A Brown / RISD Visual & Literary Arts Magazine Vol. XVIII Issue I
Letter from the Editors Dear Reader,
It is our pleasure to bring you the Fall 2016 edition of VISIONS Magazine, now in its seventeenth year. VISIONS was created in 2000 in response to the erasure of Asian/Asian American voices on our campuses. With each new edition, we strive to build upon the original mission of VISIONS and expand beyond the borders of the page to foster spaces for solidarity, collaboration, and political discourse. This year in particular, the VISIONS team has been focusing on how Asian Americans are racialized and profiled in new ways within mainstream American media. The works in this magazine speak out against the current hostile political climate that continues to marginalize and silence our communities. By using art and writing as forms of subversion and resistance, we hope to create a counternarrative that challenges existing public discourse. The pieces we have selected represent the tensions many feel between home and homeland, belonging and displacement, familiarity and foreignness. This yearning for home and nostalgia for our traditions has been weaponized against us, continuing to cast us as perpetual foreigners. We hope the pieces in this magazine will provoke further conversation and empower your voices. Thank you for picking up this edition, and being a part of our community.
Mia Gold and Lisa Lee Editors in Chief
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Mission Statement 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 Asian American 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. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of VISIONS’ sponsors.
Editors in Chief Mia Gold ’17 Lisa Lee ’17
Freshman Representatives Jiaju Ma ’21 Sophia Meng ’20
Managing Editor Andrea Zhu ’17
Copy Editing Staff Yeji Ham ’16 Alicia Devos ’17 Kelly Wang ’17 Claribel Wu ’19
Layout & Design Editors Sarah Im ’17 Ryan Nguyen ’19 Art & Photography Editor Elizabeth Huh ’19 Eveline Liu ’19 On the Cover Undercover | Digital Tiffany Chiu RISD ’19 is a tickachiu. Catch her if you can. Inside Cover
Shim Cheung’s World | Watercolor Joanna Seul ’17 is a seal puppy.
Literary Editor Haley Lee ’18 Financial Officer Yvonne Fong ’18 Networking Chair Ananya Shah ’17 Webmaster Linda Park ’19 RISD Representative
Sruti Suryanarayanan ’19
Printer PrintNinja Printed in PRC A very special thanks to … Kisa Takesue Undergraduate Finance Board Brown Center for Students of Color Contributors and staff Contact firstname.lastname@example.org visions-magazine.org facebook.com/Visions.Brown @VISIONS Brown
Table of Contents 5
Jess Jenna Laycraft
Seoul People Suzie Shin
Poems for Im Micah Lau
Reflection of a Girl, 19 Jackie Gu
The Memory Box Sabina Kariat
Whole 반 Lily Siegel
Window Frames Angela Yang
Wǒ shì měiguó rén (1) Jeffrey Hsueh
The Color Puuurrrple Jacob Alabab-Moser
Sometimes Water Doesn’t Soothe Me Andy Li
A Sunday Collage Michelle Hoang On the Old China Plate was a Tiny Finger Helen (Hao-Yi) Yu
Eel Ellen He
Ojiichan Alice McDonald
Painted Dolls Makoto Moses Kumasaka, Shaina Tabak, Julia Steketee, Santiago Peré
Grandson Benjamin Attal
Family Horror Story Pia Ceres
Yiwu Helen (Hao-Yi) Yu
Self-Made Iris Peng
Wǒ shì měiguó rén (2) Jeffrey Hsueh
N-400 Yixuan Wang
Conquistador Sonja John
Library Ashley Chen
Robert Ajin Lim
大三島の家 Ying Bonny Cai (蔡颖)
A Run of Salmon Tiffany Chiu
Shen Bi Ma Liang Amy Wang 4 | VISIONS
Jess | Oil on Cardboard Jenna Laycraft’s autobigoraphy would be called Let’s Not and Say We Didn’t.
Poems for Im I. I have premonitions of you, come to turn off the lights when I am alone and dreaming of old days. Do you remember how nice small death felt in low doses, your eyes reflected in mine? Your hands ran through my hair even after I slept. I turned away in the night though I knew you were there. Please don’t call it all undone, but please don’t call unless it hurts.
II. At an ice rink in downtown Seoul, she takes my arm as we slide with reckless speed, an unreal concurrence of precarious grace, reflected beams revolving overhead streaking bright in dark, simulating winter night in July. The most technically beautiful, she says as we move, was Kim Yuna, also from Bucheon, back in Vancouver from which I remember the Dubé/Davison free skate to “The Way We Were,” their synchronous motion so truthfully fitting a real lost love it stings to think as choreographed longing, a well-practiced sorrow. Jessica Dubé was too far behind on the triple salchow when she fell backwards, and the scar on her face from Bryce Davison’s blade three years ago leveled with his eyes as she drew near to recover, in agony again, holding distance for the camel spin that had sliced her before. A closeness that cuts is a mistake not made twice, but what heart does not want, in some sinister way, to leave marks on the other, ineluctable change that remains long after love? The next morning her aunt drives us into Bucheon to show me their old home, little girls riding bicycles in side streets, turning off into wide playgrounds, steel swings in concrete lots under identical gray high-rise apartment complexes. I wonder if Kim Yuna took her bike along this path of trimmed birch, unaware of the pressure to come, how effortless fluency is a form
Micah Lau ’16 knows even monkeys fall from trees.
and I get carsick in the back seat, anxious to stop or know how much longer we will be on the road. I say in English, which her aunt does not speak, that she needs to tell me where we are going beforehand, I hate when this happens, I’d rather not be dragged along like a child. She says I can fly back home at any time. We park near a building with a cross, and she tells me to wait in the car. Through the rear window I see flowers, and the sober white marble, a grid of graves, a columbarium upstairs. The cross on the roof is wired to glow neon red at night. She meets with a woman I recognize from pictures as her dead father’s mother, whom she does not embrace. When she returns I’ll say sorry, sometimes time rewrites every line into injury, I don’t know why, and I watch as she walks back, wiping her eyes, holding, with both hands, a can of melon soda to settle my stomach.
III. That first kiss wasn’t fiction, it really did happen in a windswept field, under stars, slivered moon, city lights far away falling soft on the river, and whenever I doubt it was real I put my tongue to my teeth, because the girl I loved became a dentist in California, because when we kissed that first time, open-mouthed, our two top incisors tapped, amplified in our skulls.
of concealed pain, that performing alone escapes a predestiny to hurt or to be hurt, accidentally, it seems, in half-turns. Leaving the city, the road curves up a forested mountain, 6 | VISIONS
The Memory Box
Sabina Kariat ‘18 rides horses and would trade her soul for chai chargers.
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After their fiftieth anniversary, it is the custom for couples with such longevity to move into their very own memory box. They did, with the help of her daughter and the in-law. Sweaty handprints on cardboard boxes, the labored pilgrimage of a couch up the front steps, packing up a lifetime of possessions: knick knacks, dolls, colorful printed silks, decaying photographs. It seemed strange, that a lifetime could amount to so little. After saris were folded in the drawers, spices were stocked in the pantry, and a shrine was displayed in the hallway closet, the exhausted daughter pushed curly hair out of her face and climbed into a turquoise Honda. “Good luck,” she called through the window, “Call me if you have any problems.” Alone again, the old woman walked to the front door of the memorybox, knowing what was necessary to begin the final stage of their lives. She brushed an overgrown ivy plant off the wooden doorframe to reveal, in place of a doorbell, the switch controlling their memorybox. She removed her necklace, a thin gold chain hung with multiple pendants and spare safety pins. She had been wearing it since it was given to her on the day of her child-marriage. After wrapping the necklace tightly around the switch, her soft, wrinkled finger pressed it to the on-position, and it glowed gently blue. Life moved on, in the way typical to residents of a memory box. At first, the wife was constantly dizzy 7
and unsettled, wary of touching the objects inside. When she was cooking, her hand would brush the old wooden ladle, or the silver cooking pot, and a scene would f lood her mind, complete with colors, scents, and even touch: the lingering sensation of her skin against her husband’s, or her palm on the back of her first child’s neck, the painful jolt of her first contraction, the cotton fibers of a dress she wore as a little girl. Every object invited a memory, and household tasks were submerged under waking dreams; the couple moved through their box as if sleepingwalking, their limbs dragging heavily against rich currents of sensory information. After fighting against it for a while, struggling to stay afloat and awake, she surrendered herself to this dazed, dreamlike state. The social routine she had kept before the memory box, a schedule populated by religious functions and hosting dinners, was now punctuated by an obsessive reorganization of possessions. Her hands flitting from object to object — she would drown in the memory for a moment, surface, and scrawl notes onto paper labels. She began to differentiate the objects — this dish towel harbored the memory of her first airplane ride, this lamp with the beige shade housed the image of her first sari, that wooden doll on the mantel contained the sensation of a tiny brush painting moist red henna up her arms on the night before
her wedding. With absolute focus, she boxed objects, shuffled them, compartmentalized them. Some were shunted into the front window, displayed for the neighborhood to see, while others were laboriously carried down rickety stairs to occupy a musty corner of the basement. The nature of the objects was surprising; she was shocked to f ind that the birth of her f irst child, the memory of shooting pains, growing bloodstains, clumps of flesh, and then the tiny red face opening its toothless mouth, was localized within a single, rotting fragment of newspaper. Meanwhile, a petty memory, like her last trip to the grocery store, could be found in a porcelain vase. While the old woman scoured and shuffled and cleaned, the man wilted quietly on the living room couch. He held books with long, complex titles: The Hypothetical Decolonization of the Indian Subcontinent, or Implementations of Ancient Eastern Mathematics Under the Guise of Western Innovation, but his eyes blurred on the pages, and the deep brown irises were webbed with milky blue cataracts. His weekly visits to the senior center to play bridge, and win, slowly diminished. Their box was spotless; the hallways heavy with intermingling clouds of incense and Febreze, the kitchen counter glittering, the strange series of objects on the mantle positioned as precisely as army-men. The daughter, when visiting, noticed that it wasn’t nearly as cluttered as before, and
Window Frames | Photography Angela Yang ’19 is a wanderer.
that their count of possessions seemed to have shrunk. She sat in an armchair across from her father and propelled questions toward him. “Nana, how has bridge been? Have you been to the doctor lately? What have you been reading?” They fell on unhearing ears, as he blinked blankly at her and mumbled vaguely before directing his attention back to the tennis match on T.V. She confronted the old woman. “I’m a little worried about Dad. He seems out of it. And he’s going
to be all alone next week when you go on your trip to visit Vani.” “He’s f ine! Just tired from the move. Did you do something to your hair? It looked better the last time I saw you.” The old woman packed a suitcase of clothes, facing an onslaught of memory every time she picked up the items: a silk sari, a button-down shirt, a heavily crafted, and conservative bra. Her head aching from the weight of so many dreams, she rolled the old suitcase down the hallway.
r e a d mor e:
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The Color Puuurrrple | Photography Jacob Alabab-Moser â€™20 never had dreams.
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Sometimes Water Doesn’t Sooth Me d.1 Twice I threw up in the shaking bathroom of the GoBus. Well, the first time nothing came out except for some spit strings dangling from my bottom lip A few times just the catapult of my throat and a tear or two I got a headache from skimming a text message not the one I anticipated I swallowed a strawberry dramamine dry, the powdered roof of my mouth made me gag the second time this time with the liquid of maple praline granola and some yellow phlegm I waddled dizzily back to my seat and tried hard to ignore the chenille confetti of the chair in front of me. I shifted from closing eyes to looking sideways toward the cut orange rock and the chartreuse leaves along this expressway as it bumbles toward the landing where High School Musical plays in the plastic coffeeshop and the baristas sing along because there’s really nothing else to do On the street I walked with a backpack that pulled my back into okay posture even though I really wanted to pack light. I was alone, so I decided to buy a comfy shirt. It was long sleeved and powder blue The scent of lemon balm lingering a pale yellow perfectly opposing the sun cast upon the streets too old and narrow causing people to disperse in bottlenecks. I adjusted my pace to meet the flow much to my chagrin. I got to A.’s place. A clean, sleek apartment mostly white mild brown wood and lines of black and silver I started to notice a fly hovering around the kitchen
Andy Li ’17 is a homebody.
I realized there were more a group of familiars A. was staring at the ceiling of her closet figuring out from where they were coming the possibility of a hole a crowded inner wall where maybe there was a carcass far off somewhere since there was no smell we were getting hungry we met L. at the Thai restaurant around the corner. The smell of coconut milk along the edges of salt helped me choose the red curry with duck over rice. We chewed and sucked fatty meat and sweet juices while eyeing the dessert menu on the opposite wall we split a popsicle made of mango and sticky rice so much flavor a hot residue lined my throat Some joy came with sweat when it was dinnertime. Really spicy, even for us. We laughed as we reached for our glasses of ice water to soothe our throats even though in school I learned that water doesn’t actually do much I like to think that it helps Afterwards A. went to get wine L. and I went to get beer The cashier said that he trusted me He said that L.’s ID was fake then he said konnichiwadomo’arigato so we left without the beers We went back to A.’s. She invited over a boy she’s been into. She told me she was worried that he might be a softboy I told her it was cool that they were taking it slowly. He arrived and the four of us went up to the rooftop. There was no magic like I usually associate with rooftops we stared at buildings chatted for a bit noticed that the boy was gone
Eel | Mixed Media Ellen He â€˜19 welcomes you to come over for dinner anytime.
A. went to go find him she found him on the roof of the adjacent building and talked with him for a while L. was getting tired so she left and I went back in to take a shower my eyes drifting my hair was still wet when I went to sleep on the couch I awoke to the opening door A. and the boy came in They waved to me my hair was still wet they went back out I fell back asleep with no dreams just dark my hair drying on one side the other still wet in the morning.
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Painted Dolls | Hand-Turned Maple Wood & House Paint Makoto Moses Kumasaka, Shaina Tabak, Julia Steketee, Santiago PerĂŠ â€˜18 form an unstoppable force of nature.
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Family Horror Story I had grown up with a fascination for abandoned places — sanatoriums and amusement parks and the like — and didn’t find out until I was ten that my family had such a property in its possession. Decrepit and coated in a scabby layer of blue paint, my mother’s childhood home in Olongapo hadn’t been inhabited since she left in her 20s. The front door swung from its jamb like a limb. Severed from the bone but not quite at the skin. My mother had since returned, with a husband and an American daughter in tow. The entire trip, I clung close behind my parents, as if they were a buffer to the dubious unreality of the country where, as they tell me, I was born. But when I cast distrustful glares at the Philippines, my mother saw only the promise of her youth. “See that river?” she said fondly. “Your uncles used to swim there.” I looked, and the water rolled thick and brown. I followed her and my dad into the house. The wood floors groaned under the strain of our footsteps. The best way to explain the perverse enchantment that abandoned places held for me is the desolation of living. Back home, I’d scour the Internet for photographs of evacuated hospitals and halfconstructed hotels, where I dug for the fragments of living. An iron bedframe. Parlor seating carpeted with lichen. Mundane when it was filled with its inhabitants, a space forsaken becomes a decaying, sentient thing. Like it is waiting for its ghosts. 15
But it is a different thing entirely to look across the living room, the desk, the couch, all arrayed as a normal living room might be, and know the people in the photographs. Tucked into a desk on the far side of the room was a trophy clouded with dust. One framed photograph rested against it. It was a woman’s face, f lushed with youth, bearing a Miss Olongapo pageant crown. “Wasn’t I pretty?” my mother said, following my gaze. The woman had my mother’s same thick hair and prim nose, but the years of accumulated dust on the glass rendered it in a far past. A cold tremor of fear ran under my flesh. It was like seeing the face of a dead person. I gripped my mother’s hand tighter. I couldn’t dispel the haunted air of a room drained of its life, where my mother’s petrified face beamed in a corner. Anxious, I backed away, toward a hallway. “Careful, anak,” my mother warned. “That was the kitchen.” I couldn’t make out the end of the hallway. I edged toward it. What had caused such an evacuation from this house and the life that breathed in it? In the hallway, spikes of sunlight bore down from holes in the ceiling, and in those streams, dust motes f loated in the air like the suspension at the end of a question, or the beginning of a clue. First came the night. It descended on Olongapo on a Saturday morning in a swift, dark blanket. It was 1991. My mother stepped down from the bus from
Pia Ceres ’17 is somehow a morning person.
Manila, and stepped on a sidewalk pillowed by ash. Street lights and traffic blinkered back at her, in the absence of all other light. Today, even the sidewalk fish ball vendors were nowhere to be seen. Pedestrians’ eyes were raised up at the swath of black cloud, one hand shielding their eyes and the other covering their noses and mouths from the steady sheets of ash drifting from the sky. Ashfall — when the tiny, white-gray flecks hung in the trees and dusted rooftops, it looked like Christmas in American movies. The ash powdered my mother’s shoulders. She shook it off herself and began to raise her arm to call a jeepney to take her home. Then, she stopped short, thought better of it, and headed toward the supermarket, which was beginning to draw in droves, an army with their hands clamped over their mouths and noses. Mount Pinatubo is a science lesson and a parable for distrust. The volcano is located in the Zambales province, whose most populous city is the thriving port of Olongapo. But a century dormant, no one paid mind to this sleepy mountain. Villages, with schoolhouses and chickens, dotted its gentle slopes. Why shake things up now? Sometimes, small earthquakes shifted the ground underneath. Yet the villagers in the surrounding hills stayed, putting their faith into this sturdy mountain. Where else could they go? And if not this tall and firmly planted earth, what could they trust?
Then came the quakes. The ash had not relented. My mother was home, curled onto the couch with her knees hugged to her chest and her chin between her knees. The shaking had begun moments ago — violent, vertical spasms of the ground beneath her. She stared warily at the glass bookcase across from her. By now, the sky was moonless dark, and a continuous roar not quite like thunder tore through the air. When the power went out, she lit candles that threw low, shuddering light into the room. Carefully, my mother made her way to the bookshelf, snatched an encyclopedia, and swept to the letter P. Curled on the couch, she held a candle to the word. Pompeii. …in 300 B.C. The ash, historians say… …complete burial of a city…She heard a distant crash amidst the roar of the mountain. Roofs collapsing under the ashfall. My mother clutched this divining encyclopedia. “Hoy! Rissa!” A familiar voice called. She walked to the living room and threw open the window. A gust of ash blew into the house, but she could make out the parallel window her next door neighbor. “Are you alright?” he yelled against the shattering air. “Yes, but did you hear that crash?” “That was your kitchen!” Fear settled into her bones. Her neighbor told her that everyone on the street would be gathering at his house; it would be safer to protect one roof.
She dashed to the front doorknob. Stuck. She pushed with her shoulder. The door gave a centimeter, two. Ash, knee-high, streamed in through the crack. She put all of her desperation and will to live into the last thrust with her shoulder, and the door conceded an opening just wide enough for her to slip outside and run. Was the neighbor’s house really so far away? She hadn’t realized it before. She willed herself to run. What time was it? Black clouds crowded the sky. She had to run. It was pitch dark but for the wide, unnatural flashes of light, green, blue, and orange. In the brief moments of light, she made out a rain of large volcanic rocks. Run. She knocked desperately on the front door. The women were ushered into a bedroom to sleep while husbands and brothers took shoveled ash from the rooftop. My mother lay on the seismic earth, closed her eyes, did not sleep. In the morning, the earth had stilled. The women walked through the light ashfall to buy water, since the wells were clogged. When she reached the city, my mother came upon a world warped and surreal: Familiar buildings were flattened by their own roofs — the mall, the hospital. Lines streamed out of grocery stores. And Aitas, the pygmy-like indigenous people who were rooted in Pinatubo’s mountainsides since the mountain’s own beginning, wandered in metropolitan Olongapo, their bare feet padding atop the ash, displaced in this hot, artificial winter.
Last came the rains. After the ashfall, the rainy season came. Rainstorms bore down on rooftops, mixing with ash to create a liquid concrete that pummeled through roofs. Every possession, every person flattened. My mother dug. She dug in the rain and did not turn around when she heard roofs crashing behind her (or was it just lightning?). When at last the sky cleared, though, her house was uninhabitable. Piles of wet ash had collected inside. She took some clothes in a bag and moved in with her uncles in Manila. The photographs, the trophy, she left in their place. And what about the mountain villages, the ones with the little tropical plazas and scampering children? They say that when they survived the shaking and the ashfall, the villagers were emboldened enough to stay. They say that when the rains fall, these faithful few gathered in the church and prayed that the mudslide would not touch their homes. But the avalanche of liquid stone only accelerated with the beating of the rain and the steepness of the mountain, the grand rolling beast approached the church with the people on their knees and engulfed it. It happened in a second. Such is dust. Ashes under ashes. Maybe the story of the disappearing church is a myth, or a home country horror story told by parents to frighten their American daughter a sort of understanding about the fast, desperate prayers those quiet abandoned places hold. 16 | VISIONS
Self-Made | Embroidery Floss on Aida Cloth Iris Peng â€™20
N-400 >> start here: please type or print in black ink. >> failure to answer all of the questions may delay processing your form. >> would you like to legally change your name? first (family name) I was the first daughter of his first daughter and so my laoye named me yi for firstborn and xuan for jade. yixuan, for jade; jade, for the soul, for eternity, because in the old days emperors were buried underground in suits of jade and wire built to contain the inevitable entropy of their regrettably human flesh. They left the world with no faces and obscured by hundreds of panels of pale greenwhite stone reflecting light like stirred water.
Yixuan Wang ’18 also answers to “hey you” and “look, a cat!”
yixuan, for nothing, and everything. I chose and I didn’t choose. My family call me by other names anyway and so my name has never been anything but an artificial public construct: a suit, reflecting light into the eyes of those addressing me. Not my soul. Not eternity. ￼ last (given name) I don’t know when I started thinking of jade, started considering it as a possible addition to my unspooling future life. Twenty-year-olds might not know much either, but they do know there are things worse than names. Like the feeling of never belonging to the proper cultural narrative or any hope of a mixture. Like living for years with the fear of someday being sent back where you came from; like living simultaneously with the fear of someday discovering that where you came from is in fact nowhere at all.
Encased in jade, for eternity. middle (if applicable) Not long after we came to Ohio my parents sat threeyear-old me down with their enormous Oxford Chinese-English Dictionary that had a list of common English names in the references pages at the very back. They read them out to me and tried to make me choose one I liked. I could’ve been any name I liked. I could’ve had any of so many lives, but I didn’t choose any of them. Threeyear-olds don’t know much about identity or assimilation. So I went with yixuan; went with yixuan but had to sacrifice that elusive beautiful x sound in the middle of the word; so it might be more accurate to say I went with some variation of eeshon and dove headlong into a decade-plus of awkward first introductions with strangers struggling with an uncomfortable handful of end-alphabet consonants; dove headlong into an eyestinging combination of embarrassment and pride.
Like staring down the abyss of USCIS Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and no longer knowing what I want to write down. Failure to answer may delay. and what comes after If a name is just a suit, scattering light and containing the inevitable entropy of the soul, then maybe I want to embroider a bit more onto the front of this suit, all of a sudden, without warning. So what, then? Life is sudden and without warning. And I am alive still, and breathing, and changing, unlike those skeletons of emperors that even jade couldn’t save, unlike my laoye who is is buried now too, buried before I could go back and visit him one last time, a box of ashes underneath the sunbaked dirt of a village in Shanxi province. Better to add things than to lose them too soon. Better to embroider than to break.
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Library Copy | Watercolor and Ink Ashley Chen â€™19 is a stubborn art student.
大三島の家| Photography Ying Bonny Cai (蔡颖)’18 likes the sound of laughter.
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Shen Bi Ma Liang
Amy Wang ’20 is a fan of all things literary.
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In the story my father used to tell, Ma Liang was a hero. Of course, back then I was just a kid living in the Old Country. And the story was only a story, and made sense in my head. For as far back as I can remember, he’d always tell it on my birthdays. We established a tradition. I’d finish my celebratory bowl of noodles, look at him across the table, clear my throat and ask: “Can you tell me the one about Shen Bi Ma Liang ?” And he’d grin, exposing those crooked yellow peasant-teeth, and begin the tale. The ending would always be the same: Ma Liang triumphant, the kingdom applauding his heroism. I’d fall asleep to dreams of golden mountains and animate paint, wishing for a magic brush of my own. I. It’s a traditional tale, one my father knew by heart. A peasant boy aspires to be a painter but isn’t able to afford the supplies, so he practices drawing in the dirt with twigs and sticks instead. Though his family lacks money, he is kind-hearted, gracious and honest — and so the gods take pity. One day, a spirit approaches in the form of an old man and offers him a single, fine-haired brush. The boy thanks the man, takes the brush and proceeds on home. How could he have foreseen the surprise that would await him there? That the very first swallow he’d paint, its inky wings spread out across the walls of the house, would lift so suddenly off the clay and take flight? He couldn’t have known. But take flight it does. He watches it soar away, through the window and into the great blue strip of silk lying beyond. When word gets out of his gift, first the village and then the whole world 21
starts flocking to Ma Liang’s doorstep. He paints radishes and rice — lotus flowers — bright-eyed swans. With a dip and stroke of the enchanted brush, he brings a peacock to life for a little five-year-old girl, who shrieks with delight. Another dip, another stroke, and there’s a new summer robe for Mrs. Liu. Another and another, and a basket of plums materializes, piled high enough to feed the entirety of Ma Liang’s family. The people who arrive from the city are amazed. The villagers, who have known the boy all his life, are overjoyed. No more unbearable winters, they decree. No more bad harvests. With his help, we will live like emperors. The forms changed things for my father and me. A month or so before my eighteenth birthday, I first began to notice the way his eyes kept meeting mine — just a quick glance, then they’d flicker away — over and over again as I traveled to and fro along the spindle of my schedule: eating, working, studying, sleeping. That gaze of his was troubled, I could tell. It was distant, vague; he didn’t grin as much as he used to. When, at one or two in the morning, I finally clicked off the table lamp and heaved myself to bed, a sliver of blue-green light would still be shining from the crack underneath my door. I imagined my father at the kitchen table in his rubber sandals, or else logging hours on the bulky desktop computer, thinking about…what? But I’d fall asleep before I could wonder too long. Later I would return to that day, that month, that year — scour each in my mind’s eye for signs of the oncoming flood. What had we eaten
for dinner? When had I come home from work? Where had my father been the night before? Why hadn’t I take the time to unravel his mysterious ways, his hours on the Internet. Later, in the dark of night, I would ask myself: what had I done to deserve this? What had my father thought I’d done to deserve this? And what had I done to deserve my father? II. By summer, news of the magic brush has rippled throughout the kingdom. One day, Ma Liang receives an invitation from the emperor, who requests the boy’s presence at the royal palace in the far-flung capital across the sea. And so, emboldened by the promise of fame, Ma Liang boards the royal vessel and prepares to sail. The whole village gathers to see him off; all around the harbor, tears and shouted words mingle in the air. Whether these cries should be attributed to exultation or grief — who can tell? The bottom line is they are giving him up. He is not leaving; they are giving him away. Gladly or sadly, they have come to say goodbye. Ma Liang’s optimism is short-lived. Nearly as soon as he arrives at the capital, the emperor assails him with demands. “Paint me a mountain of gold,” he bellows. “Or I’ll have you executed tonight.” And so Ma Liang lifts the brush from his jacket pocket. A few weeks earlier, I remember, I had mentioned my upcoming birthday to my father, hoping to wheedle a gift out of him. Eighteen was a big year; I craved something grander than the usual fifty or sixty yuan. “This is a special year,” I ventured over dinner. “My eighteenth, you know.”
“Of course I know,” he said, grinning at me. “I’m your father.” “Will I be receiving anything special?” A slight pause, and then — “You’ll be receiving the tale of Shen Bi Ma Liang.” I dropped the topic, the pause he’d taken stifling my nerve. Perhaps I was asking too much, after all. I didn’t want to press him for something he couldn’t afford. And besides, I reminded myself, I was hardly a filial son; apart from fixing meals, I rarely ever gave him gifts for his own birthday. And then, all of a sudden, came the forms: a hefty stack, piled on the table just where my bowl of noodles should have been. III. Ma Liang lifts the brush from his jacket pocket. And paints a sea of frothing waves. One by one the white-tipped crests emerge, roiling as if enraged. He paints each crest with the help of his own memory, reminding himself of the wind slapping his face at the harbor, the fishermen who abandoned their boats to see him off—to say goodbye to Him, Ma Liang, the boy who saved their town. Above the first sea he paints another: this one of churning, smoke-gray clouds. And only then does the golden mountain take shape, uncurling in long, loose lines with each dip and stroke of the artist’s hand, sandwiched between water and sky. “What are you doing?” shrieks the emperor. “Stop this misbehavior. I want only the golden mountain!” But it’s too late; ink is irreversible. So Ma Liang paints a ship, onto which the emperor, along with several of his most loyal officials, immediately climbs.
And they’re nearly three quarters of the way to the mountain when a spear of lightning forks down from the clouds and strikes the mast of the ship. A moment of illumination — the silhouette framed briefly by hot white light—and the whole thing pitches underwater. And just like that, Ma Liang has single-handedly rid the kingdom of its tyrannical king. “Boom—and goodbye,” my father would say, clapping his hands together to emulate thunder. I used to love that part. I asked: “Why?” “You’re a good student and a hard worker,” he said, scrolling down the lines of text upon desktop screen. “I know you. You’re wasting your potential living here.” “No,” I said. “No, no, no.” “You can get a better job, provide for me.” “But I’m already providing for you! How will I keep in touch, all the way across the ocean? I tell you, I’m not going.” “Why not? Think of all the opportunities you’d have. They say you can do anything there. You could become a writer, or a doctor, or... whatever you want to be. Why turn that down?” “Because I don’t want to leave you here alone!” And it was mostly true. I wanted to tell him no, because I loved him. And also — to be honest — I loved our little family, our little boxed-in life. Even if we had to work harder than most, we had what was ours. Here was home, and out there…well, who knows? The opportunities would eat me alive. I was afraid of the world. But then he raised his hand and I stopped talking. His palm loomed
over my face, big and calloused and unfamiliar. He had never hit me before. “You are leaving this Godforsaken place,” he shouted, his voice like thunder. “Or you’re going to end up dying here, like everyone else before you, like me.” His irises were as black as ink. And for the first time, I could see the pain behind them. The price he would pay, trading tickets for a son. All the things he thought about in the middle of the night. I don’t know, I just broke. “Fine,” I said, and he lowered his hand. And soon enough, boom—I was out of there: locked up in a plane, hundreds of miles from the Old Country, alone in an endless sea of sky.
r e a d mor e:
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Seoul People | Pen and Watercolor Suzie Shin â€™17 is thankful for life.
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reflection of a girl, 19 You are constantly turned in on yourself. Every night you find yourself waking up sweating and afraid to be alone. It is too hot in the blanket; your feet are always clammy; you wonder what it feels like to stand up straighter and prouder. You never look me in the eye. You don’t like talking to people because it feels you check your phone too often. You don’t like checking your phone because it feels like waiting outside in the dark for the friend you just called to come and pick you up. You don’t like waiting outside in the dark because you are afraid of everything and especially yourself. You are afraid of everything and yourself because you are always talking to people and always checking your phone. — When your mother calls you to ask you about your day you feel a deep sense of regret. You know that the way you speak to her is something that matures over time. You don’t want that. You are terrified of growing older or wiser or more mature. You are terrified of your mother growing older. You don’t want to tell her anything. You don’t want her to ask you things. Instead you want her to tell you about her life; you want to swallow up her life and life stories and vitality and youth and the warmth of the home you grew up in. — Sometimes I try to put myself in your mind; I wonder if sometimes (when you are sitting alone and the night is a certain shade of grey and your temples are itching and something is crawling under your fingernails) you are seized by a sudden rage: at aromatherapy, at perfectly arched feet, at the dirt under your fingernails, at bearded men who drink coffee, at men who give presentations, at men you know and don’t know, at men who cut you in line for the gender neutral bathroom, at
Jackie Gu ’17.5 could have been a bag of peach gummies in another life.
men who call you little girl, at men who notice you, at men who don’t notice you, at men who read The New York Times as they sit in a hospital waiting room. How long have you been out of your body and how long has it been poetic? How long have you been afraid? How long have you been on the verge of tears in a classroom? How long have you been clenching your fists so hard your fingernails dig into your palms? How long have you read books written by men for men about women who are like you but not you? — I read in a book once that an Asian woman was walking home and a Vietnam veteran wondered out loud if she had a slanted cunt. She couldn’t tell him to go fuck himself until she was in another man’s car. — I am a walking slanted cunt until I am a slanted cunt that rides in another man’s car. My body is a deforested scarred barren wasteland that cannot understand what happened to it. My body is a moment frozen in time that I want to forget. My body speaks to me in a language that I haven’t mastered but it is constantly insisting that I flee, roll over, accept, surrender, demilitarize. My body is Camp Smedley D. Butler across Okinawa and the rest of Japan. My body is struggling to understand the dumping grounds for thousands of coolie bodies in Cuba. My body adopted gendered radicals after Western occupation. — In translation, one culture occupies the other. My body is constantly in translation.
Whole 반 |Artist Book Lily Siegel ’17 is your best American girl.
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Wǒ shì měiguó rén (1) | Mixed Media on Canvas Jeffrey Hsueh ’17 is an orange.
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A Sunday Collage “You look just like him.” “Who?” I asked. “Ông Ngoại,” said my mother, wiping her brow as she took a break from pouring jasmine tea into porcelain teacups. The Vietnamese words for “grandfather” glided off her tongue, tracing the obscure figure of a man I had only ever met in sepia-toned daydreams. “On Sunday afternoons, he would sit at our kitchen table, making collages from scraps of paper that he had collected during the week.” I looked down at the delicate snippets of paper, which I had been arranging and rearranging for the past hour. From the artifacts I had pieced together – my mother’s passing comments, a yellowed letter written in meticulous fountain-pen-cursive, and a crinkled photograph of a neatly dressed man reading the newspaper with a cat dozing on his lap — my grandfather was a patient and artful man. Perhaps, on these Sunday afternoons, he had sat at the kitchen table, examining his handiwork while his ten children ran hazardously through the house. Despite the shouting of carefree children and the pounding of their footsteps on the f loor, Ông Ngoại had remained concentrated
on his project. My grandmother had watched him as he delicately applied a paste that he had made by boiling glutinous rice. And the cat, tired of being jostled around on his lap, had jumped up on the table to inspect the discarded clippings. At one point, Ông Ngoại must have looked out of the window to see a clear blue sky; and seizing the moment, he decided that the entire family should go to the park to fly homemade kites. Once a month, my mother would burn incense and lay out a feast in front of portraits of my grandparents. The smoke from the incense rose through our ceiling into the afterworld where Ông Ngoại and Bà Ngoại* could follow it back into our living room. They needed sustenance, my mother explained, so that they would not be hungry while watching over our family. We must not forget about them, she insisted, for they never forget about us. While I sat at the polished dining room table, still fiddling with my collage, my mother began to burn this month’s incense. All morning, she had been too busy cooking five different types of tofu, too preoccupied with her quest for the perfect bouquet of yellow
Michelle Hoang ’17 regularly sets off her smoke alarm, burning incense and leftover pizza. chrysanthemums to give me any feedback on my latest work. “Don’t forget to say a prayer to Ông Ngoại and Bà Ngoại before the incense goes out. They have been waiting all of this time to hear from you,” said my mother, finally resting on the couch. Suddenly, a breeze came in through the window, sending swirls of smoke around the room. My clippings were gently lifted off of the table. But somehow, they looked better, decisively rearranged by the wind. As I cemented a sliver of my collage onto the page, somewhere Ông Ngoại, who had spent every Sunday ref ining his eyes for balanced works of art, nodded to himself, “Yes, that piece belongs right there.”
On The Old China Plate Was a Tiny Finger | Colored pencil, gouache Helen (Hao-Yi) Yu â€™19 is happy.
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Ojiichan | Woven Alice McDonald ’18 is a junior in Textiles at RISD; she is half Japanese and grew up living between Tokyo and Connecticut.
a r t i s t s tat e m e n t
My woven piece is titled Ojiichan, an endearing name for Grandpa in Japanese. It is based off of a scroll given to me by my grandfather, a talented calligraphist, just a couple years before he passed away. The scroll has the Buddhist proverb “Anshin Ritsumei” written on it, or in English, “the act of reaching a peaceful state of mind.” This truly characterized Ojiichan with his calm demeanor and appreciation for the smallest and seemingly simple things. Being half Japanese and growing up mostly in the USA , I was able to learn Japanese; however I struggled to read and write. I could never read most of the Kanji characters in my grandfather’s Sumi writing. However, the pure expression and evocative nature of my grandfather’s Shodo visually communicates a much deeper emotion that connects me to happy childhood memories and nostalgic summers spent at my grandparents’ home in Tokyo. I wove this piece as an exploration of my valuable relationship with Sumi ink and its powerful qualities that fuse both writing and artistic expression.
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Grandson Seed of arctic creatures on the ice-sheets, howl! You are full on mountain shadows and praenominis cold until your voice rang—awoooooooooo Walk, run, tumble— life becomes a bloom inside your sacred heart
Benjamin Attal ’18 is a short person trapped in a tall body.
tuna salad spoilt in refrigerator can’t keep the garden door from slamming shut on my delicate fingers
Also, top shelf, kitchen cabinet, sieve for sand and water Clatters to the ground and sit alone in the alley, Into city sewer the last trace run together I was made when my father fell through, into, between, And sometimes I yowl When I want to go home.
and the water drip is on and on
rear towards the be of what to be of what I am a gravel and dirt patch on the corner of Smith and Hoyt where tree grows
young and quivering
but cold is around
now you you
speeding down from ‘lantic the tree will drown
can you tender it tame it
a heart blooms red and fragile
and let it fall into yours when it can no longer be
home to the ives and baby necks
but in the marrow of home
keep it blushing red warm
Titans fall into massive Brooklyn
in winter salt
favorite dockets include: 1. Wonderful light-scapes (seething memory break) and the technicians behind them 2. Modern day (the back of a thousand labors) leeching: best practices 3. Why grandson prefers to throw baseballs fast (to come unto what has become what is) 4. The future is now: coping breath -ing in slowly counting to (and I shall come out of the darkness) ten
is an unobtrusive way to drop dead consumed in cafeʹ noir and chromium jaws whose glint is sports car don’t shout for help hear engines revving heads spinning on body’s axis sling cerebral cortex an abacus turns on itself and the dreams fall onto the grain — they could be more but they are less visions upon visions to the mind regress and insincerity in a poem’s frame
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Yiwu | Photography Helen (Hao-Yi) Yu â€™19 is happy.
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Wǒ shì měiguó rén (2) | Mixed Media on Canvas Jeffrey Hsueh ’17 is an orange.
Conquistador walk with
Sonja John ’17 is burning all the maps.
be bull dyke pussy, tomboy playing man the negative an empty mouthful.
space between two legs.
sinew stitched up in Black-brown
refuse — reject refuse — which is to say, cast-off be waste, be throwaway, be comingled recyclables communing vegetables commuting cultures vestigial trade route nowhere. be also a re -fuse, a spark rejoining, a lick of flame, a wick, or faggot-stick brown dyke twig scorching,
your hickeyed skin, a map of the world.
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robert was a weird guy. no one liked robert except me—i liked the exclusiveness of liking robert. robert had questionable morals and very little money. he was thirty-eight. he had a book that he’d been working on forever. robert was a “writer” but actually a training nurse, after this and that didn’t work out. robert was bald. robert hated children and probably regretted ending his latest relationship in college me and robert in a bar down la condesa in mexico, him gringo me china both of us drank mescal with our poor spanish and both of us aliens him telling me all the things he hates about his life me feeling sorry and cheerful and strangely attracted to the poor ugly unemployed bitter bald man twenty years older than me also probably a bit sociopathic, me disbelieving my bad taste in men, and him disbelieving everyone and everything.
Ajin Lim ’17 now has a good vision.
Nim | Oil painting A Run of Salmon | Mixed media Juwon Jun,Chiu RISD’19 ’18islikes the idea Tiffany a tikachiu. fauxcan. fur. Catch of herpink if you
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Haley Lee ’18 is a 2009 facebook status. Andrea Zhu ’17 has her head in a vat of oatmeal. Lisa Lee ’17 wears white Sketchers Shape-Ups. Eveline Liu ’19 is looking for the lefty desk. Sarah Im ’17 is in an unrequited relationship with coffee. Mia Gold ’17 will defend cilantro until the day she dies. Linda Park ’19 enjoys little surprises in life. Sruti Suryanarayanan ’19 drinks a little too much tea. Jiaju Ma ’21 wants to reincarnate as a laser cutter. Yvonne Fong ’18 now finishes her own sandwiches… Ryan Nguyen ’19 loves using iCalendar. Sophia Meng ’20 strives to be a good mom to her succulent. Ananya Shah ’17 dreams of a world in Technicolor. Elizabeth Huh ’19 doesn’t understand unsweetened iced tea.
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VISIONS Volume XVII Issue I