Cover Art: â€œThe Home Front" from the Volition Era Series 2011 By Jordan Josafat
ÂŠ March, 2013 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.
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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 Eugenia Leigh 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
FICTION A Shadowed Season
Thoughts of Sinking
FEATURED ARTIST Jordan Josafat
POETRY Nu Ren Xin Hai Di Zhen: A Womanâ€™s Heart is a Needle at the Bottom of the SEa
Karen An-hwei Lee
Portrait of Anonymity
Henry W. Leung
The Transfusion of Yukiyo Kanahashi
Sean Labrador y Manzano
Christine Lee Zilka and Sunny Woan
AUTHOR INTERVIEW Monique Truong Contributor Bios
Eugenia Leigh Dear Readers, After I read the heart-wrenching pieces in this fifteenth issue of Kartika Review, I was numb with gratitude. So here I am, debuting as the magazine’s new Poetry Editor, babbling before you and humbled to be part of such a necessary venture. Let me explain what I mean. Last September, a Minneapolis paper reported that Japanese American writer David Mura once gave Junot Díaz this advice: "Sometimes you've got to become the person you need to become before writing the book you want to write. The desire and the talent are not always enough, sometimes you have to change as a human being." My brain lacks the mechanism that separates the creator from his or her creation. I was the kid who—about halfway through reading a book—flipped to the back to find the author’s bio. I wanted to know who it was that told the story. Why that person chose to tell this story as opposed to thousands of others. Why that person cared whether I listened or walked away. I read every story and poem in this issue with David Mura’s words in mind. How did these authors have to change and who did they have to become before they could write these pieces? I imagined them in solitude for hours, mulling over diction, toying with line breaks, stomping all over standard syntactic formulas. These writers are scientists. They’re researchers of human lives. They observe the slightest nuances of the heart, experiment with language and report their findings in the most elegant ways. When I finished, I discovered a remarkable thread throughout this issue: each author delivered his or her story with staunch dedication to emotional truth. The fiction section gives us four distinctly different voices. Sharon Hashimoto’s “A Shadowed Season” delves into the internal dialogue of a great-grandmother, Etsuko, stuck in a nursing home. Even while telling Etsuko’s story in the third person, Hashimoto possesses the startling ability to burrow into the deepest crevices of Etsuko’s memories and regrets, and unveil the unsettling melancholy of the elderly. 6
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The other three fiction pieces are told in the first person, but explore their characters’ struggles in vastly different ways. Kaitlin Solimine’s “Thoughts of Sinking” is told in the voice of Lao Chen, the husband to a woman reeling from chemotherapy’s aftermath. As we follow the couple through their daughter’s diving meet, Solimine uses Lao Chen to extrapolate on the largest life questions: “What is life for? Why love? Why die?” She peppers her story with a number of quotes, my favorite belonging to poet Han Shan, who said, “Tell families with silverware and cars: what’s the use of all that noise and money?” Solimine’s story, an excerpt from a novel, is the longest fiction read, but embodies the wisdom of someone who had to become a certain, tried adult before she could confront such giant themes. Wah-Ming Chang’s “Heartbreak” explores the healing process of the narrator accepting the suicide of Leslie Cheung, an actor. The short piece conveys this jarring emotional journey by refusing to reveal. It is distilled, keeps the worst emotions at bay and requires the presence of a third character—a stranger who remains anonymous as “the waiter”—for the narrator to process the suicide. Chang’s carefully crafted portrait gifts us with a uniquely reserved narrator, unwilling to break down while clearly being desperate for closure. Anu Kandikuppa makes a brilliant choice in “Skin Deep” by using a series of letters to introduce us to the obsessive nature of an Indian mother, Manju Nohria, who remains blinded to her own prejudice regarding skin color. Although Nohria spirals into an almost desperate caricature of a woman with deep-seated racist ideas, Kandikuppa expertly reports Manju Nohria’s insecurities and issues without providing a solution or didactic moral or the author’s own opinions. She remains true to Nohria’s sentiments. I selected five poems by three poets for the poetry section because I admired their ability to make confident declarations in emotionally vulnerable ways. All five poems require the poets to have walked through certain fires before arriving at this place of honest reflection. Henry Leung’s “Portrait of Anonymity” and “Quarantine” are two poems with wildly different subject matters—post-heartbreak and post-apocalypse, respectively—but share a similar sobriety and gorgeous lyricism in their approach to the aftermath of dark times. The soul-shifting lines I am clinging to this season come from “Quarantine”: “Mountains heave up; I can walk / over anything if I don’t stop.” As the poetry editor, I am honored to give you these poems in the heart of winter. To show you, as much as I need to show myself, what is possible even when “pain travels through me / at three hundred feet per second.” 7
Purvi Shah’s “Tree Risings” directly reflects David Mura’s sentiment that certain writings require the wisdom of growth and even age. The speaker in this poem, “nearer to forty,” observes and speaks to a four-year-old child, but possesses the open, teachable heart to be able to extract metaphor and life lessons from this seemingly minor interaction. Here, it isn’t the poet who tells us how to live. It is the poet who shares what this child has taught her: “which branch is stable, which foot leads, which foot / clasps.” Karen An-hwei Lee’s first poem, “Nuren Xin Haidi Zhen: A Woman’s Heart Is a Needle at the Bottom of the Sea,” hones into the world’s “crevasse,” that icy place “far below the earth” where we humans store our pain. Lee highlights “a girl [who] crawls inside her own grief,” and explores the girl’s suffering by asking a series of questions, but never offering the author’s answers. Instead, Lee ends the poem by allowing the girl—the owner of that suffering—to speak. Lee’s second poem, “Parousia I,” takes a prophetic tone in which she escapes the crevasse and postulates on the state of “nations” and even the “universe.” Although confident, Lee’s tone magically keeps from being didactic—especially with a polite request to share what she “sees”—and ends with a gentle imperative for the world. The two non-fiction pieces in this issue blew me away with their boldness. They both use experimental structural vehicles to tell their stories and both spotlight uncomfortable truths about humanity. Sean Labrador y Manzano’s “Club Gigolo” strikes us with two bulky, paragraphs filled with stream-of-consciousness, and begins with the exchange of a mint between the mouths of two cousins. Labrador y Manzano throws us into a crowd of details whirling through Olongapo, Philippines. Our eyes dart with the narrator’s and our minds jump from body parts to memories to questions to sounds along with the narrator’s mind. By the end of the story, Labrador y Manzano convinces us that this is the only way to show us how someone finds his long-lost cousin and stumbles upon her life as a sex worker. Jackson Bliss’ “series of (im)perfect and flawed translations, a project of narrative multiplication” pieces together the disjointed memoir of his Japanese grandmother, Yukiyo Kanahashi. In “The Transfusion of Yukiyo Kanahashi,” Bliss epitomizes the David Mura quote when he admits, “It took most of my life to piece together her story, and even more time for the scraps to cohere, but one day I finally understood the truth about my sobo.” Bliss needed to become the man he became before being able to understand the pain and shame of his grandmother, a survivor of a series of crimes. Kartika 8
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readers, we have the privilege of being the first audience to receive this masterful insight into trauma and dementia, told in twenty-two sections wrought with an unflinching honesty that comes only after years of deliberate (and likely excruciating) reflection and questioning. I read Bliss’ piece last. And when I came to the end of it, I found myself in tears. Many people have written about suicide. And cancer. And race and postapocalyptic worlds, for that matter. But something compelled each author in this issue of Kartika to challenge our understanding of some of humanity’s most complicated topics. Only some give us redemption, but they all come out baring the flesh of their characters and revealing what it means to be a human in a broken world. Not a single author lies to us. We also have the honor of featuring an interview with Monique Truong— author of The Book of Salt and Bitter in the Mouth—who creates characters who live as outsiders in their stories but possess a beautiful humanity that Truong explores to connect them intimately to her readers. Issue 15 is a personal gift for me. I expected to “enjoy” being an editor, but I didn’t expect to be changed. I didn’t expect my first issue as poetry editor of Kartika would bless me with a newfound conviction—that today’s Asian American writers are working their asses off to pry open the mouths that have stayed silent for too long. They are the voices our ancestors—even some of our parents—never dared to long for. The voices that tell their truths and tell them naked. Without shame. And through such meticulous dedication to craft, we find healing and a new trajectory through which our collective narrative will be shared for generations. I thought I was signing on to be part of a magazine. Thank you, authors and readers, for showing me that I’m signing on to be part of a movement. Go relish this issue. And buy a copy for someone you love. See you at AWP! Cheers, Eugenia Leigh Poetry Editor
The Home Front Jordan Josafat
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A SHADOWED SEASON Sharon Hashimoto Etsuko could still count, but she needed to keep track with her fingers. Sometimes she was distracted by the age spots and broken cuticles. Did it really matter if ninety-six came after ninety-eight? She’d been waiting so long for Masayuki’s return that the numbers didn’t really seem to matter. Mostly, it was just a way to pass the hours. Hard enough to know the day of the week and when to expect her daughter’s visit. Etsuko was losing her English words syllable by syllable. When she spoke, it was in choppy simple sentences. Bumbye, she counseled herself. Just wait. Once in a while she could trick herself into remembering. What was she supposed to do, what was she supposed to say to get somebody’s attention? The white people who ran around in brightly colored scrubs were so rushed and busy. They would stare at her, watching her lips, then wrinkle their own eyebrows. Last night, there’d been the nurse who just frowned, shook her head and walked away. I’ll count to one hundred to give them a chance, Etsuko reasoned. There was a time when she could sniff the air, feeling the hot sun on her shoulders and know that she would soon be harvesting the papayas and figs in the yard. At her house, mounded globes of lichee nuts would litter the ground. Such a small tree, but with so many limbs bending with the fruit. How Masayuki loved their sweet white flesh, piling high the shiny almondshaped seeds. How she warned the boy not to eat so much. All he knew was that lichee nuts tasted good on his tongue, cooling in all the hot Hawai’i sun. She shivered. In this air-conditioned place, her body was forgetting the shift of seasons, when her joints would ache and grind with the threat of rain. The mustachioed man in the navy suit on the TV news station always spoke in the same tone of voice even though there were pictures of plane crashes or yellow suns with the day’s expected high temperature. “Thank-you, may I…”—the polite terms she once used were slipping away. Mostly Etsuko grunted when the Nurse’s Aide asked if she needed to use the toilet. They always pinched her elbow when she struggled with her walker down the hall. This morning when she woke up, snapping her neck to one side, she had been surprised by the sight of her arms lying like two old branches against the white sheets. She wanted to pop the kink out of her shoulder from sleeping on a too-soft mattress. The Japanese block pillow that held the shape of her neck was gone. Instead she found herself in a high twin bed with a metal guard rail to keep her from falling out. She had to bite her lower 11
lip as she tried to swing her swollen feet to the edge. All she succeeded in was tangling up the bed sheets. It served her right, she thought. Why had she decided to cut down the lichee tree? She distinctly remembered setting out the step stool, balancing her legs against the fourth step and swinging away at the top branches with a hatchet. Diseased and thin, the tree was only about six feet tall, maybe four inches in diameter. There had been a satisfied thump when the top had fallen to the ground, the twigs and dead leaves scattering in a circle around her. Etsuko knew enough to take the felling in stages. A little bit at a time, she told herself. But now she was bored with holding still and waiting for her breakfast. There was only so much sleeping an old lady could do. She didn’t recognize her roommate who seemed to have shriveled up into a fetal position and disappeared into a lump among the blankets. Etsuko wanted her green tea, rice with a raw egg broken on top, a little pickled takuwan on the side. She put her hand against her stomach, wondering when it would start growling. She made a face when her tray finally came. There was a bowl of brown oatmeal, a piece of dry toast, and some orange juice that came in a plastic container with a piece of foil over the top. “Gohan,” she said to the attendant, pointing a crooked finger at the bowl. “Ocha,” she repeated, raising the plastic cup. “Coffee?” the blond girl asked, the corners of her mouth pulling her smile into a frown. Her lipstick seemed to grow redder against the peach-like skin. Then the face brightened. “Tea? Would you like me to get you some tea?” Etsuko kissed her cup, nodding up and down. That was one word she remembered. The English word was tea. The blond girl seemed proud of herself when she brought back a little metal pot and a small square tea bag with a mailman’s face on it. “Lipton’s,” she said, raising and dunking the square into the hot water. At least she was trying to be kind, Etsuko thought to herself. That was more than her dull daughter could manage. After thirty years of marriage to that hakujin, what should she expect? The blond attendant sat with her a while, and Etsuko felt obligated to take a few spoonfuls of the gruel. The toast should have been darker, but it was okay. She ate slowly, waiting for the time when she could shove her cloth napkin into the bowl and hide what was left.
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“Nurse Hopkins said your daughter will be coming in with your grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They’re going to help you celebrate your eighty-fifth birthday. You’re going to want to comb your hair. I’ll come back to help you later.” Etsuko chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed. It didn’t matter what the attendant had said. She knew this was as good as breakfast would get. But even though the food didn’t taste good, at least it was something to do. The warmth of her cup soaked into her thin fingers. The steam smelled sharply of leaves. She was getting sleepy. Etsuko pointed her big right toe beneath the blanket, then felt the calf muscle tighten. Little needles danced up and down her leg as the circulation returned. It was usually her knees that wobbled, had made her take to using a stick to tap her way across the yard. She knew the pain couldn’t be fixed. There had been too many floors to be scrubbed, too many bills she had carried in her fisted hand as she bowed lower and lower before the merchants—promising to pay, giving what she could. Who had the money or the time? When you were poor, there were always so many things to do, promises to make to children. Someday, after we’ve saved a bit of money. Someday when you’ve grown up and have a good job, you can afford to go to a movie or maybe a Chinese restaurant. So many times when she had to bend over to pick up the little ones when they cried and reached out, swing them onto her hip. All of them had looked like fat sausages, their arms and legs ballooning up until they finally began to crawl. And she had been so skinny, so busy washing other people’s laundry in a big wooden tub. She had ti leaf plants at all four corners of their rented house—for health and good fortune. But they had grown up stunted or diseased with browned edges. Maybe she had used all her luck up in seven short years. Lucky in love, a good strong man who hadn’t minded that she was uneducated, without social standing. So lucky that he chose her over his own family. Her husband had had plans to buy land. They were saving money. And then, there had been the two babies who died. Finally, her husband. She lay and drowsed, her arms cradling herself as if she were cold. There was the funeral service, the casket carried by eight of the men who had seen the scaffolding start to crumble, who had shouted and scrambled to dig her husband loose of the rubble. But she hadn’t cried. There was too much to do, and all she wanted was a little rest. “Ka-san! O-ka-san!” The voices seemed to pull at Etsuko, just like they had at the funeral, their tiny hands pulling at her sleeves. 13
“Masayuki! Tsune, sit quietly. Behave yourselves.” She had wanted to add: “That is your father inside that box. What will people think?” She could have pinched their upper arms. But then she had to remind herself that they were children. There were only the two left now, the oldest girl, the youngest boy. She squinted and it took a while for her to fully open her eyes. Etsuko sighed, cracking her lids open a little at a time, slamming them shut, and then blinking them wider. There was Tsune, grown-up, her face tying up in hard knots. Her hands were gently tugging at Etsuko’s hospital sleeve. A brightly wrapped rectangle was propped up on her stomach. The bow was looped in intricate circles, a strange artificial blossom. Etsuko wanted to hold it close to her nose, sniff the perfume. The ribbon’s silver metallic glittered like sharp sparks in the room’s bright light. “Nani desu?” she asked. Her fingers turned the package around and around. Carefully she watched her daughter’s face. Tsune, the girl, had been born first. And in those first few weeks, everyone had thought she held the promise of becoming a beauty. Jet black hair, pale skin, oval face. Etsuko had been expecting so much. But babies change and by the time Tsune was fifteen, it seemed to Etsuko that her daughter’s skin was a dead white. Her eyes were too small and close together. Tsune was a hard worker, a dutiful child, but homely. “A birthday present, Ka-san. Something I thought you could wear for the party.” Tsune pulled the ribbon off. “Here, let me help.” Inside was a red polyester dress with a black belt. Tsune held it up by the shoulders, then lay it close to her mother’s chest. “Takai, ne?” “It’s a gift, Mama. You shouldn’t worry about money.” Her voice sounded exasperated. She straightened the cuffs on the long sleeves. “I think it’ll look very nice on you. Red is a good color.” Red, Etsuko thought to herself and shook her head. She would be embarrassed to wear that shade. It was too young for her now. She was long past her days of wearing bright colors. Tsune was always trying to buy things with her white husband’s money. Etsuko would have preferred her own black wool dress, the one she had stitched on a trundle sewing machine borrowed from the Minamotos. She had cut the material from a fine old 14
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kimono. Moth-eaten, the owners had said, and she had purchased it for a few dollars—liking how the fabric felt, how the black weave picked up sunlight. Always thin, the dress still fit. Etsuko had last worn it to her niece’s wedding with the simple one-pearl necklace her husband had given to her. She thought she had looked very fine. Would the boy, Masayuki, recognize her in red? There had been little blood when the eight-year-old had fallen. He had been shinnying high to reach the last fruits on a tall mango tree. Masayuki was always so hungry. Tsune had run up to Mrs. Littlejohn’s house and pounded on the door. Etsuko hadn’t felt any broken bones. Only a deep puncture wound on the side of the boy’s heel. She had made a paste of ground up potato bugs to help eat the bad flesh away. But Masayuki had grown fevered. More bad luck, Etsuko thought to herself. From that time on, it seemed like something was always a burning inside, behind her son’s young eyes. And then Tsune was pulling the dress over her head, and she was sputtering and flailing as her hands searched for an opening. “I’ve only the one chance, Ma,” a voice seemed to be saying from the past, either her husband or her son. She hadn’t thought they sounded anything alike, but here they were together inside her head. When the buttons had found their holes, and Tsune had straightened the sleeves and collar, Etsuko had leaned against the bed, then looked down to see her feet still wearing battered zoris. The dress felt silky and smooth, but her own skin seemed so wrinkled. “Be patient, you say. Wait! Always wait! How long?” The words were circling around and around and Etsuko kept seeing how Masayuki would turn a lichee, gently tearing the shell into one long peel. “Until I die?” This voice that spoke belonged to a young man, his hair slicked back into a pompadour high on his forehead. Tsune’s hair was clipped short at the sides, a little longer in the back; and the grey wool suit she wore did nothing to make her appear younger. She looks like my mother, Etsuko thought, as Tsune bustled about, searching through drawers for stockings and soft slip-on shoes. She wondered if Masayuki would limp with a cane. His weakened ankle might make his walk unsteady. Perhaps he would slump, round-shouldered like his father. “Why do boys want more?” she asked herself. “More love, more food, more money?” Wrapped up in a piece of toweling, hidden inside a tin can beneath a board under the bed, the sepia-toned picture of the two of them after their 15
simple wedding was kept. Along with the certificate the boss man from the construction company had pressed into her hand after the funeral. It had come in a stiff creamy colored envelope. “A bond,” he had said and she hadn’t understood his words. “It won’t help you now. This needs time to grow. We’re so sorry for your loss. It’s the best we can do.” Masayuki had wanted the money. In Tsune’s white husband’s house, Etsuko had seen the photograph framed in dark mahogany and hanging on the living room wall. She had left a smear of her fingertip as she touched the half of herself, remembering the fine long neck her family had praised. Her hair, thick and shiny. She hadn’t remembered herself as being happy, only startled by the sudden flash of white light. Masayuki could always a find a way to change her meaning. Tricky boy. “Sunday! You said Sunday soon we would go downtown to buy me shoes.” Etsuko had shaken her head. “I say someday.” Tsune had never demanded much. Always busy, she would wash dishes or sweep the floor. She kept her face turned away even when her brother started to fuss and shout. “I’m the man of this family!” Masayuki finally yelled, stomping his bad ankle. Etsuko brushed the loose strands of her pulled back hair out of her eyes. She felt her skin begin to burn with her own anger, her own shame. Masayuki had no respect. After all the long hours she put in cleaning other houses and working in the fields to put simple food on the table, to make a home—how dare this boy call himself a man? He had grown taller and more handsome. Etsuko had overheard silly girls gossiping about what a kiss from those lips would be like. Still, he put nothing toward the household. Tsune cooked and cleaned. All Masayuki thought of was himself. She grabbed her son’s upper arm, jerking him off-balance. “Boy,” she hissed through her teeth. “No man.” She pushed Masayuki away from her, then watched as he stumbled, helplessly throwing her arms up into the air. Muttering under his breath, he stormed out of the kitchen to slam his bedroom door behind him. Etsuko could hear herself breathing in short little gasps. She went back to stand next to her endless ironing, the steam rising from the hot metal. Anger she understood: fat customers who tried to edge their way in front of her, Mrs. Littlejohn insisting she put in extra time with no extra pay. “Tomorrow, 16
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he be better.” Etsuko spoke aloud even though she knew Tsune wouldn’t answer. Maybe raising Tsune had been too easy. Etsuko didn’t know what the girl ever thought about, how she felt about being pulled out of school to help earn money. And here she was, bent over beside Etsuko’s bed, carefully sliding white anklets over her mother’s toes. Tsune’s hair was more grey than black now. The two sides of the bob cut parted to expose the back of her neck. Quietly, Etsuko raised one hand, wondering briefly what it would be like to touch the skin, before she let her fingers fall back. As Tsune rolled her wheelchair into the dining hall, Etsuko glanced up at all the people gathered in one room. Everyone, even the other residents leaning on their canes and sitting in chairs with dressing robes pulled tight around them, were waiting. Some bored youngsters were lingering close to the windows. For two ugly people, Tsune and her husband had managed to have attractive children with reddish-brown hair. Their lips were cupid-shaped and pouty. Their eyes had strange grey shades circling a pale brown iris. “Okasan, my mother, had me and a brother, Masayuki. And now there’s three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren,” Tsune stopped, slowing the wheelchair to explain to a staff worker. Etsuko lifted up her head at the sound of her son’s name, but she didn’t understand the rest of the sentence. What she saw was how Tsune’s husband walked out from the crowd to stand close, to slide one arm around his wife’s waist. In their best dreams, rocking their infant son in his cradle, she and her husband had imagined Masayuki with a tiny, graceful wife from Yamaguchi Perfecture. They would have money to send him to study in Japan. He would return to help his father with their growing farm. Etsuko squirmed, trying to turn around, searching for the face of her son. She felt Tsune lay one hand on her shoulder. And then everyone in the room started clapping as Etsuko was rolled to the head of a table. A huge sheet cake with burning candles was spread before her. She blinked at the bright points of light, the sound of all those pairs of hands striking each other. His black head had been cradled on his shoulder, his arms searching for the box beneath the bed. Masayuki had been flat out on his belly. For light, a single candle was pushed out before him. His open palm and spread fingers had slammed the floor when he realized what he wanted wasn’t there.
Etsuko had backed out the door slowly, silently closing the narrow seam. He had looked like a boy who had fallen, not a grown man at all. Twenty-five years old and Masayuki hadn’t married. He was a clerk in a fish store who spent his days scaling gills, chopping off heads and tails. Etsuko told herself, maybe it was time. She hadn’t expected the years to pass as they had. She had wanted to use the money to pay off the last of her husband’s debts, the ones he had inherited from his own father. “Tsune and I, we have nothing,” she told her son. Yellowed, the envelope still bore a stain from he cut flowers Etsuko had held during the funeral. When she offered it to Masayuki, she saw how his fingers wanted to pull the paper from her grasp. Still, she held on. “You borrow. You pay back.” Masayuki hadn’t even looked at her as he took the certificate: “Yes, of course I will.” He blinked, and she knew he was seeing cities on the mainland: Sacramento, maybe San Francisco or Seattle. Etsuko had known the words were empty. She grabbed one ear like the handle of a jug, as she had done when he was a child, and pulled his face close to her own. “Promise,” she insisted. Playing with the crumbs on her plate, Etsuko thought the frosting had been too sweet. It had been a moist white cake with bits of dried fruit scattered throughout. Tsune had cut the first big piece and placed it before Etsuko after she had blown out the candles. After four tries, everyone had laughed as she waved her napkin in the air to blow the smoke away. When Tsune’s husband asked her what she had wished for on her birthday, her daughter had to translate the question, and then Etsuko couldn’t seem to remember. The bright lights cast so many shadows. Voices chattered all around her until it all became a buzz, like a mosquito humming beside her ear. For a moment, she thought she was home, outside in the yard, just as the sun was going down. In the cooling day, there had been her bird of paradise to water, new ti leaf shoots to tie up. All that spoiled fruit fallen to the ground. Last night’s wind had broken another branch off the lichee tree. So old, it’s sad, she nodded to herself as she stepped around, fingers trailing over the bark. Masayuki would miss the shading leaves, Etsuko argued with herself. Reluctantly, she decided. In the shed is the hatchet: “Tomorrow, it all comes down.”
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Sharon Hashimoto teaches at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington. Her short stories have appeared in North American Review, Crab Orchard Review, Tampa Review, Shenandoah, THEMA and others. Her book of poetry is The Crane Wife, co-winner of the Nicholas Roerich Prize and published by Story Line Press in 2003. She received a NEA creative writing fellowship for poetry in 1989.
To: From: Re: Date:
Kindergarten Oak Manju Nohria Daily update November 11th
Dear Mrs. Clayton and Mrs. Simpson, I am the mother of Anya Nohria in your class. I have been in your country for only two years and do not know how to drive. Therefore I am writing to you with reference to the update email that you sent the parents yesterday. You may know that Anya is our only child. She never went to school before Kindergarten, as you may also know. Her father, Dr. Vinod Nohria, has much respect for your school and that is the only reason I parted with her and sent her to your class. Anya is my heart. But with great deliberation and after considering your email for a long time, I wish to protest the SelfPortrait that you have asked her to prepare. Almost since she began going to school in September, Anya has not been herself. As you may know, she is a shy child, although she cannot fail to be brilliant one day because of her Papaâ€™s brilliance, and myself an M.A. in Hindi Literature. At first, I thought she must be sad because of the new place, the new people, and the new customs. So I supported her fully. Every day I waited outside for her school bus to arrive from school. Every day I read to her for twenty minutes exactly from the books on the Book List you gave the parents. Over and over I read to her the books about the cat with a hat, the black bear picking blueberries on the hill, and the pig riding a horse in the Wild West. In Udaipur, a city in the state of Rajasthan in the northwestern part of India where I grew up and where Anya was born, the pigs spend most of their time in the gutters and are despised, so I explained to Anya why the pig on the horse is pink and meant to be loved. I learned about hamsters and I made cookies and brownies, and I counted coins and rolled balls and took out twelve markers every day for her artwork. I waited and waited for Anya to be joyful and to begin to read by herself her first words, already at age five. But since September, she has only become more and more quiet, refusing me politely and inserting her hanger into her coat 20
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by herself and pushing away the cookies. No, thank you, Mom, she says. Gone is the Anya who would clap her hands and scream with joy when I jump at her from behind a door. All this is long but I want to show how she has not been herself since the start of school, in spite of her father’s brilliance as a Doctor of Nuclear Physics, and myself an M.A. in Hindi Literature specializing in Poetry. But from your email of yesterday, I know now what is wrong and that is the SelfPortrait! From the first day of school, when she jumped down all the steps of the bus to tell me about it, I know Anya is working on her Self-Portrait. At that time, she was only worried whether she would be able to draw it well. “Mummy, will the picture look like me?” she asked. I embraced her again and again and said it would look like her, just like her perfect round face, her almond eyes, her sharp nose, her gulabi mouth. I understand that gulabi is a foreign word to you but there is no English word for the beauty of the gulab, queen of flowers. And I waited and waited for her to finish her Self-Portrait. Then your photo came yesterday and it was just like a clap of thunder when I looked at Anya’s face and neck in the colour of “Brown” in the Self-Portrait. This is the reason my Anya hangs her face! My Anya is not brown-coloured. Anya’s skin colour is not the same as the colour of the skin of Wei or Marisa who I have noticed are declaring their skin to be “Peach.” Anya is not pure white like the children Ashton, Delilah, Mabel, Jack, Jared, Jennifer, Spencer, and Sara or like the skin of the child David, whose forefathers, I believe, are from Africa. Her skin is different from the skins of all these children. In particular, Anya’s skin is golden-yellow like my own skin, a colour sometimes called wheatish, a colour that, even in India, only some people are endowed with including some females from the state of Rajasthan like myself, a colour prized for its glow when the light of the sun falls on it, never for too long of course. And now every day Anya walks into her classroom she will see hanging on the wall this terrible image of herself that is not her colour at all. This is the reason my Anya hangs her face. I know this even though Anya’s father, being a man, is unmindful of the importance of the issue and concerned only about how well Anya drew the Self-Portrait and says that Anya must learn to draw better so that both of her eyes look at the same thing and her chin is not pointing to one side. I am aware from Anya that she has used crayons made by the Crayona Company for her Self-Portrait and she has told me there is no Crayona colour that more closely represents her skin. I hereby inform you that I am going to write to the Crayona Company, attention of their General Manager to ask them to prepare the appropriate colour to depict the skin of wheatish-complexioned females from the 21
northwestern part of India, in particular the state of Rajasthan. Upon hearing from them, I will write and inform you of further steps you may take to correct this big mistake. Yours respectfully, Mrs. Manju Nohria, B. A., M.A.
To: From: Re: Date:
General Manager, Crayona Company Manju Nohria November 11th
Dear Sir or Madam, I was born in India and am living in your country for the last two years. I have a beautiful daughter called Anya whose age is five. I am writing this email to you after great deliberation because Anya was only able to use Crayona crayon of Brown colour to colour the skin of her neck and face in the Self-Portrait she prepared in her class. This experience will ravage Anya for the whole duration of her life. I fully believe that Crayona can address this vital matter by preparing a crayon to represent the correct colour for golden-skinned females from the state of Rajasthan in the northwestern part of India. At the start I must tell you that I am a bit bothered so my email is very long, but I hope you will read it fully because of its great importance. I know that people are helpful in America. It is a goodness that comes from living a safe and secure life. For one whole year after I came to America I did not even go outside our gate and even though Anyaâ€™s father tried to teach me, I did not learn to drive. May I no longer expect that he will take me where I need to go, I asked him. May I no longer expect to be cared for? Slowly I began to go out and now I go walking sometimes. Everyone looks at me with friendly eyes. Hi, they say in the way they have, although I was told that one must say hi only to someone one knows. When I talk, everyone stops and listens very carefully with pleasant smiles on their faces. Therefore I decided to write to you about this very critical Brown colour issue, which I came to know just like a clap of thunder when the school 22
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email came yesterday. For long, I have noticed that Anya is no longer her bright self and now I know it is because of the Self-Portrait! For your reference I have attached the photo that shows the Self-Portraits of all the children. There are twelve children in Anyaâ€™s class and their Self-Portraits are shown in two rows in the photo. Now look at the girl at the end of the first row. She is my Anya. You can see her name written under the SelfPortrait: Anya Nayantara Nohria. Colour of Eyes: Black. Colour of Skin: Brown. In her Self-Portrait, you cannot see exactly how beautiful she is. She is only five years old and still learning to draw, but I attached a photo of her so you can see for yourself. I attached a photo of myself as well, sitting on my swing in my gulab garden in Udaipur. Please open all these pictures and look at them carefully. Is there anything the same between the colour of her skin in Anyaâ€™s Self-Portrait and the real colour of her skin or my skin? Perhaps you will understand the horror more when you know where I am from. I belong to the great Indian subcontinent, in particular, I was born in the Lake City of Udaipur in the state of Rajasthan, which is in the northwestern part of the country. For more than three hundred years, my forefathers attended the court of the Maharanas of Udaipur who, you may know, fought valiantly against the Mughals and preserved their land. My ancestors, my great-great-grandfather and my great-grandfather, had their own quarters in the famous Lake Palace in Udaipur, which is much bigger than a church and made of white marble and has stood unmoving for centuries while the clear waters of the lake rise and fall around it. Historically, the females in my family, including my mother and her mother before her, have always possessed skin smooth as silk and with the colour of beaten gold, a colour sometimes called wheatish. Skin as valuable as jewelry, skin the envy of every female in my country, skin meant to be pampered and spoiled like a favorite child, skin that, never exposed to the sun, remained undefeated by it. As a child, I would stand and look for a very long time at the paintings, hanging high on the walls, of the ladies with their marble skin, lying proudly on silk divans, being gently fanned by attendants with long fans made from peacock feathers, and I longed with all my heart to grow up so that I could be like them. I was born in 1982 but people will not believe it when they see my face. They say in wonder, my dear Manju, you look eighteen! My mother tells a story of how my skin was so milky as a baby that she could see where I was on her bed at night even without a lamp and how visitors would shade their eyes as if from the brightness when they saw me. When I was twelve she showed me how to prepare a smooth paste for anointing on my skin using milk that has retained its cream, grated almonds, a little bit of gram flour mixed with turmeric, honey, and lemon juice. When I came to America, my mother told me, Manju, every day you must perform the ritual with the freshly prepared paste and every day you 23
must use a blend of oils and perform a yogic massage of each of your face muscles with the tips of your fingers to stimulate the effective flow of the blood to your face. No doubt my rituals take up a lot of my time. But does not everyone have something that they must protect most vigorously? Skin oils one’s passage through the world. When my father saw my mother, he chose her for her skin. My father is also from Rajasthan, from a town fifty kilometers away from Udaipur to be exact, where he performs priestly functions, like his father before him, at the world-famous temple there. Visiting Udaipur in 1974, he went for dinner to his friend’s house, and there he saw my mother, the sister of his friend, for the first time. Often, my father tells of how he first saw only the arm that she had extended to serve him daal, her face and body appropriately covered. As was correct she was completely silent. Jamuni-coloured glass bangles alternating with gold ones shone on the skin of her arms and tinkled like bells every time she moved her arm from the vessel of daal to his plate then tumbled down to gather in a band at her wrist like a rainbow caught in sunlight. Immediately, he asked for her hand and they were married that same month. The same sort of story, I believe, with my husband, Anya’s father, who saw me in Udaipur from behind the pallu of my sari, six years ago. After the tea, he waited with his mother and father. My mother stood quietly in the doorway, watching me, but my father came to me as I was swinging on my swing in my rose garden, thinking of how well my flowers had bloomed that year, not wanting to leave them. He stopped my swing and laid his hand on my head and he said, Manju, accept Vinod. No more is it going to be possible to live a life of leisure here as your mother did. Everything has already changed. And I looked at the boy sitting steadfastly on the sofa inside and I decided, for my father, to accept him. And when I knew I was going to have a child, I prayed and prayed and my prayers were answered and my child was born my colour, a colour as if God had dissolved a bar of the precious metal in a glass of milk. And now, imagine my Anya’s life: every day she walks into her classroom, she will see pinned up on the wall of her classroom this image, this terrible streaked image in completely the wrong colour. It is sapping her very vitality. Therefore, dear Madam, I am writing with my urgent request for you to address this very important issue. Since your company has experience preparing so many colours of crayons, I believe that you will be able to easily create one that will correctly depict the skin of wheatish-complexioned females from the state of Rajasthan in the northwestern part of India.
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I anxiously wait to hear from you and assist you with any information you need as you prepare this additional crayon colour. Thank you. Yours respectfully, Mrs. Manju Nohria, B. A., M.A.
To: From: CC: CC: Re: Date:
Manju Nohria Ms. Clayton Dr. Forrester, Ms. Simpson Vinod Nohria Your email November 13th
Dear Manju, Thank you for your email of November 11th, which we reviewed very carefully. We appreciate your noting that both you and Vinod trust The Newton School and the Kindergarten Oak classroom with your wonderful little girl Anya! We have a great, diverse group of children this year for which we are extremely grateful. We are enjoying Anya very much! She is such a wonderful, mature child. Sheâ€™s doing very well and making great contributions to our diverse classroom, as you will learn when you attend our upcoming conference. We are sorry to hear that you have concerns with Anyaâ€™s portrait. Anya worked very hard on it and we all felt it turned out very well. We did speak with her yesterday about whether she is uncomfortable with the colours or any other aspect of her portrait and we are happy to report that she is completely satisfied with the results. In fact, she asked us when she could begin work on her full-length image! We spoke to Vinod this morning with this information as well. I hope this reassures you. Please do not hesitate to give us a call if you would like to discuss further. Our regards, Ms. Clayton and Ms. Simpson 25
To: From: Re: Date:
Ms. Clayton and Ms. Simpson Manju Nohria Your email November 14th
Dear Mrs. Clayton, Thank you again for your email of yesterday and for spending the time to discuss the issue of Anyaâ€™s Self-Portrait when I called you this morning. It is unfortunate that we could not complete our talk because you had to place the phone down so urgently before I finished talking, but I am writing to you so that you may read this email and think more about these issues at your leisure. It is very kind of you to talk to my husband but please understand that he is a very busy man. Being so busy, he, of course, only concerns himself with issues such as how well Anya draws and that she should learn to draw better so that both of her eyes are looking at the same thing and her chin is rounded not crooked and her eyelashes do not look like sticks. I am also distressed to learn that you believe that Anya is satisfied with her Self-Portrait. If she thinks she is satisfied, it is only because there is no way for her to correctly represent herself at the present time. I, Anyaâ€™s mother, am the only one who can understand the gravity of the matter and I will contact you again as soon as I hear from Crayona, with whom my communication has taken place as scheduled. Thank you Yours respectfully, Mrs. Manju Nohria, B. A., M.A.
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To: From: Re: Date:
General Manager, Crayona Company Manju Nohria November 14th
Dear Sir or Madam, I wrote an email to you on November 11th with my urgent request for a new colour of crayon and included photos of myself and my daughter Anya to help you prepare it. I have waited three days and I am writing again because I have not heard from your company regarding my letter, which I have attached to this email as well. This is a critical matter therefore please respond as soon as possible. Yours respectfully, Mrs. Manju Nohria, B. A., M.A.
To: From: Re: Date:
General Manager, Crayona Company Manju Nohria November17th
Dear Sir or Madam, I wrote to you about a new colour of your crayon in my email of November 11th and my email of November 14th. It is now six days since I first brought this vital matter to your attention. I am writing because I have not heard from your company regarding my letters, both of which I have attached to this email as well. I do not believe it should take you so long to send me back an email. I have provided all the relevant information to you. This is a vital matter therefore please respond. Yours respectfully, Mrs. Manju Nohria, B. A., M.A. 27
To: From: Re: Date:
General Manager, Crayona Company Manju Nohria Crayona crayons November 23rd
Dear Sir or Madam, I wrote to you about the colour of your crayons in my emails dated November 11th, 14th, and 17th. I have also called and left you three messages on your phone. It is now twelve days since I first wrote and provided you with the opportunity to prepare a new crayon colour that will correctly depict the skin colour of wheatish-complexioned females from the state of Rajasthan in the northwestern part of India with which my daughter Anya can prepare another, accurate portrait of herself. I do not believe it should take you so long to write me back an email. I believe I have provided all the relevant information to you and this is a very vital matter, therefore please respond. Please be advised that, in light of the deeply important nature of the matter, I will unfortunately be unable to rest until the matter is addressed. Yours respectfully, Mrs. Manju Nohria, B.A., M.A.
Anu Kandikuppa is an economist and a candidate in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, North Carolina. She lives in Boston with her family and is online at www.anukandikuppa.com.
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HEARTBREAK Wah-Ming Chang The year 2008 was the fifth anniversary of the death of Leslie Cheung. He died jumping out a window. All but one of his obituaries attributed cause of death to suicide. The exception had been written by me: I had used the word “heartbreak” instead of “suicide.” Today I recognize the sentimentality of this claim. Cheung had killed himself. What had caused his death was gravity. I imagine the act of defenestration to involve a mixture of elation and terror, with neither, in each its totality, unrelated to the other. The arms cannot help but strike out for balance, the legs tensed for the landing, the head bent forward perhaps to cushion itself—a measurement, in a way, of life meeting death. I have several photographs of him from the winter of 2002, and in the majority of them he has a sword in his hand. This hand with the sword never wavers, acting as a weight while the rest of his body is always a slender blur, as though motion were relegated only to flesh and not to metal. The portraits had been taken over the span of a weekend that winter, in preparation for a lengthy profile about the tenth anniversary of his film Farewell, My Concubine. The following spring, he jumped from the twenty-fourth floor of the Mandarin Orange Hotel. In 2008 a film festival was held in his honor in Vancouver, and I went. At the last minute I packed the photographs. It was only in Vancouver, where he’d retired from his singing career, from 1990 to 1995, that Cheung had enjoyed any peace. Some believed he’d chosen Canada to treat his depression. Clinical depression, in addition to an impossible relationship with fame as a pop singer and a film star, had undone him. After his death, speculation about the depression varied widely, the most popular touching on his sexuality. Though he had openly discussed his partner in interviews, many of his fans had believed him to be heterosexual, or, at the very least, a moody eccentric. Later, his partner revealed that Cheung had tried to commit suicide once before, in 2002. On my first night in Vancouver, in a Chinese restaurant down the street from my hotel, my waiter studied the photographs, which I’d spread out on my little corner of the table. The sword in Cheung’s hand especially arrested him. He asked, “Were all these taken by you?” 29
“Yes,” I said, “though I’m not a photographer.” My waiter, a graduate student from Beijing, had not intended to attend the film festival, but in the end he asked to join me. Later I would regret this impulse to welcome him, not because he turned out to be a nuisance or imposed on my time—indeed, after this weekend together, I wouldn’t see him again for another year, in another restaurant, in the Chinatown of Paris, both of us in deep negotiations with our respective wives, one toward union, the other dissolving it—but because the rain, white and opaque, had settled deep inside me. I am possessive of the rain, and I couldn’t be sure that my mood would remain friendly and casual toward the end of the night, as it was now. In any case, by the end of the trip I resolved that it was best to keep my solitude on such excursions intact, and the solitude of my heroes as well.
The daylong festival was called “Farewell, Leslie Cheung,” with Farewell, My Concubine billed as the final film in the showcase. We watched three films: He’s a Woman, She’s a Man, A Better Tomorrow, and Days of Being Wild, varying from romantic comedy to violent thriller to atmospheric drama. By the time we left the theater for a break, it was nearly dark. He’d been able to steal several hours away from work, and had taken this opportunity to wear his favorite leather jacket and to smoke nonstop. We had half an hour before Farewell started, so when the practical matter of food and drink entered the conversation, my waiter suggested we walk down Carrall Street toward Livingstone Park, in the direction of a rice shop he frequented on weekends. We couldn’t find the rice shop, though. Perhaps he had the wrong address, or it had shut down since he’d last visited. For a while, our surroundings took on the hues of the films we had just watched, at moments a dream-like panorama of gauzy greens, then at others a stretch of grays and blacks, metal and cigarettes. We were like two ghosts infiltrating the ashen life here, refusing to be jostled from the fast-flowing veins of the city. But in reviewing Days of Being Wild with my waiter, I realized suddenly that, until that day, I had never seen any of Cheung’s films before in their entirety. The memory of watching them had always been strong—especially with past lovers inside dark cinemas—yet in reality I had caught only snippets of them, or remembered snippets, as with dreams. Indeed, my dreams seemed to last for years because of his films. For this reason I had the selfish urge to watch Farewell on my own that night. My waiter and I had watched three films together, but the fourth, the last, according to a flimsy logic that took on a 30
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desperate strength, deserved its own stage. I broke away from the spell of the rainy evening with an excuse to return to my hotel room. A migraine had come over me, I said. My waiter did not seem concerned. Perhaps he saw through my pretense. He dropped his cigarette and shook my hand thoughtfully, and told me to visit his restaurant again the next day, that he knew a cure for aches suffered in distant cities. Then he returned to his job, and I wandered the park a little more, until I came across a brightly lit cul de sac filled with smoky stalls selling snacks, clothing, and trinkets. I sat down in one that served Vietnamese and Chinese dishes. As I ordered, the other customers paid and left. Now I had a stall and a cook entirely to myself. The canopy overhead assured me that I was dry and that the outside world was not. In the meantime, the cook was washing a vat of rice. I became lulled by the sounds of rice and rain, two cadences for which I have an immediate affinity. Depending on the notes each strikes, I am lulled to calm or to excitement, sometimes experiencing both at the same time. When this happens, the world opens itself up without thought or prejudice. An equilibrium in duality. I listen for every single grain of rice and each drop of water rounding out the air, how they collectively nourish and regenerate all living things. The smallness of rice, the greatness of a stormâ€”we are equal in size to whatever we see. Though my surroundings looked nothing like what my waiter had described of his missing rice shop, I pretended I had found it, and even convinced myself, to atone for my lie, that I would return to his restaurant late tonight, not tomorrow as heâ€™d suggested, so I could report my discovery. I am possessive of the rain, yes, but I am also prone to fits of reversals. As I waited for my food, as I listened to the rice and the rain intermingle, now rising together, now separating into their own corners, I imagined my waiterâ€™s reaction. By then I would have watched Farewell from beginning to end. I would be trembling still with an absolute euphoria, knowing that I had just witnessed an actor live deep inside himself, the only place of release.
Wah-Ming Chang has received fellowships for fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Urban Artist Initiative, and the Bronx Writers' Center. Her fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review and Arts & Letters Journal of Contemporary Culture, nonfiction in Words without Borders and the Asian American Writers' Workshop's Open City, and photography in Drunken Boat and Open City. She is currently working on a photo essay about the essence of the dance rehearsal.
THOUGHTS OF SINKING Kaitlin Solimine
Novel Excerpt, Empire of Glass
In Beijing, we judge the seasons by the shifting of sounds: in Autumn, the pigeons drift above the sloped roofs with their whistling tail feathers (flutes attached by urbanites in accordance with ancient traditions); in winter, there’s the tick tick tick of the heating furnaces turning on, each building’s rusted pipes cracking against the descending cold; in late Spring, dust storms smatter the windows and raze the city streets in yellow haze; in early Summer, we wait for the cicadas to brashly announce their arrival. Vastly outnumbering the lucky magpies, our cicadas signal the arrival of the real heat. As if they too are angered by the spoiling of a less-balmy spring, the insects scream their displeasure, harried bodies dropping to the streets where hard shells crack melodiously under the wheels of unsuspecting bicyclists. Beneath a canopy of cicada chorus, we rolled Li-Ming in her wheelchair to Chenxi’s last and only diving meet. Lao K, our American homestay student for the past year, planned to join us at the Beijing Normal University pool after school, promising to bring Li-Ming’s Fed-Zorki camera to chronicle Chenxi’s assured win (those days, the device always hung around Lao K’s spring-tanned neck like a talisman). The heat that day could have felt oppressive. We could have cursed the impenetrable wall of cicada sound, but we didn’t. Li-Ming’s wheels rolled over the occasional flailing cicada, but she didn’t flinch. She wasn’t entirely with us anymore; her head lilted dreamily, hands spread flat on her thighs. Crunch. Lilt. Crunch. Lilt. Crunch. “Lili is doing an inward dive,” Chenxi said, distracting us from the insect massacre. “So I have to do an inward one-and-a-half somersault then.” Everything Lili did, Chenxi must surpass: although our daughter only began diving lessons a year earlier, she’d already progressed to the fourth form. Her instructor, Mr. Peng, called Chenxi a ‘tenacious girl.’ I didn’t have the heart to inform him she was only trying to please Li-Ming. When Mr. Peng named Chenxi the ‘next Fu Mingxia,’ China’s gold medal Olympian diver, Li-Ming beamed. Li-Ming wanted our daughter not only to be comfortable 32
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in water, but to conquer it; Li-Ming herself hadn’t done more than dip a toe in a body of water, a holdover of her harrowing experience during the Jiangxi floods. Whenever Mr. Peng spoke highly of Chenxi, I gripped my wife’s shoulder, pretending to believe our daughter was capable of so much bravado when within my stomach a knot grew, a knot that would twist upon itself from that point onward. “You will do well,” Li-Ming said through chapped lips. I attempted reason: “Don’t push yourself. You don’t want to get hurt.” Chenxi looked at me, forced a frown. “I’m fine,” she said. “I’ve been on the 7.5 meter platform for three weeks now. It’s easy. Just like a bird!” Our daughter skipped to the university pool’s entrance and we watched her as I tipped Li-Ming’s wheelchair up the stairs, one by one by one. “Lao Chen, I can walk,” Li-Ming said, propping herself into standing, but I forced her into her seat. “Don’t push yourself.” For weeks, the radiation made her typically-sturdy frame fragile. Chenxi made light of the situation, joking that eventually her mother’s bones would be as airy as a bird’s and she could fly away to judge us from the skies. Lao K said Li-Ming would only fly as far as the ceiling so that we’d always have a view of her wings. Both descriptions unnerved me. My legs shook despite my wife’s lighter weight. She still had a form after all and she still weighed enough for carrying her to be a burden. Finally, we made it to the gymnasium’s lobby. “I’m so sick of sitting,” Li-Ming said. “You know it’s not in my nature to be so still.” “I know,” I said and she reached up to the handlebars, placing her hands atop mine. I pushed her across the waxed floors past trophies in dusty display boxes and photographs of young, lithe athletes on the wall. A banner drooped across the pool’s entrance, announcing the university swimming team’s All-Beijing Championship win the year prior. Everywhere one looked was evidence of accomplishment, success. I worried how this would affect my wife, so I walked especially briskly, but it was of no use. “Look at all these proud athletes,” Li-Ming said. “Didn’t you say you once beat Chiang Kai-Shek’s son in a track meet?” 33
I paused. How had she remembered that? Maybe I should let her believe this. Maybe she’d be better off reaching the end of her life thinking her husband was once so quick-footed, so capable of crossing the line before all others. But the faces of the smiling athletes stared at me, admonishing me for ever considering lying to my wife. “No, that was my cousin, not me.” “Oh,” Li-Ming said as we reached the pool’s entrance and I finagled her wheelchair past the doors. “Well I’m sure you could’ve beat the Generalissimo’s son if given the chance.” “You overestimate me,” I said, rolling Li-Ming’s wheelchair onto the pool platform and toward the stands where spectators sat, rows of parents awaiting their child’s performance. Chenxi had already skipped into the women’s locker room to change into her bathing suit. “I don’t want to sit here,” Li-Ming said. “Take off my shoes. I want to put my feet in the water.” “Really?” She nodded. Despite my better judgment, I kneeled, knees sinking into a puddle, wet seeping through my cotton pants. I carefully untied her shoes and placed them at the foot of the stands, bundling her socks and stuffing them into the soles. I rubbed her dry heels, twisted the skin atop her bloated ankles in both directions. Her body had the feel of something long-since expired—when had she transitioned from something wholly alive to something slightly less? Where had I gone astray in this? When did I lose the ability to protect the women in my life from harm? Before I could reach a conclusion, my wife placed her hand atop mine, rubbing the bones of my fingers as I rubbed her ankles. “Thank you,” she said, sighing slightly, then nodded for me to escort her, arm-in-arm, to the pool deck. Behind us, the parents looked on, full of pity— that man, the dying wife, the two of them hobbling precariously toward the water. They probably worried we’d trip, that we’d fall into the pool and quickly drown, our bodies floating limply to the surface, eyes staring past the arched ceiling to the sky. How much we’d be able to see with our unblinking stare that they couldn’t. 34
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But of course we didn’t fall. We shuffled carefully to the edge, where the scent of chlorine flooded our noses. “Let’s sit here,” Li-Ming instructed, her voice cracking. Once a songstress, Li-Ming’s words now chafed against one another like the ragged rubbing of grasshopper wings. I wanted to tell those sad, downward peering eyes in the stands that Li-Ming was the best swimmer I’d ever known. She was so strong a swimmer she’d saved a man from drowning during the famous Jiangxi floods. But what was the use? Li-Ming didn’t swim anymore. The floods taught her too much about the power of water. I lifted her off her feet, positioning her heavy, rigid body at the side of the pool. Her round backside, sore from so much sitting, cushioned her landing. I rolled up my own pant legs then kicked off my shoes and placed them gingerly at my side. Our toes stretching in the water, it felt like we were young again even though I’d never swum in my life, and when we were young we had more pressing concerns than climbing to the diving platform’s highest rung. “If only your daughter had her mother’s round head, she’d enter the water more smoothly,” Mr. Peng’s hands spread atop my wife’s head, which, now bald, was covered with a magenta silk handkerchief painted with blue butterflies. Mr. Peng rubbed that handkerchief as if it could bestow good fortune upon him, as if Chenxi’s only downfall was that she’d inherited my large, square jaw. “Are you ready for your daughter’s debut?” Li-Ming nodded and I didn’t need to look at her face to see her smile. What pride is wasted on the dying. Our water-happy toes flexed and stretched, flexed and stretched, flexed and stretched. I couldn’t remember the last time my feet felt so unencumbered. The freedom was both liberating and stifling, like a caged bird released into the expansive, airy world beyond the bars. “Our debuting daughter better be safe,” I muttered to my own unsteady reflection. Mr. Peng tapped my shoulder and I looked up long enough to recognize those sunglasses he always wore, even on the indoor pool deck—he blamed an astigmatism, when really we knew he preferred the crowds not see his gaze lingering on his girls as they climbed up the board’s steps, their arms and chests dripping as they pushed their slick bodies out of the water. He’d 35
never touched any of the girls inappropriately, but there was an uncomfortable closeness when he spoke to them; then again, perhaps parents are always protective of the bonds they share with their children, worried about a potential displacement by another adult. “Your daughter will do fine,” Mr. Peng said. “As we speak...” He nodded to the door to the women’s locker room which was slapping open, Chenxi marching with Lili on one side and Lao K on the other, all three of them arms locked. The girls strode in unison as if their appearance was to be timed with music and applause. Lao K, despite the fact she wasn’t diving, wore a red bathing suit that clung snugly to her tall, shapely body. Atop her chest swung Li-Ming’s camera enshrouded in some kind of plastic encasing. She had the air of proud motherhood, an affect I assumed she inherited from LiMing. Chenxi and Lili donned matching Beijing Youth Diving League suits in navy blue with angled white stripes. Their bodies paled in comparison with Lao K’s womanly frame. They were all bone, hips protruding, knees knocking, reminding anyone who looked at them of the awkward, selfconscious experience of adolescence. Chenxi didn’t seem to mind we were here to watch her, that despite our smiles, our proud faces, we were worried. What was it that worried us? We couldn’t explain to Chenxi that despite her eagerness to climb to the board’s highest rung, we’d once believed we were capable of equally impressive goals. How we’d once hoped for so much in our bodies, our ability to overcome heights, water, platforms, but how we could not overcome every difficulty. That this was what it meant to grow up—zhang da, 长大—despite the obvious fact that at a certain point we have grown as big, as tall, as we will ever be and yet we don’t really know any more than we did before. My bony, calloused toes still absently flexed and stretched. Li-Ming’s wide feet stopped fanning the water and, for a moment, fear flooded my body from my ankles to my throat—I worried I’d lost her altogether until I saw her arm lift, watched her hand waving persistently at our daughters. “Ba!...Ma!” Chenxi waved back as Lili scanned the stands for her own parents. Upon finding their prideful faces—her father, a professor of economics at Beijing Normal, with his signature eyeglasses and bowtie; her mother, a tall, thin bookkeeper at my danwei with long, straight hair and patient eyes—they smiled, nodded knowingly. Lili was the more stoic child. I didn’t dare inform Chenxi she wasn’t anything like her fearlessly independent friend. That we can never fully surpass the failures of our forbearers.
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Chenxi jogged happily to her mother’s side, seemingly unaware of LiMing’s bare legs and feet. “Did you see what Lao K did? She brought your camera! She’s going to take my photograph from under water!” Lao K walked over and stood beside Li-Ming. “Amazing,” Li-Ming said. From her seat, she gripped Lao K’s sculpted shin, rubbing her fingers along the stubbly blonde hairs as if to calm or subdue her—but who needed calming most? Either way, Lao K didn’t mind. Women’s intimacies were always lost on me, how they could rub one another’s legs, hold hands, and sleep beside one another on trains without one hint of sexual attraction. Now my wife and Lao K shared this physical relationship and although the American was supposed to be our ‘daughter,’ the nature of this disturbed me. Was I jealous? I dismissed the thought in time for Lao K to explain how she found a contraption capable of filming underwater scenes. “Mr. Wang’s shop has everything you could imagine,” Lao K said, winking at Li-Ming. “I said I needed to take photographs in a pool and he found this on his shelves.” While my wife and Lao K discussed the inventory at Wang’s, Chenxi examined Lao K’s rounded breasts rising with each breath, the girl’s hips, then looked to her own breasts and hips, clearly comparing sizes. Her gaze descended to Lao K’s thighs, how much more toned and muscular the American’s were than Chenxi’s, as if Lao K spent a life working in the fields, which we all knew wasn’t the case. Finally, Chenxi admired the differences between their ankles and feet. Chenxi had Li-Ming’s thick ankles, her flat, wide feet. The American’s were narrow, bony. When Lao K asked Chenxi what kind of photographs she should take, my daughter shuttered into awareness, shaking off whatever comparisons were built in the minutes before. “Whatever you want,” she said. “I trust you.” And with this, Lao K smiled, happy to receive Chenxi’s wholehearted approval. Mr. Peng summoned Lili and Chenxi to the base of the platform with the other competitors. There, they stretched and bended and jumped and hopped like soldiers readying for battle. How silly that the battleground was a diving board and the innocent bystanders were parents who wanted more happiness for their children than they’d experienced in their collective youth. But for what? Generation after generation played at this game: more and more opportunities spoilt upon their progeny when, in the end, each generation only craved more, and, despite the money, the jobs, the education, the homes, 37
the next generation couldn’t bestow upon their children any more answers than those who came before them. Wasn’t it Li-Ming’s favorite poet Han Shan who told us, over a dozen centuries ago, to ‘Tell families with silverware and cars: what's the use of all that noise and money?’ But now, thanks to Deng Xiaoping, we had more noise. We had more money. And still the diving girls threw their arms over the heads, slapped at the air like tai chi practitioners. The performance was for our sake, rows of eager parents believing this was the right path for their children—the only path. The judges, two grim-looking middle-aged women with gray-streaked hair pulled into tight buns and one stout young man with rosy-hued cheeks, sat at a long table on the far side of the pool. They organized their scoring placards, seemingly unaware of the gymnastics happening beneath the diving board’s staircase, unapologetically preparing to disappoint most of the parents. Lao K. What was there to say about Lao K? She slid into the pool just beside Li-Ming’s feet and dunked her head under the water as casually as a seabird, her golden hair dampening into reddish brown. What happened next surprised even me: my wife, likely inspired by the sight of Lao K’s long tendrils floating happily on the blue surface, slipped loose the knot of her head scarf. The fabric, silk fluttering, floated to her lap. She shook her head and the motion—my wife shaking a head bereft of its once long, black strands—wasn’t so much as sad, not even pitiful. No, it was merely a relic of an older gesture, a gesture that once meant nothing (nothing but a misplaced flirtation?). As she did, I reached my fingers to comb the air, that invisible, once-was hair. Then I heard the snickers. The gasps. Hadn’t the crowd seen a bald head before? Yes, my wife was dying. Yes, she’d lost her hair in the latest belated, futile batch of chemotherapy treatments. As the snickering grew, Lao K propped herself atop the pool deck and glared into the crowd with so severe, so instinctively protective a look she silenced their gaping; still, Li-Ming didn’t notice the attention, nor Lao K’s response. My wife was too transfixed on our daughter, who now calmly climbed the stairs to the diving board’s highest rung. There she was—my oval-shaped head and strong jaw, now hers, hidden beneath a black rubber cap and Li-Ming’s thick calves flexing with each step. If only she’d known her true, underlying resemblance to LiMing. If only they could stand side-by-side to compare bodies—hairless twins. Only the shape of their heads would betray their symmetry. Chlorine smell now: Lao K sliding back into the water and paddling past LiMing to retrieve the camera with its clear plastic shield. She winked at my
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wife who smiled calmly back: what had they discussed in my absence? Women: would we ever know? “Tell me what you see under there,” Li-Ming said. Chenxi reached the end of the platform. She turned to face the back wall, calves flexing, heels descending and raising, twitching slightly with each slow, cautious pump. 7.5 meters. Lili. Inward somersaults. I thought of LiMing’s insistent desire for our daughter to be the best at everything. What did it mean? Was the best just better than what we’d been? Was the best what we didn’t have the heart, the stamina, the strength, the inheritance, to achieve? Weren’t we fooling ourselves in believing she was capable of this? Now my daughter was standing at the edge of a board the height of a twostory building and she was breathing the breath that would keep her body buoyant underwater and Lao K was inhaling deeply, plunging that honeyed hair beneath the surface of the pool. They inhaled together, speaking that language I never understood. My hands raised instinctively, about to clap, to plead with Chenxi to stop, but Li-Ming slapped them to my lap. Chenxi looked to her feet. We all held our breath as her toes lost their grip, but then, quickly, her body folded into itself in one-and-a-half spins and her arms extended above her head and—her legs passed upright—yes, her legs kept going until flap!— There was no straight entry. There were no arms perfectly extended (triceps firm, elbows locked). No stomach duly pinched against an exquisitely arched back. No legs lengthened to pointed feet, toes so curled they flicked the water like a feather. No, our daughter was not as perfect as Li-Ming imagined. She even betrayed Mr. Peng’s admiration; he walked sternly to the pool’s edge where Chenxi was about to surface. Leaning over, he whispered something to her rubbercapped head, something to which she nodded dutifully. The judges frowned, holding their placards above their heads in solidarity: 4.5/10 – 4.5/10 – 4.5/10 Our daughter was less than perfect. Much, much less so. 39
Chenxi climbed up the silver ladder, watching as Lili ascended the platform, a soft, knowing smile painted on her friend’s lips—like Chairman Mao said, If you think just once about sinking, you’ll never be able to float. Lili wasn’t a thinker and was therefore incapable of sinking. Our Chenxi, on the other hand, had inherited her mother’s inquisitiveness, along with my necessity to trip just when the moment called to stand—with that, she’d always fear falling, failure. She’d looked down. Lao K finally surfaced after what seemed an interminable time, her cheeks puffing with fresh inhales, oxygen returning pink to her cheeks. “I got a good shot,” she said, water dripping down her forehead and into her briskly-fluttering eyes, but Li-Ming wasn’t listening. Li-Ming was tying her scarf back atop her bald head as if she’d suddenly experienced this odd nudity. Li-Ming was standing on her own, stomping barefoot through the puddles to her wheelchair sitting empty beside the stands, then recklessly wheeling it out the door while Lao K jogged beside her, telling her to sit, to slow down, to take it easy. “Man man de, Mama,” she said. “Mama, man man de.” The crowd gaped: the American called the Chinese woman ‘Mama.’ I sat on the edge of the pool, knowing the crowd was waiting for my next move. Let my wife throw her tantrum, I wanted to tell them. Let her believe in the Chenxi she believed in, her own childhood obscured by the child she’d birthed over a decade ago. Let her make Chenxi return to the competition for her next dive, to climb to an even higher platform and take one more spin in the air. I was done with pretending. Our daughter was below average, and whatever the reason—my head, her mother’s hotheadedness—it wasn’t worth pushing her anymore. What version of success had we so quickly taken to, anyhow? Dreams were only for the living. Didn’t Li-Ming know? We’d been writing the wrong story, the narrative faltering in the vision of our daughter’s body slipping past straight, legs making a long, horizontal splash, our ability to always be standing on the sidelines watching, cheering her on. What we should have written was the truth, if only we’d understood what it was that brought us together all those years ago in the shadowed pigsties of Jiangxi, what it was that made a child in the heat of summer, or made the cicadas sing, or made their bodies drop to the ground when full of too much song. The heat? The sky? This is what I meant about asking too many questions. I’d warned Chenxi of this once when she was only four years old and we were at her grandmother’s funeral in Nanjing. Chenxi had asked where Lao Lao had gone even though the woman’s ashes were stuffed 40
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into a heavy urn at the head of the table. She’s gone to heaven, I said, but Chenxi was persistent. Where’s heaven? She’d asked and when I pointed toward the ceiling, she asked, How is heaven in the sky? Can I see it? Can we get there by airplane? That was when I said the thing about asking too many questions. Although it silenced my daughter for the remainder of the afternoon, I later regretted teaching her this lesson, worried that maybe I’d stifled some childish belief that every question has an answer, that there’s someone, somewhere in this world, likely a parent or grandparent, who knows everything. I stood slowly, feeling the heat of many eyes boring their judgment into my back: How could he let his sick wife walk away? How could he let her believe their daughter was as good a diver as Lili? How could he allow an American to come to the rescue, the antithesis of what we’d been taught in our Little Red Books? I shrugged off their gazes and followed my wife and Lao K into the gymnasium lobby, down the corridor between the entrance hall and the locker rooms, where plaques glistened golden on the walls and more eyes, wide open, witnessed my failure to help my wife into her wheelchair. Instead, Lao K persuaded Li-Ming to sit. Our American daughter stood facing her Chinese mother with her bare arms tucked into her sides, wet body shivering. As I drew closer, I recognized the purple goose bumps raised along the flesh of her limbs. I recognized that quivering buttock flesh, the smell of hair and sweat and chlorine and… What use was there in recalling? I touched her shoulder and she didn’t jump. I ran my fingers through her hair and she didn’t flinch. I saw purple and blue, the skin attempting to pulse life back into the farthest reaches of her limbs. She was looking at Li-Ming and I was looking at the girl’s hair, the way I could lift it with one flick of my wrist, the weight of it damp, the density of gravity, our one true curse: Time. All the spinning that kept us believing the lies of our own origins. “Lao Chen!” Li-Ming called, but I couldn’t hear her. We were down a hall so deep even sound was marbled, spoken as in caves. “Lao Chen! Go get your daughter.” I released Lao K’s hair and when I did the American turned, her bare feet squealing against the linoleum. Her entire body seemed at attention with the sincerity and immediacy belonging only to youth: pink-red flushed cheeks, pricked nipples pushing through her thin red bathing suit, blonde hairs standing in columned attention on her long, golden arms. The camera straddled her breasts. The camera Li-Ming used all those years to chronicle Chenxi’s childhood now contained within it our daughter’s greatest failure: 41
she’d tried. She’d climbed to the highest rung. She’d stood tall but then didn’t trust her feet would hold her. She’d spun in the air one turn too many. That camera. I reached out to remove the film from within it. “Ba! What are you doing?” “Lao Chen! Stop!” “Ba, give it to me!” Lao K snatched the camera from me as I was prying open the film’s container, as the first glimpses of light spoilt the edges of that final photograph—Chenxi’s failed entrance. Lao K slapped my hand and I dropped it to my hip. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” she said knowingly. But she knew, she insinuated. She knew me better than I knew myself. Was this what we’d loved about her, about all Americans? They always knew best, had all the answers, while we sat on the sidelines observing, forgetting to ask the questions for which the Americans had already prepared the answers. LiMing sat frowning behind our American daughter and a tear formed. She blinked away that same knowledge she and Lao K shared. How they knew everything and I was just the child overreaching. The child attempting to shield us from the knowledge that this—this photograph, this moment, this daughter—will never be enough. Bu. No. 不 Drowned legs, wasted strokes. “Don’t ruin the film,” Lao K said, protectively clutching the camera to her wet chest. “Let’s go get Chenxi.” She pushed me by the back, leading me to the pool, past the flapping plastic-stripped doors, the sad-eyed spectators who grew eager with the sight of their daughters’ bodies ascending the platform but still looked at us with embarrassment, as if we represented everything they wished not to acknowledge in the world. Outside, the cicada chorus crescendoed louder then abruptly fell to a dull hum. Li-Ming was still in the hallway in her wheelchair, unable to roll herself back to the stands to watch our daughter’s last dive. I didn’t know how in leaving Li-Ming alone we were actually entering the rest of our lives together: me and the American girl who would suddenly thrust herself onto our lives with the tenacity of a sand storm funneling down the streets of Wudaokou. 42
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“Ba! Lao K! I’m up!” Chenxi shouted. If she’d noticed our departure, it hadn’t fazed her. She was due for her second redemptive dive. She climbed the stair’s spokes, crested the board like a sunrise. Coach Peng stood crossarmed across the pool next to the seated judges. He still wore his sunglasses and a calm, unsmiling face. What did he see through those dark lenses? Although I’d never owned sunglasses, suddenly, I wanted more than ever to wear them, to wash the world in red and brown—to stamp out, once and for all, the unbearable honesty of sunlight peeling past the skylights to play with the pool’s surface, blinding us if we stared too long. “I’m coming, Sister,” Lao K shouted, jogging on tiptoes then dipping smoothly into the water, holding the camera to her eye and descending below the surface, beyond my reach. What she saw beneath the waves that day at the Beijing Normal University swimming pool I’d never know—if she ever developed that photograph, she never showed us. And Li-Ming was in no position to expose the film herself, her illness quickly devouring what was left of her, every bone, every lymph node and organ riddled with cancer in the coming weeks. But I will remember what I want of Lao K surfacing briefly for a breath, just long enough to shout to her sister: “Remember: don’t look down!” then submerging herself as Chenxi did exactly as Lao K reminded her not to—she looked to the water glistening meters below and as she did, her tentative toe grip on the edge of the board slipped. The crowd behind us gasped. Li-Ming shouted from the distance, “Lao Chen, do something!” as our daughter’s body faltered, as her feet struggled to retain their grip on the slick board, her knees bending to push herself off prematurely. But it was too late: Lao K was already underwater, already snapping the photograph that would last beyond our lives, those paper objects outliving the bodies they contain— this time, our daughter’s body, taut and perfectly-straight, slicing the water like a knife. Like perfection alone could heal us. Or at least our belief in it. She didn’t make a splash.
“Did you hear that, Ba?” It wasn’t Chenxi’s voice, but Lao K’s, her proper Beijing accent with all it’s rolling ‘er’ sounds exaggerated. We were alone— Li-Ming had rolled herself home immediately following Chenxi’s redemptive dive and Chenxi went to McDonalds for her post-dive celebration with Lili’s family. Already, we’d lost our daughter to someone 43
else. For now, this tall, slow American would have to take her place. “Ba, did you hear?” “Hear what?” “Hear how it’s so silent now.” I hadn’t realized we were to notice the changes in Beijing’s street sounds. The cicadas were a static background noise you learned to ignore. On the walk home, I hadn’t time to think about it—I was too consumed by the events that evening: Chenxi’s terrible dive and then her perfect one, a tear clinging to my wife’s eye, Lao K’s hair dipping beneath the water’s surface. But as we left the pool following in Li-Ming’s trail, the cicadas had indeed silenced their song-happy voices. Or had something else silenced them? The sky above us was misty with clouds and the first light of stars somehow reminded me of a tropical place although I’d never left China, only seen photographs of Hawaii and the Philippines and the Caribbean in the brightlycolored calendars tacked to the walls of my danwei’s head office, now called the Taiwan Machinery Corporation. Above us, the stars winked and danced, but we didn’t have time to watch them. Li-Ming awaited us at home, likely seething with anger: Over what? Chenxi’s terrible first dive? My inability to escort Li-Ming from the pool hall? The way I’d touched Lao K’s wet hair? What hadn’t I done? Lao K stopped below a willow with limbs that limped to the ground as if exhausted by the nature of being born a tree. She tilted her head to the sky. “What are you looking at? Hurry up, Li-Ming is waiting for us.” “Li-Ming can wait. She probably needs to be alone anyway. Besides, haven’t you noticed the stars?” First the cicadas and now this. I reluctantly peeled back my head to the cavern of black beyond the tree’s wispy limbs. “I haven’t seen this many stars in Beijing,” Lao K said. She was right. Tonight’s wind, brisk and chilled by northern gusts, must have cleared the air of any remaining dust or pollutants as it also fluffed our hair. There was an entire black sky above us with visible, sparkling stars. “What’s there to look at?” I asked, but Lao K ignored me. “Chenxi will be okay,” she said. 44
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I didn’t know how to respond, but the willow limbs bristled at a passing breeze and the cicadas clucked, annoyed that the wind had, for a moment, stolen the stage. “Li-Ming will be okay too,” she said. She spoke from a place she didn’t quite trust, but her words were there, nonetheless, puffs of smoke rising from a valley floor. This smoke, these words, hovered above us before being stamped out by the sound of revived cicada chorus. The drone rose, encouraging me to speak. What am I supposed to say? “Baba,” Lao K said, her eyes still fixed on the sky. “That’s my name,” I said. “She’s really going,” she said. She didn’t yet know the word for ‘die.’ Or to ‘leave this world’, or any other idiomatic saying we used to mask the sting of death. For her, there were only a few assortments of verbs: ‘to go,’ ‘to be,’ ‘to eat,’ ‘to study,’ ‘to make.’ Her lesson books hadn’t mentioned death yet—why would they? “Si,” I said, correcting her. “She’s really going to ‘si.’ Like the number ‘four,’ but in the falling-rising tone.” 死. To die. That body struggling beneath a flat, black surface, arm stretching upward. No one above reaching below, no one capable of saving that which was already lost. “I will never say that word, Ba,” Lao K said. “I like ‘to go’ better. It means there can be a return.” I sighed, placed my hand on my American daughter’s wide shoulder but this gesture didn’t have the resonance I’d hoped so I dropped my hand. “Where I live, there’s a wide beach without any houses, no people,” she said. “When I was a kid we’d go there at night to count the stars. Have you ever seen a star that falls?” I realized she meant a shooting star: liu xing. “Never in the city,” I said. “Only when I was a child in the countryside.” “That makes sense,” she said. “You need to be paying attention in order to see falling stars and no one is ever paying enough attention in the city.”
“That’s true,” I said. I hated how she spoke as if she had the answer for everything, despite the fact I believed her, could have listened to her talking for days, even years. “Maybe if we wait, we’ll see one,” Lao K said, loosening her neck by rolling it side to side but not abandoning her gaze. “Maybe,” I said. “But what about Li-Ming?” “Maybe she’s looking too,” she said. “Maybe she sees them all the time.” “Did she tell you this?” I was suddenly jealous. Lao K shrugged. The cicada chorus died, briefly silent, before resuming its resonant hum and I knew now to expect a crescendo soon. “What did she tell you?” I asked again. “We never talk of stars,” she said, and although I didn’t believe her, I’d reached the end of my questioning. I tilted back my head and waited. We stayed like this for a while, all those stars staring back at us but unable to provide what we’d wanted. I thought of all the films I’d ever watched, the poetry books Li-Ming showed me that she brought home from Wangfujing, the characters in tight, meaningful rows. In every film, as in each poem, there was the belief in the impossible. At just this moment in a film or poem, the sky would burst with the most brilliant shooting star ever to race across the curve of earth, red-blue flame trailing behind. Lao K would point at it and I would follow her finger to its end, trusting it to lead me in the right direction. But we do not live in films or poems. Lao K and I did not see a shooting star, or anything as brilliant for that matter. We stood beneath the willow, peeking past its branches, hoping for several minutes the world would give us what we wanted. But what was that? I suppose I was always wanting to fill myself with something I felt was lacking, but despite the changes in scenery, the walk from the country to the city to the border to the city again, the grinding of lenses, the birth of a daughter, I hadn’t changed. It was as if my life were one long dead end, as if everything I’d ever hungered for was actually in vain—a bowl incapable of being filled, a burning star whose light would never reach us on earth. Did Lao K understand this? Is that why she reminded me to look upward, that there was something bigger than my tall, yet humble frame?
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As we walked home, I worried maybe we hadn’t been looking properly, but Lao K was already ahead of me, undeterred by this failed lesson in stargazing. She skipped toward the courtyard blocks, her wet hair trailing. “Lao K,” I called. “Maybe we didn’t look long enough.” She slipped around the last corner, her moonlit shadow reaching me then quickly snapping back, retreating farther away. “We looked long enough,” she said. “We can try again tomorrow.” Her words warped the corner, finding me in the distance, their echo between buildings unyielding. “Tomorrow,” I repeated. But I didn’t want to wait. Before entering our complex’s courtyard, I paused and tipped my head back to view the sky again. Thankfully, the stars were still there, still blinking at me from their various distances. I breathed deeply and waited, but still—nothing. It seemed the more I wanted, the less my life would reach its intended ending. But the longer I waited, contrarily, the less I believed this. The longer I waited, the longer the stars didn’t give me a shower of shooting stars, or even just one, the more patient I grew. I thought of myself as a boy in Cen Cang Yan who would sit by the river’s edge looking at the same stars. Not much had changed in the sky’s map since then, the same constellations shifting in the same patterns, the same planets rising from the horizon in the same seasons as the year before. I’d grown taller, lankier. I’d watched American fighter jets peel open the sky above Dandong, met a woman I loved more than I’d known possible, we’d made a child. All of this was the way one lived a life, in one version or another, but basically holding to the same premise. What did we expect to change when above us the sky’s tapestry remained essentially the same? Why, when everything around us in its simplest form—water, earth, sky, fire—was exactly as it had ever been since we’d known it, did we want something more? Lao K called for me, but I couldn’t find the words, the energy, to walk forward. I preferred remaining transfixed by the image of a world beyond this one that promised to always be here, always the same shapes and luminosities, despite the fact that somewhere these suns we called ‘stars’ had burned out, that we were only receiving their light millions of years after they’d died. I took comfort in this: even dead stars remain bright somewhere. Perhaps all that mattered was where we stood relative to them, that we believed their light meant something.
I’d read a newspaper article many years earlier that said the biggest stars in the universe were the brightest, but these bright stars would also die out fastest, their own fiery energy consuming itself. The smaller the star, the longer its life, the lesser its burn. The journalist had quoted a Soviet astronaut who said, “No matter how far we reach into space, we’ll never get far enough,” and I thought it was strange that even Soviets didn’t know everything. They might have launched Sputnik, but they weren’t any closer at reaching the universe’s limits than the rest of us. Lao K yelled for me, this time followed by Li-Ming’s insistent voice. I lowered my head to my chest, but the image of the brightest stars still burned my retina, lingering for a few minutes longer until I rounded the corner and saw my American daughter and her Chinese mother, my wife, waiting for me in the doorway. “Carry me upstairs,” Li-Ming requested and although there was much more we needed to say, I gathered her body in my arms. I paused for a few breaths at the stairwell, readjusting my hold, worried suddenly by the lack of weight, how it was easier to lift her now than earlier that afternoon. “Hurry up,” Li-Ming said, as if she also sensed how much smaller she’d become, how now I was the one who had to carry us home.
Raised in New England, Kaitlin Solimine has considered China a second home for almost two decades. She's been a Harvard-Yenching scholar, a Fulbright fellow, the Donald E. Axinn Scholar at Bread Loaf, and winner of the 2012 Dzanc Books/Disquiet International Literary Award. She wrote and edited Let's Go: China (St. Martin's Press) and her work has been featured in Guernica, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, The Hairpin, and The World of Chinese Magazine. Her essays are forthcoming in anthologies published by Earnshaw Books and The Places We've Been. Find her at www.kaitlinsolimine.com.
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ARTIST STATEMENT As an artist, I believe that staying versatile, consistent, humble, & true to myself are the keys to success. With my work, I focus on many different approaches to gain attention from all types of audiences. Whether it may be nostalgia, color & contrast, mechanics, or just plain imagery, these are all ingredients I take into consideration while creating a piece or a body of work. I try not to focus on one style thus being versatile. It keeps my mind fresh and the work never gets boring. Thereâ€™s always something for me to do. Sometimes I create for myself, sometimes I create for other people, and sometimes I just create because I can.
Bomb the Morons
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Into the Wild
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Old and New
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NUREN XIN HAIDI ZHEN: A WOMAN’S HEART IS A NEEDLE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA Karen An-hwei Lee We drop into this crevasse — an underground glacier. Odd blue halls dragged smooth by igneous stone: unseen shoulders of the world. We hear exhalations hyphens of blood and zeal where time is etched in limestone. Nuren xin haidi zhen. A woman’s heart is a needle at the bottom of the sea. Far below the earth a girl crawls inside her own grief – rushed overflow of youth. How can you already know so much sorrow at this age, I wonder when she visits for prayer.
Who abandoned you — what happened
miles below the surface of your life? Did you come here to find safety and how may light enter in? The girl replies, my sorrow is not one of fashion or shame — rather, the love I sought as a child eluded me in this underground chapel of melting ice.
Karen An-Hwei Lee Red butterfly knots, macram : May I share what I see? Light years and local suns, truth or disaster in medias res. Nations spend more on perfume than famine, stone-ground until aroma emerges, hunger. Boys squat on stones, weep. Our universe is not infinite: boundaries exist. We await a translation as parousia wraps the sky around our heads, suede or new skin. The cosmos is fish paper and a house dress, insectâ€™s eggs in my linen closet. Listen for stirring upstairs.
Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo Press, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo Press, 2008), In Medias Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), and a chapbook, Godâ€™s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe Press, 2002). Her books have been honored by the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America (chosen by Cole Swensen) and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize for Poetry (selected by Heather McHugh). The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she chairs the English department at a faith-based college in southern California, where she is also a novice harpist.
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PORTRAIT OF ANONYMITY Henry W. Leung My ex and her one-night love are drowning. They see my campfire’s beacon, the keyhole for the setting sun, and they re-emerge as Persephone did from Hades: bereft, delighted by that tempered, accidental bloom, desire. In his arms she flails and squeals— they approach me as one shadow united against itself, falling apart. Wet sand catches the imprint of their hard hips, their spent skin. They’re unaccustomed to this, this air’s gauze, this bandaging to earth; their wings have no room for waking. What did they see when they were down? The slippers of a tired God losing weight. A pillar in our bodies, folding the light. Dusk curls from their tide like dark pollen, so they suck the flesh from my steaks while they’re still hot. I roll the bones.
Henry W. Leung
My feet pound perimeters into the earth, and I grow old while the long, imperceptible curve of the city cuts ahead of me like a ledge. In the last one billion years, the moon shrank a little. Pain travels through me at three hundred feet per second: missives from a toxic lover. My suitcase wheels clack over every square of sidewalk. Mountains heave up; I can walk over anything if I donâ€™t stop. My lungs wonâ€™t fill with stems. During the Black Death, ships were kept apart in harbors for forty days, never more.
Henry W. Leung is a Kundiman Fellow and the author of Paradise Hunger, which won the 2012 Swan Scythe Press Poetry Chapbook Contest. He is also a columnist for the Lantern Review, a Soros Fellow, and working toward completion of his MFA in Fiction at the University of Michigan. His work has appeared in such publications as Cerise Press, Memoir Journal, and ZYZZYVA.
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TREE RISINGS Purvi Shah In the secret garden, brushed behind city streets, you climb a short tree. I, in a catch-me-now skirt, float across branches, dangle uncut legs, reactivate muscles & silent bruises decades hushed. You inform me, with your four-year prowess, which branch is stable, which foot leads, which foot clasps. You convince me I have forgotten what it is to fall. At four or forty, a man carves space to temporarily hold, to grapple with which footing will reach first
At four or nearer to forty, I gaze to the sun-burnt brush of grass & scatter of sharp stones & sigh – still rising as these bones blossom, – unshorn & more sturdy in view of break.
Purvi Shah believes in the miracle of poetry and the beauty of change. Winner of the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Services Award in 2008 for her work fighting violence against women, she also directed Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project to highlight the voices of Asian Americans during the 10th anniversary of 9/11. She writes to plumb migration and loss, including through her first book, Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which was nominated for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award in 2007. In 2010 she received a Travel & Study Grant from the Jerome Foundation to explore sound vibration and meaning in Sanskrit and how sound energy can translate through poetry in English. Her work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies including Descant, Drunken Boat, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Indivisible, The Literary Review, The Massachusetts Review, Nimrod, and Weber Studies. You can find more of her work at http://purvipoets.net, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/purvi-shah, or @PurviPoets.
THE TRANSFUSION OF YUKIYO KANAHASHI Jackson Bliss
1. The English word dementia is derived from the Latin word demens, meaning “out of one’s mind.” Taken apart, demens is composed of two words: the prefix de, meaning “away, down” and the noun mens, the Latin word for “reason, mind, intellect.” This is the story of how language and memory fall apart but never disappear when you break everything down. 2. In the final year of my sobo’s life, photography was an important motif of the beautiful dream and the fleeting world. My Japanese cousin, Eikichi, took several obligatory photos of my grandmother’s final trip at a Buddhist temple in Ōsaka. The photos are painful to look at because—with one exception where my grandmother is laughing a joyless laugh, her eyes closed—there’s no laughter in her face at all, no exuberant sparkle in the temples like before. They are exactly what I expect of Japanese family photos: people glued by tradition, cemented by hierarchy, weighed down by honor and gravitas. The photos are also powerful for the simpler reason that my sobo is barely there in the ukiyo (the floating world). Her face is supernaturally pallid like a poisoned moon, her lips are crushing the line between them. Her eyes are unsettled and overpowered by exhaustion. In at least two photographs, while my Aunt Shizuko looks straight at the camera (you), sobo is looking off into the distance as if she can’t bear to look you in the face. Maybe she didn’t know Eikichi was taking her picture. Maybe she stopped caring. In another photo, sobo looks incurably sad, the saddest, in fact, I’ve ever seen her in my entire life. Her eyes plead for more time. They mourn the inevitable great blur, speaking in the voice of loss. Her eyes are the orphans of the invisible war taking place inside her body. You are her witness now. You are her casualty. In another photograph, sobo’s mouth is half open, as if she’s groaning. If you look long enough you can see the emotion hemorrhaging inside, the quiet slowly bleeding out. The agony on her face isn’t just the pain of the body breaking down or the mutiny of her lungs. It’s also the pain of not knowing how to cover your pain anymore. The collapse of ganbaru, the Japanese verb of perseverance. When the pictures are put together, her face tells a story of suffering and exile: how she lost her country and family once she moved to America, how age and disease slowly pilfered her memories fifty-eight years after Japan 60
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surrendered on board the USS Missouri. Sobo looks like she keeps finding the same wound inside her, the same returning paradox. Despite her visit to Nippon and the surrounding ambient details of staccato Buddhist chants, ringing bells, long-winded Japanese honorifics, despite the lingering smells of kamaboko, senbei and overflowing good-luck incense in the background, she looks mortified. Her face is not a silent pain at all, it’s a grievance she shares with the viewer by accident, as if tripping and falling on your heart. This is the story of how the particles of my sobo’s soul were slowly dissolving into the atmospheric mesh threads around her like a bleeding silkscreen. 3. It took most of my life to piece together her story, and even more time for the scraps to cohere, but one day I finally understood the truth about my sobo: part of her died when she left Japan as a young woman. During the American occupation, Japan nationalized its shame, handed over its army, and ignored the crimes against humanity it was both clearly a victim and also a perpetrator of. Meanwhile, a new constitution was translated from English to Japanese (making Japanese laws essentially foreign). Clean-cut GI’s became power brokers of a country they didn’t understand or love, after hundreds of thousands of civilians perished in the Tokyo firebombing (which my grandmother survived by jumping into the river and holding her breath). After America’s radiation experiment in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nippon lost its emperor, its national narrative, its urban landscape, its memory of the physical world. In that post-war chaos, my sobo was working in Yokohama as a seamstress when she met my grandfather, an American soldier who was a stubborn drunk, an amnesiac and a future sex offender. This is the story of how Japan lost the innocence it never had again and the story of how my grandfather died of cirrhosis of the liver at an American army base before I was born, killing himself before I’d have the chance to, a kamikaze without honor or sake. 4. The word dementia is also a cognate to the Latin infinitive demēre, meaning “to take, cut away, withdraw, subtract or take away from.” Medically, dementia is considered a chronic cognitive disorder, often caused by injury or disease to the brain, resulting in severe or partial memory loss, mood swings, strong personality shifts and conflated recall (both sequentially, spatially and temporally). This is the story of sobo’s loss of reality, the abduction of her narrative arc by the serial killers of memory, all of them.
5. Some people will accuse me of biographical revisionism, but I saw what I saw in Eikichi’s photos in much the same way that sobo knew what she knew when she looked away. In each photograph, my sobo is both present (as pain) and invisible (as joy), as if part of her is already taking a field trip to the spirit world. Soon after she returned to California, she began coughing inexplicably, even worse than before. This went on for days, then weeks, until the months stuck together like magnets. Slowly, sobo lost weight until she looked gaunt and bony. Her face turned sallow, her smile lines and crow’s feet cutting deep into her skin. Her appetite dwindled, satisfied by morning coffee, rice, a bowl of miso shiru and a miniature version of my mom’s dinner. Eventually, sobo saw the doctor and learned that she had stage-4 lung cancer. The doctor gave her the death sentence: two months, three at the most. I was in Portland, Oregon, walking to a restaurant when my mom told me grandmamma was going to die. I fell apart, my stitching became unstitched. I bawled in front of complete strangers on the sidewalk, a stranger to myself. After her death, I looked at sobo’s pictures of Ōsaka again and I felt haunted by her haunting, her spirit floating back and forth from her body. The light in her eyes in every photograph was fading, her energy weak and sluggish like a brownout in a once-dazzling city. Even during her last visit to Japan, you could see that cancer had taken over her radiant sparkle, her eyes now filled with the self-knowledge of the dying. This is the story of how prophecies sometimes work backwards, telling you what already happened. 6. I didn’t know what I looking for and I was almost certain the search itself was dangerous, but I pushed forward at a slow, determined pace to piece together her life. I’d know what I was looking for once I’d found what I didn’t know. Once, I had a girlfriend in 8th grade. She stood me up the day I was going to give her my Christmas gift—a teddy Bear in a fake fur coat, veil and satin bow. Her name was Lauren BearCall. That Christmas, after I told her my story about my flaky girlfriend who forgot to meet me on the last day of class before Christmas vacation, sobo just shook her head in disapproval. You were once in a relationship, I protested. No, she countered. She told me it was bad to have a girlfriend. It was better, she explained, to not be in a relationship at all. No hurt, she said. Better not to be in relationship, she explained. This is the story of a Japanese American woman hiding her past from her hapa grandson.
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7. Both etymologically and medically, dementia involves the loss of stuff. In most cases, it’s the loss of rational cognition, almost always including a nuanced definition of personality subtraction, the removal of some quintessential aspect of the self, much like an excision of the spirit. In other words, the person we know (or used to know) isn’t completely there anymore: she’s on a leave of absence, a cognitive exile. This is the story of how my grandmother inhabits two worlds at the same time, shuttling between the Church of the A-Bomb and the Island of Sakura, flashing between identities and continents in every complex chemical reaction in her brain, traveling in the space between neurotransmitters and the half-life of memory. 8. Once my brother and I began taking over hospice duties for my grandmother, I started reading brochures for end of life care. In one brochure, it said that family members should show pictures of the dying person’s life to help her digest its richness. With the right reader, every life was a rich bildungsroman. I grabbed every musty, floral-themed album in my mom’s apartment in Leucadia, led sobo over to the couch by the hand and then sat down together with her. Photo by photo, page by page, album by album, I replayed her life back to her: Obāsama, this is you in Paris with mom and Dad. Oh, she said, surprised. This is you in London, I said. She nodded like London was playing hide-and-go-seek with her memory. Grandmamma, this is you in Hong Kong with mom, I said. She bent over the photograph, looking for faces she understood. This is you in Ōsaka, I said. Oh, Ōsaka, she repeated, like a word charm. This is you playing the piano at Mrs. Kurtz’s piano recital, I said. In three hours, we soared through her life at blinding speed, splicing a lifetime achievement montage that she soon forgot. Part of me was devastated: this was her life in snapshot, collapsing into snippets. She’d had a brutal life that got better over time, but now she didn’t even remember what she’d overcome (a sexually abusive husband, a world war, a broken-up Japanese family, an estranged daughter and the institutionalized xenophobia of small town America). She was the very definition of a survivor, and what’s worse, she no longer knew it. Still, another part of me was envious: sobo gets to relive each seminal moment of her life over again, for the first time, every joy is her first joy, every moment is an eternity. And all of the pain, suffering and grief she’d experienced since Japan became a radical experiment of radiation, democracy, cultural translation and historical erasure was wiped clean. This is the story of how
Platonic knowledge is joyful recollection (because traces don’t disappear) and how memory loss is morphine and character assassination. 9. After their mysterious marriage, my grandfather wanted his new Japanese wife and his hapa daughter to move to American as soon as possible. He didn’t want them to become Japs, even though both of them already were and he would never be. Nothing scared him more, in fact. Despite the fact that he was the foreigner and couldn’t understand my mom and my grandmother when they spoke to each other in nihongo, my grandfather banished them from their homeland, sending my mom and then later my sobo to a small town in Northern Michigan to rid them of their sickness called nihonjin no atashi (Japanese Me). This is the story of how an estranged gaijin in Japan (estranged from Yokohama, estranged from his own family in Washington state) turned his hapa daughter and Japanese wife into foreigners in America who would remain stuck in the spaces between cultures forever. 10. Part of the cultural definition of dementia is predicated on the notion of an unchanging self. Americans, in particular, have a monolithic view of the human personality. We pretend that each person has a single overarching self that controls all ancillary traits and characteristics. When we deviate from this monolithic personality superimposed on us from the outside, we’re described as “fake,” “fronting,” “trying too hard,” “phony,” all words used to described people who aren’t “real.” Sociolinguistically, what is “real” has become synonymous with what is true, legitimate and authentic, which is odd considering that humans have never agreed on what reality is for the simple reason that reality is an interpretation of our subjectivity, so elusive, so protean and ontologically promiscuous, like a consort of false idols and imaginary worlds. The binary line separating reality and fantasy is a false one. But this is exactly how reality is supposed to be—impossible to locate, impossible to delimit. This is the story of how we oversimplify the war maps of the self in order to avoid the battlefield of identity, in order to not step on the landmines of contradiction. 11. One of sobo’s last conscious projects was an album book of photographs she’d handpicked herself. Unlike the clean, well-divided and linear picture albums I’d shown her after reading a hospice pamphlet, my grandmother’s 64
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album book was a masterpiece of fragmentation. In it, she had rearranged pictures of her life that often went backwards and upwards chronologically, laterally instead of sequentially. Often the pictures followed a circular, often a dizzying trajectory that always returned to her (hapa) family and her trailer in Traverse City, Michigan and her (American) life as a seamstress for wealthy, conservative white women that smiled when she spoke because her accent overpowered her words like an angry dime store perfume. By looping through time and space, her picture narrative returned again and again to her (hapa) grandsons she used to chase around with a broom and prepare somen noodles for in the summertime and drive to Mrs. Kurtz’s house in suburbia for piano lessons and sit, often for hours inside her own trailer, smoking Pall Malls 100’s and listening as Mozart and Beethoven rose up from the altar on her piano, the notes spilling out the windows that were opened wide for all the neighbors to remember, witnesses to my halfbutchered sonatas, all of them. This is the story of how my grandmother resisted the cult of linearity by bending her memories into a continuous song. 12. The day I realized my grandfather had raped my sobo was the day I realized I was capable of imagining terrible acts of violence. As a committed Buddhist, I’m ashamed by this confession but the burning rage remains inside me like mnemonic napalm. One day when we were eating TV dinners and watching TV, sobo told me: he made me do things I not want to do. While I can’t prove this, I have a feeling that what he forced her to do is what paper gods force ink mortals to do in Ovid’s metamorphoses. I have a hunch that this is how my mom was born, the reason my sobo married a drunk, stubborn American soldier who took away her childhood with a single act of infiltration. This is the story of how a woman married an atomic bomb to protect her family’s honor. 13. In America, we treat dementia as an incomplete version of the former self, even when it’s a result of insufficient oxygen to the brain by metastasized lungs. We view it as raving, possibly schizophrenic (but absolutely lunatic) alternative identity that has hijacked the personality of someone we used to know. Dementia is always the enemy, not our cultural insistence that who we are doesn’t change through time. Dementia is metempsychosis, a change or shift in human souls from one body to another. But what if dementia isn’t the subtraction of the self but the self’s own multiplication? What if dementia is not the cognitive haunting of who we once were or the perversion of how people once knew us but our most emancipated version of 65
our self, freed from the constraints of rationalism? What if sobo on her deathbed was not an abridged version of her former self but a completely unfiltered and unfettered version of who she’d always been inside? The Yukiyo Kanahashi I knew had a permanent accent and a shrunk-in-the-dryer vocabulary. She was unfaithful with definite articles. Sometimes, she stressed the wrong syllables of words, making them momentarily foreignsounding to native speakers. She also did other things with language that was unique: all dogs were doggies, my brother’s name became a swear word with a slight intonation shift, and sakura could be a holiday, a flower and a song. And yet, as much as I loved the English-speaking version of my sobo, that was just an excerpt of a larger body of work, a shrink-wrapped version of herself suffocating under a layer of cellophane. Her English was a performance. At times, almost a racist caricature of herself. Her Japanese, on the other hand, was the uncorking of the impossible bottle. When she spoke nihongo to her siblings on the phone every New Year’s day, our house became an opera house of repackaged stories, translated for our protection. This is the story of sobo’s dementia as both an act of defiance of western (linear) time and also an expansion (opera) of who she used to be before yellow people became lab rats for the Manhattan project. 14. When my grandmamma moved to America, Japan froze in time. Her photo album of dementia was distinctly diachronic, looping continuously in a temporal helix that often crossed wires and became knotted, the form and content of her past changing with every frame, every row, every page, working out a new permutation of memory, each fresh (non-linear) narrative traveling back and forth, up and down, contracting and stretching. Sobo’s memories of Japan, on the other hand, were devoutly, distinctly synchronic. While her life in America continued to progress in the changing of presidents—Eisenhower-Kennedy-LBJ-Nixon-Ford-Carter-Reagan-BushClinton et al.—Japan was stuck in the Showa period for good, its doctrine of racial superiority and the sins of Nanking only recently erased by the blunt force of Enola Gay’s urban liquidation, the Battle of Midway and the occupation of the emperor’s throne by toe-headed hakujins that didn’t speak a word of nihongo, and didn’t know Shinto from shindo (the Japanese words for earthquake, depth, progress and elasticity). Was it her attachment to a lost childhood, the bloodshed and the amorality of war, the erasure of nationalist narratives of violence or simply the implosion of Hirohito’s personality cult that made my sobo cast such a sweeping spell on her homeland, the land of the sun-origin stuck in suspended animation, frozen at the exact place where civilian blood flowed profusely? This is the story of
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how Japan became a cryogenic prison of history (a tourniquet of melancholia) once my grandmother passed the international timeline. 15. To me, my grandfather had always been a ghost, a toxic presence symbolizing a life vacated from within. But in fact, he was once all flesh and booze, moving from Pennsylvania military base to German military base like a picaresque war antihero. He was alive just long enough to earn a Purple Heart, become an alcoholic, create a family from mud and then abandon it once he became weary (sober). When I was an adult, my mom confessed to me that he had molested her too, usually when he was drunk enough to be a Molotov cocktail. For the second time in my life, I felt a hot anger rising inside of me like a projectile. This is the story of a war criminal decorated for his battle wounds, which resonated through every one of us after his fatal battle with the bottle. 16. An implicit assumption in both the medical and the etymological definitions of dementia is this notion that what we lose was mnemonically worth keeping. But what if thatâ€™s wrong? What if selective memory is both a manifestation of trauma and pain, and also the psychic recreation of it, an emotional salve to the military science of trauma, a bandage for the teeth marks of history? What if dementia proves that the entangled strands of culture, narrative, psychology and memory, are actually knotted and tripletied? What if dementia proves that all human beings are actually multiplicities (mirrors) of themselves? This is the story of how delirium and conflation become a joint project of self-multiplication, especially when reality (promiscuous, subjective, impossible to locate reality) murders the songs of your childhood. 17. Language is a blurry photograph: in grad school, my desire to learn Japanese was related to my desire to freeze American time and thaw Japanese time. Speaking nihongo was an ekphrastic gesture, my way of painting (resurrecting) Japan using unfaithful honorifics, crooked kana, giant kanji and broken copulas, a gift just for her on the phone. My secret hope was that Japan would thaw in her heart and stay frozen in mine. Speaking nihongo was my way of holding on to my sobo, the way I choose to remember our culture before the details became thin and too focused. This is
the story of how I began studying Japanese both to connect with my grandmother and also bring Japan back from the graveyards of pop culture. 18. When my brother and I got in a car accident in the family Subaru, I was in grade school, holding a children’s manga in my hand that my sobo had picked out for me a week before in Japan. Though I have a scar on my cheek and another one on my scalp to prove that crashes aren’t just the stuff of atomic bombs, I survived, the rest of my body unscathed. The doctor told my mom later that if I hadn’t been holding the manga in my hand (the thick, pulpy pages acting as protective spirits from land of the sun-origin), I might have died. Or been disfigured. That car accident proved that my monolithic self has never ceased being threatened since the day I realized I was a hapa performing a white person. This is the story of how Japan saved my life from narrative monomania or cultural duality. 19. As a writer, language is how I slow down time and shed the words I’m ready to let go of. It’s also my project of memorialization. I write so that the reader is forced to do the remembering for me. After all, writing is aesthetic delirium, a diachronic synthaesia of person, language and event that infects the reader with narrative dementia, entrapping her within my own textual wonderland. I’m wandering, always wandering through the leviathan of small details, I’m exposed, already infected by the unstable neurotoxins of memory, sickened by the lyrical (cyclical) passages of this memoir. This is the story of how a writer (reader) leaps over the canyon of amnesia and finds his lost grandmother in the wasteland, hidden somewhere in the library stacks of his own memory where everything is waiting to be sewn into a coherent story that falls apart at the seams when you hold it up against the light. 20. During the last year of her life, sobo recreated her own island of the sunorigin. She read tiny Japanese novels that she bought at the San Diego Kinokuniya, tucked inside the Mitsuwa supermarket on Kearny Mesa Road. My mom also got Nippon TV installed on their cable box so my grandmother could watch Japan in real time, leaping over fifty years of suspended animation with a push of a button. This is the story of how we create nations, mountains, and cities inside of ourselves that are not simulacra, but perfect imagined worlds, more perfect than the original design. 68
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21. Supposedly, the last sense to go is the hearing. On her deathbed, as her forehead was burning up, I crawled in my sobo’s bed. After thanking her again for her indomitable love, strength, generosity and devotion, I whispered one final thing in her ears: Obāsamawa, watashitachi no hikari desu. Grandmama, you are our light. You are our light. This is the story of how I tried to help my grandmother cross to the other side, a world I prayed was full of butchered Mozart Sonatas, Ōsaka festivals, the smell of kamaboko and senbei in the background and good luck-incense rising up, the tendrils of smoke painting sakura branches in the sky. 22. When she died, my grandmother was completely out of her mind. Dementia, after all, is the travel between the self, beyond the self and around the self until there is no self left, or until there are too many selves to count. The day before I left California, I was sitting at a café with my brother, reflecting about my sobo, focusing all my attention on her as I opened up my portable Japanese-English dictionary which I’d brought to help me speak with her when her English collapsed into rubble. I had probably creased the page myself days before without knowing, pressing my hands firmly on the spine in case of emergency. Even so, these are the kanji I found on that page, just as I was thinking about her, just as I was replaying the last minutes of her life with me: hieru, meaning, “to grow cold,” higashi, the kanji for “east,” hikitoru, meaning “to take care,” hikō, the noun for “flight,” and most importantly, hikari, the kanji for “light.” This memoir is the story my sobo didn’t want to tell anyone, the story she kept telling me in excerpts of encoded trauma, the voyage I wish I could forget and the story I was destined to assemble and retell in a way that only I could, written in the lyrical (cyclical) style she would have forbidden and demanded of me. This is the story of my sobo’s deracination, her self-multiplication and also her return to the motherland. This is the story of my memory of her memory, transposed into a series of (im)perfect and flawed translations, a project of narrative multiplication, the lyrical disorder of a damaged (artistic) brain, and an honest arpeggio of memory. This is the story of how a memoir can also be a blood transfusion, giving sustenance to every version of her life she forgot and every version she left untold.
Jackson Bliss earned his MFA from the University of Notre Dame where he was the Fiction Fellow and the 2007 Sparks Prize Winner. Now, he is finishing his PhD in English and Creative at USC, working with TC Boyle, Viet Nguyen and Aimee Bender. Jackson has work published in the Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Fiction, Quarterly West, ZYZZYVA, Fiction International, Notre Dame Review, African American Review, Quarter After Eight, Connecticut Review, Stand (UK), and 3:am Magazine, among others
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CLUB GIGOLO Sean Labrador y Manzano Am I (are we) suddenly contracted when Beth swaps mint pushed from her mouth to my mouth like resuscitation suggests kinship can find a coherent space quietly tumbling gratitude perhaps ordering basket of chicken fried marinade of soy sauce and kalamansi and I play the magnanimous client replenishing San Miguel and patrolling the floor mamasans approve upselling and I am reminded of daughters smartly dressed selling jicama from rugged tables the perimeter of every town along the MacArthur Highway and fortunate buyers beware the father behind the acacia leaping to close a deal outside the matchmaker’s purview and my mother wants me to return to the States with bride who knows thirst and rural courtesies and the names of rice a daughter-in-law who distrusts bottled water labels a barangay pageant queen as congenial as my mother who draws strength from reciprocating pumps -We are cousins: Beth and I and no one else knows except the professor comparing certification and health care of sex workers in the free trade zone he negotiates mistresses at the other booth now that I have been assigned field study the other students finally abandoned for the roulette wheel’s immediate gratification - Who wants to track how far the hired help have travelled from farms like Easter penitents marching for terminal patrons to be crucified to learn supply and demand and job market oversaturation and how the Taiwanese mother-board plant’s refusal measures Rizal Avenue’s blocks of shame at every hotel, the valet pimps vocational school girl with technical tongue, extracting value of cheap candy - I did not expect to find Beth so soon but I chose my cousin for her legs I chose her legs before I learned they belong to the woman I am looking for the family hero I theorize to exist and I find her in the dressing room sitting on a stool by the bunk bed pushed to the wall leading to the window and the shanties slouching into Shit River and across the river, industrial park promises emerging from abandoned naval base her head turned away while the bright harem advertised themselves as themselves was I sold on her mature inattentiveness or quiescence? - Beth shares bounty of breast and skin the crows not chosen because of their legs I like mine carceral and netted and arabesque she offers a little meat finger to my mouth in steady unflinching rehearsed motion sailors have been fed this way and plant managers too I insist the carcass to the wind and clamor -Two girls, short and lack the illusion of height matched in one-shouldered shellacs dueling to Destiny Child’s “Survivor” facing the mirror wall, squatting to the beat, each holding an invisible torch thought I couldn’t you thought I couldn’t you thought I couldn’t you thought that I would but I am not attracted to recumbent shoulders perhaps the unapologetic Korean talent scout in three71
piece suit nearest the air conditioner indifferent to statues and elusive beacons because this is the minor league and my own companion anticipates VISA to Italy and a salary remitted to parents raising grandson her continued tenure ligation makes possible - My mother is the youngest of eight in the archipelago there is not lack of barrenness in this business there are no babes - Gravidity is obsolescence - So we are watching the twin audition their legs like drumsticks I do not follow drumstick legs the disco ball mutes parody my rival smokes a thick cigar I can lose a bidding war of what is impregnable – and I look at the leg bones, defleshed. We tacitly agree to our uncanny pairing no economic forecast could predictonly in Olongapo where remanded to the system daughters not good for the soil or the laundry - I want the familiarity of her mouth again to expect her tongue I want to trace her legs as geometrically defined by nylon but when a guest relations officer is removed from the club she discards uniform and invisibly armored in designer blue jeans and simple blouse the transformer outside the hotel erupts in the storm in the blackout because no money exchanged we hold each other clothed instead I do not want to lose her again in the darkness I study her face her tattooed brow that draws me in to study her eyes the alluvial depositions of Zambal volcanic streams the cousin choosing to kneel beside me in the river? the American returned from several thousand miles to bury grandfather I was 10 years old meeting my supposed barkada in the shallows we received the cross on the forehead saliva of the dead.
Sean Labrador y Manzano lives on the island off the coast of Oakland. He edits the anthology, Conversations at the Wartime Café. His chapbook, The Gulag Arkipelago is published by Tinfish. Recent writing appears in Aufgabe, Eleven Eleven, Generations, Conversations at a Wartime Café (http://www.mcsweeneys.net/authors/sean-labrador-y-manzano), Fag/Hag, Volt, The Walrus, Tarpaulin Sky (http://www.tarpaulinsky.com/issue-17/index.html), The Poetry of Yoga, Poetic Labor Project (http://labday2010.blogspot.com/2011/10/seanlabrador-y-manzano.html) and else where.
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The Fight Jordan Josafat
AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH MONIQUE TRUONG Author of The Book of Salt (2003), Bitter in the Mouth (2010), and co-editor of Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry & Prose (1998). Photo by Marion Ettlinger
By: Christine Lee Zilka and Sunny Woan
One of the most illustrious writers of contemporary Vietnamese American literature, Monique Truong inspires with her characters and her quiet, intelligent prose. She is a former fiction editor of The Asian Pacific American Journal and co-editor of the highly acclaimed anthology Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry & Prose. Truong was born in Saigon and came to the States as a child in 1975. She attended Yale, then Columbia Law, and then in 2003 published her debut The Book of Salt, which won numerous awards. Then in 2010 she published her sophomore novel Bitter in the Mouth. Bitter follows a young woman Linda growing up in the 70s and 80s in Boiler Springs, a small North Carolina town. Linda experiences memory and words through taste, a condition known as synesthesia. The story is part coming of age and part tragedy as Linda explores her past and comes to revelations about her family and herself. Like Truong's first book, The Book of Salt, a fictionalized narrative about the Vietnamese in-house cook of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Bitter in the Mouth is centered around food and eating. In one of our most exquisite interviews to date, the editors of Kartika converse with Monique Truong about her books and her writing rituals. Her responses, her thoughtfulness, and the astonishing beauty of her words caused us to fall even deeper in love with her work.
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KARTIKA REVIEW (KR): Food as theme? You have said in prior interviews that your books are not about food, and yet—yet they circle food and the sense of taste. How do you see them not about food? MONIQUE TRUONG (MT): As a writer, I'm interested in food and eating as performance, ritual, replacement, reward, punishment, pleasure, resistance, and as means of creativity and communication. Basically, everything but the food itself. If I write about a tree-ripened plum, its purple skin split by the sun, I don't do so in order to make the reader desire the plum itself but for what it represents within the narrative. (In life, for sure, I would desire the plum too. In literature, the plum is hopefully a bit more complicated than that.) KR: Writing another race is difficult—and in Book of Salt, you wrote another gender and sexuality. What challenges did you face writing a gay character? MT: My mantra while writing The Book of Salt: Love is love. Desire is desire. Sometimes the worst thing that we as writers and human beings can assume is that "other" people's love is qualitatively different from our own and thus unknowable or inscrutable. The circumstances and the expression of that love may be different, but the love itself is not. I felt that if I was true to this, then I would be able to create a character with emotional integrity and resonance no matter the gender, sexual orientation, or historical time period. KR: I have a confession—On a rainy afternoon while at Hedgebrook, I flipped through the journals of prior occupants of Oak cottage and discovered you’d stayed in the same cottage for your writing residency. I picked up Book of Salt and began reading, and came across a passage in which you described the rain falling on the roof—and the synchronicity between the rain falling on the roof of Oak cottage at Hedgebrook and the rain falling on the roof in Paris was undeniable. Some writers say they don’t write their physical setting into the novel— others say they have to travel far away to see the places in which they’ve lived. But there—there, I saw Hedgebrook, in real time. Did you write that passage while at Hedgebrook? To what extent does your physical setting seep into your writing? MT: I think you mean this passage: "I, like all my brothers, was conceived in a downpour. What else was there to do during the rainy season? Hell, I
suspect everyone in Saigon was conceived to the sound of water, carousing on the rooftops, slinking down the drainpipes." I'm pretty certain that I wrote that during my first residency at Hedgebrook (for three months during the spring of 2000). I'm not sure how not to write my physical setting into my novels. The pervasive rain in Washington state was the rhythm to which I wrote many chapters of Salt, especially the ones about Binh's mother. That's another example of how my physical setting found its way into my narrative. Hedgebrook is a writing residency for women, and three months of talking primarily with women and hearing the stories of their lives and their mother's and grandmother's lives made me acutely attuned to the constraints and the acts of rebellion that were nonetheless possible for women throughout history. Of course, many of these acts of bravery and defiance were not on the public stage but within the domestic space. Binh's mother to me became one of these rebellious women. She was brave and defiant to have loved the schoolteacher. I'm not sure if I would have written her the same way if I had been writing elsewhere. KR: Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook was the inspiration for Book of Salt— what was the inspiration for Bitter in the Mouth? MT: I saw a segment about synesthesia, a neurological condition that causes the mixing of the senses, on a television show. There was an interview with a British man who experienced tastes when he heard or said certain words. That was the seed of Bitter for me. I knew that this condition would allow me to write about food and flavors again but from an unusual angle. KR: In Bitter in the Mouth, experience is expressed through the sense of taste. What is it about the sense of taste over the other physical senses (sight, touch, hearing, etc.) that seems to pull your writing toward it? Although for the protagonist of Bitter it is a health condition, for the reader it is a different perspective on story. What inspired you to tell that particular perspective of story? My sense of taste is my dominant sense. I favor it, and it favors me right back. I’ve an incredibly good memory for flavors and can combine them in my head and experience them in the abstract. I think many avid home cooks and chefs can do this too. My memories are also often accompanied by the clear tastes of the foods that I ate during these discreet moments in time. For 76
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example, I’ve a friend from college who introduced me to dry-cured olives. Whenever I think of her, I’m overwhelmed by the briny, faintly buttery flavor of those black olives and can see them sitting in a little dish on her table. Linda’s synesthesia is her secret sense. Secrets and hiding in plain sight are themes that are explored in many other ways in Bitter. But before all of those are revealed, I wanted to invite readers to identify with Linda. Yes, her condition is rare and unusual, but I do think it’s easy or tempting to imagine that we can understand it. The flavors that she experiences when she hears or speaks certain words are those of the American dinner table in the mid 1970s and onward. Many of these flavors are courtesy of processed, canned, and mass-marketed foods. These flavors, in reality, are common denominators. Linda, though, is not common. She is rare. By Chapter 2, she already has provided readers with one of the keys to the novel: “I could claim, for example, that my first memory was the taste of an unripe banana, and many in the world would nod their heads, familiar with this unpleasantness. But we all haven’t tasted the same unripe fruit. In order to feel not so alone in the world, we blur the lines of our subjective memories, and we say to one another, “I know exactly what you mean!” KR: One incidental theme in Bitter in the Mouth is the tension between truth and story (for example, the grandmother), objective history versus subjective. You have mentioned in prior interviews that all history (and the law as well) is story. Do you think that’s one of the rationales for choosing first person point of view in both Book of Salt and Bitter in the Mouth, your notion of the objective existing only in the subjective story? MT: I’m a firm believer that how a person tells her story is as revealing as the story itself. The first-person voice is, for me, the best way to explore all the how’s. What Linda tells you first about herself and what she withholds until later, for instance. I also prefer the first-person voice because it allows me to inhabit a character-specific vocabulary and relationship to language, which are other manifestation of subjectivity. A character can attach a unusual meaning to a commonly used word, twisting it slightly or entirely, and it’s up to me to reveal to the reader the idiosyncrasies and what they may mean.
KR: What is the physical act of writing like for you? MT: I wrote both my novels at many different residencies and also in my writing room in Brooklyn. Wherever I am, I place my desk right next to a window. On the desk, I set up a simple visual tableau related to the story that I'm working on. A set of tiny silver-plated salt and pepper shakers for The Book of Salt. A ceramic ashtray in the shape of North Carolina for Bitter in the Mouth. Sometimes, I'm convinced that I have to be wearing shoes or I can't write. I try not to write while wearing my PJs and never just my underwear (sorry, over sharing). This is all certainly related to my need to escape the house or building (and my manuscript) in an emergency. I'm not joking. Feeling in control and prepared is necessary for my process, especially since what's happening on the page/screen is so often the opposite of that. I believe strongly in the ritual as opposed to the routine of writing. Ritual and routine are not the same. Ritual (a long walk beforehand, a cup of roasted rice tea during, an salutary nod to my literary heroes, Gertrude Stein and Marguerite Yourcenar, whose works in various forms occupy a place of honor on my writing desk right now) is about the physical, intellectual and emotional transition that needs to take place before I can shed my day-to-day self and become my writing self. Routine is the numbing repetition of an act: laptop, daily word count, and deadlines. KR: Stories versus novels: with which do you feel more comfortable, and why? MT: I love the short story, but I haven't written a short story in decades. In my novels, Iâ€™m always hoping to achieve the emotional economy, tautness of language, and gestural symbolism that are present in the best of them. KR: In what way/s has your law background informed your fiction? MT: The law taught me precision. Find and use the word that means exactly what you want to convey. Do not compromise or there will be ugly consequences.
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KR: What advice do you have for beginning or emerging writers? MT: I recommend that they travel, not just while they are emerging but during the whole of their writerly lives. I also recommend that they take off their headphones or ear buds when on the subway, bus, train, etc. In other words, eavesdrop. Everyday people say amazing and odd things. The other day I walked by a group of older African American men on Sixth Avenue, and one of them was adamantly repeating this phrase several times: “God and Hilary Clinton…” I should have stopped and listened to the denouement, but I was in a hurry. That too: Don’t be in a hurry. You end up missing things.
CONTRIBUTOR BIOS FICTION Sharon Hashimoto teaches at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington. Her short stories have appeared in North American Review, Crab Orchard Review, Tampa Review, Shenandoah, THEMA and others. Her book of poetry is The Crane Wife, co-winner of the Nicholas Roerich Prize and published by Story Line Press in 2003. She received a NEA creative writing fellowship for poetry in 1989. Anu Kandikuppa is an economist and a candidate in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, North Carolina. She lives in Boston with her family and is online at www.anukandikuppa.com. Wah-Ming Chang has received fellowships for fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Urban Artist Initiative, and the Bronx Writers' Center. Her fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review and Arts & Letters Journal of Contemporary Culture, nonfiction in Words without Borders and the Asian American Writers' Workshop's Open City, and photography in Drunken Boat and Open City. She is currently working on a photo essay about the essence of the dance rehearsal. Raised in New England, Kaitlin Solimine has considered China a second home for almost two decades. She's been a Harvard-Yenching scholar, a Fulbright fellow, the Donald E. Axinn Scholar at Bread Loaf, and winner of the 2012 Dzanc Books/Disquiet International Literary Award. She wrote and edited Let's Go: China (St. Martin's Press) and her work has been featured in Guernica, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, The Hairpin, and The World of Chinese Magazine. Her essays are forthcoming in anthologies published by Earnshaw Books and The Places We've Been. Find her at www.kaitlinsolimine.com. POETRY Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo Press, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo Press, 2008), In Medias Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), and a chapbook, Godâ€™s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe Press, 2002). Her books have been honored by the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America (chosen by Cole Swensen) and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize for Poetry (selected by Heather McHugh). The recipient of a 80
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National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she chairs the English department at a faith-based college in southern California, where she is also a novice harpist. Henry W. Leung is a Kundiman Fellow and the author of Paradise Hunger, which won the 2012 Swan Scythe Press Poetry Chapbook Contest. He is also a columnist for the Lantern Review, a Soros Fellow, and working toward completion of his MFA in Fiction at the University of Michigan. His work has appeared in such publications as Cerise Press, Memoir Journal, and ZYZZYVA. Purvi Shah believes in the miracle of poetry and the beauty of change. Winner of the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Services Award in 2008 for her work fighting violence against women, she also directed Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project to highlight the voices of Asian Americans during the 10th anniversary of 9/11. She writes to plumb migration and loss, including through her first book, Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which was nominated for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award in 2007. In 2010 she received a Travel & Study Grant from the Jerome Foundation to explore sound vibration and meaning in Sanskrit and how sound energy can translate through poetry in English. Her work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies including Descant, Drunken Boat, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Indivisible, The Literary Review, The Massachusetts Review, Nimrod, and Weber Studies. You can find more of her work at http://purvipoets.net, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/purvi-shah, or @PurviPoets. NONFICTION Jackson Bliss earned his MFA from the University of Notre Dame where he was the Fiction Fellow and the 2007 Sparks Prize Winner. Now, he is finishing his PhD in English and Creative at USC, working with TC Boyle, Viet Nguyen and Aimee Bender. Jackson has work published in the Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Fiction, Quarterly West, ZYZZYVA, Fiction International, Notre Dame Review, African American Review, Quarter After Eight, Connecticut Review, Stand (UK), and 3:am Magazine, among others. Sean Labrador y Manzano lives on the island off the coast of Oakland. He edits the anthology, Conversations at the Wartime Café. His chapbook, The Gulag Arkipelago is published by Tinfish. Recent writing appears in Aufgabe, Eleven Eleven, Generations, Conversations at a Wartime Café (http://www.mcsweeneys.net/authors/sean-labrador-y-manzano), Fag/Hag, Volt, The Walrus, Tarpaulin Sky (http://www.tarpaulinsky.com/issue-17/index.html), The Poetry of Yoga, Poetic Labor Project (http://labday2010.blogspot.com/2011/10/seanlabrador-y-manzano.html) and elsewhere. 81
What The Jordan Josafat
ART Jordan Josafat was born in Vallejo, California just outside of San Francisco and was raised in the south bay of San Diego, predominately Imperial Beach. Growing up in the South Bay, Josafat was exposed to graffiti, poverty, lowrider cars, and the surf culture all in one, which gave him an advantage at an early age to learn to accept people & places for what they are and to never judge. Josafat has been here all his life but in 2006 moved back to San Francisco for a year to pursue an artist internship & to gain inspiration to add to Josafatâ€™s artist weaponry. Now back in San Diego, Jordan Josafat is constantly creating work doing commissions and being highly involved with solo & group art shows.
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EDITOR BIOS Managing Editor, Sunny Woan Sunny Woan likes to dote on cats. She has a difficult time maintaining thermal homeostasis. Her creative works have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Blue Earth Review, Houston Literary Review, and SoMa Literary Review, among others; and legal research in Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice Law; Temple Journal of Science, Technology and Environmental Law, Cal. Western Law Review, Santa Clara Law Review and have been anthologized in casebooks. By day, Sunny works as general counsel for a global investments firm. By night (and by way of weekends and holidays), she is a 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 Magazineâ€™s Writers Exchange Contest in 2007, and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Trainâ€™s Fiction Open in 2009. Christine earned her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. In addition to writing short stories, she has a novel in progress and writes at the Writers Room in New York City.
Poetry Editor, Eugenia Leigh Eugenia Leigh is the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014), which was a finalist for both the National Poetry Series and the Yale Series of Younger Poets. She is a Kundiman fellow, and her poems and essays have appeared in several publications including North American Review, The Collagist, PANK Magazine and the Best New Poets anthology. A recipient of multiple Pushcart nominations and poetry awards from Rattle and Poets & Writers Magazine, Eugenia received her MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, through which she taught writing workshops for high school students and incarcerated youths. Born in Chicago and raised in southern California, Eugenia currently lives in New York City, where she believes in miracles.
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
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SUBMISSION GUIDELINES The editorial board reviews submissions on a rolling basis. Thus, we accept submissions by electronic mail year-round. Please do not send previously published work. We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you notify the respective editor immediately when your submission has been accepted elsewhere. Submit online with the submishmashâ„˘ submissions manager:
http://kartikareview.submishmash.com/Submit Fiction | Attn: 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: Eugenia Leigh Narrative, experimental, lyrical or prose poetry, free verse, eastern or western poetic forms, and works meant as spoken word are all welcome as poetry. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer poems under 100 lines and would like to receive 4-6 pieces per submission. Please send us your best crafted poems. 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.
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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ISSUE 15 | SPRING 2013
Kartika Review, Issue 15, Spring 2013