirty brown, and in the middle blinked her eyelashed eye, white and brown and remarkably bright. We saw she wasn’t really a black and white pig then, just pink with navyblue and a lot of crusted mud. Princess America, we said. Of course. You were off then, huddling with the farmer, and after a while we saw you walk back toward the fields. The children had clustered around me, I chatted idly with them. The little girl looked at my cream and sage sweater, my skirt, my boots, and when she caught me watching her ducked her head down and giggled. One day I’ll look just like you, she said, and for a moment that felt eerie, as if she were my own daughter, an idea I was not prepared for, and I paused, not knowing how to respond. You’re spooking her, the boy said. You ain’t gonna look like her one day! The girl was playing against the wooden fence and she pushed her face against it and spoke from the wood, I mean her clothes, all grown-up like that. You like my boots? I lifted a leg to show her the little fabric rosebud sewn into the cuff of my knee-high boots. Oooh, she said. Yes! Then: You want to see something funny? Sure, I said. 42
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Come with me. She passed the sleepy pig. Come on Princess! Princess turned her head slightly but did not move. The girl reached down and patted her neck, pat pat pat, and the pig rolled over and stood up, as if a message in Morse code had reached her brain. Flakes of crusted mud shook off her hide. I realized I was expected to follow and kept a safe distance as the girl led us around the paddock, closer to the house. An oversize tire hung horizontally low beneath a spreading apple tree, and the girl led the massive pig up to it. Hup! she shouted, and the pig leapt onto the tire and missed. Hup! again, and the pig, grunting in seeming effort, leapt heroically once more, all two hundred possible pounds of her, into the quivering air and grazed the tire with her belly and front paws before she collapsed in a heap, panting, beneath the tire. I was becoming concerned about the pig’s health. It didn’t seem plausible that so obese a creature could be made or expected to physically exert herself in this manner. Really, I started to say, don’t you think Princess is a little too big for this kind of game? But I had only said the word “Really” for the girl shouted Hup! again, and the pig, unfazed apparently by her recent gargantuan failures, leapt once more in Pavlovian fashion thrillingly upward, and succeeded this time in capturing the tire. I watched in petrified awe as she swung lazily in the wind of her own making, the tire bowing slightly under her weight, the braided ropes creaking as Princess, all four feet and hooves and swollen body of her rested briefly in the nest of the tire before she voluntarily shifted her weight and slithered off. That’s amazing, I said, I can’t believe she just did that! The girl was rubbing the pig down, rub rub rub, all over her muddy, starred and striped body, laughing. She does it every day. She started when she was a puppy pig, when she first came to us. She knows how to swing! And to jump, I said. I didn’t know pigs could jump! The pig rolled over and the child rubbed her belly. The pig grunted and seemed to smile, at least that is what the arrangement of her features appeared to signal. She caught my eye briefly and tried to get to her feet, briefly she seemed to want to come toward me, perhaps to investigate me further, but then, feeling the child’s caressing hands, rubbed her snout into the child’s lap instead and closed her eyes. The child looked up at me and smiled, proudly, knowingly. I wished I had my camera on me, it was a rather affecting picture.
It also reminded me of something. Before we left town, the day before, Maricel’s mother had come to the office. I sat opposite her as the Case Manager of Missing Immigrant Children spoke to her. This is from a long time ago, she said, showing us a photograph in her wallet. Dog-eared and tea-stained, the photo was crumpled though smoothened, as if someone had wadded it up then flattened and slid it between plastic leaves in a wallet. It showed a very young girl with shoulder-length brown hair and bangs, billowy polka-dotted dress in faded red, pushing a wooden toy duck on wheels and looking sideways at the camera and smiling. Her cheeks were dimpled, her eyes lively and her expression hopeful, as if a prize existed for posing and the camera was going to give it to her. She was four when I left her, Maricel’s mother said, now she must be seventeen. Must be. The words hung in the air, and they too were a kind of hope. Which was all there was sometimes. The most haunting of the cases always those where the child is never found. Maricel Ava Gabriella was fourteen when she climbed on a freight train not far from her home in Tegucigalpa in the Honduras to come to the US to find her mother, who had left her at four and her brother at three to find work in the States and send home money, which she had done, faithfully, for ten years, working as a janitor in a retail store, at apartments, in offices. Maricel’s brother had stayed back to take care of their sick grandmother. Weeks passed, months, years. Maricel never made it. No-one knew what happened. No word from neighbors, friends, relatives reached her mother in Woodbridge, Virginia. The last sighting was across the border in Guatemala. Someone from her hometown reported seeing her climb back on after a train stop one evening, she had known her by the striped red and purple wool scarf she wore. Noone had seen her in Mexico, in the shelters, on the trains. But daily in Mexico there are kidnappings and traffickings, there are gangsters patrolling the trains, smugglers who target children and women, who hold these already-impoverished migrants for ransom, there are terrible reports of killings, rapes, disappearances. We assured Maricel’s mother we would do everything we could to trace her. We did not tell her all the trails had petered into nothing. No trace of Maricel had yielded itself to our search. We could not say, to her weeping mother: Anything could have happened to Maricel. Nor even: We cannot find her. We are looking, we said, we are doing everything we can, we are looking. She wept with open eyes as she looked at us, shoulders heaving, chest shuddering, trying to believe us. She was a plain woman with heavily 44
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made-up eyes, curly black hair pulled back with silver-toned barrettes, wearing old blue jeans and an orange top, clutching a fraying black purse, I looked at her and thought of Maricel and wondered if and how much she looked like her mother now. You had not returned when the farmer’s wife Dora Jean found us out back and took us indoors and poured cold apple cider for us, you were not there when she started to tell me about the pigs, this whole production up in the rolling flanks of the Shenandoah hills, and about the child who taught her pig to jump, who had forged an everlasting bond with this large unwieldy animal. Princess America, like all the other pigs on the farm, was a “finishing pig.” Brought to the farm as a weanling at five weeks old, she was housed with the other female pigs and pastured on grass and clover and fed supplements of corn, soybean, and grains. Now at almost five months and two hundred and twenty pounds, she was a young “gilt,” a word that meant young female pig that hadn’t littered yet. But she would litter soon. The grower, as Dora Jean quaintly referred to her husband, was contracted to manage or “grow” fixed numbers of male and female “feeder” pigs –barely weaned from their mothers, fed and “finished” here to their slaughter weight of two hundred and fifty or three hundred pounds, shipped at six months from the farm’s open fields and blue skies directly to the slaughterhouse. A certain number of gilts, of carefully chosen breeding stock, all supplied as weanlings to the grower—Yorkshires and Durocs, Mrs. Herbert said—were shipped instead to the integrator, a word I understood only slowly to mean the owner of the larger, consolidated factory farm, the one which owned its own feed mill, trucks, slaughterhouses, and processed millions of pigs a year. There they would be absorbed into the large-scale breeding operations at the factory farm, to be mated on their second estrus, at six months old, and transferred to narrow gestation stalls where they would stay for four months each time until they were ready to litter. In the four to five years of their expected lifespan, they would litter 8 to 12 times, each time producing about 14 to 16 piglets, who would be nursed a few weeks, weaned, and then contracted out to finishing pig farms like this one. Once, Dora Jean, said, rather wistfully, I thought, as she looked out the window, we grew tobacco on these slopes, when I was a girl, and my parents were alive, and Craig’s. Peanuts too. But now the tobacco and peanut subsidies have all ended, we had to find something else. Something steady and profitable.
Through the window we watched the girl with the bald head and her taller, athletic twin brother play with the amiable pig. She had tied a red ribbon to a stick and was clumping around the muddy paddock, the boy running ahead, the pig giving chase in starts, as if unconvinced of the amusement in all this but indulgent. I asked about the child’s illness. I was almost afraid to ask, but the mother told me she had been diagnosed and started treatment about a year ago, that the disease seemed to respond to the chemotherapy, but it was unpredictable and aggressive and kept coming back. They went down to Charlottesville for the treatment, she said, and Cassidy liked going there, they tried to give her a treat each time, like taking her to the zoo or the children’s museum. Wayne came too. We try to make it a holiday for all of us, she said. She ran the faucet in the sink and held her hands underneath, letting the stream slip though her fingers. When it recedes she has a time of reprieve, she said, like now, after her chemo. She was in bed until yesterday morning. Now she wants to play outside all day. Next week we go back to the oncologist. If the cancer keeps spreading, it will destroy her, they say. With this cancer, once it spreads, the doctor says he cannot give a child more than a few months to live at best. She looks so full of vitality, I ventured. She looks like she must be healing. We do our best, said Dora Jean. There are all sorts of new cancer drug trials, we do everything the doctors want—radiation, drugs. It keeps coming back, she said, whispering, no matter what we do. She turned; I saw she had been silently crying. I looked, startled, into her swimming eyes, they were pale blue and the skin around them creased, tiny blue veins ran across her face, the pores of her skin visible. We don’t know how much time she has, we just don’t know. A sensation of vertigo seized me, as of a darkening tunnel closing, my limbs giving way. I wanted not to hear this, I thought, who wanted to hear such a thing? I held on to the kitchen table with both hands. I’m so sorry, I said, feeling inadequate. In my mind ran an old history lesson, about the young Siddhartha, the four things he encountered, that he didn’t want to know about, what were they—old age, suffering (or was it disease?), death, and asceticism, only the last one being a positive. I moved abruptly, not wanting to think about the child’s illness.
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But there was something else I wanted to know. How soon does the pig go away, I asked, and the farmer’s wife said, In a month. Does she know? No, said Dora Jean. She wiped her eyes, leaned on the counter. She was a frail, slender woman, most unlike my image of a farmer’s wife. I thought if it were not for her old-fashioned straight-down jeans and thick farmer’s boots, she would not look like someone rural, living slightly out of time. Are you going to tell her? No, said Dora Jean. She shrugged. I don’t know how to. Couldn’t you keep her? She shook her head. We did not speak of the pig after that. I tried to imagine what the child would say if she knew. Then I thought how she would never know fully, what was going to happen to her precious Princess. No-one would tell her that the babies Princess nursed would be taken from her at three weeks, she would be impregnated again a week after the birth, returned to the narrow gestation crate, where she could neither move nor stand comfortably, feeding and excreting where she lay. No-one would tell her this cycle would continue until she weakened and became unable to produce healthy litters, when she would be retired and transformed like the rest into loins and shoulders, cutlets and bacon and honey-baked ham. No-one would tell her these halcyon months of open skies and wallowing in mud and snuffling at corn and leaping at giant tires would soon be gone forever. This was America. The pig could not protest, nor the child, nor Dora Jean, nor the farmer, they were all bound to the bottom-line, the profit margin, the indifferent certainty of numbers. You came down to the farmhouse then with the grower and we walked out together and watched the child playing outside, and the boy joined her, and we said our goodbyes and walked up the path, and the yellows and reds of fall burned in their beauty around us. Dora Jean had said, Come back and visit us now! And I had smiled, even as I felt the impossibility. You walked ahead of me as always, stride energetic. 47
I reached for something to break the sudden bleakness. I talked about the child, her illness. I cannot imagine what she must be going through. You meant the mother. Your own child, I said, that must feel terrible, and you looked at me quizzically, and said, half-smiling, What would you know about children? I half-turned from you then, got into the car. With a few words, you had made me feel gauche, unworthy. You drove, downhill now. Into the silence, you said, as if you had noticed my reaction, and regretted it, or partially regretted it, does it make you think of having your own kids one day, Nataline? I shook my head so my hair fanned usefully around me and stared out the window at the tops of trees, the far snatches of vista through loosening leaves, the winding road. I knew, even as you said, I’m ready to have kids again, you know, change diapers, push a stroller, all that, that we would never have children together, this had been a pleasant interlude, but things were changing deep inside me, would continue morphing all fall, all winter. Slowly I was waking to something I could not name, it was in myself, it did not have to do with having children. We drove in quiet for a while. You asked if I wished to take a detour to see a particular vineyard that was particularly famous. It doesn’t matter. Let’s go to Warrenden’s then, it’s on our way. I said okay, and we continued, and the quiet, secret images of my thoughts rose up once more and started to flash past the tall boles of trees and glowing scraggles of leaves on the hillsides. This fall would burn slowly to death, to winter. I would go back to my work as an unpaid volunteer, sifting through more despairing case histories of lost and languishing children in detention facilities across America, you would return to yours as an American reporter of large realities for a London newspaper. I would search for futures all year before deciding to give it a shot, go to law school, and see if I could survive. I had not spent as much time with the animals but those brief glimpses felt indelible. I tried to envision returning to my mother’s cooking and gauzy, backlit images floated up, of an impossibly overgrown pig leaping at a tire and chasing after a red ribbon on a stick and resting affectionately with her head in a shorn child’s lap. I did not know how long 48
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we would keep seeing each other, each of us eliding parts of ourselves in order to be with the other, each of us pointed inexorably toward futures we could not fully imagine. I thought of these things in brief, luminous spurts but I could not speak them. The blue hills of the Shenandoah rolled into seasons of indigo and dusk and the trees swung by one after another and I let them go, each trunk slipping into memory as the road wound ever forward and took us each with it, wrapped in the singular cocoons of our lives.
Ramola D's short fiction collection Temporary Lives (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), was awarded the 2008 AWP Grace Paley Short Fiction Prize, and was finalist in the 2010 Library of Virginia Fiction Awards. Her poetry collection Invisible Season (WWPH, 1998) was awarded the 1998 Washington Writersâ€™ Publishing House Poetry Award. A Discovery/The Nation finalist, she received a 2005 NEA fellowship in poetry.Her fiction, poetry, essays, and writer-interviews have appeared in various journals and anthologies including Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, Agni, Green Mountains Review, Writer's Chronicle and been reprinted in Best American Poetry 1994, and Best American Fantasy 2007. Her fiction was shortlisted under 100 Other Distinguished Stories in Best American Stories 2007, and included in Enhanced Gravity: More Fiction by Washington DC Women Writers (Paycock Press, 2006). Ramola holds an MFA from George Mason University and a BS in Physics and MBA from the University of Madras, India.She has taught creative writing at The George Washington University and at The Writer's Center, Bethesda.
FEATURE ARTIST JOOYOUNG CHOI
Artist's Statement Through personal mythology, fantastical narrative and paint, I have manifested a magical world I refer to as the Cosmic Womb. This land is populated by a species of humanoid creatures called Tuplets. Although these beings share a physical resemblance with East Asian females they are not human. Tuplets are magical child-like creatures who seem to live forever and have been born with magical powers. The Tuplets share this land with talking animals, bizarre hybrid creatures, robots, spirits and phantoms.
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FLOSSIN' WITH HALF CAUTION
acrylic on canvas 4' x 4'
WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?
acrylic on canvas 4' x 6'
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GROW GROW GROW
acrylic on canvas 4' x 6'
BLUE GIRL IS ON FIRE OR DISAPPEARING FROM JUDGMENTAL FLESH HOUSES
acrylic on canvas 4' x 6'
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EVEN SOPHISTICATED FLEAS DO IT
acrylic on canvas 4' x 5.5'
PAVOR NOCTURNUS Khaty Xiong
Tell me of your war body curled deep in the rifle, the whistles of man (lost father), the mountains jungled in the mist. You reach for me in the old language, spreading fingers to break the shadow, holding onto the darker throat. In the hold, you welt us both—return as the catfish that gives river a new mouth. I wait—go on—the same way.
Khaty Xiong is currently a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Montana for her MFA in Poetry. Her poetry has appeared in How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology, Polaris, Spires, and is forthcoming in Lantern Review.
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AFTER JULIE GREEN’S THE LAST SUPPER Rachelle Cruz fried chicken thirty jumbo shrimp caesar salad with thousand island dressing three bananas cool whip and cherries one pot of coffee declined justice one whole fried chicken (extra crispy) french fries french toast enchiladas declined half of a fried chicken (cooked with garlic salt and red pepper) six scrambled eggs with gravy bacon (extra crispy) peach cobbler double-meat cheeseburgers french fries declined declined equality justice world peace six cans of RC cola one bag of assorted Jolly Ranchers one
chocolate birthday cake with 2/23/90 written on top (never had one) a pint of milk enchiladas bowl of frosted flakes spanish rice t-bone steak one delicious apple two bananas fried chicken quarters fried eggs fried squash okra three chicken breasts (fried)
three fried eggs two t-bone steaks t-bone steak two t-bone steaks eucharist sacrament one package of Marlboro cigarettes declined declined asked that final meal be provided
to a homeless person god’s saving grace truth love freedom whatever’s on the menu
Rachelle Cruz is from Hayward, California. She is the author of the chapbook, SelfPortrait as Rumor and Blood (Dancing Girl Press,2012). Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Bone Bouquet, PANK Magazine, Muzzle Magazine, Lantern Review, Splinter Generation, KCET's Departures Series, Inlandia: A Literary Journey, among others. She hosts The Blood-Jet Writing Hour on Blog Talk Radio. An Emerging Voices Fellow, a Kundiman Fellow and a VONA writer, she lives and writes in Southern California.
FEATURE ARTIST JAN MICHAEL CARIAGA
Artist's Statement I'm a Concept Designer / Visual Development Artist focused on delivering meaningful experiences to viewers through intelligent design and nostalgia.
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ISSUE 14 | FALL 2012
ISSUE 14 | FALL 2012
“DID YOU EAT? MEANS…I LOVE YOU.” Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
I show up at your back door with a bento box of potstickers. I thought you were inviting me to tea, so I had to bring something. Only to find that you were not really inviting me to tea, the potstickers forgotten on your kitchen counter, as our tongues tangle on the couch. I am so nervous I can never eat around you. A handsome young scholar who has started showing up at my back door asks me, between plates of mango mochi and taro steamed buns and curry beef pastries, “Why are you always trying to feed me?” “I’m Chinese. I can’t help myself. This is what we do. We feed people.” As I place another plate of summer rolls before him.
The Peace Corps volunteers in Kathmandu are laughing about the Nepali families who keep asking them, “Did you eat rice yet?” Bhat khaanu baiyo? “No, I had noodles.” Wrong answer. “Is the salt ok?” Noon tik cha? “No, a little too salty.” Again, wrong answer. The young Americans hear the words, but they do not understand. Am I the only one here not laughing? It is the same in Chinese. Ni chi fan le ma? “Have you eaten yet?” (And who can forget the soy sauce scene in The Joy Luck Club?) Regardless of whether you answer yes or no (your answer should always be yes, btw), the Aunties will still sit you down at the table, with a fresh bowl of rice, for more. As the Blacklava T-shirt says, “Did you eat? means…I love you.”
He walks through our house with his big hiking boots on. The children—who normally stop every repairman and every guest who unknowingly walk in with their shoes—sit on their beds, eyes cast down, staring at his big shoes. Inside our house. Inside their rooms. He throws open the front door, strides in the front hallway, goes through the kitchen, up the stairs, in and out of each of the children’s bedrooms, and mine. Rifles through our drawers. Sits on our beds. Uses our bathroom. I wait silently in the kitchen, but listen to every footstep, every breath. When he finally finishes his tour of what was once our home together and comes back downstairs, I offer him a cup of oolong tea with both hands raised. He sneers no as if I am too stupid to know after seventeen years of marriage that he only drinks coffee. Three-year-old Little 63
Brother offers to share his half-eaten banana, perfectly ripe. He knows bananas are Little Brother’s favorite fruit, but he tells Little Brother no, he never eats bananas because they are disgusting. Seven-year-old Little Sister offers him a piece of mochi that she made that afternoon. He grimaces no to microwave mochi, too sticky, too much food coloring, not “authentic” enough. Ten-year-old Second Sister offers him a Spam musubi she made for tomorrow’s Chinese School picnic. He glances at the plastic take-out containers and the green onion rubber bands on the table she is using to pack them, and he rolls his eyes, unable to believe how low-class his own children have become in my care, to reuse things instead of throwing them away like “normal people,” how degrading that they are learning to live frugally like immigrants, FOBs, even as he lavishes his new white girlfriend with $1000 designer shoes.
I once drove for hours in the dark, lost in a snowstorm, running from my life, running from myself. When the storm cleared, I found myself at the edge of Niagara Falls, the water churning free of ice, an eerie calm. I remember that my grandparents used to live here. I came once when I was a child. My great aunt and uncle still live here, I think. Somewhere. One phone call is all it takes. Soon, little Chinese women in heavy coats with fur-lined hoods and big boots appear out of the mist, trudging through the snow drifts to fetch me in my tears. Soon I am home again, safe in my great aunt’s warm house, a big bowl of oxtail soup before me, the same hot sauce my grandmother uses, the same crunchy daikon pickles my mom makes on the side. Defrosting the snow on my eyelashes, melting the fear in my heart.
My mother thinks that no one could possibly be such a terrible cook, I must be doing it on purpose.
After a week at their father’s new 28-year-old girlfriend’s house, the children come home looking gaunt and tired. “Now we know why white kids don’t like to eat broccoli!” They laugh hysterically as they describe being fed a whole head of broccoli, steamed into submission, not cut, no salt. They are punished when they try to add soy sauce, when they want to use chopsticks, when they simply push the soggy mess about on their plates. I know I shouldn’t, but I smile inwardly as I ladle out five big bowls of beef noodle soup—the noodles fat, the beef nuen, the broccoli perfectly crisp. No rebuttal necessary. My children are home again.
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“Did you eat? means…I love you.” is a series of six prose poems and love stories bordered by photographs of food and family pulled from our Asian Pacific American refrigerator doors, exhibited at Hatakeyama Gallery September 29 to October 10, 2012 on the occasion of Ryan Suda’s Blacklava’s 20 th anniversary celebration, Los Angeles, California.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and Hawaii. She is a contributor for New America Media, Chicago Is the World, Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent.com. She team-teaches Asian Pacific American History and the Law at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is the author of Imaginary Affairsâ€”Postcards from an Imagined Life, available at Blacklava.net. She can be reached at email@example.com and franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com.
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THE STORY OF US V. Jo Hsu
Two years after we parted, she finally told me: I just realized that the Old Testament god actually fits the trope for everything I want. He’s jealous, possessive, and capable of making torture rooms that burn all eternity long. No wonder that I felt diminished by constant comparison, trying to fit my too-narrow shoulders to the cross.
In the beginning, she told me: It’s a bad idea to date a writer. If we don’t work out, I’ll end up in one of your stories. But I knew then it wasn’t true. I could never write the story of us because stories have plots and plots have reason and there’s no “if, then, because” to how we failed. There’s no progression to how we moved from perfect to disaster and back again— no hero journeys from heaven to hell so many times the bridge collapses, the universe conflates, the borders blur and everything’s just blind intensity, both pleasure and pain. I could never write the story of us because I wouldn’t know where to begin. In college, as roommates? Or do we start earlier than that? When my parents came from Taiwan and her parents came from Indonesia and two separate couples chose to raise their single, lonely daughters on Southwestern soil? Does it begin in Mandarin? In the first language our parents chose to share with their children—our tenuous ties to ancestries distant and incomprehensible? Or perhaps it begins in English, which we learned on our own. It begins in books, in the fables we ingested. It begins on the playgrounds where we read instead of ran, where we learned to live fantasies in a way that would make us both incorrigible dreamers. Years later, we would meet and quote the same pages that took us to Middle-Earth and back again. We would recall the same grainy maps of imagined places and speak of them as if they were real, as if we’d traveled them on horseback, weathered the hand-drawn trails on muddied feet, as if we’d already shared lifetimes of adventures and returned safe, to each other. Home at last.
Once upon a time, she called before we ever met because I was a freshman and she was a sophomore and her last roommate flaked out. So I was the replacement— handpicked from a stack of freshman surveys. The words that caught her eye: “openminded,” “theatre geek” and “English major.” She had a TV, but I should bring a mini fridge. She wouldn’t be there for orientation week, but she would meet me beforehand, so I would know who belonged in that empty space. 67
Once upon a time, I set up our room without her. I stretched my new sheets over the thin dorm mattress and lay stiff as I watched the empty bunk above me, wishing she were there to fill the silence.
LANGUAGES Me: English, Mandarin, Spanish, some Taiwanese. Does Elvish count? Her: English, Mandarin, Indonesian Two shared tongues, five real languages, and still I had only the courage to court her with someone else’s words: Rent “I’ve longed to discover/Something as sweet as this is” “There’s only us/There’s only this” “You were the song all along” Once upon a time we sang along to Rent on repeat, over and over, because I was afraid if we stopped, she’d leave. Once upon a time I let her sleep through her alarm, just to keep her around. Once upon a time she told me: “I think I could love a woman, the right one.” And I took it as a challenge. Wicked “Say there’s no future/For us as a pair/And though I may know/I don’t care” Moulin Rouge “My gift is my song/And this one’s for you” (via Elton John) “Never knew I could feel like this/Like I've never seen the sky before” “Listen to my heart, can you hear? It sings” “All you need is love” (via The Beatles) Once upon a time I was arrogant. Once upon a time I was strong. Once upon a time, I believed a fool like me could win and keep a woman like her with sheer determination. If I could, I would write the story of us in fragments, like the dreams that shatter me awake—my body bent around a pillow, as if it’s remembering her. Piecemeal, like the way I feel after her. A life otherwise whole, fractured by her resurfacings. 68
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[“I miss you,” I hiccup the words into silence, chopping potatoes.] Breakfast ‘Tatoes Ingredients: -
5 red-skinned potatoes 3 eggs Canola oil Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: Dice the potatoes on the cutting board—on the square foot of open counter in a oneperson kitchen wedged into the Upper West Side. Brown the potatoes in the pan, stirring to keep them from burning. Prod occasionally with a fork to check for tenderness. When the potatoes feel soft, break the eggs against the edge of the skillet—the last of the carton. The fridge is empty. Stir the eggs with a spatula until the yolks break, until yellow and white bleed into one. Season with salt and pepper and portion the meal into two bowls. [This was the first meal I made her. The first thing either of us ever cooked in our first apartment together. We ate crosslegged on twin beds we had lashed together in a subletted apartment. I remember, watching her nod with approval, thinking we could do this. We could take care of each other.]
The Things I Learned From Her: How to slice a mango and eat it from the rind How to apply eyeliner How to drink wine—to let the reds breathe until they soften How to sleep in [Her flannel shirt is still the softest, warmest thing I have. Each night, I wrap myself in it before bed. Her shoes walk me to work and back. Cole Haan. As if I would know who that was without her.] How to study with the TV on, to write to the cadence of USA marathons and House DVDs How to beat Kingdom Hearts How to come home—not because I have to, but because I want to, because finally there is safety behind the door I unlock every day, a pocket of the world that is mine How to ignore the dying nerves in my arm as my lover sleeps How to talk about architecture [In graduate school, I sit on the floor of an apartment of a man I barely know. I page through his architecture books, cover to cover, recognizing the names and terms she’d taught me. He leans over and smiles. I try to imagine kissing him, but I can’t.] How to learn the rhythm of her breaths like a lullaby, until all rooms seem empty without it How to give more than I have, to change more than I can, to enact what I am not
I’ve lost the circulation to my hands. I can’t quite feel my fingers, though I’m certain they’re clenching the wooden posts on either corner of the bed. I bite my lip to keep from screaming, but still I do. The sound that leaves me throat doesn’t belong to me. 70
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Blood pools hot against my ribcage, where her teeth close. Flesh breaks. I scream. I seize. One hand wrenches free. I spring loose. My body is not mine. We’re tangled limbs and joints. Bone on flesh on wall. I pin her body beneath mine, hold her wrists above her head. Her breath catches. I strike to punish and she writhes. In the first months, we learned a game. A twisted compromise. I had to hurt to hurt her, to feel wronged and weak and defiant to throw her to the wall. We collected scars like spare change. We told parents and friends that we’d walked into walls. Tripped. Slammed a door wrong. “Oh I didn’t even notice that one.” “How did that get there?” Long sleeves and turtlenecks in Texas. [My balcony is cold. The punching bag creaks as the breeze pushes it against its hinge. I wrap my hands slowly, twining the cotton first around my thumb, then my wrist, twisting it between the joints of my fingers before cinching the end. I remember the way her fingers grasped at open air, the way the silk bit her wrists raw. How I wanted to kiss the scars away.]
How much time did we spend crafting fictions? With enough money, we’d buy an apartment in New York, and one in Barcelona. We’d shuttle to and from continents, two artists with the freedom and time to sleep as we pleased, work when we wanted, and make of our lives something beautiful. One day, she’d show me Paris, which she toured with her architecture class. One day, I’d take her to Taiwan—a country she’s never seen, though its heritage pulses in her veins. The habits I’ve inherited from my parents revive memories of her father, long absent. The way Chinese shapes in my mouth. The way I eat tofu—cold, off a platter pooled with soy sauce. One day too, we’d go to Jakarta. We couldn’t visit her family, though—at least, not as us, not in a country without words for our sins. We’d stay in tourist zones, and dabble on the fringes of her alternate world. But I wanted so much to see the verdant hills in the pictures she’d mailed. I wanted to meet that cousin with the mischievous grin—the lone child that had somehow won her approval.
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A miracle: she named our daughter Marionette. She told me this on a bus in Queens, in the eighth hour of an interminable errand. A day of public transitâ€”walking, to busses, to subways, and busses again. I navigated by Post-it. On the last leg of a two-hour commute, she put her head on my shoulder and told me: Marionette. Marion for short.
[Organix: the five dollar shampoo we bought in New York. Four years later, I uncap a bottle in Phoenix. Inhale and my chest compresses. How is it she still takes my breath away?]
Once upon a time we believed in miracles. We believed that love could overcome nature and I would be enough for her. But she needs someone who loves without yielding. Who dominates by instinct. Who traffics in control. She needs a hard, manipulative hand that doles care in humiliation. So I beat the outsides of my pliant heartâ€”hoping somehow calluses would form so I might want her on her knees. In the blood-bruised ambitions of my soul, I can find
pleasure in her pain. I can bind her wrists with joy, and the dwindling pulse of her breath beneath my palm does not make me quiver with sadness.
She was selfish. I was weak. We were cruel. I can expel again and again the ways we failed, the ways we disappointed each other and the terrible people we became. It’s easy to remember the nights I spent pacing the stairwell. The wind menaced through the cracks in our walls and I, wrapped in her flannel, knew it was too cold to go outside. I sat on the floor, counting roaches, a coward. I never told her how it echoed a younger me, running away from home. Nights in the garage. I still can’t decide what’s harder: running away or running back.
She inscribed on my arm…. “This is my puppy” I wrote back…
“Has a puppy”
I am more bark than bite, and the memory of her upturned face—the force of her kneeling, tear-soaked supplication—still shakes me. Once upon a time, I could bring her to her knees, but I could not keep her there. The spell lifted quickly. She recast me through names: “Puppy, Thing, Littles.” More pet than lover—domesticated, tamed.
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The Things I Could Not Learn from Her Leather n Roses: General BDSM Knives Author: Knyghtflyher © 20011 Any submissive with whom I play, over a period of time, knows which blades are sharp, and which blades are dull. Their bodies “remember” the shape of the blades as they caress their inner thighs or travel up and down the slope of their breasts. They remember which blades cut the clothing from their bodies with deceptive ease, and they remember the blades I use to remove wax that I have dripped on their body. Even when blindfolded, after a while, they know. I shut the blinds and rolled up my pant leg, compressing pleats of red cotton. We’d bought them from Target because she didn’t like my sweatpants. I had a folding knife: all-black metal, Smith & Wesson. It was entirely too large and clumsy for the job. The blade was thick and heavy—made for hacking, not precision cuts. I polished the metal with rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs. I held it to my leg, surprised by its coldness. I started with a few trial runs, touching the blade to my skin. Too light. I am a coward. I pressed a little harder, and the suggestive scratch of the knife’s tip sent shudders down my spine. It left a thin, white trail. No broken skin. I’m just too damn weak. How could I expect her to respect me? How could I demand anything of her? I am pathetic, insufficient. I need to be stronger. I gripped the knife in a fist, raised it well above my leg. I puffed my chest in a deep-drawn breath. The muscles in my shoulder seized. Aw you’re cute, she once told me, when you pretend to be tough. Leather n Roses: General BDSM Knives Practice on yourself before you use that blade on someone else. It is far better to cut yourself by accident than to cut your submissive. A mistake can not only ruin a scene, but can destroy the "trust" that submissive has in you as a Dominant. Blind swipe. My eyes squeezed instinctively shut. A flash of pain, warmth and wetness. I looked down and found a small cut—not very deep, about the length of my thumb. A single, thick red dot trailed along my leg. I found more alcohol wipes and rubbed Neosporin into my leg. I’m a joke. I remembered the black, silk swatches she had cut from fabric—knotted in the back of our closet. I envisioned her bound and blindfolded, the supple curves of her body begging for touch, and me—taking shallow, preparatory breaths for the strikes I could never make. 1
IdahoBDSM says2: “The only limitation you will find when it comes to knife play is the boundaries within your own mind.” No amount of study, no amount of webpage wisdom could reify my feeble dreams.
Fantasy Tropes and Conventions From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia There are many elements that occur throughout the fantasy genre in different guises. Worldbuilding, in particular, has many common conventions as do, to a lesser extent, plot, and characterization.
Dark Lord The forces of evil are often personified in a “Dark Lord.” He is often depicted as a god-like, diabolical force, and may be more a force than a personality. A Dark Lord is usually depicted as the ultimate personification of evil, often committing atrocities that make common people afraid to speak their very names.
Companion Tropes From TVTropes.com “This wiki is a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction”
Animal Familiar A familiar is a creature that has been magically bound to a person in a master-and-servant type of relationship. The animal version of the trope is when the person takes an essentially normal animal and makes it their familiar, which grants that animal special abilities (even if it's just sapience and speech). The animal was essentially mundane, but making it a familiar allows some magic to rub off on it. It’s important for the familiar to be weaker than its master, though usually the familiar remains loyal out of devotion rather than force. [“I’ll end up in one of your stories”]
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If I could rewrite history—if I could revise reality through fiction and draw a constellation of us that endured, I worry that I couldn’t excise our flaws without expunging our virtues. Our contradictions are best understood in context. Our first kiss was during a fight, in a stairwell, between verbal barbs. Our first I love yous were accidents—involuntary truths that fought free though we weren’t yet ready to voice them. She muffled the phrase against my neck, then tried to bury it with kisses. [“I miss you,” I mutter into darkness, buttoning her shirt.]
My favorite gift from her, I gave back. A guitar—handmade, incomplete. A shaped and sanded slab with no frets, no strings. I’ve forgotten the names of the woods—the exotic species she researched and had shipped from far corners of the world. The body was so dense—impractically heavy and not made for carving. It had outmatched her tools—thwarted chisels and blades and sanders. I needed both hands to lift it, and it hummed, deep and resonant, when I tapped it with my knuckles. [In Pennsylvania, I stand outside the architecture studio. I breathe deep the sawdust and study the models of buildings and landscapes students have arrayed on open tables. I’ve always marveled at the deftness of her fingers, at the miniature worlds they wrought from raw material with such patience and care.] For a semester, the guitar stood untouched. The wood resisted molding and working it required more energy than she had. As for me, I didn’t know how to hold something so ponderous. My shadowed recollection has rendered it even more dramatic. The deep red of the bloodwood (I think that was its name) appears impossibly sanguine. In my memory, its dark veins literally weep with the surfeit of emotion. Even in reality, its presence felt unbearable—like staring into the sun—a continual eruption, ill-contained. An inadequate vessel for her furious devotion.
The guitar I own now—the one I saved for and purchased alone—is called the Taylor “Big Baby.”
Taylor Guitars Big Baby Taylor, BBT, Natural Amazon.com Product Description The Baby Taylor’s big sibling, a 15/16-scale Dreadnought with a solid Sitka spruce top and sapele-laminate back and sides, boasts a surprisingly full voice, comes with a lightweight gig bag for easy portability, and makes a trusty companion wherever you go — even if it's just to the couch. Slightly smaller than a full-size guitar, the Big Baby looks and feels like a grownup. Some metaphors write themselves.
Our homes always belonged to other people. The spaces we’ve shared—dorm rooms and sublets—were housed by blank walls we couldn’t paint or puncture. We slept and sat on furniture with histories longer than our own. But we claimed these places as ours. In our Manhattan sublet: two beds on wheels. We lashed them together with storebought twine. We knotted it all too tight to untangle. Minutes before we moved out, I sawed it apart—shredding loose snarls of rope and fabric. It seems to me that places abandon us so much quicker and more completely than we abandon them. [My fingers are numb—from the cold or from the impact, I can’t tell. The heavy bag rocks back on its hinges. The metal stand tips onto two legs and I jump to catch it before it falls from my balcony. My breath comes fast, tearing through my throat and lungs. Even with the cotton wraps, my knuckles have scraped raw. I can feel the blood pool into the cloth. Fighting stance. Hips squared. Jab, jab, hook. Left hook, right uppercut. Keep your hands up, my coach always reminds me. Right hook, left uppercut. Hands near your face. Left elbow, right knee. Protect yourself. Jab. You’re so cute. Rear roundhouse. Liver shot. When you pretend to be tough. The cloth is damp and sticky when I peel it from my 78
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knuckles. I rinse it in the sink, watching the water run pink, then clear again. When the fabric dries, I wind it the way she showed me—how we used to bury our bindings in the back of the closet.] One of our last nights in Manhattan, we saw the penultimate performance of Rent. By then, we’d seen the show three times in theatres, knew the names and résumés of the closing cast by heart. We’d endured innumerable all-nighters with the DVD playing on repeat. We’d bellowed the soundtrack in the safety of her car, barreling down the wide-laned Houston highways. On the walls outside the Nederlander theatre, fellow Rentheads left their mark: “Carley was here.” “We will always love you.” “No day but today.” A collage of felttipped pens and markers, of handwritings bold and timid, looping, curvy, and upside down. With a sharpie from her purse, I wrote our plea: “1,000 sweet kisses to stay,” we begged, refusing to believe in transience. [“There’s only us/There’s only this”] I have the DVDs of the movie and the filmed final performance. I have the soundtrack for the film and the original Broadway show. I have mpeg videos of live renditions from LA to London to New York. I haven’t watched or listened to a single one since we broke up. Every note of its score trembles with the memory of her that night—the way her grip shook with anticipation as we walked through the doors and took the seats we couldn’t afford. The way her tears shimmered with stagelight. The look of rapture that lit her face when the soloist hit her high C and held it—so forceful and pure that it was like truth beaconed skyward. [“You were the song all along”] After the Rent show, we went to Pastis—a restaurant we’d passed many times, but could never afford. In the spirit of indulgence, we ordered two glasses of absinthe— though we were both underage—the steak tartare, and a basket of fries. The food was luxuriantly rich, and the drinks were so potent, they were nearly unpalatable. She diluted hers with pitchers of water. I shot mine down like cough syrup. But we both drained our glasses, and the rest of the night remains a haze. [In graduate school, at the end of my first semester, my fiction workshop gathers in someone’s living room—on couches and armchairs, on soft, plush carpet. A classmate has brought a bottle of absinthe. He pours it methodically over sugar cubes, watching as the crystals dissolve beneath the steady stream. When he hands me the glass, the smell makes me dizzy. My mouth fills with licorice, at once cloying and bitter. Through it, I can taste her kiss—the coldness of her lips, the sweet of her tongue.] 79
I remember the dim lights seemed to glow, as if seen through frosted glass. The restaurant noise diffused into meaninglessness beneath her whisper against my ear. Her hand rested on my arm like an anchor—its weight the only reassurance I needed that we would prevail. Like all small heroes that dreamt beyond their humble beginnings, we would weather our trials and return—wiser, stronger, but mostly relieved to be home. If the story of us had a climax, I think that night would be it—two and a half years before The End. That’s not to say we didn’t have good moments afterwards. In the falling action, we had highlights—brief bursts of happiness scattered in a steady decline. But never again would we feel so untouchable—like the high C thrown to the rafters—solitary, strong, sustained. By the time we moved back to New York, two years later, after graduation, the Nederlander housed a new show. The walls were swabbed in gold for The Million Dollar Quartet, obscuring completely the montage of desperate, handwritten prayers beneath. How could I conclude the story of us? How do I elect an endpoint? I’ve considered our last night in New York, which memory has reduced to a long and silent embrace—a mutual terror that the moment we let go could be the last time we touched. But that can’t be it, because we touched again—a year later. I visited Houston and we had lunch—like distant friends or good acquaintances that have to make appointments. “I’m surprised,” she told me, “you came all this way to see Mayra.” “Well,” I said, “I also wanted to see you.” The words left my mouth without thought. [“I love you” she confessed against my shoulder, then kissed it, embarrassed, because we hadn’t yet spoken those words. Not for real. Because the first time should be special—a planned, momentous occasion. But it was true, and truth doesn’t obey plots, or reason, or desperation.] She reached for my hand as if to hold it, then snapped back—as if that too were an unbidden impulse. But there were several brief, flashfire seconds of her fingers on mine. Enough to ignite my buried longing. Enough to linger and follow me back to Pennsylvania, where I wake, heart-pounding, to the memory flares of her touch. Walls can be repainted. The Nederlander can don new faces for new shows. I can shed the ink from my skin, and we can wash our sweat from borrowed sheets, but memory seeps deeper than that. It stains beneath the surface, bleeds into past and present, stays regardless of life’s progression. 80
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It’s no surprise that she’s dictated the terms of our separation. At first I sent her letters—packaged pieces of myself in paper and mailed them to her. But she never wrote back. Every now and then, she sends me an email, or a text message. Something impersonal and small—something you’d send that friend with whom you had a lunch date one afternoon in Houston. The last email she wrote me: Can you think of something lighthearted and safe that has crossed your desk lately? Something charming and not ostentatious or too self-aware, with a happy ending, maybe? Two sentences—the average length of our current transactions. But memory stains: her favorite movie was Requiem for a Dream. In our dorm, we could watch lives collapse countless times without dampening our mood. We saw Gladiator die again and again on the sands of the Coliseum. We sang along to Christian’s mourning each time he lost Satine. I wonder what it means that, after so many years nourished by tragedy, she finally craves a happily ever after. I would like to think that it means she misses me, but more likely it just means she’s sad. It means that we fill the gaps in our lives with stories, with fictions that can complete our broken narratives. And that’s why I could never write the story of us. Because I would use fantasy to patch the gashed clefts in our past, pad severed veins and broken skin with desperation. But until then, I can cling to the foolish promise of the unwritten. I can sit here and bleed freely, and dream.
V. Jo Hsu received her MFA in Fiction from the Pennsylvania State University, and is currently a Javits Fellow pursuing a PhD in English Rhetoric at Penn State. She has worked as a fiction reader and production manager for Our Stories Literary Journal, and as an intern for Yfat Reiss Gendell at Foundry Literary + Media in New York City. Jo’s fiction has appeared in TINGE Magazine, Bluestem, and Consequence. She has also contributed to Pleiades, Green Mountains Review, Fiction Writers’ Review, and Lambda Literary Review. These days, she attempts to balance sanity with schoolwork while working on her novel-in-progress, Ghost Money.
LETTER TO JULIA IN KAPI’OLANI MEDICAL CENTER FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN, HONOLULU, HAWAII Jimin Han As you lie in ICU, your thirteen-year-old body connected to machines that keep you alive, I have two things to tell you: one, I did sign up for Neopets on the Internet last week like you asked before you left for your dream vacation to Hawaii, and two, I know you will pull through this crisis because you are your father’s daughter. I know he and your mother are there by your side, brave-faced, and I know that inside they are crying for you to fight, fight this virus, fight because the doctors are saying there is nothing more they can do. Chickenpox (did you catch it on the plane?) on top of your past battle with leukemia is looking to be too much for your body to take. I’m 5000 miles away. It’s snowing outside my window, so far from what must be outside your own. I want to tell you a story. It begins on a cold December day just before the Christmas holiday. It’s 1974 in Jamestown, New York. Your father, my cousin, is living with us along with his mother and father, and he goes to kindergarten with my brother, your Uncle Jihyuk. I’m in third grade and I have a half day that day so I’m already home when Uncle Jihyuk runs bursting through the front door. He’s wearing an army green anorak with a gray fake fur trimmed hood. His hood is off and his cheeks and chin are bright red with cold and he’s panting from running from school. He says, “Come outside, quick.” My mother, my aunt (your grandmother), and I follow him, go through the open door onto the porch with the wooden three person swing and see your father, Wonnie, five years old, with his anorak, identical to Jihyuk’s, zipped all the way up, hood and all, so that only his eyes can be seen. He’s bent over a snowball as high as his knees, and he’s rolling it on the flat top of a small hill on which our house sits above the sidewalk where two boys, 4th graders, in maroon and brown parkas, are hitting him mercilessly with snowballs that explode against your father’s head, arms, chest, legs. But he doesn’t care. Your father is intent on his work. “Wonnie, come in,” I call to him. “Stop that,” my mother and aunt shout in English and Korean to the boys below. We wait for the response. But these boys aren’t afraid of adults who are too distant to make them do anything. They continue to pelt your father with snowballs. And your father continues too, ignoring us, ignoring the onslaught from those boys. His snowball has grown so big, he no longer needs to bend over to push it. He rolls it to the edge of that small hill and lets it go. The snowball rolls, gathering speed, growing in one, two, three, four, five revolutions down that snow covered hill towards the boys, the torturers, relentless, with a reputation that made everyone at Fletcher Elementary School shake with fear. I watched in awe. Your grandmother starts down the ice-slicked steps in slippers, bare hand on the frozen metal rail. In English, she shouts at them, hurling Korean curses too. My mother’s arm is tight around me, the other around Jihyuk. But we aren’t about to join the fray. We’re watching your father’s snowball.
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I wish I could tell you that the snowball did it. Knocked those bullies flat. Instead, your father’s snowball broke in half just before it reached the sidewalk and then fragmented into small pieces the rest of the way. And the bullies pointed at those remnants and laughed. But here’s the part I want to tell you: your father watched his work wasted and he turned and began anew. He made another small snowball in his hand and rolled it, crouching along the ground. He packed it harder than the first with his green-mittened hands. Another fearsome snowball’s birth. He had seen his hope smashed, and he had started again. The second your grandmother’s foot hit that bottom step, the bullies fled. I can see in their faces that they knew if she reached them that they would suffer. Your father looked up triumphant that same instant, his second snowball intact as it rolled to the bottom and pursued those boys. I will always remember how Wonnie stood and fought. High on a hill on an ordinary day. That is your father, and that’s how he sits at your bedside now. Hoping that this time, this instant, you will emerge healthy again, this tremendous battle behind you. We are beside you too, at that bottom step. Fight, Julia, fight. We will talk again of this and other stories and we will all laugh at such antics, foolhardy, courageous, tearful which belong to us. Fight. Fight. Fight. There are more stories to tell and many more stories waiting for you to live them.
Jimin Han’s work can be found on NPR's "Weekend America" and in eChook's memoir app, The Nuyorasian Anthology, Global City Review, and The Asian American Pacific Journal, among others. She teaches in the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College where she received her MFA.
CONTRIBUTOR BIOS FICTION Ramola D's short fiction collection Temporary Lives (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), was awarded the 2008 AWP Grace Paley Short Fiction Prize, and was finalist in the 2010 Library of Virginia Fiction Awards. Her poetry collection Invisible Season (WWPH, 1998) was awarded the 1998 Washington Writersâ€™ Publishing House Poetry Award. A Discovery/The Nation finalist, she received a 2005 NEA fellowship in poetry. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and writer-interviews have appeared in various journals and anthologies including Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, Agni, Green Mountains Review, Writer's Chronicle and been reprinted in Best American Poetry 1994, and Best American Fantasy 2007. Her fiction was shortlisted under 100 Other Distinguished Stories in Best American Stories 2007, and included in Enhanced Gravity: More Fiction by Washington DC Women Writers (Paycock Press, 2006). Ramola holds an MFA from George Mason University and a BS in Physics and MBA from the University of Madras, India. She has taught creative writing at The George Washington University and at The Writer's Center, Bethesda. An Tran is a Vietnamese-American writer living in Washington, DC, where he is a tutor for 826DC. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Our Stories and Connotation Press. He has begun his MFA at Queens University of Charlotte and is currently working on his first novel. Kiki Whang was born in Seoul. She spent the majority of her life in Singapore, Beijing, Budapest, and Tokyo before coming to the United States. She earned a B.A. in Health & Societies from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in The Pinch and has won the Enizagam Literary Award. She studies fiction at the University of New Orleans, where she is a shoe-in for M.F.A. Prom Queen. Find her at www.koriental.com. Naomi Williams's short fiction has appeared in numerous journals including One Story, A Public Space, Ninth Letter, and The Southern Review. She has a Pushcart Prize and an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis. She writes and teaches in northern California.
POETRY Khaty Xiong is currently a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Montana for her MFA in Poetry. Her poetry has appeared in How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology, Polaris, Spires, and is forthcoming in Lantern Review.
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Rachelle Cruz is from Hayward, California. She is the author of the chapbook, SelfPortrait as Rumor and Blood (Dancing Girl Press,2012). Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Bone Bouquet, PANK Magazine, Muzzle Magazine, Lantern Review, Splinter Generation, KCET's Departures Series, Inlandia: A Literary Journey, among others. She hosts The Blood-Jet Writing Hour on Blog Talk Radio. An Emerging Voices Fellow, a Kundiman Fellow and a VONA writer, she lives and writes in Southern California.
NONFICTION Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and Hawaii. She is a contributor for New America Media, Chicago Is the World, Pacific Citizen, and InCultureParent.com. She team-teaches Asian Pacific American History and the Law at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is the author of Imaginary Affairs—Postcards from an Imagined Life, available at Blacklava.net. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com. V. Jo Hsu received her MFA in Fiction from the Pennsylvania State University, and is currently a Javits Fellow pursuing a PhD in English Rhetoric at Penn State. She has worked as a fiction reader and production manager for Our Stories Literary Journal, and as an intern for Yfat Reiss Gendell at Foundry Literary + Media in New York City. Jo’s fiction has appeared in TINGE Magazine, Bluestem, and Consequence. She has also contributed to Pleiades, Green Mountains Review, Fiction Writers’ Review, and Lambda Literary Review. These days, she attempts to balance sanity with schoolwork while working on her novel-in-progress, Ghost Money. Jimin Han’s work can be found on NPR's "Weekend America" and in eChook's memoir app, The Nuyorasian Anthology, Global City Review, and The Asian American Pacific Journal, among others. She teaches in the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College where she received her MFA.
ART JooYoung Choi is an emerging artist from Houston, Texas. She was born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Concord, New Hampshire. Childhood nostalgia, American animation, comic books, Korean traditional art and 1950s cookbooks inspire her work. Through the use of acrylic and canvas Choi renders imagery that explores identity, reality, parallel worlds, time travel, systemic oppression, and mystical landscapes. Jan Cariaga is a Los Angeles based concept artist and stortyteller. He graduated with a B.F.A. from the Art Center College of Design. Cariaga is a performer, writer, chess master, licensed bartender, denim connoisseur, and hair enthusiast.
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, 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. 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.
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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. Contributing 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.
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
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES The editorial board reviews submissions on a rolling basis. Thus, we accept submissions by electronic mail year-round. Please do not send previously published work. We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you notify the respective editor immediately when your submission has been accepted elsewhere. Submit online with the submishmashâ„˘ submissions manager:
http://kartikareview.submishmash.com/Submit Fiction | Attn: Christine Lee Zilka Short stories, novel excerpts, experimental or interpretive works of fiction, flash fiction and micro-fiction pieces fall under our category of fiction. You do not have to be of APIA descent, but we ask that if work is either written by APIA writers or the content of your work be APIA-related; in no way do we require APIA writers only write APIA themes or characters. We give due consideration to all submissions written, but we prefer work under 5,000 words. Please send us your best work. 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.
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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.
THE 500 PROJECT TO SUBMIT YOUR PROFILE TO THE 500 PROJECT, E-MAIL US AT email@example.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!
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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 journalâ€™s vision.
CONTACT Kartika Review API Cultural Center 934 Brannan Street San Francisco, CA 94103
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