Kartika Review 16

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Cover Art: “Untitled," 50 x 90 in. Acrylic, Graphite, and Sumi Ink on Layered Cut Paper By Katherine Mann Š September 19, 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.

ISSN 2161-5713 (print) ISSN 2161-5705 (online)


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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



Paul Lai

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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Jennifer Derilo


After “Gift for the Darkness”

R.A. Villanueva


Toy Caterpillar

Minh Pham



How We Survived the War

April Naoko Heck

Where the Fathers Wait Audiometry

Chris Santiago

Scenes from a Childhood

Mia Ayumi Malhotra


Michelle Chan Brown


14 17 19 21 24

By Eugenia Leigh



Katherine Mann


The Student of Color in the Typical MFA Program

David Mura


Community Service

Kali Fajardo-Anstine



Shubha Venugopal


Shin Yu Pai

By Paul Lai





Sense Memory

R.A. Santos



NONFICTION With Love From the Moon

Danny Robles


Grandfather Walking

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


Powdermilk Biscuits

Susan Ito

Contributor Bios



Editor Bios



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EDITORIAL Jennifer A. Derilo Dear Readers, Before I can fully welcome you to the Fall Issue of Kartika Review, I have to back track to March of this year, specifically to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, which was held in Boston. I was at AWP for two awesome reasons: I was subbing for our Fiction Editor, Christine Lee Zilka, on a panel called “Inside Asian-American Editing: How Aesthetics and Advocacy Affect Five Editors' Publishing,” and I was repping Kartika (along with Poetry Editor, Eugenia Leigh) at the AWP Book Fair, sharing a table with Lantern Review, Hyphen, and TAYO Magazine. Now, at a conference like AWP, Kartika’s modest reputation is quickly thrown into bas-relief. We were tucked away in a corner, sandwiched with similar lesser-adorned tables. We were not in the glitzier aisles with the Famous Presses. We were not even along the edge of a high-traffic aisle. A table like ours, then, has to try harder to get noticed. We have to convince attendees that our Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) journal publishes literature and that, yes, we are interested in good writing. I cannot count the number of times that I have had to say, “But we don’t only publish APIA writers.” But when someone finally approaches our table, we do not expect the following. “Wow,” says a nondescript white male, “It looks like you have your own cultural corner here.” I bristle, but my curiosity is also piqued. “And what culture would that be?” I ask. “Well,” he says, looking at Melissa Sipin-Gabon, co-founder of TAYO (does he point at her?), “she looks like she’s from the Philippines, and you look Chinese.” “Actually, I’m also from the Philippines.” “But you look so Chinese. How can that be possible?” “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe there’s some Chinese blood in my family.” I fidget a little bit, feel heat around my face and behind my ears. “Well, it’s great that you two have your own little publishing thing going on here. Welcome,” he says, sweeping his arm as if announcing his grand exit, walking away. A friend overhears our conversation and says what I wanted to say out loud, “What the fuck was that all about?”


We were shocked and obviously pissed. But Melissa and I did not let on how pissed we were in our exchange with him. Even though we did not engage him any further, even though we gave him clipped responses, even though we weren’t entirely sweet, even though we completely faked interest by nodding, we contained our anger, we stayed composed, we were polite. In other words, we acted in a way we believed was appropriate. Then, I did the only thing I thought I could do: I told everyone else how pissed off I was. I snuck off to call a friend in San Diego as soon as it happened. I told friends I ran into in the aisles. I told the other editors we shared the table with when they returned. I told other writers of color. I told writer friends who are white. I also told everyone else what I wanted to say. “You know, I should’ve been like, ‘I don’t know why I look Chinese. Maybe someone in my family fucked someone Chinese’ or ‘well, you look like a complete asshole. How is that possible? Or, simply, ‘Fuck off.’” But the paralyzing truth is that I said and did nothing. I even failed to act later when a friend and I followed him to a nearby table with female writers of color, saying something dismissive about how he understood the plight of the black community because he was in jail once. Like me, the two young women feigned interest and refused to engage him. When he left, we commiserated. We chalked it up to his being a crazy white man with no social filter. Now I think, fuck that. Why am I making excuses for other people? Why do I have to watch what I say? Why did I allow him to walk away from me unscathed? At first, I convinced myself that it was not the appropriate context. I did the right thing because he is just one AWP attendee, one person, one man. Did I really want to turn this conversation into a teaching moment? Did I really want this one white dude to represent all that is wrong with a predominantly white literary conference like AWP? It finally occurred to me after all these months: I was afraid. I did not tell him to fuck off because I was repping Kartika Review, which is just another way of saying that I was repping my community. I did not stay silent because I assumed that there would be blow back. I was afraid of being reprimanded or being accused of “making it a race thing.” But I also felt guilty. I felt like I perpetuated the female Asian stereotype: meek, submissive, reticent. I was so concerned about how I might appear outside of the journal and how my behavior might affect Kartika’s reputation. If I had actually spoken up, would Kartika be seen as, gasp, an anti-white publication? Would we be forever banished to the “cultural corner” of a white-American rectangle? Would nonAPIA readers and writers officially dismiss our journal, or gasp, the entire APIA community?


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I don’t know. All I know is that his announcement of our “little publishing thing” proves that publications like Kartika, Lantern Review, Hyphen, TAYO Magazine, Asian American Literary Review, is very necessary. Yes, we make up a small percent of all literary journals and magazines, but that does not mean that our work, our mission, is equally small. Put another way, this incident is actually a very material instance of a very white literary world. Racism is not only part of the literary imagination, and publications like Kartika Review are firmly pushing back against this bleak understanding of the literary world. Every issue we publish is our way of speaking out. It is our unified response to those who question what APIA literature is, who tuck us away in figurative and literal corners, who ask us to justify our existence, and who, in actuality, remind us exactly why we belong and why the hell we stay. So, readers, welcome to our 16th issue. In solidarity, Jennifer Derilo Creative Nonfiction Editor



Katherine Mann, 2013

Acrylic, Sumi Ink, and Woodcut on Hanging Cut Paper


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When the chalkboard cracked, the lectern splintered and my students finished kicking the door off its hinges. They pitched textbooks at the floorboards, grunted for blood, chanted

allegiances to the hunt—and I, lead and chief, was first to howl atop the radiatorcoils, somehow barefoot. And there goes the projector screen and well there go the shelves I thought and

stepped down from the ledge to pause things—to slacken the necktie from around my skull, to allow our cries and shouts to die down. Out of breath, Aminata was under a desk. Katie

found posterboard between her teeth. Kyle had dented a cabinet with his knee. I read aloud: Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!...I’m part of you…Close, close, close! 2.

On the last day of finals, we went invisible for the drill-bell: latched desktops together with bookbag straps, tied down the blinds by their finger-pulls. Twenty-nine of us against the back wall waiting it out. Our bunker of cinder bricks and locked doors. Our angle a cover in which to crouch. One wise-ass wrapped his face in scrap paper, held a finger to where his mouth should be. He whispered: “camouflage.”

A principal would press her nose to the window soon enough, check sightlines and our knob’s stiff click, mouth through the tempered glass: This classroom 12

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is empty. All clear.

R.A. Villanueva is the author of Reliquaria, winner of the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He is also the winner of the 2013 Ninth Letter Literary Award for poetry. A founding editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, he lives in Brooklyn.


HOW WE SURVIVED THE WAR April Naoko Heck after Julie Otsuka

we held up our hands, we waved our handkerchiefs like flags, we let our orphans babble and cry on straw mats, we stepped across the flattened neighborhoods, the fragmented, the smashed, we tiptoed over bones of neighbors, umbrella spines, scorched radish-gardens, we flashed our scars, we turned our porcelain bellies up like fish, like prey in the kuma’s teeth, we prayed, we stayed, we dragged our twisted tricycles behind us, we set up school desks where the school used to be, our babies smiled for the newsman’s camera, we didn’t believe in the sincerity of red canna flowers blooming too soon, we did not bow, we bowed, we had no sweet azuki cakes, no milk candy, we heard wind blow through hulls of streetcars like hollowed carp, we wore long sleeves, we let them fall over our fingertips, we dug in the river sand with our one good hand, we mistrusted the river’s mirror surface, we eloped with the enemy, we forgot, we bore babies pink-white as rabbit ears, we strapped them on our backs, our mothers disowned us, we tried new recipes, we tasted applesauce, we let our husbands love us, we waited up when they drank late in corner bars, we stayed home, we learned to drive, we rubbed cocoa butter on stretch marks, we felt safe, we visited national parks, we fed the deer, the tame animals

April Naoko Heck was born in Tokyo and relocated with her family to the U.S. when she was seven. Her first collection of poems, A Nuclear Family, is due from UpSet Press in Fall 2013. A Kundiman fellow, April works for the NYU Creative Writing Program and lives in Brooklyn.


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In re-education camp A father carved Wheels for a locomotive From molted tree bark,

Formed a smokestack out of Metal shell casings, and glued skins Of young bamboo roots together With mud to create the frame.

To see his seven-year-old son For the first time, he trekked Through a bamboo forest With the train in his hand. He picked up a baby Snake and apologized Before tossing it Onto a land mine.

When the father returned home A boy ran up to him and called him “Ba.” He did not recognize The sound of a son Calling for his father. Aggravated, He threw the toy train Against the rim of a stone well. The train shattered.

The boy cried over its body. He tried to press the parts together But the wheels and smokestack Had fallen to the bottom of the well. He picked up his father’s gift And pretended it was a caterpillar.


Minh Pham was born in Saigon, Vietnam and became a Riverside, CA native at age eight. He received his M.F.A. from UC Riverside. His poetry has been published in Yes, Poetry, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Mascara Literary Review, and others. His nonfiction is forthcoming in The Rattling Wall.


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He hadn’t turned & they were going to rip him out & he started to come anyway so they ripped him out in the dead of night. They took him somewhere

& somewhere below the sheet your body was still open: we aren’t meant to see the mess inside us, to see ourselves turned inside out: we need

the priest to go behind the curtain because even in passing, the sight of God will finish us for good. Later the newborn smell will fade

into something less clean & more human; later the rooting & hardcover heft. Closed up again your skin falls like bread & it could have had more

to do with us, I think, instead of being a process we witnessed. But the pain catches up & the scar recedes obscenely

as if it were all coming undone; as if no price had to be paid, which is what presence really means: a remote outpost, perhaps

night, perhaps in another world, where


a door opens & your name is called & all at once you aren't cut off from the rest of the world anymore: you are the rest of the world.


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Chris Santiago Because my son thinks I’m a citadel— soundproof. A repository. Because horsing around at bedtime he pierced my cochlea with a pencil.

The first time I saw the inner ear I thought it looked like a little life, thriving but not yet big enough for me to feel for it any kind of empathy.

By what were such things fed? Would it overgrow its carapace

& make of the body a coppered bell? And then I was sixteen & crossing

St. Paul with my father. A seashell in his pocket which for his own reasons he refuses to wear. He can’t hear the Chicano keeping pace behind us lean & loose-limbed clucking, “Gooks, gooks.”

For years, he’d sat a little further from us each night at the dinner table hollowed out by the roll of stock tickers all through his graveyard hours.

It’s a remarkable machine the nurse slides into my ear canal, built to detect lies & arrhythmia & the trembling of incalculable tranches of earth.


I pulled his pace toward mine but declined to parse his solitude for him—planes of salt-haloed stone refusing to let footfalls cut to their holdings.

Chris Santiago’s poems and book reviews have appeared in or are forthcoming from FIELD, Pleiades, The Asian American Literary Review, Canteen, Postcolonial Text, Lantern Review, and elsewhere. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets, and has been a finalist for both the Stony Brook Short Fiction Contest and the Kundiman Poetry Prize. He teaches literature & writing at the University of Southern California, where he is a doctoral candidate and an ACE-Nikaido Fellow. He lives in Pasadena with his wife and two sons.


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SCENES FROM A CHILDHOOD Mia Ayumi Malhotra I. Cut Tell me if I’m about to hit something I said and closed my eyes, flew by in a whir of chains nattering like teeth around metal sprockets.

Turn left my friend said. I threaded my handlebars into the turn, straight and I steadied myself, pushed faster, farther into what felt like drifting

on delicate strings pulled by another. A moment so quick we missed it, split skin and blood, frontal bone crushed on the stairs’ beveled edge.

What happened next, mother screaming on the other side, pulling at my wrists, the curtain, crying you need stitches, trying to reach the body I’d twisted

into yellow fabric. Her words came clear, stay straight, as from the body I drifted.


II. Night Train Memory runs along the border like a dark chain, and I’m back on Platform 9, ticket in hand.

We settle into berths barely big enough for sleep; the story dims as we lose light in degrees, and all I know narrows to a row of metal hooks fixed to the curtain drawn across my seat.

Memory lurches, a girl begins to scream, wails rising from the ragged shape of her throat. She’s crazy someone says. Yaa baa. What did I feel that night, shrinking

from the bodies bulging against fabric into my cabin—and her, thrashing in the aisle?

The girl falls to pieces for reasons that fail me even now. Could be the adults knew. Or the boy crouched over her, shadows moving like cuts across his skin. How is it I can’t remember her face, but recall the way the light looked, pulled into deepening dusk?

Blotchy patches of dark, screams from the other side of the curtain, scenery breaking apart. Above, the overhead bunk swings down, clicks into place. The mind works to fix the details,

which way the light switched on, which way off. An unsteady rumble, the train swerves left, right. There’s a scuffle of voices; below, the rhythmic ka-chunk ka-chunk of wheels along railroad ties. 22

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III. Dog I had no rope, called dog, dog, as I wobbled on my bike across rice paddies and irrigation ditches, waited for the pad-pad of his paws, tail loosened to a ready wag. Dog, dog, on down the drive, past rows of bicycles parked along the side of the house.

How many times have I halted memory’s reel, rewound the instant I reached the back steps,

rabbit cage coming into view. My cries, too late, the rabbits’ screams, unearthly, like a child’s but worse, a wild whistling in the throat. Their bodies caught in the chicken wire, dog, dog and stop, stop. The quick whip of his tail as he flashed by, matted fur,

scrabble of claws against concrete, and me, falling after the body, the blunt force of it. Afterward, I held the biggest one to my chest, waited for the kicking to slow. The body became a weight in my arms. In its eyes, not blame

but its reflection. Two gold-ringed flares.

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the associate editor of Lantern Review. Her poems have recently appeared in Greensboro Review, Cutbank, Best New Poets, DIAGRAM, Asian American Literary Review, and others. She lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. 23


Michelle Chan Brown In every woman’s private film, a Mata Hari dances to the freewheel rune of oui. The devil’s cameo is bland.

In every woman’s diary, the only month is May. She rings the buzzers of the beautiful until her fingers blue. She locks god out of her mother’s house, calls it a museum. She bleeds her father’s mistresses, calls it perfume. In every woman’s life, no one comments on the blood-dredged hem, the hierarchy: animal trumps heroine. So childhood ends – the ribbons hug a box with nothing in it. The skies, occasionally kind. The season, spent. The convent burns, each nun convinced in what she’s owed. And marriage merely acquisition: prettier empty bowls. The hands bathing the mothers are dark with oil.

The mothers, old and suddenly. Their tendons itch with summer. The fathers, alone in the kitchen, lick butter from the knives. A woman grown is outcast by the forest creatures, dumb as she is to her own scent. She eats peach after peach to sweeten her sweat.


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Weeds whiten above her bed. Prides of the village, go on and French-kiss all the wrongs until they cry. If she can bottle this, surely someone will pay.

Michelle Chan Brown’s Double Agent was the winner of the 2012 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Cimarron Review, Linebreak, The Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Sycamore Review, Witness and others. She lives in DC, where she teaches, writes and edits Drunken Boat.


Slurry 2

Katherine Mann, 2013

Acrylic and Sumi Ink on Cut Paper


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By: Eugenia Leigh

Chicago poet Li-Young Lee possesses the remarkable gift of being able to retell personal narratives in a way that grips and resonates with a universal audience. He can address a poem to “fellow refugees,” end it with a celebration of spooning, and effectively unite all readers together—refugee or not—by appealing to our basic human desires. Love, especially.

The first of Lee’s books I read was his second collection, The City in Which I Love You (BOA Editions, 1990). I wrote my first graduate school paper on his book, then subsequently threw myself into a Li-Young Lee book binge. This past summer, I met him in person for the first time when he introduced himself by his first name to the fellows at the Kundiman retreat, an annual program for Asian American poets where Lee served as a faculty member. We found out he listens to the Wu-Tang Clan. He asked us about the positive connotations of the slang form of “gangster.”

Kartika Review follows a decades-long trend in interviewing Li-Young Lee. Lee is a wealth of insightful opinions, and people and publications from Bill Moyers to BOMB Magazine to NPR to Poets & Writers Magazine have probed Lee’s ever-inquisitive, ever-metaphysical mind with questions often about his migratory childhood and often about his father the Christian preacher. My favorite interview is Lee’s 2004 conversation with Scene Missing Magazine, who asked questions such as, “In your opinion, where are the world’s best secrets kept?” (Lee’s answer: “In God’s heart, where the big bang was born.”) The intention of 28

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our interview was to honor a man who has become an icon not just in Asian American literature, but also in American literature as a whole. Mindful of the numerous interviews with Li-Young Lee readily available online, in journals, and in printed interview collections such as Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (BOA Editions, 2006), we were mostly curious about Lee’s reflections on his well-documented past and also eager to discover what his literary future holds for us readers.

The son of Chinese parents, Li-Young Lee was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, and spent his formative years in exile and migration due to political and religious persecution. Before becoming a preacher, Lee’s father was the personal physician to Mao Tse-Tsung. Lee’s mother was the granddaughter of the first president of the Republic of China. Lee’s love of poetry was birthed from a childhood rich with the poems of Li Bo and Du Fu, plus the poems strewn about the King James Version of the Bible. Lee’s own writing developed while at the University of Pittsburgh and under the guidance of Gerald Stern, an early champion who wrote the introduction to Lee’s first collection of poetry, Rose (BOA Editions, 1986), which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award. Lee’s second collection, The City in Which I Love You (BOA Editions, 1990) was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets. LiYoung Lee published two more collections of poems: Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001), winner of the 2002 William Carlos Williams Award, and Behind My Eyes (W.W. Norton, 2008). In 1995, Lee published The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon & Schuster), a poetic prose memoir about the confusion and upheaval of his childhood. The memoir won the 1995 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Lee has received numerous additional honors including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Literary Award, the Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. LiYoung Lee lives in Chicago, Illinois with his wife, Donna, and his two sons. His mother, who lives nearby, calls to remind him to visit more often.


KARTIKA REVIEW (KR): Twenty-five years ago, in 1988, after Rose, but before The City in Which I Love You, you told Bill Moyers, “On gloomy days I tell myself, I just want to write something like Ecclesiastes. And on happy days I think, I’m going to write The Song of Songs.” Then you later say to him that your poet friends agree everyone hates the poems in their first book, but they like the poems they’re writing now, and you disagree with them. You say, “I hate the poems I’m working on. As I’m writing them, I’m realizing this is not Ecclesiastes, this is not The Song of Songs.” Do you feel you’ve written your Ecclesiastes or Song of Songs yet or are you still writing toward that goal? LI-YOUNG LEE (LYL): No. I don’t have the courage of Ecclesiastes yet, and I don’t have all of the knowledge of the Song of Songs. I feel at the moment that I’m working toward embodying the knowledge that is in both of those books. And the knowledge in both of those books is very powerful. The problem that The Song of Songs poses is a radical problem. That deep understanding of the erotic being the spiritual and the spiritual being the erotic—that knowledge is dangerous knowledge. And the Book of Ecclesiastes is a book of, I want to say, near-nihilism. It poses another problem. It’s a great art in service of a less-than-lifeaffirming conclusion. Rilke says our impermanence is veiled. It’s hidden from us all our lives. And he wanted to live in constant, absolute knowledge of his extinction. His death. I find it repugnant, but I know it’s true. That’s the problem Ecclesiastes poses for me. And of course, it’s hard to live, too, with that in mind.

I was talking with my sons last night and I thought to myself, "Do I have the courage to tell them the absolute truth?" That I absolutely believe our impermanence here? That we have to either live a mission-oriented life or we’re just wanderers? The more mission-oriented you are, the freer you are. And I want them to get free, but I look at them and think, I don’t even know. Are they ready? I ended up not saying anything. And listening to them. I thought, you know what? Let’s just listen to them for a while. And man, I listened all night. I love those guys. I loved everything they talked about. How their drawing classes are going, how deep their understanding is, how much they’re getting out of it. And then they’re funny and everything else. KR: Has the motivation behind writing poems changed or stayed the same from the first motivations that drove you to write decades ago? 30

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LYL: The motivation’s the same. The motivation for me, from the beginning, was to create something as enduring as the form of something like a church service. I wanted poetry to be yogic in the way a church service was yogic. It was a thing that you do. And after an order of events—you say these words, and now you do this, now you get up, now you do that, now you sing this song, now you say this prayer—after that order, in the end, you’re supposed to be transformed a little bit. I know there are political and social problems that are very real with the church and need to be looked at under a microscope, but I’m just talking about the art form that emerged out of sacred culture. My father was a minister, so from the beginning, my roots have been in sacred culture. I took my mission to be a sacred mission. A lot of the poetry I read now is secular and I don’t feel it is embedded or rooted in sacred culture. I find that poetry interesting, but it doesn’t recognize its roots. It doesn’t claim any roots in sacred culture.

KR: In your 2007 interview with Tina Chang in American Poet, you said that you tried to quit poetry after a period of disillusionment that stemmed from activism and the idea that maybe poetry couldn’t save the world after all. But then you say that you eventually came to the opposite conclusion—that “there's nothing more you can do than to make art. To write poems. And I came to the conclusion that aesthetic awareness—or aesthetic consciousness or aesthetic presence—is the only possible ethical presence we have. And so I went from thinking that the practice of aesthetics was a complete waste of time to thinking that aesthetic awareness is the most complete form of awareness we have.” How did you come to that conclusion? LYL: When I got involved with activism, I was involved with a lot of people who had fiery hearts about a particular issue. And I had a fiery heart. And so all these fiery hearts would do this thing and think we’re making things better. But it dawned on me that it’s called “activism,” but metaphysically, we were not sound. And by metaphysics, I mean the study of the nature of reality. We were practicing activism, but we didn’t understand the nature of action. What is the nature of action? Is there action that is wasteful action? We were building meditation gardens all over the city, and the gardens weren't doing anything because none of the people were using them. The gardens were falling into disrepair. The people needed a garden in 31

their hearts. Or something else was missing. So our action was like throwing seeds on rocks.

KR: You faced the futility of an action that didn’t draw other people to action. Is that correct? You contributed to the action of making the garden, but no one responded in action by attending the garden? LYL: That’s right. So that posed this question: what is the nature of this action? We went through a couple summers trying to keep up the garden and make the entire neighborhood aware of the garden, so that the people would go to them, but they did not. After, I think it was, two summers of actively trying to keep these gardens going, we just said, “Oh, we’re out.” Everyone went on to do other activism things. They’re still going strong. I fell out. I literally watched the weeds overgrow the garden. One of the gardens was in my neighborhood, so I watched the progress of this little plot of land, and every day, I watched it grow and overgrow with weeds. Then it got boarded up. Then it got bulldozed. And this kind of ugly condo went up. As I watched this, I thought, we spent a lot of energy and fiery hearts all over the city with these gardens. Where did we go wrong? And is activism a series of this? You just do this and then these things close up behind you? Is there something more permanent? Then I thought, okay, that ‘something’ could be nothing short of changing these people’s hearts and minds. And if changing hearts and minds is the thing, there was nothing that I experienced that changed my heart or my mind more than the experience of that kind of formal ‘giving space to the sacred.’ Like what a church service is. And I felt a great poem is that. A great work of art is that. Something you do, and at the end, you’re supposed to be transformed. KR: So instead of transforming the spaces around people, the goal now is to transform the people.

LYL: Yeah. And then I thought, wow, that was what I wanted from the very beginning. I realized I’m right back to where I started, so I’m still trying to do the same thing. KR: How would you respond to poets who disagree with you and say that poetry can’t change the world and can’t change people?


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LYL: I would say, give the people their money back. Don’t sell books. Why are you taking people’s money? KR: Do poets have a responsibility to engage with the public and with their readers?

LYL: On the page, absolute responsibility. But outside the page? You have to protect your privacy and protect a lot of things that are tender. But on the page, the word is a contract. When you use a word, that word is a contract between you and the world. We’ve come to an agreement that this word is the just representative of everything that word means. You enter this contract with the reader. Absolutely.

But you know that’s not the only contract. There are other contracts. I think there’s a vertical contract between you and your passion. You have to be true to it. You have to be sincere to that passion. That’s what a signature is. A sincerity. If you sign something insincerely, that’s like signing and crossing it out. Why would you do that? Even if you practice irony, behind that irony, there’s sincerity. Without that sincerity, the irony doesn’t mean anything. Irony still has to remain a signature. Your name has to stand next to that phrase. I heard ironworkers in medieval England would make pots and pans out of iron, and if one didn’t crack, they’d say it was a sincere pan. That’s how they measured it. Sincerity. If there was a crack in something, they would call it an insincere piece. So we’ve got to be careful with this dance we do with irony sometimes. I’m not saying irony is out of the picture, but I’m saying it’s got to be in service of a signature.

KR: In your books, you give voice to creatures and to objects. Birds, fire—they all speak to you. Are those actual words you received from the universe around you or are you projecting your own thoughts onto these creatures and objects? LYL: Both. And I’m trying to work out whether or not I can read the difference. If I can read my projection, then I know the situation I’m reading. But what makes it difficult is when the situation agrees with your projection. It seems dangerous to me to ever assume, “Oh, this is real. This is reality. I know now what’s up.” I never know what the story is. And I think that’s a real problem. It’s a flaw. It keeps me from writing the great poem. I don’t know what the story is. 33

KR: Couldn’t some people argue that that’s the story? That the not knowing is the great poem? LYL: Yes, but I think that’s dangerous. It only takes one glance before not knowing becomes its own thing and you forget knowing is the object. Maybe we always live on this edge where we are never sure whether knowing is even useful to us. The future or nature or whatever seems so outside and out of our control that we feel that knowledge doesn’t even have any purpose. But then we snap out of that and we remember, no. Knowing is always good. KR: In your 1995 interview with James Lee in Bomb Magazine, you said that “the difficulty is that Earth is not my home and that’s why I feel this schism,” and you mention a schism between being identified as an “Asian American” poet versus just somebody writing about the human condition. You also said that you “always thought that trying to find an earthly home was a human condition.” And that “it’s important for an artist of any kind not to identify with a group.” Do you still stand by these statements—that artists shouldn’t identify with a group and that earth is not your home? LYL: Well, definitely that earth is not my home. Definitely. It doesn’t feel like home to me. It feels unsafe and unsound. But maybe all of human civilization is a struggle to create home here. To create something that’s safe and sound. I want to say that poetry is—that the reading of a poem is—a small service that anybody does at any moment to remind themselves of the safety and the soundness of their lives in the world. But then I think, well, there are many conditions when that’s not true.

And the problem with belonging to groups is it skews your view. Personal interests skew your view. But on the other hand, we can sometimes get weakened by being too alone. I’m going to critique group thought a little bit, as a way to think about this. Let’s start with two. I find that in a relationship, things start to emerge where both parties are tacitly, unspokenly asked to overlook something. And that goes on. Then let’s enlarge it to a group. More stuff gets overlooked until, at some point, there’s an unspoken agreement and we forget that everything was overlooked. That’s a problem, though, with all relationships. Can we enter into relationships where the minute we’re being asked to overlook something, we’re aware of it? And say, wait a minute, for me to continue 34

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in this relationship means for me to actively participate in ignoring certain things about you.

In other words, the question is, can love survive knowledge? Now, there’s a deeper kind of knowledge. There’s a metaphysical knowledge that actually fans the fires of love. But there’s another kind of knowledge, which actually makes loving really difficult. And I don’t know whether that makes a difference or not, but in the world of action, I feel that love is—if it’s sincere—a pretty good place to start in a group. But the problem is, of course, other events start happening. I’m speaking from an ideal, conceptual state. I wouldn’t even be able to draw what the model looked like to people. But maybe art is a way of doing that. Of making those kinds of models—of the ideal struggling with the actual. KR: Related to the idea of loving or belonging to a group, this past summer, you were one of the faculty members at the 2013 Kundiman retreat, which is essentially Asian American poets identifying—at least in that context for five days—as a group. What was that experience like for you? LYL: To be honest with you, it didn’t feel that way to me. It felt, to me, like being around some very eccentric people with some very specific stories. I always had a problem being a little strange in school growing up. And I thought it had to do with my being Chinese. I’m thinking it doesn’t. And when I went to this Kundiman retreat, I felt as if I met a lot of—like myself—strange people. And I kept thinking, is it the 'Asian' about them? And I thought, no. There are a lot of Asians who aren’t strange. There’s something strange about poets maybe. I think I met a bunch of poets! But the Asian American part. What did that lend? You know what it lent? It lent that family feeling. The code was different. A lot of experience could be noted and encoded in very little speech, which was really good, but at the same time, that’s not our primary speech. It’s the language of a group. KR: Some of your poems are more “famous,” so to speak, than others. For example, a lot of classroom syllabi include “Persimmons” or “The Cleaving.” But which poems of yours would you prefer professors to teach?

LYL: If I just got grandiose for a minute, I would say, I wish they would teach the entirety of the work—all of it—so that if anybody cared to look 35

at it in its entirety, they could forgive the flaws and maybe see how sincerely I struggled with giving something. I never felt less than the injunction to make a gift for the reader. And I didn’t always like the reader. I was sometimes angry at the reader, sometimes confused at who the reader was, but I always felt that part of making art is making a gift for the reader. KR: While you were at the University of Pittsburgh, were you reading or deeply interested in any writers or books that you felt the faculty or other students didn’t care for?

LYL: The Bible. It estranged me then. My love of the Bible made me strange to most of my peers. You know, I verged on wanting to take it literally. I was one of those readers. I understood it symbolically. And symbolically, it blew my mind. This whole idea of the birth of kingship, what kingship means to a nation, how kingship gets embodied in one human being who doesn’t belong and doesn’t rule a nation. He rules himself. All of Shakespeare is a struggle with this kingship. It’s a profound struggle. And all of the I Ching is trying to understand the nature of kingship—which is true kingship, which is true yang, true yin, true queenship. I have sons. They grew up in as much symbolic language I could use that wasn’t cheesy. I’m an old dad and I got cheesy with my sons sometimes, but I gave them a pretty rigorous symbolic language, so we speak a lot of symbolic language. Kingship means a lot to us. And my wife, too. I want to include her because she saw that between us and she nurtured it and participated in it. She saw the wealth. It made our kids richer to think symbolically. This whole idea of them being young men, what it means to be a king, what the practice of any art form is, and what the king is in the highest value of any art form. And can an art form be the king? What that looks like. That would mean you make the artist a king. What does that look like? It might not look well. I’m right about there. I’m ready to say, you know what, art isn’t everything. There is a higher king than art. For the longest time, I believed art was the king and queen. KR: Given what you know now about poetry and of the labor and life of a poet, what would you say to the younger Li-Young of the past, pre-Rose, as he’s writing his first poems?

LYL: I would say, just keep writing poems. Don’t stop. 36

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KR: Did you ever stop? LYL: No. You know, when I tried to stop, it was because I thought that somehow it was wrong—that writing poems was an indulgence and it was evil. One more way to go wrong in the world. Literary fame. You know the Buddhists talk about that. They said the delusion of literary fame is a very specific kind of delusion. Famous literary people—that’s a whole illusory world of its own. I heard that and I thought, I don’t want to be there. Everybody’s agreed upon this year’s whatever winner is— all of that, the Buddhists said, is one big illusion. They didn’t go so far as to say literary fame is a hell, but I find it a hell.

KR: How do you reconcile that with the fact that many poets and readers perceive you as somebody who has that kind of fame?

LYL: It’s very complex because I’m grateful for the support and that I can make a life, but the fame is very bad for me. Here’s the state I’m in most of the time when I’m not thinking about my career or anything else: I live in a state where I do feel that I’m being observed all the time. By God. Then fame—or little news of fame—wafts into my window and I experience that I’m being observed by an unseen public. And suddenly, that God who is an unseen audience gets projected onto this public. Suddenly, I forget what the actual experience is—that my actual audience is God. I forget that. God as the audience is both greater, more significant, happier, and in a weird way, more lonely, than the other experience, which is less lonely.

KR: So the awareness of this unseen, public, human audience starts to overshadow the consciousness that the primary audience is God? LYL: Right. My visceral sense is that there is a body out there listening. And I say, “out there,” but I don’t know what I mean. Out there in the stars? Let’s say “in the future” even. I don’t know whether that future is two years from now. But my sense is that it’s not just out there. It’s in here, too. It’s in me. I feel there’s an overhearing going on. Or an overwatching. And sometimes I feel invisible to God, and then I feel very frightened, angry, hostile. Most of the time, though, I feel observed. Is that the feeling? Haunted! Like I’m being watched, and I can’t tell where!

Gary Snyder asked me once, “When do you feel this?” and I said, “Ever since I was little. In the woods.” And he goes, “Do you know when you walk into any woods, every animal for like fifty miles knows you’re there?” He says, “So when you walk into the woods, you’re literally being 37

watched. You are being watched.” That might be some of where that came from, but my sense is somehow everything is haunted. I went through a period where I didn’t feel haunted and it felt very bad to me. KR: What are you working on lately?

LYL: I am working on something that is both troubling to me and really life-giving. I’m trying to understand the nature of erotic love. And how that desire is at the seat of everything. At the very hub of material reality is desire. It’s not an original thought. It is Hindu. But my experience of it, lately, has been that it’s true. And it comes at a time in my life when I have to admit I have a little less desire energy than I did when I was younger. I had so much desire energy when I was younger that I was a catastrophic mess. And that desire manifested itself in very destructive ways and it probably isn’t over. I have less trouble with that now than I used to, but I know it’s at the very root of art-making. And it’s a problem. I’m trying to write an account of that. KR: Are you trying to write about that desire or out of that desire?

LYL: I’m trying to write out of that desire. I’m trying to practice it as love. I have a feeling that desire that is sublimated becomes a higher form of love. That’s what the ancients promised. I don’t know if that’s true, but I want to keep reading to find out of it’s true. In the meantime, I’m going to practice it as if it’s true and maybe I can get to a place where I amass as much desire as possible and sublimate it into a higher love. I don’t know what that would look like in a poem! But I wrote a love poem that I’m really happy with. I want to write love poems. KR: Your Song of Songs? LYL: Yes. Still at it.


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Photograph Credit: Kent Barker

By: Paul Lai

Shin Yu Pai is a poet, oral historian, photographer, and editor. Her most recent book, AUX ARCS, ruminates on experiences in the American South and feelings of belonging and dislocation. This interview ends with two series of photographs taken by Pai that she considered for AUX ARCS but ultimately did not include. KARTIKA REVIEW (KR): One of the things I like about your poetry is its observational quality, your ability to see deeply and widely into the world around you. How has studying anthropology informed your poetry? SHIN YU PAI (SYP): The study of anthropology helped me to understand the unseen forces at work in human interactions and relationships, relative to power, race, gender, and social class, and filled in the gaps in my education that studying literature left out. I did not study creative writing in the context of critical theory. My early work was very aesthetically and spiritually driven—the themes that engaged me early on were the processes of art production and the idea of the interconnected through the lens of Buddhism. Anthropology helped me get a better grasp on how our worlds and identities are highly constructed experiences that are part of larger structures of power and what agency and adaptation can mean within that context. The questions and themes that I’m interested in asking in my writing these 39

days has seen a noticeable shift, and my work is more grounded than it once was in a deeper questioning and social engagement, vs. a purely aesthetic/intellectual one.

Take a poem like “Osaka”—at heart, the poem is about identity through ethnic cuisine. Osaka is a Japanese restaurant run by Korean owners (complex colonial history) in rural Conway, Ark.—it didn’t serve the finest sushi—but for Arkansas, it passed muster. In the poem, the sushi chef is a woman, an anomaly in more traditional sushi restaurants. Ingredients are somewhat scarce, due to limited import options as impacted by the Fukushima nuclear disaster—affecting American consumption of gourmet foods. The diner must adjust his expectations and adapt his diet to the local. My poem “Blackface” looks at ethnic identity through the experience of the physical body. I came across a news story about the status of Chinese immigrants in South Africa and how the community lobbied to change their status in order to be recategorized as Black, to benefit from government programs benefitting and recognizing the most economically marginalized. When I wrote “Blackface”, I was living in Arkansas—thinking about Black and White Southern race relations, and how I couldn’t escape being marked by physical difference, but also fell outside of the spectrum of any popular discourse. The idea of reclassifying oneself ethnically and legislatively to re-empower one’s self was fascinating. Contemplating the flexibility of identity recalled for me some of the reading that I encountered in grad school—Aihwa Wong’s work on flexible citizenship among Chinese in diaspora. KR: Your poetry traces the lines of insider–outsider status for yourself as an Asian American in various regions of the United States. How does your poetic eye relate to anthropological discussions about the researcher’s gaze?

SYP: Over time, I’ve become much more aware of how I represent stories that are not my own in my writing. My insider–outsider status derives as much from being a writer, while my race/ethnicity/gender in foreign environments are just additional lenses. I’m conscious of where I place or position myself in relationship to my subjects, and what I choose to disclose or leave out, and how I may choose to self-implicate. I try to place myself in spaces where I am as much a participant as an observer—to embody a particular experience. I think about how my poems represent the voices and experiences of others and am still 40

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figuring out what a polyvocal, multi-authored text would look like. I’m interested in the models that writers like CD Wright or Bhanu Khapil present. And as I begin to work with materials gathered from my oral history work with the Taiwanese community, I hope to figure out how to weave together and honor the voices of some of the individuals who’ve shared their life stories with me, while reflecting too upon how these stories impact my own impressions and perspectives.

It may sound strange, but I think of my poems about inanimate objects (as well as my animal poems) as coming out of a similar impulse to represent stories and perspectives that reach beyond an anthropological and/or art historical gaze. My poem on nisei Roger Shimomura’s playful updating of a classical art historical painting engages with reinterpretation—and extends into a reflection on the representation of Japanese-Americans as it’s being re-written in Texas text books.

My poem “Discards”—written in response to the work of Deborah Luster who photographed Louisiana prisoners—is also an attempt to explore the lived experiences of marginalized peoples. In the case of the Luster’s photographic plates, I chose to write about images that did not appear in her book [One Big Self] with CD Wright—the hundreds of unpublished/unpublishable images that don’t have a social life/value or circulate and are stored away under lock and key. Contemplating the humanity of immortalized prisoners in relationship to the throw-away yet secure aspect of the artistic archives kind of did a number on my head in terms of contemplating visibility and invisibility. KR: AUX ARCS is a book of both poems and photographs, with the photographs engaging similar topics and locations as the poems. What was your process in choosing poems and photographs for the collection? How did you decide on the sequencing of poems and photographs?

SYP: The poems for the collection grew out of a specific period of writing—the three years during which I lived in the American South. The process of curating and editing photos for the book was more complex. Originally, I had wanted to include two documentary style series of Arkansas-specific content to complement the texts—a series of images of the historical bath houses in Hot Springs, Ark. (one image from this series, “Needle Shower,” appears in the book; and a separate series of images of the annual cardboard boat races in Heber Springs, Ark. But after consulting with my publisher and designer, I wondered about this approach being perhaps a little too geographically specific, 41

when placed up against the context of so many of the poems which arc beyond the geography of the South. More than anything, the book is about strangeness and/or the peculiar, and in contemplating this theme, it seemed to make sense to reach beyond images of Arkansas and Texas to evoke the larger theme at play. Placing the images, I was aware that a reader might encounter them as section breaks, transition points, or visual synopses indicating or announcing a new thematic element. I see the photos as commas, or resting points that fit within the overall trajectory and narrative arc of the book—intervals that refocus and sharpen the eye and mind that help prepare a reader to enter the texts. KR: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you are working on a book of personal essays centered on a recent trip you made to Taiwan in 2012. How do you distinguish between the essay form and poetry? How do you decide to craft something in prose versus in poetry?

SYP: The collection of essays is actually about the series of four trips that I have made to Taiwan over the past 15 years, the most recent of which was in December 2012. My first trip to Taiwan was in 1998 on a “love boat” tour. I returned in the Fall of 2003 and traveled with my parents and also read from my first book Equivalence at a conference at Kaoshiung University. My third stay was supported by an invitation from the Taipei Artist Village to live and work for several months as an artist-in-residence in their international residency program. Most recently, I returned to Taiwan with my 72-year-old father, to revisit some of the sites that were formative to his own history—Matsu Island, where he was stationed during his required military service. More broadly, the essay collection looks at how my relationship to Taiwanese identity has impacted my own relationships to place, gender roles, family, and perceptions of personal memory vs. public history. The essay format is very different to me than poetry. It’s a long sustained form with the capacity to let a narrative unfold slowly with elements of plot and character development that are not aspects of the way in which I have or currently use poetic form. Emotion is also conveyed differently—not through senses or suggestion which is how I see sentiment operating in poetry on a deep, primal, intuitive level, but in a way that is less elliptical, more direct, with less ambiguity or space to interpret. My shift towards working in prose form relates really to the kinds of stories that I wish to document and tell at this point in my life and career—stories that require a larger container and longer, more 42

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sustainable form. Poetic elements and language are still a part of the way in which I come to writing prose, but the structures and transition points operate in a different way in prose than in poetry—there is more architecture.

KR: Regarding Taiwan, how has the island’s recent history and politics informed your experiences growing up in the United States? Did your parents and other family members talk about Taiwan’s history and politics much when you were younger? How have you gone about learning more about Taiwan? I grew up in an economically-depressed, mixed-race community that was predominantly Latino and Black in 1980s Southern California. The Taiwanese influence was not a big part of my experience growing up, except at home, in subtle, unspoken ways.

My parents did not talk to me overtly about Taiwanese history and politics until I was in my early 20s. But there were hints and suggestions of tensions between histories and identities. One of the few choices that my parents granted me as a child was in allowing me to quit going to Saturday morning Chinese classes. I chose to do so after several months because the other children made fun of the fact that I only knew Taiwanese not Mandarin Chinese and was therefore like the stupidest person in class. Even worse was the teacher who was Mandarinspeaking from Mainland China and fast to humiliate me for not knowing the correct answers or responses. For me, Taiwanese was the language of the family and what I had grown up with at home—and there was no reason that I should know Mandarin or be able to sound out the similarities. But this tension existed outside of the house in terms of expectation around language and identity. In my own understanding of the choices that were made around my acquisition or loss of language—I think of how my parents had Chinese imposed upon them during Chiang Kai-Shek’s rulership. I have wondered if the choice for them to only teach their children Taiwanese was in some part conscious or unconsciously both a political and personal one. When I was in junior high, a mixed-race Mexican-American kid who had once professed his love for me in kindergarten was mouthing off to his classmates that being “Chinese,” I was also a Communist. I took that comment home and shared it with my father who was so deeply incensed that he went into work late the next morning. After driving me to school, he parked the car and disappeared into the principal’s office for an hour. He had a lengthy discussion with the school administration 43

about the differences between Taiwanese and Chinese identity, which resulted in my “accuser” having to write a research paper about the differences between Taiwanese and Chinese history and identity.

My father was born in 1941 and grew up during the tumultuous and violent transition from Japanese rulership to the KMT government. In the 1960s, he served on the frontlines of Matsu where he experienced shellings and military attacks. He lived for decades under Martial Law and a constant military presence and occupation. He left Taiwan under difficult circumstances, and I share these limited details of his history to say that the Taiwanese influence in my household growing up is one that affected me in terms of an awareness of the personal trauma that affected my parents’ early lives. There was always a sense of danger and a lack of safety—that the house would get broken into. The series of homegrown and complex alarm systems that my father deployed to keep the house secure were ridiculous. The fear of strangers and paranoia and frequent suspicion towards Mainlanders was highly elevated.

My introduction to Taiwanese politics and history did not occur until I was a young adult. It was set off by a trip to Taiwan in 1998 that my parents sent me on, a “love boat” tour sponsored by a private family foundation that focused its programming on organizing root-searching trips for American-Born Taiwanese. That trip opened up deeper conversations with both of my parents. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of academic articles and scholarly work on Taiwanese history. On this last trip, I also made a point of visiting several sites of historic consciousness—the prisons of Green Island, the 228 Museum, alongside sites of urban ruin and renewal like the Treasure Hill community—a squatter’s community comprised of KMT soldiers who came to Taiwan with Chiang-Kai Shek.

But my key to understanding Taiwanese history, as I learned it from my parents, has really been through conducting oral histories with Taiwanese elders of my parents’ generation and asking them questions related to identity, public memory, and historic trauma. A small collection of oral histories that I recorded at the Jack Straw Studios in Seattle with Taiwanese elders from the Seattle area is archived at The Wing Luke Museum.


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KR: How do you think people in the United States understand Taiwanese American identity? In relation to other Chinese American or broader Asian American identities, for example? SYP: In the many conversations I’ve had about Taiwan with people in the U.S., I’ve come to believe that many Americans have a very limited understanding of Taiwanese American identity and Taiwanese experience, and how it is distinct from the broader Chinese diaspora. For instance, one of my Asian-American instructors in an Asian American women’s leadership program had been an East Asian Studies major at a small liberal arts college (perhaps in the 70s, I’d guess), and had never once read about the political upheaval and violence that characterized much of Taiwanese history in the 21st century. This person ultimately became a civil rights litigator doing work related to Japanese internment. She had no knowledge that Taiwan had been under Martial Law for nearly 40 years.

A lot of people assume that because much of the Taiwanese population descends ethnically from the Han Chinese, that they are united by ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage—Taiwan’s colonial past seems to be unknown to many. As for the history of the 228 uprising and massacre, much of it too seems to be largely unknown.

There’s a new work of historical fiction that came out recently, Third Son, by Julie Wu, that I think does a good job of helping to place the history of Taiwan in context that begins with the Second World War and traces the story of a young Taiwanese boy who grows up under the Chinese occupation and ultimately chooses to immigrate to the U.S. to leave his oppressive and damaged past behind and to start life anew. I also just read about a new novel about the 228 Incident, Jennifer Chow’s The 228 Legacy. It’s interesting to see a heightened interest in this historical incident now, and I hope that these works of fiction will help to introduce a new generation of readers to Taiwanese history. KR: What inspires you to write these days?

SYP: The most recent project that I completed is a collaborative, commissioned haiku project for the Festival of Writers, an event that is sponsored annually by the Rensselaerville Public Library. A group of writers, including Michael Stipe, Tom Gilroy, Jim McKay, Patrick So, and myself, wrote one or more haiku every day for the month of April 2013. Those poems were compiled into handmade books that comprise a oneof-a-kind box of poetry that was auctioned off in August to benefit the 45

public library. In his contribution to the project, Michael included an audio recording on cassette tape reading his favorite haiku generated by the authors for the project. Tom Gilroy curated the 2013 version of the project, and I will curate the 2014 edition. I worked with Tom before on Haiku Not Bombs (Booklyn Artists Alliance, 2010), and staying active with a haiku writing practice has helped to keep my mind and eye engaged during slower periods of creative production. The inspiration for my work comes from many varied sources. I’ve been working for some time on a children’s picture book story about the life of Al Young, a Seattle racecar driver who was basically the first Asian American driver in the sport. A former public school teacher, Al started racing in the 1970s. His first win was a check for twenty bucks and a bucket of chicken. Later, he won purses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The story was inspired by his oral history recordings in the collections of the Museum of History and Industry here in Seattle. Al’s story really breaks open the stereotype of the model minority and is an incredible tale of transformation.

The following photographs by Shin Yu Pai come from two series of images from Arkansas considered for AUX ARCS but ultimately not included. The first series contains images from Hot Springs and the second series contains images of the Annual Cardboard Boat Race in Heber Springs.

Sitting area, Hubbard Bath, Fordyce Bathhouse, Hot Springs, Ark.


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Hubbard bath with lift, Fordyce Bathhouse, Hot Springs, Ark.

Beauty Salon, Fordyce Bathhouse, Hot Springs, Ark.


Light Therapy Room, Fordyce Bathhouse, Hot Springs, Ark.

Indian "Swing" Clubs and Boxing Gloves, Gymnasium, Fordyce Bathhouse


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Turnverein, Fordyce Bathhouse, Hot Springs, Ark.

Annual Cardboard Boat Race, Heber Springs, Ark.


Annual Cardboard Boat Race, Heber Springs, Ark.

Annual Cardboard Boat Race, Heber Springs, Ark.


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Katherine Mann


My paintings show how patterned, highly-wrought, decorative elements coalesce from the chaos and contingency of an organic environment-and how they dissolve into that environment again. I begin each painting with a stain of color, the product of chance evaporation of ink and water from the paper as it lies on the floor of the studio. From this shape, I nourish the landscape of each painting, coaxing from this organic foundation the development of diverse, decorative forms: braids of hair, details from Beijing opera costuming, lattice-work, sequined patterns. Although founded in adornment, these elements are repeated until they too appear organic, even cancerous... and they at once highlight and suffocate the underlying ink stained foundation. Each of my paintings is tense with the threat of disunity and incoherence as nature and artifice spring from and merge into one another, and as different elements multiply and expand like poisonous growths.

My paintings are utter hybrids; man-sized fields punctuated by moments of absurdity, poetry, mutation, growth and decay that I find both suffocating and fabulous. They glory in the sensuous and the rambling, but intersperse the chaos with moments of neurotic control. They explore the potentialities of growth, but also of overabundance. I think of my work as baroque abstract: a celebration of the abundance of connections and clashes that can be found in the disparate mess of matter in the world. 51

Blimp 60” x 80” Acrylic and Sumi Ink on Paper 2012


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Embroideries 55” x 110” Acrylic and Sumi Ink on Paper 2012


Sap 100” x 60” Acrylic, Sumi Ink and Woodcut on Paper 2013


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Stomach 60” x 81” Acrylic Sumi Ink and Woodcut on Paper 2012





As a writer of color who went through an MFA program, I can attest to the shortcomings of the MFA, especially as it pertains to nurturing and supporting writers of color. An MFA program, like the workshop format, however imperfect, is the best working model we have for educating writers--so how do we make it better? How do we support and educate a new generation of diverse writers? I went to an MFA program known for its diversity and my discouraging experiences were very minor in the scope of things, and still David Mura's piece very much resonates with me. So when Mura wrote an essay addressing the MFA and Writers of Color and it made its rounds in my writing network, I forwarded it to our Editorial Board, who unanimously agreed that this was an important essay that needed to be read. We are grateful to David Mura for both writing the essay and granting us permission to reprint his piece here, for our readers. -- CLZ


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In the landscape of the literary world, one of the most dramatic shifts has been the rise of MFA creative writing programs. There are now more than 300 in the United States and Canada. Back in the late 80’s, the Associated Writing Programs annual conference had about 350 attendees; this past year in Boston, the attendance was twelve thousand.

Despite this rise in numbers, if a student of color though attends an MFA program, he or she will be in a small racial minority. The director of the program will probably be white, as will most of the professors. Of course, this isn’t a very different situation from most undergraduate colleges. But by its nature, writing is subjective and personal; so is the judgment of writing. This makes it a far different course of study than say math or science where, for the most part, the correct answers are objective and have been objectively proved. Since writers are generally a liberal lot, the white faculty and students in these institutions profess the most progressive views on race. They see themselves as people who are generally without racial bias. Racism and racial bias can be found in the country, yes, but presumably that would be in the Republican Party or the Tea Party, not in a population of liberal white artists.

Unfortunately, that is not the experience of many MFA students of color. Personally, I have heard dozens of stories from individual MFA students of color that would indicate otherwise. So have other colleagues of mine. Every year I teach at the VONA (Voices of the Nation Association) writers’ conference; it’s a conference for writers of color taught by writers of color. It was founded in part because of the negative experiences writers of color have gone through in undergraduate and MFA programs. Over and over, our students of color come to VONA and find a very different learning experience than have undergone in white dominated institutions. It’s not just that they and their writing and the experiences that undergird that writing receive a level of understanding that they do not get in a class with a white professor and white students; it’s also that our students receive a level of critique that they cannot 57

receive in white institutions. At VONA the other writers of color and the instructor know the worlds and experiences the student is writing about and are better able to discern when the student is lying or distorting or evading difficult truths or is simplifying the complexities of her experience or her community. At VONA the other writers and the instructor also know the literary traditions that most writers of color write out of, something that is not the case with many white MFA professors. On a larger level, the student of color in a VONA class doesn’t have to spend time arguing with her classmates about whether racism exists or whether institutions and individuals in our society subscribe to and practice various forms of racial supremacy. Nor does the student have to spend time arguing about the validity of a connection between creative writing and social justice.

Above all, in a VONA class of other writers of color, the student of color feels protected, safe, sane, valued. This is not the case when writers of color enter most creative writing classes and programs.

Although the rest of this essay focuses on MFA creative writing programs, the issues and arguments it depicts occur everywhere in American society, in educational institutions, in businesses, in political institutions. When issues of race come up in these other institutions, the treatment of the person of color and the reaction of whites in that institution are not very different from what happens in an MFA program.

The only difference is that in an MFA program, the unconscious ways whites perceive people of color are more likely to come out, since creative writing arises of the unconscious. In other words, it’s more likely in an MFA program that the issues of race and the presence of racial thinking will come up in student writing (whereas in other classes, racial issues often remain hidden or don’t apply to the subject matter). Similarly, the divide between the way whites and people of color see the social reality around them is always there in our society. But this divide often remains invisible or obscured, especially in our current climate where the issues of race are avoided rather than discussed. Creative writing, though, involves the very description of that reality, and so the gulf between the vision of whites and people of color is very present right there on the page. Moreover, the judgment of these descriptions 58

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again reveals a gulf between whites and people of color. And so, conflict ensues.

In other words, I am arguing that what the MFA student of color experiences in a predominantly white institution is not simply an obscure or numerically insignificant occurrence. Instead, it is symptomatic and revelatory of the ways the voices and consciousness of people of color are suppressed in our society. The essay below was originally written specifically for student writers of color. It was written to let them know they are not crazy, that what they perceive around and the way they and their work is received, is real. It was written to let them know that what they experience as an individual is actually a social practice, a political practice that involves a clash of power between two groups, whites and people of color. It was written as a manual for battle and survival. II

Here is an all too common scenario MFA students of color face in their mainly all white MFA programs:

Another student, usually white, brings in a piece with racial stereotypes or which presents people of color as the other or in a manner which negates their humanity as three dimensional individuals. In the same class, other students, usually white, also present pieces with similar problematic representations of people of color

Confronted with such a piece--or pieces--the writer of color must decide whether to voice an objection to the stereotypes or two dimensional portraits of people of color or the offensive racial slant of the white student’s piece. Since such situations have played themselves out for so many MFA students, what we know is this: Invariably, neither the white professor nor the other white students will formulate and express the critique of the piece which is occurring in the mind of the student of color. In other words, the student of color will be the sole person voicing her critique if she chooses to do so.

If and when the student of color voices her objections to the piece, more often than not, neither the white professor nor the other white students 59

will respond to the actual critique; nor will they inquire further into why the student of color is making that critique.

Instead, the white professor and the other white students will generally first invoke some notion of the freedom of the imagination (perhaps echoing something like James’ donné—you have to grant the writer their starting premises). They will emphasize the subjectivity of all responses both to the reality around us and to a specific text.

At best, the white professor or other white students will argue that the problems with the white student’s piece may be caused by technical deficiencies --i.e., it is not really a racial issue. At the same time, what will actually be going on in the class is this:

The white professor and the white students start with the assumption that none of the white people in the class are racists or consciously or unconsciously subscribe to any elements from an ideology of white supremacy. To challenge this assumption is treated as blasphemy, as an act of aggression.

In order to maintain this belief in the absence of white racism, what must be defended is the freedom of the white writer to write about people of color without taking into account the critiques of people of color. In this defense, the student of color is subtly or openly charged with acting as a censor—this despite the fact that the student of color obviously has no or very little power to affect the writing of anyone in the room. If the student of color is designated as a censor, then of course her critique must be suspect, since censorship is always the enemy of any writer. To help in this defense, the debate will then be formulated as occurring between the individual subjectivities in the class, which means that it is framed as the subjectivity of the one person of color against the seven, ten, twelve white students along with the white professor. Framed in this way, the outcome of such a debated is already predetermined. 60

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Thus, the argument will not be formulated as a struggle between groups—between whites and people of color. It will not be placed within a formulation such as Richard Wright’s remark that blacks and whites are engaged in a struggle over the description of reality. It will not be placed within a history of the racial debate, literary, political and otherwise, over the description of our social reality. It will not remove the focus of the debate from the individual student of color, and place the debate within the context of arguments made by other writers and people of color concerning the depictions of people of color by white artists. Another tactic the white professor and white students might take is that the argument will be designated as a political argument and thus, beyond the bounds of a literary class.

And yet it's only when the argument is seen as a racial antagonism between whites and people of color that the true nature of the conflict can be revealed. But of course the debate in the MFA classroom is constructed and guided so that this never happens.

At the same time, on an emotional and often unconscious level, something else is going on in the class.

To entertain that there might be racially problematic or racist elements in the white student’s piece is to entertain the possibility that the work of other white students and even the white professor might contain such elements. Therefore the white professor and the other white students will feel at some level that they too are being critiqued by the student of color.

Given this feeling of threat and given their investment in the racial status quo, on a conscious and/or an unconscious level, the whites in the class will react to the student of color’s critique of the racial bias in the white student’s piece with fear and anger and outrage. How does this process occur?


Some white members of the class will feel the student of color’s critique is simply wrong; these members will dismiss the student and her critique without much thought. If the student persists, these white students will feel annoyed, then angry. But some of white members of class may begin to feel guilty, may find a part of themselves wondering if the student of color is right. They may even sense that by critiquing the racial portrait in a white student’s work the student of color is also challenging the general portrayal of people of color in the society, the negative stereotypes that white student has never had to deal with.

These feelings of guilt will conflict with the white students belief that they are not racist. Rather than explore the possible reasons why they might feel guilty, most whites will cling even harder to the belief that they are not racists and therefore, should not feel guilty. This is unfair, they say to themselves. I am being accused of something I did not do. (Such thoughts can occur even if the student of color never even mentions the word “racist” or makes any such accusation.) The white student will then feel angry at the student of color for treating the white student unfairly, for making the white student feel guilty. The white student—or the white professor--may even begin to feel that he or she is the victim of the student of color. Thus, the white professor and members of the class will begin to feel antipathy toward the student of color making the critique. The student of color will be deemed, either silently or vocally, as a troublemaker, as someone who is overly sensitive, as paranoid.

The white professor and other white students might possibly admit on a theoretical level that the student of color might have a basis for her critique which the white people in the class may not have sufficient knowledge to understand. But very rarely will the white professor and other white students take this critique as an occasion to spur them further to understand how the student of color’s critique is connected to a tradition of literature and theory which the white professor and white students are unaware of and have never sufficiently studied. Very rarely will the white professor and other white students begin to examine the limitations of their own experiences. Very rarely will they 62

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begin to inquire what it means for them to be “white”—that is rarely will they take the student’s color of critique as a call to examine their own ignorance of the way racism and white supremacy function in our society. They will not ask themselves “What does it mean for me to be a white person in this society? How did I learn I was a white person? How did I learn what whiteness means to me and to others?”

Instead, the focus of emotion and discussion will center on the student of color, and this focus will soon begin to spill over into a critique of the student of color’s character and her motives for “disrupting” the class. It will also focus on the student of color’s challenge to the white professor’s authority and superior knowledge. The student’s “attitude” toward her fellow students. If the student of color persists in making such critiques, she will develop a reputation in the MFA program as a troublemaker, a malcontent, someone with psychological problems. As not supportive of her fellow students. As disrespecting her professors.

If the student of color persists in making such critiques, she will find herself increasingly isolated socially and shunned in various ways by the other students and professors in the department—and this may very well also include other professors of color (who will often feel that their own position in the department is quite precarious and open to challenge).

After two or three years of such treatment, if she persists, the student of color graduates having fought a literary, psychological and political battle that none of her white counterparts have had to face. The price of her ticket is not the same as theirs; the toll she’s paid is far higher. All this negative focus upon the student of color, all the forces arrayed against her, is rarely seen for what it is:

It is one example in many of how our society fights to maintain the racial status quo, fights to maintain the privileges that whites enjoy by virtue of their whiteness, fights to police any threats to the society’s system of white privilege and white supremacy. 63

In other words, while each individual in this scenario believes he or she is acting as an individual, the actions of the white professor and white students and the MFA program towards the student color have been pre-programmed. That is why this scenario takes place over and over in MFA programs all across the country. At the same time, in most MFA programs, the subject of race and writing about race is never considered a fundamental and essential area of study for all writers in the program regardless of color. It is never a requirement, always an elective.

This is not surprising since the majority of the white faculty do not believe that such a study is essential to their own writing or to their own pedagogical practices. This ignorance of the lens of race or the works of writers of color does not occur by accident. It is both a result of the racial inequalities of power in our society and a cause of it. This ignorance is the way the system of racial inequality maintains itself.

If all this is preprogrammed, if the events of this scenario inevitably play themselves out in so many MFA programs, what is the student of color to do? That is, should she voice her criticism or not?

And, if she does voice her criticism, how often and how vocally and to whom should she voice it to?

What are the dangers she puts herself in by making such a critique? What strategies should she employ in dealing with the social and power structures designed to protect white privilege and supremacy?

The answers to these questions in part depend upon the individual and individual choice. 64

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But I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the scenario I’ve described is not an individual scenario but a societal scenario—that is, a scenario which is dictated by the race and racial position of the actors within the scenario, a scenario that is dictated not by individuals but by society’s imperative to defend the racial status quo from any direct challenges. Because of this, I do think there are certain things the student of color should consider. Among these are The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him. Thus, the student of color might consider whether this is a battle she can win or not. And given the forces and numbers arrayed against her and given the fact that she is a student, she is clearly not in a position of superior numbers or superior power. This is therefore probably a battle that, if she continues to fight, she will inevitably lose.

The problem for the student of color is that she feels if she is silent before a piece of writing which is racially problematic or insensitive or simply racist, she will be condoning such writing. Moreover, to be silent, she may tell herself, is to be a coward.

Furthermore, if she persists in her critiques, she will be increasingly attacked and will begin to feel isolated and powerless. She may feel then that to persist with her critiques is a way of trying to maintain or win back her power. 65

But what Sun Tzu teaches us is that to retreat or lay low in times when we do not have power or sufficient numbers is not weakness; it is wisdom. What Sun Tzu teaches is that taking time to build allies and gather forces is not weakness but wisdom.

What Sun Tzu teaches is that taking time to obtain information about the enemy and to identify the enemy’s weaknesses is not weakness, but wisdom.

What Sun Tzu teaches is do not fight battles you know you are going to lose. The object is not to win a particular battle but to win the war.

Or as I wrote to one such student, being an activist artist is not a sprint. It is a marathon. You need to plan and strategize and build your forces for the larger battles to come, to fight from strength not weakness. What I am saying here ought to be clear by now: Students of color, you are not crazy or misperceiving what is before and around you.

You are in hostile territory. You are in a battle. In many MFA programs your presence and mind and creativity represent an alien presence, at odds with the powers that be.

You can learn from the example of other revolutionaries. You must use your wits and not just your heart. You have to strategize, not simply react with your emotions.

You have to recognize you have entered a realm that will protect its powers, the racial status quo, if you challenge it. Which will attack challenges and challengers to its authority. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it is.

In the end, though, if you use your wits, you will be stronger because of your struggles. You will find allies. You will not fight the battle alone. You will take time to assess the forces arrayed against you. You will 66

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plan for the long haul, for building your own work, your own strength, your own position of power. The fight is not over. It has just begun. Your time is coming. Your time is coming.

David Mura will publish his fourth poetry collection, The Last Incantations, with Northwestern University Press in March, 2014. Mura’s other poetry books are Angels for the Burning, The Colors of Desire (Carl Sandburg Literary Award), and After We Lost Our Way (a National Poetry Series Contest winner). He has also published two memoirs, Turning Japanese (an NY Times Notable Book) and Where the Body Meets Memory, and a novel, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire. His book of poetry criticism is Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto & Mr. Moto: Poetry & Identity. He teaches at the Stonecoast MFA Program and the VONA Writers' Conference.




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COMMUNITY SERVICE Kali Fajardo-Anstine

When I was sixteen, I was arrested for breaking into my own home. The night it happened my parents were out of town. I used the opportunity to attend some punk show at a nearby warehouse. An older guy in a denim jacket and safety pin through his bald eyebrow handed me a baggy of mushrooms and said, “Trust me, Dallas. They taste like shit, but the high is superb.” Half an hour later, I projectile vomited Cheetos and Mountain Dew on the stage. Then I skated home, nearly in tears, but I don’t think anyone saw that part.

My home was nestled on the edge of a golf course called Happy Oaks. The neighborhood was gated in white, the mailboxes were pitch-black, and in each window in every home on every block the lights were out by 10pm. My house was the largest in the neighborhood, resembling a mountain lodge perched high on a snowy peak. When I got home that night, the front door was locked, my keys were lost, and every window was sealed shut. Then, for some reason, I really did cry. The next thing I remember is grabbing one of our lawn gnomes. One moment he was in my skinny arms. Then I was looking at him face down in the living room, a thousand shards of broken glass all around like melting ice. When I saw lights, I didn’t know what to think. Half my body was in the house and the other half was dangling outside the broken window. The lights flashed red and orange and blue like fireworks swirling in all directions. But it’s not July yet, I thought. Then I felt a tug.

The officers pulled me by my ankles, my face scraping the glass as they did. They set me in a volcanic rock garden beneath the window, their guns drawn. “This is my house,” I said with a mouthful of metallic spit. “I live here.”

“Don’t move,” one of the officers shouted. She was pretty with dark features and pale skin, but with blood seeping into my eyes and mouth, the whole world seemed red. ”Really,” I said as they lifted me from the ground. “This is where I live.” 69

Jail wasn’t too bad. Mostly it smelled like a hospital with an extra coating of urine. My parents bailed me out the next morning after they returned from a convention. They drove with the windows down in their BMW, silent for a long while. My father was a business man and my mother was a business man’s wife. They were efficient people with nice things and little tolerance for disruptions. I slumped down in the backseat, my safety belt nearing choking me as they drove.

As we neared our house, my mother turned back. She stared at me with a disgusted look on her face. Her long blond hair whipped into her mouth. She pried the strands from her lips, her bracelets and rings dangling around like wind chimes on her bony appendages. Beside her, my father swept his pinkish hands over his balding head. He had recently gotten hair plugs, and I wondered if they’d loosen from all the wind. “Pretty unexpected of you, Dallas,” he said, glancing at me in the rearview mirror. “Your mother and I are taking away your car and phone until further notice.” The morning of my court date, I watched as my mother laid clothes over my plaid bedspread. “These are in fashion for your age group,” she told me, smoothing her hand over a pair of black slacks, like she was petting a dog. “I read about it in a magazine at the tanning salon.”

The courtroom was nothing more than a boxy room lined with dark wood. The only hint of color came from the flags strung up on either side of the judge. He was smallish man with buzzed hair and white eyebrows. When he spoke, his jowls flopped back and forth. Even from a distance, I could smell his scent of dust and cedar. “Son,” he said, carefully removing his glasses, “this all could have been avoided. What you did made matters worse, far worse, than they had to be.”

He was referring to what I had done after the officers hauled me off to their cruiser. With my legs twitching and my eyes all pupils, I coughed blood into the pretty officer’s face. Her scream was more of a howl. It was by accident, but she didn’t seem to think so. “Yes, your honor,” I said, looking down at my shoes. The leather was pristine. “I understand this.” The judge poked his glasses in my direction. “You seem like a good kid. The wrong place at the wrong time. I’m giving you fifty hours of community service when I could easily toss a hundred or more at you. You understand?” 70

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“Yes, your honor.” I edged one foot over the other. “I do.”

Behind me, mother lightly clapped and my father whispered, “Thank God. Now let's get home.” I did community service at a placed called The Spot. It was a youthbased concert venue run by a woman named Rita. She shuffled around with a terrible limp, depending on the support of a solid oak cane. She wore round sunglasses at all times, her teeth were exceptionally large and white, and she had this smell about her like old comics. After my first day at the center, I asked a kid with a pentagram tattoo on his elbow what exactly was wrong with her. He shook his oily head. “Dude, you don’t know?”

I was told that Rita had been married to a biker named Rowdy Jim. He swore every other word, did an eerily convincing Lou Reed impression, and used to ride Rita around on the back of his Harley. That is, until the summer of ‘97 when a drunk sixteen-year-old decided to steal his parents’ minivan for the night. He was doing ninety down the freeway. He lost control of the wheel, jumped the divider, and blasted head-on into Rita and Rowdy Jim. Rita lost her front teeth, a great deal of blood, and her ability to walk without a cane. She also lost Jim. He died on impact. Whereas a lot of people would surrender the rest of their lives over to that pain and loss, Rita started something good in the community. With her insurance settlement, she bought a warehouse by Union Station, paid a few bands to play shows, and in no time convinced high school students it was the place to be. “I do this for you kids,” she told me during those first weeks of community service. “For Christ’s sake, there are better things to do than getting loaded all the time.”

Working at The Spot was easy. There were about ten of us fulfilling court-ordered community service. Rita mostly had us clean the bathrooms or canvas the neighborhoods for upcoming shows. She was nice about letting the high school kids play a few times a week. During those times, the luckiest juvenile delinquents got to work the bar. We only served water, orange juice, and Hawaiian Punch. It was nice because Rita didn’t check on how much money we made. She certainly 71

didn’t care about making a profit. She’d check off our community service hours so long as we showed up, didn’t complain, and used the words please and thank you. She was big on manners. “That’s one thing you kids need to know,” she always said. “I don’t care if you’re a bum on the street or a rich man in Cherry Hills, the golden rule reigns supreme here. We treat others as we’d like to be treated.”

Each day I was given two ten-minute breaks. During those breaks, the other kids from The Spot went to a nearby gelato place as a pack. They never asked me to go with. I didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, anyway. I’d watch them walk off with their tattoos and pierced faces and backpacks drooping down to their butts. After they’d disappear around the street corner, I’d make my way across the street to a grassy field. Though it was large enough and green enough for a decent-sized playground, it was rumored that a rubber company once used it as a dumpsite for toxic sludge. Because of this, no little kids or homeless guys hung around. It was simply an empty field where no one bothered anyone else. For as long as I could remember, I preferred places like that. Not by choice, so much, but more out of necessity. One afternoon, around midday, I was lying in that field, staring straight at the sun. I had heard that looking directly into the sun caused permanent retina damage. I wanted to know if it was true. So far that afternoon it had only forced me to see vibrant yellow circles. They eventually turned a fire blue, then a cool green, and toward the end I saw a black dot. The dot was taking over, spreading like a fog when I heard someone shout, “Hey, are you a moron?”

I moved my eyes from the sky to the sound of the voice. Once the residual circles disappeared, there was a blue-haired girl reading a copy of The Stranger against a giant cottonwood tree. I recognized the pale cover immediately. A couple months earlier I had told my mother I was writing a paper on Albert Camus for my final English project. She was in the kitchen, leaning over the counter, studying a South Beach Diet cookbook. Glancing up for a moment, she said, “Who is that?” “He’s a writer,” my father called from the other room where he was watching a hockey game. 72

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“Oh right,” my mother said, twisting her hair into a pile on top of her head. “Didn’t he die in some car crash? That’s pretty depressing stuff, Dallas,” “People die,” I told her. “Every day. Lots of them.”

She giggled, working her way to the pantry. On her tippy-toes, she grabbed a can of green beans from the top shelf. “You’re strange, kid. You know that? I shrugged, and retreated to my bedroom.

Across the field, I watched as the blue-haired girl set her book down on her lap. Her bronze legs were bent in short-shorts. She had on black Converses without any socks. “Hey,” she said again. “Why were you staring into the sun? Do you want to go blind or something?” “I’m on break.”

“So? You should be thankful for what you have, like your eyesight. Stop imitating Helen Keller.” “I must suck at my imitation of her,” I said. “She was also deaf, and I can hear you just fine.”

The blue-haired girl slammed her book shut and rose from the grass. Where her skin had crushed the green blades, tiny red slashes had formed. “Don’t make fun of Helen Keller,” she said, stepping over my legs and heading back across the field. She turned back once before crossing the street. “She’s a national treasure.” I wanted to ask what chapter she was on, and whether or not she liked it so far, but instead I watched as she disappeared behind the roar of downtown traffic, her blue hair matching the color of the enormous sky.

By midsummer I had completed twenty hours of community service. It was beginning to wear on me. All that work, I thought, and no payoff other than I wouldn’t go to juvie. The other kids still weren’t inviting me to tag along with them for lunch or on breaks. We didn’t have much to 73

talk about, though. They went to schools in the city with metal detectors and daycares attached to the cafeterias. I went to an all-boys prep school where we wore ties. The other kids laughed when I told them this one afternoon as we sprayed the back sofa with Febreze. The pentagram tattoo guy fluffed a cushion and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever worn a tie, like, in my entire life.” I asked him about funerals or church or holiday dinners, but he gave me a blank stare. “What do those have to do with ties?”

There was only one person, though, who I really wanted to talk to at The Spot—the blue haired girl. After I saw her in the field that day, I couldn’t help but to notice her. She’d walk around The Spot with a perpetual look of boredom on her face. She only wore band t-shirts—mostly eighties punk stuff, Misfits and The Clash—but occasionally I’d see her in a Bob Dylan tee or that Thrasher shirt where a teary-eyed comic book girl says to a comic book guy, Oh God! Why can’t my boyfriend skate? I wanted to ask her about it, but she had a look about her like a stray dog. Maybe she’d be nice, but, in all likelihood, she’d probably bite the shit out of me.

Then one day I was washing the front windows when Rita limped by. She held her cane in one hand and the blue-haired girl’s wrist in the other. “Dallas,” she said, “stop doing what you’re doing and meet Alicita. You’re working together today.” “It’s you,” I said.

“And it’s you,” Alicita said back.

Rita then handed us buckets filled with what I thought was soapy water. There were kidney-shaped sponges bobbing around and everything smelled of incense. “There’s a show tonight,” she said. “Some Christian hardcore band from Fort Collins. They want the stage cleaned with holy water for some bullshit reason, but who am I to judge?”

“Christian hardcore?” Alicita pretended to shove her index finger down her throat. “Watch it,” said Rita. “What if those boys went around gagging at you?” “That’d be really creepy.”


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“Exactly. Now get to work please.”

Alicita and I stepped over to the black stage. It was a cement square elevated above the rest of the warehouse space. She took her sponge and wrung it out. Water crashed against the floor and splattered into our eyes. “Sorry,” she said, her blue hair falling in her face.

“It’s cool. It’s only holy water.” I took my own sponge from the bucket. We each got down low, cleaning like orphans do in musicals. At one point, our hands overlapped. Alicia smiled. I smiled back. “So,” I said, “what heinous crime did you commit?” “Tell me yours first.”

“I broke into my own house.”

“You must have one nice house,” she said, dipping her sponge in the bucket. The water turned a murky brown.

“I was on shrooms. I spit blood on a lady cop.”

Alicita looked at me. Her eyes were a silvery black. She rolled them. “You’re absolutely disgusting.” “Whatever,” I said. “Now tell me yours.” “Shoplifting. Got caught twice.”

“I bet you were stealing lip gloss and nail polish.” “Try pregnancy tests.”

There was a moment of dead silence. “Oh,” I finally said, keeping my eyes to the stage. “Are those expensive?” She tossed her sponge at me. Holy water splashed against my face, trickling into my mouth. “I was kidding,” she said. “I didn’t steal any pregnancy tests. I think we get those for free.”

“Who does?”

“At-risk Latina youth.” She laughed wildly, exposing her pink tongue slick with saliva. She then asked me what my favorite bands were. I said 75

that I liked a little bit of everything. A lot of eighties punk stuff. Misfits, The Clash, Sex Pistols.

“Sex Pistols.” She made a face, slowly rolled her eyes, and continued scrubbing. “They’re not eighties punk stuff. More like seventies.” “Oh, right,” I said. “I get confused.”

Around thirty hours of community service, my parents said they were proud of me. My mother made a massive breakfast, complete with waffles and French toast. My father liked to choose. We sat together in the low light of the kitchen. They had replaced the front window. Tiny prisms hung from clear strings. Rainbows of light fell over the hardwood floor. After gulping down a glass of milk, my father cleared his throat and adjusted his tie. “Son, your mother and I are proud of you for working off this debt to society. You’ve shown a lot of character. You’re taking care of things on your own.” He took bite of his waffles. Syrup edged over his lips. “We’ve decided to reinstate your Honda and phone privileges, but only as a show of good faith. Don’t mess this up. No late night drives or taking any more dope. Comprende?” “Right,” I said, reaching for a glass of orange juice. “No more dope.”

That morning, as I was driving to The Spot, I stopped at red light. The air conditioner in the Honda was broken and I had all the windows down. It was incredibly hot. Sweat crept between every fold of my flesh. As I flipped through the radio stations, I landed on some eighties throwback hour. Prince came on. I tossed my head back, belting out the lyrics to Little Red Corvette. Just as the light turned green, I looked out the window to see Alicita sitting on a bus stop. She smirked and folded her legs in those little shorts. Her blue hair wasn’t blue anymore, but a deep violet. “Dallas,” she shouted at the top of her lungs.

I waved wildly. A car blasted its horn behind me. I speed up and made a u-turn at the next intersection. When I pulled into the parking lot behind the bus stop, Alicita grabbed her knapsack and marched over slowly like 76

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her limbs were made of solid lead. “Are you stalking me?” she asked through my window. “Because that’s totally weird if you are.” “You’re probably stalking me,” I said. “But I like your hair. You changed it.”

She puffed it out. The color intensified in the sunlight. “And you got a car.” “I’ve had it for a while. I just got it back.” “Got it back from where?” “The shop,” I lied.

“Anyway,” she said, “are you on your way to The Spot?”

I nodded.

“Want to give me a ride before people think you’re talking to a hooker?” “Why would people think you’re a hooker?”

“I’m leaning into your window, you’re listening to Prince, and we’re in a Taco Shop parking lot.” “True,” I said, leaning over and opening her door. “Very true.”

After fastening her seatbelt, Alicita reached for my CD case. I had always imagined this is what having friends ride around in my car would be like—very judgmental. Robotically flipping through the sleeves, she considered each album, saying things like, “I only like their early stuff.” As I drove, the wind and sunlight pressed against her purple hair and freckled skin. The normal look of boredom was gone from her face. She was smiling and giggling, her lips chapped and pink. Finally, she turned the last page of my CDs. I don’t remember what album it was, but she paused. “I really like this one. You should burn me a copy.”

“Sure,” I said. “Hey, since my car’s fixed now, if you want, we should carpool. I can pick you up at your house.” Without making eye contact, she leaned over and kissed my forehead. “Thanks,” she said. “People on the bus can be such creepers.” 77

After she turned her face back to the CDs, I reached up, feeling at the spot where she had kissed me. It was warmer than the rest of my face. I picked Alicita up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She lived fifteen minutes south of Happy Oaks in a beige apartment complex with signs advertising ‘One Month Free Rent’ and ‘Pets & Families Welcomed.’ Each time I dropped her off or picked her up, she had me stop outside by the swimming pool. It was a pathetic cement hole with chipped blue paint and foggy water. When I asked if she ever went swimming , she said, “No one cleans it, and I think a baby got gangrene from the hot tub.” There was an afternoon late in the summer when the sky went completely black. Clouds moved in from behind the mountains, sagging with moisture until a huge downpour of rain pelted the city. That day I insisted on dropping Alicita off by her front door. “My dad will flip if he sees us,” she said

“He can’t see in these windows. They’re tinted.” “They’re not tinted.”

“I know. I just said that, but, come on, which apartment is yours? What number?”

Alicita pointed through the rain to a third storey apartment. “3B, but we’re not going there. I mean it.” I began slowly driving over to where she had pointed.

Alicita unbuckled her seatbelt. “I’ll jump out of a moving vehicle if you don’t stop.” “Fine,” I said, putting my foot on the brake. “I’ll stop.”

Flopping against her seat, Alicita looked at her apartment complex. Raindrops drizzled on the windshield, forming random pathways of visibility. The entire place was a mushy brown while the rest of the city 78

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was an eruption of green. It was almost as if the colors of the complex walls couldn’t contain themselves. They poured over the buildings, dripping over the entire lot, spreading into the grass and the trees. “I can’t wait to get out of here,” Alicita said. “After my community service hours are up, I need to get a real job, one that pays. I was thinking about the record store on Colfax, the one with the book store attached. That’d be awesome.” “How many hours do you have left?” I asked. “Just fifty more.”

“What? How is that possible? That’s all I got originally.”

Scratching at her left eyebrow, Alicia said, “It’s different for us, Dallas. You’re from that golf course neighborhood, and I’m from...” She flung her arms out. Her hand smacked the window. “I’m just lucky I didn’t go to juvie.” “I don’t think that has much to do with it,” I said with a laugh. “It’s probably because you got caught twice.”

“Maybe,” she shrugged. Her shoulders rested lower than before, as if she held a great weight.

Sitting there in the cramped space of the Honda, the air humid and heavy with our breath, it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know much about Alicita. I knew the bands she liked, the books she enjoyed, what bus she took, but other than that, I had no idea. Once, she mentioned her mother in passing, how she lived in California or New Mexico. I guess she started a whole new family when Alicita was tenyears-old. I didn’t know what her father did for a living or if she had any pets or whether or not she had chicken pox as a little kid. I especially had no idea what exactly she had stolen those times at the grocery store. I had always assumed it was it hair dye or makeup. Girls were always stealing that stuff. Whatever it was, I didn’t understand how it equaled four times as much punishment as I had received. After some time, I asked, “What were you trying to steal, Alicita?”

She looked at me. Her eyes were very dark and round. She never wore any makeup. Not a trace. “The first time was an inhaler,” she said. “The pharmacist chased me down. I didn’t know they would do that.” She 79

paused, turning her face away from me. “The second time was milk. Apparently, I suck at shoplifting. The entire thing leaked in my backpack. It ruined my homework and library books. Then they caught me walking around like I had pissed my pants.” I laughed. “Were you trying to get high from the inhaler?”

“What? Oh, no, that wasn’t for me.” She grew quiet. “It’s my dad. He needs all kinds of medicines.”

She then thanked me for the ride, planting her usual kiss on my forehead. She smelled of grass.

The following Thursday, I went to pick up Alicita. It was late in the afternoon. I waited for her in the car beside the pool. The water rippled and pulled against the wind. After some time, I thought I saw her making her way down the stairs, but it was only a little boy and a little girl waddling by with floaties on their arms. They looked incredibly dirty. The girl had red Kool-Aid or something smeared all over her face, concentrated around her cheeks and lips. There was a small dab of it on her forehead. It took me a while before I realized they were actually going swimming. I shouted out the window, “Hey, kids. Don’t do that. It’s gross.” The little boy flipped me off. Then the little girl jumped in. Water splashed everywhere. They thrashed around and squealed. At one point, the little boy swam to the edge of the pool nearest to my car. “Hey,” I said again, “really, that water isn’t clean.” He didn’t acknowledge me.

Soon I tried calling Alicita’s house, but there was no answer. I considered knocking on her door, but it didn’t seem like she’d appreciate that. The kids beside me kept swimming. The little girl squirmed as if she was a runaway piglet. The boy spun in rapid circles, allowing her arms to smack the water’s edge like the blades of a lawnmower. “Hey,” I said again. “Do you guys know Alicita?”

The boy ignored me, but the little girl slowed her spinning. “Ah-huh,” she said with a smile. “Alicita is our friend.” 80

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“Have you seen her today? I’m supposed to give her a ride.”

The little girl raised her arm like she had the answer to a question at school. She was as straight as a flagpole, popping in and out of the water. The boy pushed her under. “She left a long time ago,” he said.

“Oh,” I said, pulling a piece of dead skin from around my index finger. Blood poured over my nail bed. “Thanks.” Then I added, “And, really, that water is gross. I heard a baby got gangrene from the hot tub. You shouldn’t swim here.” The little boy puffed out his chest. The girl jumped up like she was on a pogo stick. “Nah-un,” she said, splashing toward my car. “There’s nothing wrong with our pool, weirdo.”

At The Spot, Rita was sitting at a long foldout table with a sign-up sheet. She wore a velvety purple dress and her sunglasses seemed extra shiny. Without looking up, she said, “You’re late, Dallas. Why is that?” I blinked a few times, rubbing my elbow. “Car trouble.”

Shuffling around some papers, she said, “I’m not going to make a fuss about it, but only because I have good news. You have about eight hours left. Work four today and then four tomorrow night at the show. I’ll even let you bartend. Good job, kid.” She leaned over the table, jabbing her cane slightly in my direction.

I hardly looked down. Instead, I was searching the center for Alicita. She wasn’t near the stage or lying out on the red couch in the back. The bathroom doors were open. I could see the guy with the pentagram tattoo scrubbing a urinal. He was bent down, a long chain swaying from his wallet. The entire warehouse felt like a small black box that was somehow smaller without Alicita. “Come on,” Rita said, “act a little more excited. You should be proud of yourself.”

“It’s awesome news.” I dropped my face to the floor. “Have you seen Alicita?”

“Not since Tuesday. If you see her, tell her she can bartend with you tomorrow night. She’d like those hours, I’m sure.” 81

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll let her know.” When I got off that day, I drove to Alicita’s apartment complex. I parked my car over by the pool. Part of me thought I’d see those little kids still splashing around, but the water was empty and still. The entire place seemed vacant. All that cement and metal. The cars bounced the last beams of sunlight upward to nothing. Rolled up pieces of trash were caught and held in the gutters, spinning around like miniature tornadoes. I made my way to 3B. The windows were blackened by thick curtains. It wasn’t like her to miss community service. Not with all those hours to makeup. I knocked twice, hard.

A woman answered with short black hair and smooth, glistening skin. When she slid open the door, she kept the chain on. A look of worry came over her face. A smell like warm soup wafted out of her apartment, along with the sounds of jingling bells. “Hi,” I said, sheepishly and profoundly confused. “Does Alicita live here?” The woman blinked a number of times. She was Korean, I think. “Alicita,” I said, patting my head. “She has purple hair.”

The woman nodded, smiled. Then she shook her head. “No, no, no.”

“Alicita,” I said again. “She’s my age. She’s about this tall.” I held my hand just below my chin. “She’s my friend.”

The woman said no again. She could have said it a hundred times more, but the answer was still just that. That’s when I realized I had been lied to. Alicita didn’t live there. Thanking the woman, I headed down the cement stairs. It was nearly dark as I made my way across the parking lot. Tiny planes soared through the air, leaving tails of white in their wake. I was walking with my head to the sky when I heard a familiar laugh. There, directly in front of me, was Alicita. She strolled with an elderly man, guiding him carefully by the elbow. Together they spoke Spanish. Though I had no idea what they were talking about, Alicita’s voice sounded soft, musical. When she caught a glimpse of me, my first 82

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thought was to hide. I jumped behind a pickup, but she shouted, “Dallas? What’re you doing here?” Casually, I stepped out from behind the truck. I rubbed my neck. “Hey there,” I said. “Just thought I’d drop by.”

The elderly man said something in Spanish. Alicita eased up on his elbow. Her hair didn’t seem purple or blue or anything like that. It looked as black as her eyes. “Dallas,” she said, looking upward. “You shouldn’t be here.” She turned to the man who had said something in Spanish. He held out his palm, pointing in my direction. I couldn’t make out anything they were saying. All the words seemed strung together like a chain rattling against a pole. Then I heard my name, a couple times.

Alicia brought her chin down, revealing her eyes on the verge of tears. “Dallas, this my father, Fernando.”

“Hello, Sir.” I stuck my hand out to his. He hesitated for a moment—his eyes moving from my shoes to my face—but then he reached out slowly. He felt painfully cold, like his hands had been unscrewed and placed in a refrigerator. It sent a chill up my arm, over my neck, and stopped in my throat. “I came to pick you up today,” I said to Alicita. “But you weren’t here. They were these strange kids in the pool. Remember how dirty you said it was?” I laughed. She didn’t.

“It’s just that my dad had a bad reaction to some new meds.” She sounded almost like she was apologizing for something. “We waited to see a doctor at the clinic for four hours. He barely got in before they closed.” “I understand,” I said, avoiding eye contact with her father. “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be,” she said. “It happens.”

The birds started up again. Their chirps grew louder until it seemed almost unnatural, mechanical. I had to speak over them. “So,” I said, “Rita told me you can bartend with me tomorrow. I can pick you up.” Alicita glided into her father’s side, latching onto his wrist. Alicita looked at him, then at me. “I’ll try to make it, Dallas.” She leaned over like she 83

was moving into kiss my forehead, but she stopped. “Thank you for always being so nice to me. Take care.” The two of them continued on their way.

For my final night of community service, Rita baked a cake. It was chocolate with red frosting. With sprinkles, she had spelled out my name, but the S didn’t fit. It simply read ‘Dalla.’ There was enough for everyone. On the long foldout table, Rita placed plastic forks and paper plates. She then made us line up single file as she passed out the servings. When she finished, she raised a glass of Hawaiian Punch high into the air and said, “For Dallas. You’ve been a good worker, a productive member of society, and may you never spit blood on a police officer ever again.” The other kids clapped and cheered. The guy with the pentagram tattoo even hugged me. He smelled of Lysol. “Good job, man. You turned out to be not half bad.” He patted my back. The others followed with more hugs and congratulatory words. Everyone was there. Everyone that is, but Alicita.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a fiction writer from Denver, Colorado. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, Southwestern American Literature, and The Idaho Review. She was awarded a Hedgebrook Residency for women authoring change, and her short story “Remedies” earned a Notable citation in The Best American Series. She is the 2013/2014 writer-in-residence at Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She received her MFA from the University of Wyoming.


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Once, when I was twelve, I went to the provinces with my grandmother. We took two buses and a tricycle cab into the mountains, to an old convent I’d never heard of. We’re going to see your Tita Agnes. We weren’t allowed to wear skirts above the knee or sleeves past the elbow. Our hair had to be tied up. Ankles had to be covered by socks. Tita Agnes emerged from the front door before we’d even reached it. Hay, it’s been so long! she said. Too many years, my grandmother replied. Tita Agnes was frail and dressed in full uniform even though it was over 100 degrees outside. She was wearing glasses and the lenses fogged up with humidity, but I could also see she was crying. Who is she? I asked my grandmother on the bus. She’s your grandfather’s sister, she explained. I think she has dementia.

I’d never met my grandfather, nor heard of any surviving siblings. Most of his family had died during the war. My grandmother’s lineage was similarly decimated, but hers was more from Typhoid and Malaria. The only family my grandmother ever seemed to speak about was her husband’s, and when she saw them she treated them like they were her own.

When Tita Agnes released my grandmother from her embrace, she looked at me and cried out, as if reflexively, Josefina! She was a good foot shorter than me and when she hugged me, it felt like she was falling— her whole weight pushing against mine, head against my rib cage and fingers interlocked around my back. Hindi ako Josefina, Tita, I said. I’m Yana. She stepped back and wiped the fog from her eyeglasses. You look just like my niece if she were still here. Later that day we heard mass at the convent. We had lunch with the nuns and said the rosary with Tita Agnes. It was typically Catholic and typically Filipino. My grandmother kept her eyes closed throughout mass. She knew the words by heart: the Latin, the Spanish, the Tagalog, the English. Pater Noster. Padre Nuestro. Ama Namin. Our Father. I looked around and everyone had their eyes closed. They knelt, sat, and stood on time and completely in good faith. Pater Noster. Padre Nuestro. 85

Ama Namin. Our Father. Four languages, spoken in unison; bodies moving to the beat of a communal muscle memory and a lifetime of religion. Pater Noster. Padre Nuestro. Maybe it was the mountain air, or the long sleeves in hot weather, or the incense that overwhelmed the room, but suddenly I lost my sight. I stood, among a crowd of shut lids, with open eyes and no vision. My knees began to buck and my head was spinning. I felt a hand on my arm. Josefina, are you okay? Gusto mo magsiesta? An invisible wind blew at my face and I could hear the whirl of a bamboo fan waving. My sight began to return in specks—everything looked like the static on our old TV. I think you should lie down. Tita Agnes guided me to a back room with a cot. The walls were covered in Anglican portraits of a young Jesus. On the mantle was a collection of Mother Marys. She did the sign of the cross, first on me and then on her. Josefina also used to faint in the mountains. I think it was the height. As I slept through mass, my dreams came in abstract fragments. They made no sense, but that happened sometimes, usually when I was sick. In my dreams, I saw children born looking like new versions of their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, or aunts. I saw procreation and reincarnation. Genotypes and phenotypes assembling to some unknown orchestra of recreation. People who once lived became people who will one day live.

In my dream, life was an embryonic reinvention. It was a rebirth of the same people over and over again. I was Josefina, Tita Agnes was my grandfather, my grandmother was her mother. It was like in the movies, when an old person meets the child of a past lover. They say, It was as if he were standing right in front of me. You look so much like him. Then, a beat, and they realize they are looking at a different person. Someone different but the same, a breathing time capsule of a person they once knew. A whole world history in a single face. One room could be a map of everyone who’s ever lived, and everyone who’s yet to come. Our present is our past, and it’s also our future. It’s like a blueprint. When I woke up, my grandmother was in the room talking to Tita Agnes. They were speaking another dialect that I couldn’t understand, but they were holding a bible between them, and before they noticed I woke up I heard them mutter, with eyes closed, Pater Noster. Padre Nuestro.


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Sound Filipino names are a mathematical equation. They are a phonetic puzzle: syllables chosen and shuffled, glued together and cut out like a memory game—can you figure out where the First Name went? The first template of a Filipino name is very simple. For the Baby Boomers, but also for anyone born between 1930 – 2010, the naming process adheres to the following premise:

Biblical First Name + Spanish Middle Names (anywhere from 1 - 5 of these) + Spanish, Chinese, Malay, or—rarely—old Tagalog Last Name For example:

Rebecca Maria Pilar Concepcion de la Cruz or Andrew Manuel Aquino Gokongwei or Marcus Alfonso Salazar Santiago Avelino Ocampo

Nicknames get a little more complicated.

When you hear some nicknames you immediately know a life story. Oldest sons are Kuya, and younger sons are Diko. Oldest daughters are Ate, younger daughters are Baby. If you meet someone named Baby you know she’s been the favorite all her life; she’s worn hand-me-down’s from someone named Ate. She’s the one her mother still treats, as her title suggests, like a child. Someone named Diko is bound to live under another man’s shadow. A Kuya has always set the standard, and so on. Other names connote a history. It’s not uncommon to find a Pinay named Girlie, or a Pinoy named Boy. English words with Filipino faces, a colonization chronicled by one moniker.

But others, indeed most, are nonsensically creative. My mother’s sister, for example, is formally known to the world as Clara Chayo Ramos. To us, she is Lay. If you can grasp it, that’s two-thirds of the first syllable of her first name (Clah), with half of the first syllable of her second (Chahy). Clara + Chayo = Lay


My cousin’s name is Isabel, and she is the eldest daughter. We call her Isa, which in English means One, but is also the first syllable of her name. (Isabel x FirstBorn) – bel = Isa

Miguel is Michael in American, which becomes Mike—which, when translated back to Tagalog, is reborn Moke. (Miguel + The Spanish-American War) x Manila = Moke

Diana Elena Ramos is neither the eldest nor the youngest child, but rather the only one. Since she’s born in the States there’s less history attached. There are no relatives around to toy with the pronunciation. No aunts or uncles or baby cousins to repeat and revise the name until it’s something totally different from how it began. Nicknames are variety: they’re different from the original. This one is simpler, less connected— isolated to only the first name. ((Diana – Asia) – extended family) x America = Yana

Filipino names are a phonetic puzzle, an audible collision of histories, conquest, movement, (dis)order. They are English, Spanish, Latin, Malay, Chinese. They have to be sounded out to even begin to make sense. Diana: Di-yah-nah. Yana. Isabel: Ees-ah-bel. Isa. They are syllables chosen and shuffled, glued together and cut out like a memory game— can you figure out where the First Name went? Can you figure out where the Philippines went?


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Taste Marlboro Reds will always remind me of Tito Manny. His house in the old country was a cloud of smoke. The electric fans stirred an airborne stew of humidity and cigarette exhaust. As a child I associated the white and red cartons with my Tito, but even more I could taste the atmosphere without even trying. It was one of those odors that so fully occupied a space that it became more than a scent; it became tangible. Marlboro Reds was like a flavor.

I had my first cigarette at sixteen. I’d stolen them from his stash, and as soon as the flame hit the tobacco my mouth was filled with memory. Taste buds went off like alarms. Each inhale was like oil and sweat and cellulite. Like cooked fat wrapped in brown skin. Cheap smokes between gray lips. A violent temper and the tallest man in my family. I remember the day my parents told me he was coming to live with us. Just for six months. And the day he applied for the cashier spot at the supermarket. I was a fucking stockbroker in Manila.

Six months became nine months became four years. Visas were renewed and citizenship applied for. Somewhere in there, I hit puberty, and around the same time my mother scolded me, Stop walking around in your towel. Don’t you know better? I don’t smoke Marlboro Reds anymore because they remind me of how I at some point stopped loving him. In the Philippines he had been my favorite uncle, but in New York I could no longer look him in the face.

They bring me back to being fourteen and frantic. Smelling him on my skin. The grease from his hair on my pillow. Going to school unshowered to avoid bathing in the same tub as him. Waking up to find my Tito climbing out of my bed. His mounting frustrations, Putang ina, I didn’t come here to bag groceries! And how the less he could control in his own life, the more he controlled in mine. Since I started, I’ve almost always smoked Camels. Camel Lights are all Marlene. They’re hair that looked like ramen noodles. Golden strands cascading down her, everywhere, down her front and on her back and covering her shoulders. Delicious, saline, curly locks falling all around her like an edible waterfall. One inhale of a Camel is five years ago and 89

the beginning of a friendship that thrived on a mutual understanding that when we were together, nothing else was real.

When we were eighteen we used to climb buildings like trees. We scaled the side of her walk-up by climbing fire escapes, moving closer and closer to the sky with every rusted ladder step. Up there it was all tar and sun. It is that time again: that familiar, insufferable time when the days slip away like raindrops on skin. It’s June, July, or August, and we’re eighteen, nineteen, or twenty. It is always the same place at the same time in a different year. We are there, we’ve been there, and we will be there. The Brooklyn sun pierces through an atmosphere of smog and it coaxes sweat out of our pores with an invisible pressure. 8 AM, 9 AM, 10 AM. Some hour when we can hear everyone else walking on the street, going about their lives. We can watch them from our perch on the roof and play music and tangle our legs together. It doesn’t matter that Marlene’s arms are bruised from her last fight with her dad. Or that my Tito still touches my butt when I walk by. When we’re up there it’s just the two of us, and our memories lay dormant four stories below.

Once we’ve graduated, our conversations always revolve around the ones who come back in the summer: the men who were boys when we knew them. People we grew up with. People who are still growing up. In high school we imagined the future and in college we remember the past. Up there it is all tar and sun, and nothing has changed.

Even now, when I’m taking a break from work, and I’m standing on the street having a smoke break, the taste of the tobacco brings me back. I’m adolescent and hiding in my own house, avoiding him at all costs. Or I’m on the verge of adulthood, escaping with a friend who wants to forget just as much as I do. The smoke tastes like time suspended. It’s like Camel Lights and burning under the sun on the top of a building I’ve climbed before.


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Touch The only time I ever remember someone’s touch inspiring memory is when Alina and I sleep. In bed we curl up like babies. We sleep face-toface, arms draped around one another. Sometimes we knit our knees together so that our legs create an angular geometry. Other best friends sleep spooning, like parentheses or a hug, but we sleep in braids. Intertwined. Connected.

The memory that comes to mind when we sleep is always my mother. It reminds me of childhood. I suspect this is what it reminds Alina of too, or maybe it reminds her of what she wishes being a kid had been like. In any case, when we sleep we start to breathe in tandem. It is a mutual comfort zone, the intimacy of human closeness. I remember being young, and small, and my mother telling me she loved me, Yana, mahal kita, over and over again until I felt safe. We fell asleep in an embrace.


Scent Sometimes I can smell the Philippines. It happens randomly. I could be walking into a store and suddenly the air brings me south of the equator. Or I’ll be on the street and one vent will seem to be a portal to home. It might happen when I’m at school, and for a moment the classroom is Manila. The scent smells like mildew and humidity. It’s a perfume of pollution and smog; heavy and almost tangible; tropical and urban all at the same time. It is all the ugliest smells of the world. It smells like corruption and nuclear testing; like poor government funding for proper waste removal. It’s poverty and the squatter houses near my family’s old neighborhood. Rivers filled with shit and babies bathing and peeing in the same pool of dirty water. But still, when those unexpected moments happen and I walk into a room and it’s got that scent, I remember the ugly but only after I am hit with that immediate first reaction: home.

My family. Avelina, Tita Chit, Tito Manny before he came here The sari sari store down the corner where I used to buy candy as a kid Riding bikes down the street and skinning my knee Eating rice and fish with my hands, off of a giant banana leaf Mango carts and carved piña Being around people I love and speaking three languages in the same sentence The only times I’ve ever been with by family in numbers more than three The Philippines is so many things, but one thing it will always be is warm.

It’s happened with people I’ve loved. Inhales carry the surprise of a boy’s cologne. I’ll be someplace and out of nowhere he’s there: that scent, the ambiguous perfume that I could never pin point as natural or manufactured. Suddenly I’m in class and it’s sophomore year of college. I am nineteen and when we’re close, I freeze. I become petrified, like a fossil, or someone put under a spell. I can’t move, but everything inside me is moving. I’ve never been a detail-oriented person and yet suddenly I notice everything: how he places his hands and feet, how he scrolls down the screen of his laptop when he’s bored. Rolls his eyes when peers say dumb things. Scratches his head. Licks his lips. How he smells. Sometimes a scent will bring me later in time, after everything, when I wake up and it’s been over for a while. Sunshine flooding my room. Sheets that feel soft against my skin, but nothing like the relief of a human body next to mine. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, but I find one of 92

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his shirts stuck between the mattress and the wall and it still, as they say, smells like him. Breathing is instinctive, reflexive, compulsive. We do it without knowing. Air goes in, and out, and in. His shirt is in my hands. I breathe without thinking. And in a third of a moment all the anxiety and regret and resentment is back. It’s silences and tears. Laughter and jealousy. The first time we really talked and he told me about his family in the DR. How we bonded over the funny, familiar traditions of our cultures. He confided in me his worries about his Spanish—It’s so American—and I told him, I can’t speak Tagalog without English. We met in a history class and realize we’ve both read so much of the same literature; trying, grasping, pulling at a narrative that might somehow explain where we come from. It is an unexpected moment: his shirt’s by my bed, or I’m sitting in the library and something shifts in vents. I remember the ugly but only after I am hit with that immediate first reaction. There are only two memories that still show up in the air around me, and there are only two times I’ve ever felt at home.

R.A. Santos is a Filipina-American writer based out of New York City. She currently works in public affairs, with a larger focus on social justice and alternative learning. She hopes to one day attend an MFA program, and to never abandon her passions for writing and community organizing. This is R.A.’s first fiction publication.



Shubha Venugopal Leaves bloom into color and die on the trees outside my window. A cat is rolling in fallen flaky piles. Amber and burgundy, burnt maroon and sienna, fleck the cat’s sides. The cat flips upright before rolling again, its back twitching. Then, a pale soft belly exposed, fur silvered, alight with sun. I press against the window to better see. I haven’t touched a cat in years. I feel again the pull of loneliness, lingering shame, the hunger of longing. This is the way I feel when I see cats.

I never knew what a cat could do until I met my roommate’s pet. Sheena was a girl from my college looking for a place to rent. I needed money, so I let her stay with me. She was a thin girl, with startling green eyes in her narrow, bronzed face. She ate rice cakes and salads, and from the start was polite and friendly. I wished she stayed home more often. Only she rarely did. She stayed at her boyfriend’s most of the time, though he wouldn’t let her actually move in. He liked the illusion of his space. As if to assure him that she didn’t really live there, she left her cat with me. For weeks, months. To thank me for learning to clean the litter, Sheena gave me a poster: Ruth Orkin’s “American Girl in Italy.” She hung it up for me in the living room. A young woman, pale and lovely, shawl slipping off, rushing through streets filled with men, not acknowledging their leers. I’d stare at the men, young and old, at their certainty that the girl would want them, at their arrogance. I felt the woman’s shame as she evaded them; I imagined their hands upon her.

The American girl poster reminded me of a painting I’d seen once in a handicrafts store in Bangalore. The story it depicted was atypical amongst the store’s other art. I’d never seen one like it. It showed Draupadi, in the Mahabharata, being gambled away to a cunning king by one of her five husbands. I remember the tale my mother had often told me: The king, Draupadi’s new possessor, ordered that she be dragged through the royal court by her hair as her helpless husbands silently watched. He commanded that she be stripped of her sari in front of all the spectators who witnessed the corrupt dice game and its results. The beautiful Draupadi begged and pleaded, but no one dared defy the king. Finally, she called out to Lord Krishna who appeared to her in a vision. He cast a spell that transformed her sari into an endless ream of cloth that, as she was disrobed, would unroll forever. 94

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Whenever I heard this story, I shivered at the way Draupadi must have felt as strange men’s hands tugged on her clothing. I imagined Draupadi’s horror when she realized no one watching would help her. I had nightmares about being naked in public. Unlike Draupadi, in my dreams no divinity ever appeared to save me. But for a while, the nightmares eased when my roommate’s cat began falling asleep on my chest. My roommate named her Fifi. The cat didn’t match the name. She was dark, lean, and petite, with sensitive whiskers, intelligent eyes. At first she just watched me, and I watched back. A staring game, in which I’d catch myself slipping into a trance. Then she teased me, willing me to pet her, only to nip my fingers when I did. Finally, she found her place—just beneath my chin, sleeping with her head curled into my skin. I got used to her murmuring warmth. The cat slept there, against my collarbones, or snoozed in my lap as I read a book, until Sheena breezed in for a new batch of clothes. When Fifi heard Sheena’s key in the lock, she leaped off my chest and stood by the door howling, managing to make herself look even thinner, nearly starving, though she ate perfectly well. My roommate fussed over her until it came time to leave. She had to pry Fifi off her chest and give her to me so she could escape. Then the cat sulked, not even chasing the light circles from my watch as they glided over the broken blinds, blank walls, and the American girl poster. Even when Fifi didn’t move, I flashed reflected sun from my watch back and forth over the body of the girl pinned, forever, in the gaze of men, her fear as palpable as their desire.

When I was eleven, I went to India with my parents. We had gone shopping in a suburb of Mumbai, but the heat and the noise soon wore me out, so one of my male cousins offered to take me back to my grandparents’ house on the other side of the city. We rode back on the local train. The compartments were split by gender. My cousin was at a loss. I was too young to travel alone, and didn’t know the language, so I couldn’t ride with the women. I had to ride, standing up, with him in the men’s compartment. I could see the brown smears on the walls, the filth littering the seats and floors, even before I entered. When it came time to board, a throng of sweat-stained men swept me up through the gaping doorway. My cousin grasped my hands and placed them on a grime-slick pole. “Hang on,” he said. As the train lurched, I felt myself squeezed tight. I tried to glimpse the passing 95

scenery, but I could see only thin, button-down shirts exposing tufts of curling black hair, polyester trousers, buckles of leather belts. I tried to move, but found myself wedged. The heat increased as the train swayed and rocked. The hot-body smell nearly made me pass out. A man’s hand touched my hip, then went to my thigh, and then slowly between my legs. It stopped and gripped through my light cotton pants. I didn’t move. I couldn’t tell to whom the hand belonged. No one noticed me beneath their bearded chins. My mouth filled with spit. I couldn’t tell if it was me who was trembling, or if it was the shivering of the train over rough tracks. I couldn’t let go of the pole; I couldn’t lower my hands. Everything went silent and still, except for the hand, which kept circling—moving, like the train itself. The train finally stopped. The light broke, and the hand released me. When the men rushed by, I searched their faces in vain for a sign that one of them had touched me. My cousin pulled on my arm, urging me to hurry and climb down before the train departed. Panting, I clung to the pole and thought of water, hearing its roar in my ears. Sheena slept in our apartment when she was on her period. Her lavender scent filled the rooms and I found long, silky hairs on the floors and counters. I enjoyed hearing the murmur of her on the phone with her boyfriend, the sound of her voice when she said hello in the mornings. The apartment felt less cavernous, as if someone had added furniture while I’d been out. When my roommate slept at our home, Fifi engaged in subterfuge, in a curious kind of cheating. She fell asleep on my roommate’s belly, and then, late at night, she slunk to my bed, licking my face with her sharp tongue. At daybreak, she slid, spirit-like, back to my roommate. Sheena never knew that her cat deserted her every night, preferring to sleep with me. I laughed, felt both elated and betrayed. Shamed by a cat’s whims.

We returned for another visit to India when I was thirteen. My uncle, a Minister of Railways, sent an employee to meet us at the airport so we could get by customs and inspections. The man was tall and pale lemon-colored, with thinning hair and broad shoulders. He wore small spectacles that didn’t obscure his close-set eyes. He bowed a namaste to my mother, shook hands with my father, and gave me a wide smile. I stared at his khaki uniform, at his glittering gold buttons. “Attend to your luggage,” he said to my parents. “I’ll watch your 96

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My mother smiled at him. To me, she said, “Hold on to him tight. There are untrustworthy types lurking about. He’s your uncle’s friend. He’ll guard you, keep you all right.” The man grasped my fingers with his damp, wet hands. He herded me closer to the wall. “Don’t want to get run over by those luggage carts,” he said, tilting his head toward the haphazardly balanced suitcase piles being rolled across the floor. His grip was too hard. At the wall, he slipped behind me and pressed me into his thighs. He crossed his hands over my chest, like a father protecting a child. His fingers wandered over my small young breasts. I didn’t know if I was supposed to escape. No one had told me. When my parents returned, he dropped his hands and stepped to the side. My nails had dug half-moons into the flesh of my palms.

Halfway through our year together, I went with Sheena to a downtown Chicago dance club about an hour from our campus. It was called Sin Temple and its motto, “Release the goddess inside,” blazed across the doorway in neon lights. I wasn’t the dancing type—much too public. Sheena insisted—her boyfriend was “out with the boys.” Waving away my excuses of being tired and having too much homework, she said that we should hang out more together, and wondered why we hadn’t. She told me I was too withdrawn and didn’t get out enough, and asked why she’d never seen me go on dates. I didn’t tell her that I was afraid of men, and that sometimes bile rose in my mouth in their presence. Sheena persuaded me to dress up in her burgundy miniskirt, tight black shirt, and three-inch heels. She painted my face to the point that I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror, and told me I’d meet a guy for sure that night looking the way I did. My skin felt chilled and exposed; when we left, I insisted on wearing my hip-length jacket. Men whistled as we walked past the long waiting line. The bouncer looked hard at my long, black hair, at my bare, brown legs. He told us to proceed past the line. “Check out that bitch,” a girl in a gauzy white dress said. “Who does she think she is?” My heels clicked on the red-glitter, faux marble slabs lining the entrance. It was loud and dark inside, and I hung back until I felt the bouncer’s hand on my back, guiding me further within. Painted silhouettes of large-breasted women in suggestive poses recalling the Kama Sutra decorated the walls. The shadow-women held out their hands and spread their legs, while sweaty young men, sweltering in their leather, leaned against them. A bronze statue of a near-naked woman with thimble-sized nipples stood near the coat closet. I wished I 97

could cover it up. More figurines adorned the hallways. They had pointed breasts large as their heads, tiny waists, and supple thighs. It was hot in the club, but I refused to remove my jacket. I was standing close to Sheena, in line at the bar, when I felt the back of my jacket being lifted, and a pair of hands encircling my waist. I grabbed the fleshy fingers that had interlocked over my belly and yanked them off, making a sound piercing enough that Sheena heard me over the music. I saw her turn around just as I jabbed my elbows into the man behind me. “Hey, sorry” he said, backing away. “Take it easy, honey.” He wasn’t much taller than me and had a plump body and a moon-shaped face that others might have called pleasant. “I didn’t mean . . . seriously, I thought you were someone else. You’re Indian, right? Let me buy you a drink to make up for it?” He lifted up one hand, palm up, in a gesture of friendship. “I’ll meet you outside,” I told Sheena, my body shaking. I waited for her across the street, imagining how that man must have seen me: as an exotic statue come to life.

While growing up in America, I longed to blend in and belong, to not be the only brown face in a crowd. My family, who had settled in Pennsylvania, often traveled through the Midwest and South on road trips to seashores, parks, relative’s homes, and a newly built Hindu temple. During rest stops men stared at us, chewing gum like cows. Local mothers dragged their children away as if we could infect them with foreign germs. When we’d stop to eat in small towns passed during long drives, I’d get served half the ice cream received by other customers, the women behind counters not meeting my eyes. Sometimes, people mistook us for other Indians they had met. Bellboys and waiters pressed their hands together; they said “Namaste” and told us how they just loved Indian movies, as if they expected us to get up and perform. I went to a party with Sheena on the south side of campus—a twenty-minute walk from where we lived at the northernmost border— a few weeks after we went to that club. I’d barely seen her since then and was happy to have her back. Before we left our room, she persuaded me to drink shots of tequila with her. I didn’t drink, and had never tasted tequila, but because she asked, and I was curious, I agreed. We walked down the main campus road through a muggy fog, streetlights illuminating slants of faint rain that dampened our clothes. I could see 98

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only a few feet in front of me before the fog blurred the world into gray. Dizzy and nauseous, I stumbled often. The party was in a house that had been attractive fifty years ago, but now sagged and creaked. The fraternity that lived there had cleared out the living room, put in a large sound system that throbbed with techno music, and dimmed the lights to near darkness. Bodies packed the room, and mud-soaked beer stains streaked across the floors. Sheena went into a kitchen to get a drink from the keg. I pressed myself into a wall at the corner of the dance floor. I felt a hand pull me into the middle of the gyrating forms. A man who looked old enough to be a graduate student was holding my hips and moving them to the music. He smiled when he looked down at me, and his hands squeezed harder. He was tall with full red lips, and skin a few shades lighter than mine. Thick wavy hair rippled onto his collar. He looked over my head to someone behind me and laughed, exposing large white teeth with pointed incisors. His head bent to mine and I felt his wet lips. I was startled into stillness. With his nose inches from mine, he told me I couldn’t kiss, and then he proceeded to show me. His tongue entered my mouth, and I gagged from the taste of warm beer. Still kissing me, he backed down a small hallway into a room a few feet from the dance floor. By now, the tequila’s effect had intensified. He shut the door behind him. The walls in his room were bare. He brushed a pile of clothes off the bed and maneuvered me onto it. With pink-tipped fingers he traced patterns onto my trembling arms. “You should show more of that pretty skin than this,” he told me. He took his time unbuttoning and tugging off my blouse. I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to keep going, or to stop. He said, “I like how you look so dark against me,” and showed me the contrast with the pale underside of his arm. When he examined my body, I held my breath. The way he watched me made me uncomfortable and I tried to wrap my arms around my chest. He leaned in to kiss me, his torso blocking my arms. He kept the low lights on, but he wouldn’t look me in the eyes. I told myself to run out of that room and into the thick fog outside, but my body wouldn’t respond. At least he likes me. If he didn’t like me, would he be pressing his lips to mine? “I want to touch you,” he said. He was stronger than me and my arms buckled when I placed them on his shoulders to push him back. He wrapped his fingers around my wrists, and I went down onto the white sheets. I smelled starch and musk cologne, felt sweat, the hard bed. He told me this was what I wanted. I didn’t say no; I didn’t say anything. I thought: He must be right. I thought: Maybe I should believe him. He broke me as I kept still in the cage of his arms. 99

When he finished, he slept and I crept from his room. What I left behind: my blood on his victory-sheets and trickling down his legs.

I never told my roommate what happened, and I claimed to be sick with the flu for a week. Fifi continued her nighttime charade, coming to me even on the night when Sheena came home crying. Her boyfriend was cheating with a redhead in his biology class. I missed the cat when the boyfriend came back weeks later, kissing away his mistakes, proposing marriage. Sheena took Fifi to his place. After a month, they moved in together, leaving me in alone in the apartment. Sheena came back to gather some things and to pay her share of the remaining lease. The movers would come the next day, she said, to pick up the bigger items. As she drifted through the apartment, I lifted Fifi from her carrier and stroked her whiskers against my cheek. The cat made a sound somewhere between a moan and a purr, and I felt the vibrations travel from her sleek, dark body into mine. When Sheena finished a final survey, she wished me luck and enclosed my fingers in her soft hands. Smiling, she returned Fifi to her carrier and left. I walked through the echoing rooms. The screen door with the tear in the mesh from which hung wisps of spider web, as usual, didn’t quite close. The lowering sun cast my distorted shadow over scratched wood floors dotted with paint chips. The peeling walls and built-in shelves glowed with dust. Mellifluous afternoon light yellowed the apartment to a shade of warm honey. A fur-ball blew like tumbleweed past my feet and settled in the corner. I wanted to stretch out and embrace the floor, to spread myself across it, and let my fingers take root. I thought about Fifi, about how she’d stretch on my lap, feeling safe enough to expose her tender underside. I could still feel the weight of her on my chest.

Shubha Venugopal has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College. Her work has been published in Potomac Review, Post Road Magazine, Storyglossia, Word Riot, and other journals, and in the anthologies, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection and the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories. Her stories have also placed in competitions by The Atlantic Monthly, Glimmer Train, and others. She lives in Los Angeles and is a professor at the California State University Northridge. 100

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You wanted to send us all to the moon in a rocket ship with a one-way ticket. You were hard to the core with your prickly mustache and your tough talk with uncle, your red eyes glaring at me, a lit Benson & Hedges hanging from the side of your mouth.

I’ve been on my way to the moon ever since, my brown corduroys and chapped red lips, with a bowl hair-cut, and my ears at the door: listening, absorbing your hurtful words, labeling a group of people that I didn’t even know I belonged to. There were no labels yet. I was just a mama’s boy in a rocket ship blasting off to a grey planet. A boy too sweet. A boy too sensitive. A boy who liked the kitchen more than fixing old cars. A boy with a crush on boys: Marco and Alex and Byron. Me, blasting off to a planet so cold and desolate, a boneyard in outer space far away from you, far away from real macho men.

“Those stupid baklas!” you said while you greased up your guns—Ruger rifle, Saturday Night Special, Forty Four Magnum—displayed neatly lined in rows. You were ready like your favorite vigilante, Charles Bronson. And with one rev of your Harley, you donned your aviator shades, bit down on your cigarette and rode into South of Market with guns in hand and bell-bottoms ablaze. 102

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Those were the macho tales you told: of cleansing the South of Market of bathhouses and gays in leather chaps holding hands. Of guys necking on the sidewalk. Of pants down to the ankles. Of hairy ass up to the sky. Of “stupid baklas” spreading gay cancer and dykes on bikes with their tits flying free. “Just send them all to the moon. Just machine gun those queers.”

You were so angry at the queer protesters for burning down the City that murdered Harvey Milk. But your Bensons & Hedges are long gone now, replaced by terminal illness. No longer able to grip your pistols. No more impressing the chicks. No more cruising your Chrysler with black tinted windows and silver mag rims. No more walking alone. “Wait, wait.” Only your desperate grip remains, clutching me almost as hard as your stare, fumbling not to fall, grabbing for anything to keep you balanced.

From limp to cane, cane to walker, walker to wheelchair, wheelchair to power chair, power chair to power hospital bed. To foley catheter. To feeding tube. To breathing tube. To being locked in. You banished me far off, that boy, so long ago. But I’ll fly to you in a rocket ship. To catch you if you fall.

Danny Robles is a graduate of University of California, Davis where he holds a bachelor's degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and minors in Chicana/o Studies and African and African American Studies. A native San Franciscan, Danny hopes to be accepted into a good MFA program in Creative Writing.



San Francisco, 1984 Whenever my birthmother is in town, the air around me seems heavier. I know that she is breathing in, breathing out, just a few miles away. The droplets of fog that surround my windows fill me with a strange longing. I come home from my job as a pediatric physical therapist, where I bounce stiff-legged toddlers on top of enormous bright balls. All day I have been thinking of her, of the repeated grooves that my ballpoint pen dug into the square that marked her arrival on my calendar. It was last night that her plane touched down. She is here.

I wait for her to call. Unlike my parents, she does not call from the pay phone at the airport. She takes her time. She lands (what airline? What time? What flight number? She never says) and retrieves her baggage from the revolving carousel by herself. I imagine that it is Northwest, because Northwest is always the airline that comes from Minnesota. Northwest is marked by the twisting red neon tubes flashing in the walkway between the terminal and the parking garage. But she does not go to the parking garage, because there is no car waiting for her. Instead she takes a taxi, north to the city, and she steps out in front of an unknown hotel.

Would it hurt her to tell me? Which hotel? When I asked her on the phone, she hesitated, and then cheerfully diverted the topic. Do you think I’ll need a raincoat? she asked. And then I was too embarrassed and ashamed to ask a second time. Maybe she thinks I’ll stalk her. That I will curl myself up in fetal position outside her door. That I’ll tell the front desk staff that she is my mother. That I’ll make a scene or want to see her more than she wants to see me. That she won’t be in control. I wait until it is dark, the first day she is in town. I don’t eat dinner in case she wants to eat dinner together. I pace the rooms of the apartment and chew on crackers and grapes. I consider drinking a glass of wine but I want to be absolutely and completely alert when she calls. Not sleepy or tipsy or silly.

The phone rings. It is a stupid girl that my roommate Tom has been seeing. He takes the phone into his room and I can hear him laughing through the door. The curled cord stretches underneath the door, poking out the horizontal gap of light. I sit in the dark in the hallway and seethe. Finally, after half an hour, I tap on his door. He opens it, his face pink and happy. “What?” “Um. I’m expecting a phone call. An important one.”

He scowls and says, “I won’t be long.” He shuts the door and I pace the kitchen, 104

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the hallway, and living room. Finally he shoves the phone through his doorway and shuts the door. I stare at it. I cradle it in my arms and bring it into the living room. I put a record on the stereo and then, ridiculously, I turn the volume so low that it is inaudible. In case the phone rings. I hold it on my lap like a cat. Close to eleven p.m., my roommate comes out and looks at me. “Some call,” he says. I try to respond in a sarcastic tone, but my lips start to lose control and to my horror, a tear leaks out of my eye. I pretend I don’t notice. In spite of being a lady’s man, my roommate Tom is not a bad guy. He sits down next to me. “Who were you waiting for?” he says. “I’ll beat him up.”

“My mother,” I say. “She is in town. She got here today. I thought…” and then I can’t say anymore. A few more tears slide down my face and hang underneath my chin. He is confused. “Your mother?” “You know. My. My. Birth mother.”

I’ve told him the story before, over a bottle of wine. He soaked it up like a soap opera, just like everyone does. He knew she was coming, but he forgot.

He gets up and goes into the kitchen. “Come on.” I follow him. “I’ll make you some Malt O Meal.” He boils a pot of water and takes down a yellow box from the cupboard, shakes in a cupful of grains that look like beach sand. Tom’s father works for the company that makes Malt O Meal. He is fiercely loyal and denigrates Cream of Wheat and Quaker oatmeal at every opportunity. “Malt O Meal is the BEST,” he says. He spoons some lumpy brown sugar and a handful of walnut and raisins over the steaming mush. Then he trickles some cream over it and gives me a spoon. “Here,” he says. “You’ll feel better.” He hands me a paper towel for a napkin and sits there expectantly. I take a hesitant bite. The soft warm cereal, the sweet raisins, and cream embrace the inside of my mouth. I eat until I’ve scraped the bottom of the blue bowl, my eyes stinging with gratitude. When there isn’t anything, left he washes the bowl, gives me a hug, and we go to our separate rooms. He takes the phone with him to call the girl back. I sleep a restless sleep, dreaming that she will never call, dreaming that I have to follow a concrete maze to her hotel and that I get lost. Dangerous people chase me down. I keep falling down. When I wake up, I am crawling on my hands and knees, whimpering. In the morning my eyes are swollen, and I look as if I’d been drinking all night. I think about calling in sick for work. I shower and dress in my work clothes, one slow piece at a time. Just as I am about to descend the stairs, the phone rings. I lunge for it.

There is her voice. “Susannnn?” It is bright like sunshine. My heart speeds up in my chest, and I force myself to be casual. “Hey! Hello. When did you get in?” 105

“Oh, sometime yesterday. I’m not sure.” She is so professionally vague. “I would have called last night but... We had a business dinner and I got in late. I didn’t want to bother you.” A blue flare of anger rises in my chest. I was waiting all night. You could have called any time. I bite my tongue. “So…tonight? Or this afternoon? Do you have any time?”

She says that she will take a taxi to my house at five o’clock. She doesn’t want to “bother” me with driving all the way downtown. I tell her it’s no bother. She insists. I give in. When I get home from work that evening, she is sitting on my front stoop.

She has brought me presents: a little box of chocolates. A bouquet of tulips wrapped in tissue paper. Tulips are her favorite, for when she was a girl growing up in a Dutch tourist town in the Midwest. A t-shirt printed with the logo for Powdermilk Biscuits. She tells me this is the sponsor for A Prairie Home Companion, a radio show that she really likes. She met the host, Garrison Keillor, in an elevator, she says, and he had the most beautifully rumbly voice in the world. “He’s not much to look at though,” she said.

I love that she brought me a present. That she thought of me. It’s way too big, but I put it on over my shorts, fingering the hem. I’m never going to take it off. She follows me up the carpeted stairs to my third floor flat and takes a picture of me sitting near the window, wearing my new shirt. Tom, who is also from Minnesota comes in and exclaims over it. “Powdermilk Biscuits! I love that show!” We drive over to Japantown in my car and have a dinner of thick white udon noodles floating in a salty broth. She closes her eyes and lets the steam drift up into her face. “This is just like I remember from when I was little,” she says. She grew up near Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood, before her family was sent to an internment camp and later transplanted to the Midwest. We walk through the street malls, peer into the shops. I can feel her relax next to me, her pleasure in browsing through Soko hardware. “I love that little bamboo tea scoop,” she sighs, and I say to myself, remember this. Buy it for her for Christmas. We walk and talk. She is like a girlfriend. She squeals when she sees something that delights her, a wall of miniature sushi stickers, a sidewalk stand that sells triangular onigiri rice balls. I want to slip my hand through the crook of her arm. I want to skip with her on the sidewalk. But instead I just allow myself to stare at her, at her stylish but casual jacket, her perfect haircut, her necklace, her pretty green leather flats the color of tart apples. When it is time for her to back to her hotel, I plead with her to let me drive her 106

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back. “Oh no,” she says. Her voice is light as the breeze. “I’ve already made friends with my taxi driver. He’ll be here at exactly ten.” And as if she had snapped her magic fingers inside her pocket, the yellow car pulls up right outside my house. “Maybe we can get together again tomorrow,” I say hopefully. “I’ll give you a call after my meetings are over,” she says, and slips into the back seat. She pulls the door shut and waves gaily through the window. The taxi chugs away, up the hill. The next morning I am preoccupied. I take too long in the shower. I try on my Powdermilk Biscuits shirt, consider wearing it to work. I don’t have time to make a real breakfast. I rush down to the corner store and buy a pint of orange juice and a sweet roll to eat in the car. I don’t know if I can get to work in time.

I find my car parked around the corner, and force it awake, the cold engine trembling. I wait to cross the sea of traffic streaming down Upper Market street. Two lanes zipping past in either direction. I unscrew the top to the orange juice and take a quick gulp. There’s a guy on Market waiting to turn in my direction. He sees me and gestures with his palm, come on. GO. I nod a thanks and hit the accelerator. The impact is deafening, metal and glass exploding. The passenger door implodes and nicks me in the right elbow. There is orange juice everywhere – splattered on the windshield, soaking into my pants. The car ticks and hums, smoke rising from the crumpled hood like a cigarette, a tiny column going up. I don’t know what to do. What happened. It was another car, barreling down the hill. He leaps out of his car yelling. “What’s the matter with you? Didn’t you see?”

No. I didn’t see. To be honest, I didn’t even look. I had crossed on the advice of that other guy, the guy who had waved his hand like that, who had said it’s okay, just go, just go. And so I went. Without looking. It’s totaled. It’s completely and absolutely totaled. The wheels hanging off like a loose tooth from one little membrane. Pools of liquid, bright neon yellow, puddling on the street. I sit on the curb and hold my head in my hands.

The police come. I give them my papers. I write down my insurance information for the other guy and he disappears, muttering. The cop asks me where I live and I just wave up the hill. Up there. Just a few blocks. A tow truck comes. “Where do you want me to take it? It’s useless, really. Just scrap from now on. Might as well say goodbye.” I give him my address and they drag my car, my little tan and white baby, back to my house. They park it in front of my building. I sit on the front stoop and stare at it, grief stricken. This is the car my father bought from me when I was a college junior in Ithaca, living far off campus on Lake Taughannock. I was so proud of this little car, my used Toyota Celica. I drove it cross country with a sign taped in the back window: Go West, 107

Young Woman. It had sheltered me in dozens of campgrounds. I loved this car like it was my child. I call my work. I tell them I’m not coming in. I sit in the hallway, numb. It’s starting to get dark when the phone rings. It’s her.

“Susan?” My voice feels hollow. “I was…there was…an accident…my car…” and my throat closes up. “I’ll be right there.” It seems as though she appears in five minutes, the same yellow taxi like an apparition. She’s at my door with a brown paper sack. Fruit, soup, crackers, chocolate. How did she do this so quickly? She bustles around my kitchen as if she owns it and then she brings me soup on a tray, with a blue cloth napkin. Where did she find a tray? I didn’t even know we owned one.

I eat my soup sitting on the sofa like a little girl, cradling the bowl under my chin. When I’m finished, she gently places the tray on the coffee table. “I’m sorry this wasn’t much fun,” I say. “I wanted to take you somewhere nice, like the beach.” I gaze through the window down at my crumpled car. “My Daddy gave me that,” I whisper. I am crazily filled with grief for something that I don’t even understand.

She moves closer to me on the sofa. She wraps her arms around me, a little gingerly at first, and smoothes my hair. “It’s okay,” she says, and her voice is soft as cotton. “You’re not hurt. It’s so good you weren’t hurt.” I lean my cheek into her shoulder, and it softens. She smells good and clean and like a mother. The tears roll down my face and I let myself sob. She rocks me back and forth, back and forth. She strokes my cheek and pats my hair. “It’s all right,” she says, over and over. I never want the night to end. I think if I could have had this before, I would have driven myself into oncoming traffic years and years ago.

Susan Ito co-edited the literary anthology A Ghost At Heart's Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. She has published her work in journals and anthologies including Growing Up Asian American, Two Worlds Walking, Hip Mama, Literary Mama, the Bellevue Literary Review, Choice, Making More Waves, and others. She writes and teaches at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. She is currently working on her memoir, The Ice Cream Gene.


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Photograph: Eastern Promises by Jyoti Omi Chowdhury

In my child’s eye, I see my grandfather as a young man walking. Walking from Jining to Beiping then on to Nanjing. Early morning mist hanging low on the fields. Rucksack slung over his shoulder. His mother’s steamed buns and dumplings packed safely away. Long legs, slim frame, only a scarf to protect him from the Inner Mongolian cold. 1931. I know that is improbable, that the distance must be too far to walk. He must have taken a train. Or hopped a truck at some point. But when I examine the old train maps, it does not look like the train even reached that far in 1931. I wonder how common were passing trucks in those days. How long would it take to travel such a distance? Today it is twelve hours by train. Overnight in a hard sleeper. I do not even know the questions to ask.

All I know is that as the oldest son of the second wife, his future had been laid out for him. A small plot of land. The family home. Farming. Hard farming. Educated in the classics, Confucius and Mencius, he had just graduated from teacher’s high school, but he did not want to teach, he did not want to farm. At 18, who can imagine a lifetime of farming stretching out before him? So he set off to join the army.


And he walked. 2

He was sitting in the army cafeteria eating lunch with his buddies one day when Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek walked in and pointed at a group of them sitting together and said, “I need some volunteers for the Air Force. You guys there look good. Come with me.” Suddenly, from the Officers’ Academy, ninth class, he went to the Air Force. Fifth class, 1936.

He only ever told funny stories about the Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the Chinese Civil War. The broader strokes I had to learn from history books written in English and from white male professors. 1931 Manchurian Incident. 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident. 1941 Pearl Harbor. 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 1949 Liberation/Defeat. Communists/Taiwan. He told me about the time his plane was shot down by the Japanese and he had to parachute out of his burning plane. Then he looked down and he realized that he was about to parachute into a lake. He did not know how to swim.

Another time, it was a warm sunny day and he got into his plane very relaxed in his shirtsleeves. As he casually practiced his manoeuvers, he started to turn his plane upside down. With no cover, no roof, he suddenly realized that he had forgotten to put on his seatbelt when he started to fall out of his own plane.

When telling us his war stories, he always acted out how he flew his fighter plane, two hands on the yoke, eyes steady, looking back over his shoulder as a squadron of Japanese planes suddenly appeared all around him, his mouth open screaming as he turned hard then dived down, all of our bodies shuddering along with the plane. Then he would show us the bullet that was taken out of his side, and let us grandkids put our hands in his scar. 3

August 29, 1938

Everyone knows about my grandmother’s great love of sweets. Hong dou, chocolate, cream puffs, anything sweet. So no surprise that she spent a lot of time in the dentist’s office.

His teeth had been injured while parachuting out of a burning plane, so he took three weeks off to get some dental work done in Chengdu. In the waiting room of 110

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the dentist’s office, he saw a beautiful girl in a qipao, only 15 years old, round face, pouty lips, two schoolgirl braids, quietly reading a book. Too shy to ask her directly, his friend asked to see the book she was reading, and when they returned the book to her, a love letter hid in its pages.

When I ask my mother what happens next, she just laughs, “They spent a lot of time at the dentist’s office. Everything happened there.” Next to the dentist’s office was Qingrendao, Lover’s Lane, where they walked in the shade of the trees after their appointments and talked about the books they read. My aunties call it the Dental Romance. When her mother, my great-grandmother, learned that they wanted to be married, she agreed at first, but then she changed her mind. So many in the Air Force died when their planes were shot down, no way to survive a crash. She did not want her third daughter to be a young widow. She moved the entire family (nine children) to another city so that he would not be able to find her. But he was persistent. He pursued her to the other city.

As the incredibly romantic movie version plays out in my imagination—him finding an empty house, running through deserted alleyways, frantically asking all the neighbors, following a trail of faltering clues, shouting her name into the distance—I ask my mother, “However did he find them?” My mother laughs, “She told him where to find them!” 4

More family stories.

One day he did not fly because he had a cold. All the planes that went up that day were shot down. Not one of his buddies came back. He lived because he had a cold.

He had the most purple hearts of anyone in the Nationalist Air Force simply because he lived.

Whenever he heard that friends were struggling, he hid whatever money he had on him under his teacup, under his plate, for them to find later, after he had gone. When I write an article about Connie Chung years later, he tells me that he trained in Texas. Connie Chung’s father was their translator and liason. I know Chinese families. I am sure he was invited to their home for a meal. I know how he was with all us grandkids. I am sure that he bounced baby Connie—the youngest of ten children and the only Chung child born in America—on his knee. I tell Connie Chung this story. His records tell me that he was in Calcutta at the end of World War II. In August 111

1945, he traveled by ship with 56 students from Kunming to Calcutta to America. Their ship passed Sri Lanka, crossed the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, landing in New York. They took a train to Montgomery, Alabama—in 1945!—and then to San Antonio, Texas, and later to Phoenix, Arizona. They spent a year training with the American military, as allies. I wish I had known to ask him about that train ride through the American South in 1945. 5

At the end of the Chinese Civil War, he flew most of my grandmother’s large family out of China into Taiwan. But he almost did not make it out himself. That last night in China, he had to wait for an underground informant, who was late, very late, and badly wounded. He waited in the dark that night, wondering if he should just leave, but knowing that if he did, it would mean death for the fellow he left behind. They made it to the airfield with ten minutes to spare. He flew the last plane out of China in 1949.

After the family moved to Taiwan, he continued to move up the ranks and became a Major General and a Vice-Chancellor of the Air Force Academy, forty medals across his chest. By then, his six daughters were vivacious teenage girls and young women, full of chaos and commotion. I grew up on stories about boys in love tying their rivals to the tree in front of their house, as well as stories of him chasing down boys in the middle of the night with his gun, in full uniform, medals flying.

After his daughters started going to America for graduate school, he moved to Canada and opened a small lunch café, serving sandwiches and dumplings, to set up his only son for a certain future, a future his son cannot imagine living.

I am the first in the family to take the train back to his old home in Inner Mongolia since 1949. I am the same age he was when he left, but I am young and dumb and more concerned with flirting with the cute boys from Singapore that I meet on the train. I visit his old home in the country, where several families now live. I take a picture of the well, which he recognizes. I stare at an ancient woman’s tiny bound feet, but he does not remember who she is. I sleep on a huge kang, the heat from the cookstove routed underneath. We make dumplings together at each relative’s house. Relatives laugh at my poor dumpling folding technique and how I say “please” and “thank you” too much. So many relatives, though, all hugging and touching and crying over me. Lots of whispered gossip I only partly understand through their accents. At one point, I cannot take it anymore and grab a bicycle to escape for an hour. My grandfather’s younger 112

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brother runs down the lane after me, crying. I find my way to a local museum in Huhehot where I happen to run into the cute boys from Singapore, and I pour out my stories in a torrent of English until I am empty, quiet. Worried about how the government might use him for propaganda, it is not until he is 80 years old that he dares to go back himself. 6

At his funeral, one of his military friends spoke about how he was always able to find a steamed bun or two as he walked. People enjoyed his friendly charm, were happy to share what they had with him. He hid these in his pockets until he ran into another northerner, at which point he would slip the precious treasure into the other’s appreciative hands. Everyone so far from home.

I remember how he always had to have at least one meal a day that was wheat— steamed buns, noodles, bing, dumplings—or else he did not feel full. Today, two continents and three lifetimes away, I make steamed taro buns for my children for breakfast, noodle soup for lunch, dumplings for dinner. Rice is okay, but we are northerners, we have to have breads and noodles, mian shi. I tell them stories of their great grandfather, the adventurer, the war hero, the martial artist, the calligrapher, the one who told me about the great Monkey King and who taught me how to handle a sword. A handsome young man walks into my house and shakes off the dust of his war zones, the dirt of his refugee camps. His wars are fought with computers, statistical modeling, satellite phones, food and medicine. He has seen terrible things, but he only tells me the funny stories. The rest I glean from the news. He puts away his guns but is fascinated by the swords he finds in every room of my house. Katana. Jian. Changdao. Dadao. Saber. Broadsword. Spears. I show him my grandfather’s sword, take it out from the embroidered box, the ornate scabbard heavy in my hand. “It’s like a light saber.” “Oh, we have those, too.”

Unlike some of his (sissier) friends, I do not worry about him. I do not ask where he is headed. I do not ask when he will return. I know he can handle himself, that this is the story he must write. I sense a moment of vulnerability behind his hubris, and I am so surprised that I wrap my arms around it, want to create a space of lightness for him to simply be. But the phone rings and the walls go up and he is gone. As he leaves me once again, I see him in my mind’s eye walking away in the distance. Fog heavy on the trees by the airport, on the cities in which he works. Long legs, slim frame, only a scarf to protect him from the cold. Together we walk.


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawai‘i. She has worked in philosophy, anthropology, international development, nonprofits, small business start-ups, and ethnic new media. She is a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog, Chicago is the World, Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent.com, and HuffPost Live. She has published two chapbooks of prose poetry, Imaginary Affairs—Postcards from an Imagined Life andWhere the Lava Meets the Sea—Asian Pacific American Postcards from Hawai‘i. Check out franceskaihwawang.com.

Jyoti Omi Chowdhury was born in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, where his formative years were spent daydreaming about women and soccer, under the cusp of a military dictatorship. He moved to the wilderness of the American prairies and western Canada for his university education, and eventually wound his way to Harvard, where he began to research and write on genocide, gender equity, war theory, and liberalism. He has had solo shows in Boston, Berlin, and Ann Arbor; and his work has been featured in Light and Composition Magazine, Blur Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Vogue Italia, and in galleries in Chicago, Prague, Munich and Abu Dhabi. See more of his work at facebook.com/photographyomi or omigraphy.com.


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R.A. Villanueva is the author of Reliquaria, winner of the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He is also the winner of the 2013 Ninth Letter Literary Award for poetry. A founding editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, he lives in Brooklyn. April Naoko Heck was born in Tokyo and relocated with her family to the U.S. when she was seven. Her first collection of poems, A Nuclear Family, is due from UpSet Press in Fall 2013. A Kundiman fellow, April works for the NYU Creative Writing Program and lives in Brooklyn.

Minh Pham was born in Saigon, Vietnam and became a Riverside, CA native at age eight. He received his M.F.A. from UC Riverside. His poetry has been published in Yes, Poetry; Diverse Voices Quarterly; Mascara Literary Review; and others.

Chris Santiago’s poems and book reviews have appeared in or are forthcoming from FIELD, Pleiades, The Asian American Literary Review, Canteen, Postcolonial Text, Lantern Review, and elsewhere. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets, and has been a finalist for both the Stony Brook Short Fiction Contest and the Kundiman Poetry Prize. He teaches literature & writing at the University of Southern California, where he is a doctoral candidate and an ACENikaido Fellow. He lives in Pasadena with his wife and two sons. Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the associate editor of Lantern Review. Her poems have recently appeared in Greensboro Review, Cutbank, Best New Poets, DIAGRAM, Asian American Literary Review, and others. She lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Michelle Chan Brown’s Double Agent was the winner of the 2012 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Cimarron Review, Linebreak, The Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Sycamore Review, Witness and others. She lives in DC, where she teaches, writes and edits Drunken Boat. 115


David Mura will publish his fourth poetry collection, The Last Incantations, with Northwestern University Press in March, 2014. Mura’s other poetry books are Angels for the Burning, The Colors of Desire (Carl Sandburg Literary Award), and After We Lost Our Way (a National Poetry Series Contest winner). He has also published two memoirs, Turning Japanese (an NY Times Notable Book) and Where the Body Meets Memory, and a novel, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire. His book of poetry criticism is Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto & Mr. Moto: Poetry & Identity. He teaches at the Stonecoast MFA Program and the VONA Writers' Conference. FEATURE ARTIST

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann received her BA from Brown University and MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is the recipient of a Fulbright grant to Taiwan, the AIR Gallery Fellowship program in Brooklyn, NY, and the So-Hamiltonian Fellowship in Washington, DC. She has attended residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Blue Sky Dayton, Vermont Studio Center, Salzburg Kunstlerhauss, Triangle Workshop, Anderson Ranch Art Center, Bemis Center for the Arts, and Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Some of the venues where Mann has shown her work include the Walters Art Museum, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Rawls Museum, the US consulate in Dubai, UAE, and the US embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon. Mann is currently an instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art FICTION

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a fiction writer from Denver, Colorado. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, Southwestern American Literature, and The Idaho Review. She was awarded a Hedgebrook Residency for women authoring change, and her short story “Remedies” earned a Notable citation in The Best American Series. She is the 2013/2014 writer-in-residence at Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She received her MFA from the University of Wyoming. 116

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R.A. Santos is a Filipina-American writer based out of New York City. She currently works in public affairs, with a larger focus on social justice and alternative learning. She hopes to one day attend an MFA program, and to never abandon her passions for writing and community organizing. This is R.A.’s first fiction publication.

Shubha Venugopal has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College. Her work has been published in Potomac Review, Post Road Magazine, Storyglossia, Word Riot, and other journals, and in the anthologies, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection and the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories. Her stories have also placed in competitions by The Atlantic Monthly, Glimmer Train, and others. She lives in Los Angeles and is a professor at the California State University Northridge. NONFICTION

Danny Robles is a graduate of University of California, Davis where he holds a bachelor's degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and minors in Chicana/o Studies and African and African American Studies. A native San Franciscan, Danny hopes to be accepted into a good MFA program in Creative Writing.

Susan Ito co-edited the literary anthology A Ghost At Heart's Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. She has published her work in journals and anthologies including Growing Up Asian American, Two Worlds Walking, Hip Mama, Literary Mama, the Bellevue Literary Review, Choice, Making More Waves, and others. She writes and teaches at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. She is currently working on her memoir, The Ice Cream Gene. Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawai‘i. She has worked in philosophy, anthropology, international development, nonprofits, small business start-ups, and ethnic new media. She is a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog, Chicago is the World, Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent.com, and HuffPost Live. She has published two chapbooks of prose poetry, Imaginary Affairs—Postcards from an Imagined Life andWhere the Lava Meets the Sea—Asian Pacific American Postcards from Hawai‘i. Check out franceskaihwawang.com. 117


Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann received her BA from Brown University and MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is the recipient of a Fulbright grant to Taiwan, the AIR Gallery Fellowship program in Brooklyn, NY, and the So-Hamiltonian Fellowship in Washington, DC. She has attended residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Blue Sky Dayton, Vermont Studio Center, Salzburg Kunstlerhauss, Triangle Workshop, Anderson Ranch Art Center, Bemis Center for the Arts, and Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Some of the venues where Mann has shown her work include the Walters Art Museum, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Rawls Museum, the US consulate in Dubai, UAE, and the US embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon. Mann is currently an instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art. APIA COMMENTARY

David Mura will publish his fourth poetry collection, The Last Incantations, with Northwestern University Press in March, 2014. Mura’s other poetry books are Angels for the Burning, The Colors of Desire (Carl Sandburg Literary Award), and After We Lost Our Way (a National Poetry Series Contest winner). He has also published two memoirs, Turning Japanese (an NY Times Notable Book) and Where the Body Meets Memory, and a novel, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire. His book of poetry criticism is Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto & Mr. Moto: Poetry & Identity. He teaches at the Stonecoast MFA Program and the VONA Writers' Conference.


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Managing Editor, Sunny Woan

Sunny Woan likes to dote on cats. She has a difficult time maintaining thermal homeostasis. Her creative works have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Blue Earth Review, Houston Literary Review, and SoMa Literary Review, among others; and legal research in Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice Law; Temple Journal of Science, Technology and Environmental Law, Cal. Western Law Review, Santa Clara Law Review and have been anthologized in casebooks. By day, Sunny works as general counsel for a global investments firm. By night (and by way of weekends and holidays), she is a fashion designer and has launched her own label, Taryn Zhang, a line of briefcases and handbags for working women. Fiction Editor, Christine Lee Zilka

Christine Lee Zilka has appeared or is forthcoming in journals and anthologies such as ZYZZYVA, Verbsap, Yomimono, and Men Undressed: Women Authors Write About Male Sexual Experience. An adjunct instructor at a local college, she received an Ardella Mills Fiction Prize from Mills College in 2005, placed as a finalist in Poets and Writers Magazine’s Writers Exchange Contest in 2007, and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open in 2009. Christine earned her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. In addition to writing short stories, she has a novel in progress and writes at the Writers Room in New York City. Poetry Editor, 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. 119

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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The editorial board reviews submissions on a rolling basis. Thus, we accept submissions by electronic mail year-round. Please do not send previously published work. We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you notify the respective editor immediately when your submission has been accepted elsewhere. Submit online with the submishmash™ submissions manager:

http://kartikareview.submishmash.com/Submit Fiction | Attn: 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 5,000 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 selfdetermined life missions and never is it actually wielded in the offensive against others. We took on this namesake because the kartika best represents this journal’s vision.


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


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ISSUE 16 | FALL 2013



ISSUE 16 | FALL 2013


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