A Brown / RISD Visual & Literary Arts Magazine Vol. XX Issue I
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS Dear Reader, Thank you for picking up a copy of VISIONS Magazine’s Fall 2018 issue. In recent months, Asian America has seen some incredible stories. In the midterm elections, exit polls showed that Asian-Americans favored Democrats by far, and Asian-American candidates were elected to Congress and the Senate. We’re seeing increased representation in film and television, with mainstream media acknowledging Crazy Rich Asians in particular. This film is flawed in many respects, but we can’t let its hype overshadow other titles from Searching, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, to name a few. It’s not just the major film studios, either. Justin Chon, writer and director of Gook, returns with his sophomore feature Ms. Purple, showing the other half of our community, the crazy poor half. He relied again on Kickstarter in order to complete post-production efforts, raising nearly $68,000 (as of the writing of this letter), exceeding the $45,000 goal. Community exists not only in physical spaces or on the silver screen, it also exists in the Facebook group “subtle asian traits,” connecting over 650,000 members of the Asian diaspora with a key component of our modern lexicon: memes. We are carving out space to belong. We hope this issue feels like home to you. Yours,
Eveline Liu & Sruti Suryanarayanan Editors-in-Chief
On the Cover Demon Belly Park | Ink, digital Yuchen Horng ‘19 wants to drown in hot pot.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VISIONS is a publication that highlights and celebrates the diversity of Brown and RISD’s Asian/Asian-American community. We are committed to being an open literary and artistic forum for Asians and Asian Americans, as well as other members of the university community, to freely express and address issues relating to both the Asian and AsianAmerican experience. VISIONS further serves as a forum for issues that cannot find a voice in other campus publications. As a collaborative initiative, VISIONS attempts to strengthen and actively engage Brown and RISD’s vibrant community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as the larger Providence community and beyond.
phases Amy Wang
22 Pretty Big Eyes Agnes Tran
40 Bentwood Sled (Sehnsucht) Sruti Suryanaryanan
Deities Adrienne Hugh
23 35,000 Feet In The Air Jokichi Matsubara
Kokeshi Makoto Kumasaka
25 If Only You Knew Becki Shu
42 Mantis Chair Daphne Do
kimchi Jeong Woo (Brian) Kim
26 Power Street Becki Shu
43 Meatball Star Su
ILU Hannah Smoot
27 White Wisp Angela Yang
47 Memphis Vase Cece Yoko Emy
In Cosmic Harmony Richard Li
28 To a New Malaysia Xiao Wei Yeap
48 Protection Lina Kang
Watching Jellyfish Lina Kang
THE HEART AS A WHOLE Sandra Moore
29 K-Town Blues Joey Han 30 fruity Yoon (Sara) Choi
Visual Echoes Angie Kang
Yuè Liàng Zhī Míng Amy Wang
35 PIBU PIBU Young-Eon Kim
Two Tigers (两只老虎) Becki Shu
37 Mother Becki Shu
Packed Sophia Brown
38 genetic repercussions Amanda Ngo
Fictitious Desis Damini Agrawal
39 Deities Adrienne Hugh
Editors-in‑Chief Eveline Liu ’19 Sruti Suryanarayanan ’19
Printer PrintNinja Brown Graphic Services
Layout & Design Editors May Gao ’21 Ryan Nguyen ’19 Sophia Meng ’20
A very special thanks to … Classics East Asian Studies Comparative Literature Modern Culture and Media The Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies Contributors and staff
Art & Photography Editor Elizabeth Huh ’19
Inside Cover Article 345 | Digital Ryan Nguyen ‘19 sometimes uses the side of his finger as a ruler.
Literary Editors Hilary Ho ’20 Star Su ’21 Treasurer Cece Yoko Emy ’20 Web Editor Jiaju Ma ’21 RISD Outreach Tiffany Chiu ’19 Events Coordinator Hannah Lee ’21 Publicity Chairs Jessie Jing ’22 Cecilia Vogler ’22
Disclaimer The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of VISIONS’ sponsors. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org facebook.com/VISIONS.Brown @VISIONS_magazine
The Wind and the Sun Angie Kang
1955, A Ravine Revisited Christine Huynh
Amy Wang ’20 misses relating to Bildungsromans.
Deities | Digital Adrienne Hugh ’18 is drifting about.
PHASES daughter cries at midnight, thinks about li bai and moonlight on bedspreads, about the fact she doesn’t even know her grandparents’ names, wishes she were there to watch them age, talks to her reflection in mandarin, misses the home she didn’t have, the moonlight is frost she never saw, never touched, misplaced in her history, longs for a family that’s whole mother remodels the bathroom, makes everest out of laundry, slides open the screen door to let in the sun, smog-free, smiles at the moon’s reflection, imagines plucking it out of water, biting into it like lychee, or a tea egg, or a dumpling filled with red bean paste, maybe, something grandmother would have made at new year’s, recalls the house as a cement room, the screen door as mosquito net, is living her wildest dream, misses open eyes grandmother plays mahjong in the afternoon, listens to granddaughters squirm over the phone, chuckles at their mandarin, slides open the screen door, peels them tea egg after tea egg, wishes she were there to watch them age, remembers her daughter small, remembers smallness, li bai and moonlight like frost, frost like home, has lived through facades, decades, did not send her daughter away, did not ask for this splintered history, waits, patiently, for the tiles to fall
Kokeshi | Digital sculpture Makoto Kumasaka ‘19 likes to bike really fast.
kimchi | Oil on canvas Jeong Woo (Brian) Kim ’20 is really starting to like it here.
ILU | Acrylic on cavas Hannah Smoot ’21 likes a little squish in her doodles.
Richard Li ’22 is currently having a Shin Ramen craving.
IN COSMIC HARMONY My mother weaves race into her Korean pancakes the way we waded through the terraced paddy fields of Yunnan as the wind whispered ancestral hymns into our lungs; she boils the wild spontaneity of our DNA into the dough, impeccable the way the earth quaked as we searched for some faraway celestial topography. It is a chemical construct she has mastered— Non-compliance, renegade, dissident; her hands reign over predetermined biological batter molding her own destiny Like the way the farmers refuse to surrender even as weak knuckles sink into the earth as it begins to pulse a fleeting heartbeat against the reverberation of the gravel— this is how she has learned to preserve her heritage, how she has managed to touch the stars with just an apron, culture as her concrete blocks, the American Dream as her blueprint.
Watching Jellyfish | Mixed media Lina Kang â€™20 loves pancakes.
Sandra Moore ’21 solely exists to watch Phineas and Ferb.
The HEART AS A wHOLE Now that I have stepped foot back into the courtyard, my curiosity is voracious after years of suppressed memories; I am desperate to see what changes time has wrought on old haunts. I pass through the kitchen, walking among the many maids flitting in and out of its smoky interior, and see the chefs murmuring to each other about what to cook for the day. “What does it matter, when it all gets sent back anyway?” exclaims one, throwing down his knife down on his cutting board among the colorful array of vegetables, pale with worry. I take a deep whiff of expensive spices, a hint of saffron eminent, and then back out of the kitchen. The hallway corridors are starting to get unfamiliar, memory masked by new gilt and jewels, but my feet remember the way to the Empress’s rooms. One of the palace cats—too clean to be a stray cat wandering—twines its way around my ankles with a little purr, probably smelling the scent of a thousand other cats on me. I’ve always liked cats, with their all-too knowing sight, and I take strength from its small frame. It’s positively shaking from the tremulous force of its purr and I pet it idly before abandoning its warmth to push through the heavy wooden doors protecting the Empress’s inner chambers.
She has many—antechamber after antechamber, each lushly furnished as if their purpose was decoration rather than intimidation. I walk past maids with their heads ducking down and tear tracks scrubbed away from their faces, and I slip through the final set of doors without alarming a single soul. The bedchamber beyond is impeccable, the knickknacks polished to perfection by maids who have nothing else to do other than clean. The windows are open, but it is a breezeless day and the heavily embroidered curtains did not move. All is still, except for the slow rising and falling of the blankets. The letter slip from my fingers, corporeal, to the blankets, and she stirs. Her official name is now Empress Dao-Ming, Empress of the Shining Path, but I knew her back when she was Chun, daughter of the Emperor, a man who strew blood and bone over the city cobblestone until the rivers ran red with blood. Ever since she rose to power, they have remained clean—shiningly clean—reflecting her fastidious immaculacy; she cannot bear to be dirty, after spending so many years smeared by his bloody fingers.
She is older now, her dear face twisted and creased from sleep, but eyes lucidly clear. She looks first at the letter, opening it with her trembling brownspotted hands. And her brows furrow quizzically at the simple characters of her name—not Dao-Ming, but Chun—and then finally, finally, she looks up. She cannot see me—not yet—and instead she looks back down at the letter. For a long moment, she stares. I can see the furrow in her brow as her mind works to summon up memories of events long past. “Ach,” she says, pressing fingers to her temple. “I must be going mad, for this handwriting—” “You’re not mad,” I whisper, and she looked around with a confused frown, probably hearing something as insubstantial as the buzzing of a fat honeybee. “It’s mine. My handwriting.” I reach out to touch her hand but my fingers slide through hers. At my touch, she shivers violently and draws the blankets around her tighter, withdrawing. I bite down on my lip, retreating, and wait, even though it is so—so difficult. I didn’t realize it would be like this—I thought, perhaps, after so long, I would be used to the sight of her— that since she was older, maybe my heart wouldn’t beat away in my chest in a fluttering fervor.
She’s muttering to herself. “It couldn’t be, though. And where did it come from?” She flings aside the blanket and carefully slides out of bed, still clutching the letter. Atop quivering feet, she creaks over to the large rosewood desk at the far side of the room, settlings into the well-cushioned chair with a long groan of bones adjusting to a new position. I follow, curious, and watch as she draws forth a necklace tucked under her clothing, a key—a tiny gold thing—at the end, which fits into an almost-imperceptible keyhole at the side of the desk. A little twist, and a small drawer pops open. Inside of it are small objects: her seal, her father’s seal, and a small letter. I know the first as well as I know the second, and I know the last better. She takes the letter from the drawer and deposits it onto the desk, beside the other letter. I know the handwriting will be the same, but I hear her sharp intake as she compares and realizes the truth— that every stroke is the same, down to the overly long diagonal strokes. She turns around, and she sees me, finally. That’s usually the first sign. r e a d m or e:
Visual Echoes | Crayon Angie Kang â€™21 has (at least) three hairbands on her wrist at any given time.
Amy Wang ’20 misses relating to Bildungsromans.
Two Tigers (两只老虎) | Gouache & acryla gouache Becki Shu ’20 regularly pats soft animals.
Yuè Liàng ZhI Míng Flashlight Fishhook Cosmic nightlight Long tunnel’s end Dumpling against big speckled platter Round puzzle piece, taken out of the sky A ghost in the daytime Wide awake past sunset Follows us as we speed down the freeway— I wave; Cheshire Cat Grin Sesame seed Big star/small sun? Mistaken by Li Baí for frost Mistaken by DreamWorks for a dock Mistaken by Amy W., age nine, for a snowball? Analog clock, without the numbers and hands Rabbit’s home—maybe? Cháng É’s, too—perhaps? I always felt bad for Cháng É. She was only keeping the elixir safe for her family.
Fingernail. Croissant. Poets’ truest muse. Cause for celebration every September, October some years; Cause for red bean paste And long distance calls. Portal to another dimension— maybe? Portal to another time? I mean, if what they say about light-years and aging is true… quite possibly a living reflection of the past. U.S. trophy on a mantle. Lock screen image. Bowl of rice, overhead view. Portal to another place—definitely. Tin-can telephone: facilitating pretend and comforting communication. Somewhere across the globe, in another speeding car— observed in equal measure by someone beloved.
Packed | Collage Sophia Brown â€™22 likes cat hands.
Fictitious Desis | Podcast and print Damini Agrawal ’20 revels in spreading her desi culture.
Agnes Tran ’22 is an egg enthusiast and frequently dresses like one.
PRETTY BIG EYES “Your eyes are pretty big.” I thought they were going to say “Your eyes are pretty.” Maybe I was hoping that they were going to say that. But then came the final word and now here I am, standing in the communal restrooms in front of muddy mirrors and a foreign face. It smells like weed and wallflowers. I’m stretching and squinting my eyes. Are they big? Maybe. But pretty big? In comparison to what? Does pretty mean big? I don’t really look like anyone in my family. When I was younger, they used to say I looked like my bà nội, but now she’s just a memory that comes with the smell of bún and large glasses. I don’t remember what she looks like, but sometimes when I’m looking in the mirror, I can almost see her face in my own, see her eyes in my pretty big ones.
l i s t e n:
I wonder if my bà nội or bà ngoại ever looked into the reflection of the Pacific Ocean from the fishing boat as they were leaving their homeland, our homeland, and saw the wrinkles to come, or if they saw my face, our face. I wonder if my great grandma, or great great grandma, or great great great grandma, ever looked into the red puddles of warm afternoon rain, if they ever looked at their face, our face, and thought about who was to come. Did they ever think I would be looking at the same face, years later, generations later, countries later? Did they see a girl in a dingy restroom with dyed hair, dark lipstick, and pretty big eyes? Because in that restroom, I don’t see a girl with dyed hair, dark lipstick, and pretty big eyes—I see my mama, my bà nội, my bà ngoại, and all the Trần women before me. And suddenly it doesn’t smell like weed and wallflowers, but like summer rain and hoa mai flowers.
Sometimes when I’m looking in the mirror, I like to think that my face is not my face. My face is my mama’s face—the bump on the nose that my mama used to tell me all the dynasty royals had. My face is my bà ngoại’s face—the laughing lines that look like kitten whiskers. My face is my bà nội’s face— the long face shape like jackfruit that grew in the streets of Sài Gòn.
Jokichi Matsubara ’18.5 is currently looking for a job.
On September 9, mourners gathered for the funeral of one notable passenger: Kyu Sakamoto. He was best known for a single released in 1961 that received critical acclaim worldwide, but didn’t create lasting success. I became interested in his story in much the same way that I am interested in my father’s. To chart his journey from there to here, and to better understand the forces that push, pull, and ultimately change during flight.
35,000 FEET IN THE AIR At 6:12 pm on Monday, Aug 12, 1985, JAL flight 123 bound for Osaka International Airport took off from Haneda Airport, Tokyo. Twelve minutes later, while flying over Sagami Bay, the rear pressure bulkhead, a circular seal at the back of the cabin responsible for maintaining pressure, burst. At a cruising altitude of about 35,000 feet, compressed air inside an airplane is like an inflated balloon. A small hole is enough to send it wheezing off in a new direction. In a few minutes, the ceiling collapsed around the rear lavatories, ripped off the vertical stabilizer (the rear “fin”), and the hydraulic fluid used to control the plane emptied out of the aircraft. The captain sent out a distress signal. Nevertheless, the plane began pitching violently, and 32 minutes later over 900,000 pounds of aluminum, gasoline, and flesh hurtling downward met the mainland. The 15 members of the crew and 505 of the 509 passengers were killed. The cause of the crash was determined to be a small crack in the seal. The rear pressure bulkhead, damaged 7 years earlier, was improperly patched by Boeing technicians. And the crack, over the course of over 12,000 flights, grew and grew and grew until it could no longer hold the air inside. The plane let out a long-overdue sigh. I wonder what my father had thought at the time. He too had landed abruptly that year in an uncharted territory. On May 3rd, he left Japan for architecture school in Los Angeles with one large suitcase, my grandfather’s blessing, and a working knowledge of English.
Sakamoto began his career in the late 1950’s, at a time when rock and roll youth culture was taking off in Japan. It was a period of post-war growth, much of which stemmed from Japan’s relationship with the United States. Many of the early Japanese rock and roll performers were able to earn their keep at American military bases, where rock and roll was already popular. From there, it spread to the general population. Sakamoto’s best known single was titled “Ue Wo Muite Arukou,” which roughly translates to “I Look Up As I Walk.” The song was composed by Nakamura Hachidai with lyrics by Ei Rokusuke. It is a slow and sweet melody played on the glockenspiel, but the lyrics tell a different story. Rokusuke, a student at Waseda University in Tokyo at the time, allegedly wrote the lyrics after walking home from a student protest in 1960. Students rallied against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security (Anpo), an expansive military agreement between the United States and Japan that was revised that year. The lyrics tell of a young man walking home alone at night, looking up at the stars so the tears won’t fall. Despite the students’ protests alongside labor unions, teachers’ and women’s unions, and socialist and communist groups, the Anpo treaty persisted.
By the time I was 13, I knew that there was a military, and also that there was a miditaly. I knew that there were two separate branches of armed forces, though they overlapped in confusing ways. My father was the one who introduced me to the miditaly, with a mixture of awe and wonder. Together, we watched the Battle of Britain more times than I can remember, recounting the Royal Air Force defense of the UK during World War II. But “the military” crunched under my mother’s breath like a salted wheat cracker. It was our tax dollars up in smoke. It was imperialism and lies on the television. It was torture. At some point—I don’t remember the exact moment—I came to realize that these words had the same origin but changed from mouth to mouth.
r e a d m or e:
If Only You Knew | Pen and ink Becki Shu ’20 regularly pats soft animals.
Power Street | Gouache Becki Shu ’20 regularly pats soft animals.
Xiao Wei Yeap ’19.5 is constantly on the lookout for her next adventure.
White Wisp | Film photography Angela Yang ’19 misses the sounds of her mother tongue.
TO A NEw MALAYSIA I’ll sing my love to you Oh Malaysia #tanahairku To the year-round 28°C weather The Penang-famous hawker stalls The tropical rainforests and the islands off the coast of Borneo And most remarkably To our #Rakyat and the diversity of their histories That make Malaysia the country and nation that she is They say there are “greener” pastures abroad But I’ll take the wetlands and jungles and marshes of Malaysia and Southeast Asia any day They say that Southeast Asia is an underrepresented and understudied region across academic and intellectual circles I say let’s fcking create our own class and petition And hold the university accountable to their so-called commitment to “diversity” They asked me “why you” During an interview for an ASEAN public affairs consulting firm Many qualifications and skills and reasons I could have listed But in their place I blurted out“What Malaysia truly needs… is for her children to come home”
Yet echoing a dear friend and fellow Malaysian How do you love a country that does not love you How do you sustain hope for a place and people so deprived of it How do you believe in change when you grew up amidst silence and hostility I would admit that I was pessimistic and cynical Just like any other time when change was called forth and not realized Doubting that the tables would actually turn this time But on this HISTORIC day #May9th I was proven wrong By the very people who I thought had given up ages ago Despite all the structural barriers in place To keep the #Rakyat from voting I from afar, observed in disbelief The changing of tides within 24 hours The people displacing the government in power for 61 years since independence Choosing the world’s oldest political leader at 93 years old And instituting our first-ever FEMALE deputy prime minister Malaysia’s democracy stood the test No violence and no blood shed A transition of power was underway And victory belonged to her people
Needless to say, I still have my fair share of skepticism But I’ve learned a few things since that day That regardless of race or ethnicity Malaysians do care For they had a choice to make and they chose change For they had a message to send and send they did A thundering roar bellowed across tides The message of HOPE We now recognize that we share the same hope And we are not alone in our hopes for a better Malaysia We recognize the power we have And our right to change the way the country is run
My favorite line from Lu Xun One of the greatest modern Chinese writers: “Hope cannot be said to exist Nor can it be said not to exist It is just like roads across the earth For actually the earth had no roads to begin with But when many men pass one way A road is made” I can’t wait to go home to a #newMalaysia — Utmost gratitude to Taing Nandi Aung ‘19 for proofreading and editing.
K-Town Blues | Digital Joey Han ’22 hopes you’re having a good day.
fruity | Porcelain, glazed Sara Choi ’20 is still searching for an ‘h.’
Christine Huynh ’21 wants to enclose her entire being in a set of parentheses.
1955, A RAVINE REVISTED From the months of November to April, the heat is unforgiving, a ravenous beast unto itself as it sucks marrow from the sun, fueling its chase of half-naked youths through narrow alleyways and baking their skin brown. They are petite vessels for soprano cries: feet caked in dirt and grime up to their knees, limbs willowy and a few odd sizes too thin for a person of that age, ribs peeking from flesh stretched taut and bony cheeks that have become sallow. There is a plump brute amongst their lot. He is a sore sight, a little obtuse, a little oblivious. His mother feeds him well. Wearing clothes sewn with strange words that their funny, loutish brains cannot begin to decipher, he plays overseer in their game of imaginary conquest.
ensues. They leave with pockets heavy. Shorts sag from the weight of their luxury goods: chocolate coins, coconut candies, dried plums. Teeth gnaw on milk taffy until the rice paper dissolves and pure saccharine—like liquid honey—sticks to their molars. She must have been adapted to better storytelling. She couldn’t remember the last time he recounted tales of a world that was not alien and uncharted, a world that did not occupy a far, far away land once upon a time, but since it is most familiar to him, she puts on a polite smile. Do they have a home to return to? Is anyone waiting for them? They belong to no one but themselves.
The land is arid, and roads are not often paved. Gravel mounds are claimed by child-like footprints in drawings of water canals and mountainous plateaus and coastal lowlands—beelines sketched into a topographical map at their heels. Soon, when summer finally scorches the inside of their mouths and burns sores onto their tongues, they retreat from their playthings in favor of momand-pop convenience stores. The shop owners haggle with prices, and a noisy exchange of silver
He keeps his voice level. She frowns at his answer. That’s what they usually recite to outsiders, at least. It is a final attempt to preserve their dignity. One cursory glance at their rags elicits guttural laughs. The jokes turn tinny. Discourse runs cold. The region belonged to an indigenous people once, but its dominion has since switched between the hands of innumerable rulers: lords, monarchs, colonizers. Alongside public discord, centuries of
restricted education and intellectualism turned reason to rot. Litanies justifying intents to civilize backward, unrefined folk fronted demands for profit and economic exploitation. Purchase of commodities began with a fragmented system and ended with heavily inflated prices— Are you listening? Her head tilts towards him. I want to hear more about the children. From the months of May to October, the smell of damp earth consumes the air, swamping houses after long-lasting drought. Warm showers descend upon the town early afternoon as clusters of mopeds and bicycles congest the streets, scrambling over themselves to seek shelter, weaving around pedestrians, seeping onto pavement—gray on gray, steel against steel, rust to rust. Water pools into cavernous wells and churns with vast murmur and latches onto their pant legs, inundating. Any movement forward rages with mud. Sandals are lost to murky waves. It gurgles, so raucously that even the sputtering of engines can neither drown out nor temper its appetite. No rhythmic susurrus drums pitter-patter on corrugated metal roofing, only a deafening release that sounds like an orchestra, like a hymn of bullets, like volleys of soldiers marching.
Rain is not cleansing here. It invites filth. The annual arrival of the wet season, responsible for lush and fertile swathes in the countryside, suffocates a city founded on rubble and whittled from the bones of something ancient. The ocean failed to flood them before. Now, it was the sky’s turn. At the hum of the last bell, schoolboys and flower girls populate the misty avenues in droves, ironed uniforms buttoned up to the collar, silk gowns drawn over any visible stretch of pink. A number migrate to the shop vendors pushing aromatic food carts about in spite of the storm, surfaces piled high with containers for sticky rice, baguettes stuffed with smoked pork, and trains of grilled beef skewers arranged in straight, tidy rows. Two orders, please. She giggles, and he nods. There are still a few more hours before supper, so he fetches a clementine from the paper bag they carried, rolls the orange object between his hands as if deliberating, and finally peels the rind. The segments split apart ceremoniously, seedless with a golden sheen. She eats the offerings until her fingers are thoroughly sticky and a sweet scent could be heard from her breath.
Back at the academy, there is talk about a missing student. Swift of flight and one by one, rumor devours the interests of adolescent boys and girls alike, swelling ruckus within the halls, reigning vigor as it moved, commanding the vigil of watchful eyes. Curious, schoolmates pause to listen mid-stride, never interrupting as the pupil divulges his chronicle. He doesn’t stop talking. He alleges that he was a close friend. His dark eyes blur out of focus, completely rapt by the fantastical tune of his personal retelling. He says that his friend had been an agent for the enemy.
He says that his friend did not know he would be serving as a suicide bomber. At the entrance to the ally camp, his skeleton shattered, vaporized as if made of wax, wickbodied, a shock seismic enough to disrupt the infinity of space: shrapnel hurtling, impact swallowing him whole, calcium of comminuted carpals becoming stardust in the wind. Blood painted the fences; blood splattered the ground; blood and blood and blood—an avalanche of color.
Why did he do that? He was trying to find a purpose, perhaps.
Spies are recruited green and young under one part propaganda, the other half bribery, serving as envoys in weaponized conflicts, as guerillas with grenades strapped to their belts, as informants that straddled two realms but never imbedding root. A common mantra is sung during those years: Citizen by day, traitor by night. He says that his friend received a vague 60-minute deadline alongside an item the size of a handheld ball. These crimes are committed by vagrants who were invariably children, because children were not suspects of grave deceit. Their sense of betrayal was acute, their dirty work ruthless. Ever and anon, the labor demanded made most sacrifice ideals of youth and prematurely shed records of juvenility in favor of the insidious rituals and the not-so-great beliefs that defined their coming of age.
I bet his mother misses him. He was a traitor. He did not have family.
It feels like ghosts, tastes like haunting. No sun is visible, just the burning of foliage and plumes of smoke columns, gunpowder thick and charred flesh rampant. Bent over, their worn faces almost graze the skulls long buried upon fetid soil. Marshes yawn open, threatening to engulf the drunken limping of excoriated feet and the pained scuttling of gangrenous toes. They press into jungle. The yoke of battle is rigid across their backs; their hands carry lead weights, numbering how many casualties had been victim to arms; their eyes, incensed, frame corridors of fear; their mouths are coated thick with unspoken discourse.
Failure means conscription and a post on the frontlines and a uniform of muted verdure and a façade of nationalism lest they be deemed disloyal. Only passing grants temporary reprieve from the guillotine.
Why, why, why, why— Stop, stop, there must be a way out— Why did you, how could you, don’t you see, can’t you understand— I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m not sorry.
What of their back? Is it arching from saddled burdens and laden with expectations of victory to appease a motherland?
The capital is captured at noon. Surrender comes unconditionally. The red and yellow stripes of a past government will soon undergo erasure, too.
What of their hands? Why do they know nothing else than to be this: sullied, trigger-hungry, programmed to inflict mindless slaughter on every living creature—be it plant or animal—trapped in the crossfire?
“You have nothing to fear. Between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been beaten. If you are patriots, consider this a moment of joy. The war for our country is over.”
What of their eyes? Have they gone blind from bearing witness to such a depraved, primordial artform, staring into dingy sunlight until their corneas melted? Have they seen the birth of a new galaxy: solar flares in surgery on cracked rib cages, nebula collisions in the marriage of loam and felled child soldiers, technicolor supernovas in explosives spewing psychedelic pink and methylene blue mists into the air?
There is no resistance. In fact, there is nothing at all.
As May turns into June and June into July, the period for graduation exams approaches and settles terror in striated hearts, siege-stricken shells having acclimated to being an inventory for trauma: an appendix of poetry, a catalogue of calculus, a glossary of foreign language, a grocery list of unanswered questions.
What of their mouth? Is it tendering words that will make one bleed ink for days? Have their tongues been butchered so that they may no longer speak fondly of past lives, forgotten memories which rile men into submission? Have they gone mute from the retching of bile that had seared permanent acid reminders into their throats?
r e a d m or e:
PIBU PIBU | PETE, glass, paper Young-Eon Kim â€™20 believes in unicorns.
Mother | Oil on canvas Becki Shu ’20 regularly pats soft animals.
Amanda Ngo ’21 is making coffee at midnight.
GENETIC REPERCUSSIONs we are bleak mirror images of ourselves my mother and i her cheeks sallow and sunken a grim offering to the medicine that is supposed to cure her my tongue a dagger bound for the next pound of flesh an act because i am scared we are both strong in the wrong way is this the fate of daughters begotten from a lineage of survivors pit against an even more menacing strain of disease it is not genetic but my grandmother worked herself to death filling bowls with rice and pork while her bones worked themselves to death filling x-rays with grains and edges it is not genetic but when i go home for the holidays my body is subjected to inspections under the guise for new ink i think my first piece was just an excuse to remind her of ugliness that is not scar tissue
the doctor says everything is looking good there is a privilege in knowing how the body takes care of itself how syringes and scalpels force it to my mother says thank you what honesty is at her disposal in front of white coats crowned stethoscopes words that make no sense to native tongues i do not know but she doesn’t sleep in the same bed as my father anymore biological hazard packaging litters our living room floor an impenetrable barrier between her and the rest of the world sometimes i stay up rubbing her back an attempt to coax her body to rest to come back to earth or at least back home i think back to three summers ago right before we knew: for the first time in twenty years she looked into her aunt’s eyes and through tears said you are the mirror image of mom and my great-aunt who hushed her crying who wiped droplets from her cheeks is still healing 38
Deities | Digital Adrienne Hugh ’18 is drifting about.
Bentwood Sled (Sehnsucht) | Hickory, polywhey exterior finish Sruti Suryanarayanan ’19 hopes to become the Archive itself.
The Wind and the Sun | Watercolor Angie Kang â€™21 has (at least) three hairbands on her wrist at any given time.
Mantis Chair | Maple, soap finish Daphne Do â€™20 has a mole under her left foot.
Star Su ’21 dreams of a love child between an almond croissant and a chocolate chip cookie.
MEATBALL “Ladies and gentlemen, you won’t want to miss this,” the announcer says. “She’s nineteen years old. A virgin.” He pauses here, gauging the marketplace. In matters of selling such a specimen, things could not be rushed. A pot of soup could never be rushed into boiling.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let the bidding begin.” The announcer is no longer able to conceal his smile, gums drawn taut and shining. He has done his job. The people are ravenous. They will pay well for the opportunity to eat this girl’s flesh. —
“Nu-Wa sculpted her from the clay of huang jiang,” From the whispers and the jostling, he could already tell that his pot was warming up quite nicely. These days, ones made from Nu-Wa were a rare commodity. “She looks human though,” someone shouts. The announcer smiles. A little chaos is good for business, good for stoking the fire. “Have you forgotten your a-yi’s bedtime stories?” The audience roars, indignant. “Nu-Wa wanted her children to look human but have the power of the gods. From the initial samples of her tissue, it seems that she is infused with phoenix.” The mention of phoenix cause the pot to boil over. Hands reach up, offering the announcer first with fistfuls of gold, then, when he shakes his head, whole purses of it. Lately, it’s been hard to sell ox, or even tiger, as the market is saturated with dealers purporting to have captured one. No one’s seen a phoenix in at least a decade. The boards of the platform quake with the audience’s hunger.
There is a scent of smoking fat, like his mother’s gou ju pai fai. Jeremiah can almost hear the oil seeping from the crisped pork skin to cook the rice. The smell of meat is so familiar that he can almost see his mother, her back bent over the oven, poking a chopstick to test the gou ju pai fai, waiting for the moment the pork would melt away from the bone, soaked in its own juices. She would always call him over, blowing on the pork, first bring it to her own lips, before— “Approaching optimal temperature,” someone says. —the sweet, hot meat sears his tongue. “It doesn’t look ready yet.” Jeremiah feels hands pushing the muscles on his arms. Someone turns him over, and in the process, the skin on his back slides off. There is swearing, then the sound of dry heaving. From his vantage point on the table, he sees what is left. There is surprisingly little blood.
Jeremiah should not have been surprised by the way these people prepared their food. They are too weak to stomach even the suggestion of blood, the possibility that their dinner had once breathed, had once had once had a mother and a sometimesthere father, had once fucked a boy in a hotel room rented with their first paycheck, had once fallen into a river when it felt easier to breathe water than air and heartbreak, had once went to temple to pray to Nu-Wa not about touching their fate, but the possibility of having a hand in cradling someone else’s with softness. “Don’t turn it up anymore. Dr. Lawrence’s instructions.” “We don’t a repeat of the last one.” “Yes, sir.” “Touch as little as possible. You never know what you could catch.” Even as the darkness collapses around Jeremiah, he wants to stay awake to feel the hurt. He remembers how how his mother’s lips would part when she fed him something. In feeding him, she was nourishing herself. His mother will not come. Nu-Wa will not come. Tears flow hot across his temples, in his ears. Did his mothers know that all along they had raised a Sunday roast dinner? — When Mr. Manda turned away his tea, everyone watched what Renne would do. It had been a long time since Mr. Manda had eaten. Indeed, it had been so long that everyone had forgotten what the manservant before had done, except maybe Dong, the butcher.
Renne is surprised to see Dong alone. Most villagers worked in groups, especially ones without children to help. He gave a small cough, though Dong must have heard his slippers squelching in the mud. “As I’m sure you’re aware, Mr. Manda—” “Wants to eat another human.” “Well, they’re not exactly—” “Exactly what? Human? Yes, they are.” Dong hasn’t looked up, stalks of rice falling away with each flick of his wrist. The sickle, his king: the rice, his subjects. Renee wonders why he met Dong here in his domain. The sun burned to the east. When the sun melts in the west, it would be too late for Mr. Manda. “Hm?” Renne said. “They are clearly demons. Only gods should have so much power.” No one remembered when they first started appearing. Some say it was when Nu-Wa had first descended from the sky, as the goddess couldn’t help but plunge her hands into the dirt. The first children she made didn’t last long under the sun, their cries of help crumbling as their flesh turned to sand. Nu-Wa cried then, and the land soaked up her sorrow to turn into a silken sludge. The second children she made were stronger, fortified with a mother’s milk of loss. They scrambled across the earth, slipping away from Nu-Wa, to form villages that would become towns, and towns that would become cities. In time, they forgot who had shaped the curve of their ear, molded the ridges of their spine, rounded the bottoms of their feet.
They were human. This time, it was Nu-Wa doing the reaching. A paradox: the moment one becomes a mother, there will come a time when she will be alone again. The third time, she was determined to keep them close. So, Nu-Wa climbed the steps back to the sky, the folds of her skirt heavy with her children, asking each of the animal spirits to bless one of her children. The horse spirit nudged a child onto its back. The monkey spirit scratched a child’s head. The tiger spirit swallowed one only to let it crawl out. Though her children would forget the sky and the strange things the creatures had done, their bodies would always remember. In binding them to the animals, Nu-Wa ensured that they would never forget. She would always be there: in the muscles that grew taut, the skin that stretched, the bones that cracked. “Have you forgotten?” Dong said. The paddy is silent save for the wind, running through the last few stalks. “Forgotten?” “Nu-Wa made us too.” — Mr. Manda smooths the napkin onto his lap, resisting the urge to pick up his chopsticks before the food arrived. It had been three years since he had last eaten one. He was a practical man, waiting until his skin became waxy, the veins underneath hardening as his body began decomposing, flesh softening into something akin to tofu, unreliable.
Even so, he would never indulge like his friends, who scoured the auctions, regardless of the current density of their flesh. They threw lavish dinner parties, serving a different spirit in each course: flambéed, poached, not just the standard method prescribed by Dr. Lawrence. Mr. Manda knew that these days it was hard enough finding a genuine one on the markets, let alone enough for several courses. But last week, he had found one. He took a tissue sample of the boy before paying the fortune the dealer had asked. The boy’s muscle density was above the normal range, and the MRI results were fascinating, showing conscious manipulation of appetite. His appetite had been whetted. The boy was indeed a descendent of Nu-Wa’s boar child. “I apologize for the delay sir,” Renne bowed. Earlier, when he walked into the kitchen, he anticipated the usual hissing of woks and belligerent cooks. Today, there was only one, cold wok over the fire with no one to tend it. “Don’t worry, I know the first time was difficult.” He smiles, feeling a rush of generosity in anticipation of eating. Renne bows and walks away quickly. Mr. Manda scarcely takes a moment to inhale before taking a bite.
It is better than the last one. He has to stop himself from moaning. Already, he can feel the power taking hold, the shape of it blooming. If Dr. Lawrence was right, this was the moment when it was weakest, between bodies, and therefore, the least human. Dr. Lawrence recommended never eating more than a few bites, as sometimes the power could decide consume the host body, rather than the other way around. Mr. Manda picks up his chopsticks again. He is still hungry. It takes him the entire day. He despises the parts where the lab has charred it beyond recognition, as he likes seeing the scars and freckles, reminders of the life he is consuming. If Dr. Lawrence deemed it safe, he would have eaten them raw. Apparently, it wasn’t possible because humans and them were so genetically similar. To bypass it, the proteins must be torn and simmered to allow digestion. Once this happened, they were safe for consumption… and the transferring of power. Mr. Manda likes to remember that he is eating a god. At least, as close as one could get to eating a god. When the skin is gone, he moves onto the liver, pausing only to drink a thimble-sized palate cleanser of cerebrospinal fluid. As the first rays of sun lick the darkness, Mr. Manda finishes. He smiles and pats his lips with his handkerchief, sated. He feels the power seeking outward, gushing, hurling itself through his nerves, veins, bones: boundless. —
Memphis Vase | Spray-painted steel Cece Yoko Emy ’20 likes decaf coffee in the dead of night.
Protection | Mixed media Lina Kang ’20 loves pancakes.
Tiffany Chiu ’19 flosses every day. Cece Yoko Emy ’20 likes decaf coffee in the dead of night. May Gao ’21 is selectively lactose intolerant when it comes to milk tea. Hilary Ho ’20 subsists on bananas and peanut butter. Elizabeth Huh ’19 is good at resolving cognitive dissonance. Jessie Jing ’22 is just fake edgy. Hannah Lee ’21 wakes up to “When Will My Life Begin” from Tangled. Eveline Liu ’19 is tired. Jiaju Ma ’21 is visiting Japan! Sophia Meng ’20 dreams of doing the illustrations for The Great British Baking Show. Ryan Nguyen ’19 sometimes uses the side of his finger as a ruler. Star Su ’21 dreams of a love child between an almond croissant and a chocolate chip cookie. Sruti Suryanarayanan ’19 hopes to become the Archive itself. Cece Vogler ’22 loves Christmas music all year round.
Vol. XX Issue I