A Literary Journal with Chinese Characteristics
Unsolicited manuscripts are welcomed throughout the year. Terracotta Typewriter seeks submissions of literary works with a connection to China. The definition of “connection to China” can be stretched as much as an author sees fit. For example, expatriate writers living in China or who have lived in China, Chinese writers writing in English, translators of Chinese writing, works that are set in China, manuscripts covered in Chinese food (General Tso’s chicken doesn’t count), or anything else a creative mind can imagine as a connection to China. © 2011 by Terracotta Typewriter. All rights reserved. Cover art by Matthew Lubin © 2011 Visit our Web site at http://www.tctype.com. This literary journal is free for distribution. NOT FOR RESALE.
Terracotta Typewriter A Cultural Revolution of Literature
In This Issue From the Editor
Barbie’s Dream House 7
Reflections on West Lake Drum Tower
Sichuan Earthquake Ting Bu Dong
The Monkey Orchestra 19 三Ab外4
Kevin Wu Miodrag Kojadinović
From the Editor Dear Readers and Writers, I hope everyone had a joyous holiday and wonderful end to 2010. I expect great things in 2011. Itâ€™s for the best that the calendar has changed. As this publication is a one-man show, there are difficulties in getting each issue online in the quarterly timeframe. Sometimes the publication schedule gets skewed (and it certainly did this time around). Unfortunately, I skipped the Fall issue (although the summer issue did arrive late in September). I look forward to getting back on track this year. I appreciate all the letters and blog posts in support of Terracotta Typewriter. Contributors and readers keep this journal alive. Keep writing!
Matthew Lubin Editor & Publisher firstname.lastname@example.org
Chongqing 8/29/2010 a mouth of leaves broken open piles of stone, asphalt dust â€“ out of the cars, the trees, a mouth of leaves. the windows and every clothesline, like eyelids hanging, covering the cigarette alleys.
Calligraphic Lives I My shoes, wet from yesterday’s rain, squelch in reluctance. The teenager trips down the stairs, black hair, black Man U shirt, black shorts… Woohooh, he says, let’s go dudelums! He thinks of Shanghai as one big adventure. I’m not so sure. I miss the writers gathered at the Mezrab framed by gentle clanks of the trams of Amsterdam eating pillows of Iranian bread, drinking black tea, arguing into the night. Here, it’s the smell that overpowers, of food broiling and boiling, warm steamy smoke of comfort stews with preserved vegetables, even in the French Concession, trying to breathe in an old history, there’s only this, car fumes and fog. II In an alleyway, a man grabs his girlfriend’s shoulder, spinning her around as she claws at him, 4
he flings her on to the pavement. She lies there, not bleeding, taking short choked breaths of air. No one stops. When the man returns, he tries to jerk her to her feet; she hits his groin with her stiletto. I am haunted in the inner crevices of this reel which refuses deletion. Random violence in too-shared spaces, jostling through life in a teeming crowd...I know this too well. III Every morning the river, choked by a lush water hyacinth carpet of green, is pierced by the fishermen who make themselves small within the narrow barricade, squatting for hours on haunches, fishing in silence. A river, food, friends and time. We want to glamorize the lives beyond our gated communities, to feel their bend in the river as our lost opportunity... which it, clearly, is not. IV In the typhoon, the trees blur. Framed in the pagoda window the wind whips picturesque rain sheets down in elemental violence, turning the world an emerald green 5
On ancient waterways float carved wooden bridges which criss-cross a feng-shui pathway to deflect evil spirits; These have borne lovers and poets, now a ghostly voice, the high trill of a girl, hangs in the air like a song. V The newspaper headlines have too much death. The guilty in the melamine-milk-scandal, Executed. A party official taking bribes, Executed. Muslim rebels fighting in Urumqi, Executed. Thereâ€™s talk of that drunk driver being in the gallows soon. The heart stops so easily here. Even blood, spilt on white porcelain, starts looking like calligraphy.
Barbie’s Dream House
here was the first house I grew up in and then there was the first house I owned. The house I grew up in was in Danville, a suburb near San Francisco. This house was large, with a master bedroom, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a two-car garage, a large kitchen, a spacious dining and living room, and a family room. But every nook and cranny of practically every room was filled with crap. My parents were in their early 30s when they and their three children moved into this house in the late 1970s. Anyone with an interest in the American Dream and a down payment could purchase a new home. Unfortunately, my parents were also hounded by a personal nightmare of scarcity and waste. When my mother’s family departed China in the late 1940s, they locked their home in Beijing with all its belongings, expecting to return. My grandfather had accepted a temporary teaching post in Taiwan and brought his wife and five daughters with him to Taipei. When the Communist Party shortly took control of China, they were never able to return home to reclaim their possessions. During the chaos that followed, Mao’s Little Red Guards looted the homes of the wealthier classes. The things that made the old class bad were the things they owned that signaled prosperity, education, leisure, and class. Then came the years of famine when millions died under Mao’s economic reforms. In the United States, my parents settled in a gated community. Our refrigerator was well stocked with milk, orange 7
juice, ice cream, frozen meals, yogurt, eggs, and bacon. We kids drank milk straight from the carton and frequently ordered Domino’s pizza. As my parents gradually acquired a disposable income during the flush Regan and Clinton years, they became frenetic consumers of disposable crap. My parents had built a more than respectable amount of wealth by making keen investments. Yet they became gullible, docile consumers when confronted by ordinary household sales. Slashed prices meant saving money, in a roundabout way. They got hooked by novel new stuff, but refused to relinquish anything old. In our kitchen, we had bread makers, toasters, espresso makers, at least a dozen kettles, and complete sets of dinnerware. I’d open a drawer to find a cheese grater. Amidst the metallic jungle of utensils and ensuing glare, I’d shut it quickly because I hadn’t expected a deep metal dig. My mother’s closet was crammed with fashionable clothing from each decade, boxes of shoes, and designer purses, still wrapped in their original tissue. Our living room eventually acquired a second piano along with extra chairs and tables. Walking around our house became a hazard. You could trip and fall over all the stuff piled in unexpected places. My parents even kept magazines, including People’s from the 1980s not because of any value but because they could not bear to part with anything. The consequence of such consumption was that our house, as large as it was for a family of five, was cramped. But I could escape all of this in my bedroom, which I kept clean and orderly. Books were shelved, clothing was folded and organized, pens and pencils were never scrambled together in a drawer but separated by color and function, and I always made my bed. The one novelty in my room 8
was my Barbie dream house, the first house I owned. I was quite excited about this house when it came in a box. My mother helped assembled the house, but I decorated it. Or rather, I managed it for Barbie. It was two stories with a balcony, double lattice doors, and flower boxes beneath the windows. Barbie’ s house was all white with a yellowish orange roof, window shutters, and trimming. Although I could keep my room in order, I could not control this house. It was overcrowded with Barbie, Ken, their three female playmates, and the necessities of modern life. She had a flushing toilet, a well-equipped kitchen, a dining set, a bedroom set, a vanity set, and lots of clothing and shoes. Ken parked his Mercedes outside the house because it didn’t have a garage yet. I decorated lavishly for Barbie, a mysteriously happy and wealthy persona, so that she could entertain her entourage of admirers. Each outing to the Mattel aisle of the toy store provided possible upgrades for Barbie. I experienced my first highs when I rushed to the car after my purchases and tear open the Mattel packaging. I was told, over and over again, to wait until I got home, but I couldn't because my heart would race from the anticipation. I was an addict looking for excuses to consume. Perhaps Barbie would be happy with an indoor hot tub? It actually held and drained water, giving Barbie an authentic experience. But soon, the house, with all its stuff, collected dirt in crevices, corners, and edges. I found dead bugs in the hot tub, which freaked me out. I had not considered pest control when I acquired this house. My playtime turned into cleaning and organizing Barbie’s stuff. Her fashion accessories included earrings and shoes, which were easy to misplace. So too were the delicate forks, spoons, and knives. Because Barbie changed outfits frequently, her clothing 9
stretched and soon lost their gloss. Time took its toll even on Barbie, as her hair became more ragged and dull. I wanted to get rid of everything and get new stuff for Barbie. I really liked buying stuff, but not keeping or maintaining anything. My dream house, on a smaller scale, was a replica of how my parents managed their house. They thought more stuff would make them happy, just as I thought Barbie would be happier with more stuff. In fact, our house became a storehouse of junk, with each item of junk symbolizing our dream of finding confirmation of our wellbeing. Although I had outgrown Barbie by the age of ten, I moved on to other, more age appropriate addictions. I loved buying new clothing not because of the quality of material or workmanship in design, but because of the smell and sheen of store bought clothing. Before the wear of washing and stretching, store bought clothing hung neatly and beautifully. I bought new clothing so that I too could feel new and untarnished. I so hated the skin I was born into. I had similar feelings about department store makeup. It wasn’t the tube of lipstick that mesmerized me but the pristine condition and packaging. I bought stuff to take home with me, thinking that the perfection and beauty of a cosmetic compact would rub off on me. I wanted so desperately to believe that perfection and beauty existed in a sadly imperfect and ugly world. When I moved beyond consumer products, I got hooked onto things I could ingest. Alcohol, prescription drugs, nicotine, and food were all fair game. It’s not the things you buy that own you, it’s the feelings that drive you to consume that possess you. The consequence of over consumption was that as an adult, I became wary of the American Dream. A lust for 10
housing and property seemed to grip people of my generation. Stocks went up and down on a digital screen, but property was a solid, reliable investment. Borrow and buy low, upgrade and wait, and then sell high. The profit provided its own kind of security. But isn’t the Dream really about security, safety, and stability? Security from an unstable government that would accept defeat and flee, safety from a new order that permitted looting and destruction, and the stability of knowing that when you returned home, everything inside would still belong to you?
Reflections on West Lake May 8th, 2009 Two moons dancing on the rippling surface of West Lake. They exchange bows and lose rhythm, twist about each other like lustful youths at courtship. The waves tuning them up, slapping them about in twists and dips. Given a momentary pause they may unite as one. When will the lake stand still? When will the young stop moving?
Drum Tower October 17th, 2008 And I realized while I was there, and the music was loud, That I had nothing left to say to anybody. So I left, on a thought, and paced through the crowd, Following some people who didn’t make it to the exit Struggled into corners. And on the outside I crossed over some sidewalks That were made by people’s footsteps. Nobody was there but the taxis, some turning, Making me pause, others just circling around Nobody is in there. And I sat upon a bench made of concrete, that Really stretched like a retaining wall. Looking up at a waning moon, I couldn’t keep It in place, but Gulou Tower, like a lone marcher Grew into the sky like a statement. And as I lay there, thoughts slipped past into breezes, Left in the trees and collapsing. The mountain and the lake and the city center, landmarked Positions that I called out to, and they wanted some respect Thrown to the miles of consistent wind. And a personal statement, I saw a peng with Wings blotting out the moon, with one single Beat it was gone beyond the horizon. 13
So I stopped breathing for that moment, on The inhale, and I never let it out.
Sichuan Earthquake The news rose up, a dust making me cough into the sullen white of my computer screen. As I read the numbers of the dead my building sidled into the night, the tops of my fingers pale in the darkened room as they waited over the keys. There was nothing I could do when a child was swallowed into the embrace of the earth a province or a country or a million hearts beating between us. Photo of a smiling stranger, I see the shape of you on the television but our eyes have never met. I never slouched into the classroom with you, hid a compact in my palm as the lesson started, and now your parents will take you out of the ground and cry and put you into it again. You might have turned out to be a petty crook. I see you massaging your prices, trading cigarettes for small favors; but maybe not; I 15
conjure you when I see the numbers, wrapping zeros around your arms like bangles, scooping up rice with the ones. I see you squinting into the horizon, and I wonder if you are home yet.
Ting Bu Dong dianhua: telephone How poetic to name it electric speech, you think every time you flip it open, hold it to your ear, call your friend for the number of her high rise; call your boss, complaining about your visa; your family, far away, to say you’re alright. pijiu: beer Your Chinese friends sigh at your love for street food, sour potato strips served hot in a plastic bag, spicy meat kabobs wrapped inside pita bread, pale green bottles of Tsingtao beer, tastes mingling in your belly. xiexie: thank you Where your pronunciation will fall between shay shay, which sounds like a dance, and sea sea, which makes you think of the lap of water, changes by your mood, the hour, the minute. You say it so often, but don’t know how often you’re understood. bizui: shut up You believed it a gentle request for silence 17
until it didn’t work anymore on the fourthgrade boy running around the room, throwing books; until in desperation you sent for his Chinese teacher, until she dragged him crying from the room snapping bizui! -and you didn’t call for help again. piaoliang: beautiful When the woman pats your arm and says white, piaoliang, when groups at the Great Wall want you in their pictures, you try to return the compliment, but they laugh, snap their shots, vanish in the crowd wo ting bu dong: I can hear you, but I don’t understand You bounce the words around you like a chorus of small bells, a shield to vendors throwing hopeful fragments of English after you like colored glass, to the taxi driver who asks if you’re married then proposes; every time, you realize again how little you know, how after a year in the jigsaw streets of this neon city you are still like a child, innocent and easily lost.
The Monkey Orchestra
picture of a monkey/chimpanzee almost human with shirt and pants and shoes on, looking down, in a dignified and quiet and selfefficacious and cool sort of way.)
Tap tap. The conductor leaves the scene. Too crushed by expectations, he wanders into the parking lot, never to return. Always to return. He leaves a trail of shit along his way to exile. The audience doesnâ€™t notice, or smell. The audience is merely interested in the beginning, not the middle, nor the end. The audience is never ready for something so rash, and incalculable. The audience. Silence. The dignity. With repose. From the deep room. With silence. The music. The appearance of which is becoming human. The player coming out of the shadows. The monkeys take a bow, deep down to their knees. To their knees. Their monkey feet. The orchestral silence. The anticipation following orchestral silence. What kind of music do you want to play, the audience asks. What kind of music. To row us over. The monkey orchestra replies, giving it away, something close to the eyes, when looking at the audience, something like another note, experimental. On its words it says nothing. Its face is stern. Its lips are full. Like silence. Like muteness. Like sirens, it says, warning you. Do not speak and you will be heard. Falling, like music falling, the monkey orchestra weaves its beginning notes in the air, leaping and grabbing 19
them, with its fervent, passionate mind. It calls for the force outside of the theatre, the mausoleum, as the joke runs, something to counter against all these humans, all these clothed, legged, masses. Then the music starts. The monkey orchestra plays, for a long time, to the arousal of tenderness and grief, of the intersection of streets, of cities. Leaving, all of humanity, behind, is its dying dream, forging an indelible music, of palate and fervor, of undivided shadow and madness, of the great, free, falling, of the rain… It shows a belief in the neighborhood, frolicking and jumping in between places, coming with chatter, running around in the night air. The music explains, that it was sometimes always about reading, books, or listening, to the radio. How that was always brokenness, itself, and air, itself, how that was what sometimes what you need to pay attention to, pay attention, to the life that unwraps around you. Your house. Your inevitable house. The inevitable sitting. Your many hours of life and tumultuousness. The train that runs past your tumult of a life. The sitting. And the waiting. The monkey orchestra delves into issues of humanity, of heights and lengthening. It says, what is life, but a wind, of lifting above everything, descending on only nothing, traveling in the air, never letting the wind blow you off course, or the sun dry you up, too much. Only music. Unseen. Notes revered and unheard. Tantamount. To nothing unusual. But your deepest love. Your deepest understanding. And then the music says this, about humanity. About surrounding the people. About the audience regarding the notes. All powerful. All inviting. All living, with an opening, of one’s arms. Let the bird go free. Let it fly away, sing, so pow20
erfully, because it is the only thing left that is in us. In our shoulders. In our breaths. In our marching up the stairs, step by rising step. Contain it, the spirit of the song wants to say, break it, bring it down. But my spirit. My power. The loveliness that is in the sky. The human loveliness that is in me. In us. Will forever be forgotten. Like this song. For the remnant of days. The things that I don’t say, the things that I don’t say, the monkey orchestra wants to say, in its mind, there are many things to say, nothing childish, nor human. The orchestral indifference is for the many people, that are in the notes, that are in the story, that are in the house, to let the snow fall, continuously, outside, outside, outside… The human, if he says something, something about all these works of artwork and desire, built upon hours, upon minutes and minutes of time and distended time. Time and the following ovations. A stop collected here, there, and then going on, toward the distance, just like the great train… The looming of the room, the crimson drapes and the sound which surrounds, brings the heart’s heaviness and gravity out of the body, up through the throat, into the surroundings. A hundred men’s heaviness, a hundred women’s gravity, enlists an air that falls and falls, onto the granite floor. And then the music, clear, shrill, almost visible, binds together everyone’s solemnity, runs through the room’s black and gray… In the next instance an orchestral monkey springs onto the scene, his shirt somewhat unbuttoned, all quiet, springing, hurriedly he walks toward his spot, sits down, and begins his playing. The wildness of his motion sways the audience one way only. The orchestra playing only slightly more 21
powerfully than before. The mark has been struck where he sits. The sound is greater, and fuller. Everyone wants to applaud. Then it was a momentary silence. A stillness. That would cover over everything. All space and the clarity of things. All silver, gray water, cool and free of air. Then the surge is on. The music overflows onto the audience like no one has ever known. Like an uneven tide on the yellow sand. Uneven flow of cold, selected things. The barrier broken, the water runs on. On, on, the music runs, into the corners of the theatre, the theatre, the motion of it is very much like waves, but not quite, because the music comes from nowhere; and; it hasn’t been found, but instead it is plentiful coming out of the invisibility of echoes, of some instruments, of music, and it captivates someone enough to make, indelibly, some notes in his mind, of the power of tonight’s orchestra. The monkey orchestra. The tender orchestra. The flow of the water sound. Instead of the animal, instead of being very very human. But like a squeak of some toy. Or the human mall, lovely at sunset. Uncontainable. The lesson that the orchestra teaches refuses to be very holding, like a father, what is music but a step out of our every day, oppressive, lives. Remember love, how that the music has you love the very thin strands of hair, of mad yearnings and great genius, and in the end there was greatness after all! The monkeys loved Beethoven, and his look, his picture, it judged them; finally, overall, without thunder, without all catastrophe, without pain. 22
(There was, in one of the monkey’s eyes, an indication of true anger, and true dignified hate. A true sense of a musician’s own worth, despite the measure of the world) And then the music does go on, to remembering something so essential, lost, amidst the city blocks, something always about longingness, and vastness, and structurelessness, having the entire world to explore, everything to be gained at once, and all you have is yourself, all you have is the sea… You dove into the sea and the water is so cold, and your skin is so warm toward it, everywhere there are rushes, the tumult of the water toward the horizon; you did nothing, scrap, shriek, scratch, the music did not hear you, you stayed inside the water, forever… The rushes of the waterfall was like madness, and it did have a sound that played a tune, again and again it let the clarity fall, let the blue show, let the night dim. Again and again it did not know what it was doing, and you, some lost child, acted brave, acted older than your unknowing years, was run over by senselessness, without any weapon, to defend one’s self. And that’s all I’ll ever know, the monkey composer wants to say, is this… The music looks toward the overhead lights, the upper gallery, the carpet before them, the doors, is all I have, the cool color of the walls, the majesty, the luxuriant seats. I have never wandered outside the theatre, they keep me here, for a reason, except Harvard, where I studied, I don’t know any other places. And I don’t know you, it says, at least you. At least I don’t know anything about this life, your life. I am only a monkey, it says, the composer revealing his weakness, his frail self. I am only an animal. I am only imagining. What are 23
the mysteries of this life. What are the myths that we live on, you, and I. What are the beats, underneath the consciousness. What are the supreme liftings, the tracks, the currents, the springs… With all attention, all of a sudden, a music is played outside the music of the orchestra, above, perpendicular, that says something, that says something about their lives, the music that moves in tenderness and humanity, an above performance, a metaperformance, a music that is so beautiful, so beautiful, so eminently beautiful, so alive, so alive to our deadness, a deadness that is between us, a deadness for all listeners. And then the interior music ends. Relief. From the orchestra. Of the concert well performed. Everyone applauds. Everyone talked to each other, saying wow, that was such a strange performance. How I did not love the symphony, but is it everything in the world, to love? It was interesting, some say, to have taken a part in something so monstrous, and played with such dissonance. The person in the middle of the room looks at another, the great composer, closer to the stage, and he starts to tear up. Something about lost time, his historical works, the composer is sometimes who the man wants to be, and the man has tried all his life at it, without success. That no one could be the composer, and the world being so full of contempt for anyone else. And now that I am in the theatre, he is just like anyone else, and his privilege will last forever. The crowd at last leaves, filing out through the doors. The play of the melody of their lives ends, in quietude. What is left over. After the music plays, only two mon24
keys are left on stage. Silently they sit there, with the emptiness of chairs. One is tuning his instrument. The other is picking up things from the stage. No one says anything. The silence. A picture of their monkey feet. Their dark pants. Motionless. The stillness. The silence. The silence. The silence. If this is what aura brought, what aura thinks, the dance after being more important than the dance itself, the silence after music being more important than the music itself. The monkey’s suits hang slack on them, after so many sessions, their human clothes seem not to completely fit their monkey bodies. One does not ask the question, was this what they have wanted, all along? Were we the ones to play for, all along? Well, then, what about the wild? We think of how they could have played their tunes, in the wild, with trees and other monkeys and the blasting of a, a, a, with every monkey to listen, the monkeys as a species, the monkeys as an audience. Then, in the breeze of their palms, is a world, vanishing, debilitated, the only things that they knew, then, was to bring it up, monkey-like, somehow, into becoming fully-human. Maybe it is then too soon that they become nameless, soundless, and without voices; into becoming, into becoming, those f-ing house dwellers. The structure in them is not enough, it seems, the music is not enough, and they are silent, in the backroom, looking out into the night, imagining the swing of their arms, and how they talked to each other, and how they beat their hearts, without human music, during the darkest night of the year…
三Ab外 外4 (for Laiwan) Consummate passion to partake in consumption consumes the artist(e). Four is cocoon is death. A lack of leaves cancels Silk Road Poetess ruminates. Will eat mulberry leaves rustle in exchange for a silky thread of 4 haiku
Contributor Notes Heather Elliott taught English in Dalian, Liaoning, from September 2006 - July 2008. She returned to the States to pursue her MFA, where she still constantly talks about China. She isn't anywhere close to being an expert on anything China, but she remains fascinated by Chinese culture, history and language. Miodrag Kojadinović is a Canadian-Serbian poet, non-fiction and erotica writer, editor and translator between English, Serbian, Dutch, and French. His work has appeared in anthologies, journals, collections, and magazines in seven languages in the US, Serbia, Canada, Russia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, India, France, Montenegro, the UK, and Croatia. He returned to Europe last year after several years of teaching at universities and colleges in Southern Mainland China and Macau. Beverly Ku currently lives in San Francisco and studies graphic communication. She has attended UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Mark Mihelcic was born and raised in the eastern United States and has a degree in psychology from the University of Delaware. He currently lives and works in Chongqing, China.
Dipika Mukherjee’s debut novel, Thunder Demons, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2009 and her first poetry collection, The Palimpsest of Exile, was published by Rubicon Press (Canada) in April 2009. She has performed her poetry at the Het Huis van Poesie in Rotterdam, The Hideout in Austin, Texas, The Sugar Factory in Amsterdam, and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival among other places. She is currently professor of linguistics at Shanghai International Studies University and divides her time between America, India, Malaysia and China, calling all four places home. Casey Rich is head of social sciences at Cambridge International Centre - teaching history. He writes for Map Magazine (Nanjing). His poetry has appeared in Harvard University's Dudley Review and Grand Valley State University's The Rant. Kevin Wu is originally from Guangzhou. Nowadays he lives in Carmichael, CA. He holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University and a BA in English from University of California at Berkeley. His stories have been published in Word Catalyst, Kartika Review, Issues Magazine, and Visions Magazine. He hopes to travel more this summer.