Archive for June, 2009

A scrape (by Jane Voodikon)

June 30, 2009

Jane Voodikon offers the third post in an online game of Consequences (inspired by Hydragenic‘s wonderful experiment), wherein eleven writers, myself included, each write a 250-word narrative around the theme of an abandoned landscape, and must use the last line of the previous post as his or her first line. Our series was started by Sam J. Miller, followed by Jade Park. Next up in a few days is Lisa, One-Eyed Woman. (Jane lives in Chengdu, China, which restricts access to WordPress and Blogspot, so here’s her post on my site.)


This is where playing dead landed me.

I was due for something dreadful, indeed. Drunken frat boys, talking deer, the DMZ, disappearing buildings. Surely a hallucination. If I don’t talk to it, it’ll go away. Deny. I refuse to talk to a deer. Large antlers and deep voice or otherwise. Talking deer do not exist, and neither does the DMZ, at least not in North America, where I must be, since I’ve never left the continent.

Suddenly, I realized I was going to vomit. I realized because that thing started to happen. That thing that means an upchuck is impending. That thing when you see something nasty and in your brain, everything’s just going from bad to worse: like you see a shit smear in the toilet bowl and uncontrollably, with your consciousness screaming no!, stop!, stop!, your hand reaches into the bowl, scraping the fecal matter and getting it all jammed underneath your fingernails. But you can’t stop there: You have to go and stick your fingers in your mouth, scraping the insides of your dirty nails with your teeth. It happens every time I see a toilet brush, too. The whole thing was slowly playing out in my mind, and that’s when the bile started coming up.

So then I was standing, a puddle of puke at my feet, in a forest, possibly very near to a talking deer with large antlers—maybe an opossum too, who knows—the birds hadn’t been talking! I distinctly recalled hearing birds fighting, in normal bird squawk.


The business of my city (4)

June 28, 2009

Williamsburg, 2003
I am closed.

41-31 51st Street, Woodside, 1980–82
First typewriter: sister patiently showing how it works; entries from the Encyclopedia Brittanica, copied word for word for practice, for enjoying time with fingers; black, sleek; constant ribbon changes; gone now. Blood from mouth: staring into mirror, fascinated; Dad had been angry, only that once, ever; but about what? can’t remember; the leg from a rocking chair; a paddled bottom; hanging upside down by feet. Steven B. Choi: best friend; moved to Korea; found him again freshman year in college; two completely different people; hugging; but where is he now?; mania.

Main Street, Flushing, 2006
Apartment-sitting. A sense of both belonging and distance in balance. A chair on the balcony: the eyes are closed, the head is tilted back, the wind and sun are fresh.

Confucius Plaza, Chinatown, 1980–85
Handball. Slumber parties. Angela. Hello Kitty. Shortcuts.

Staten Island
Friends: A best friend, beautiful and limber from birth, moves here. An ex-boss tinkers with drums, guitar, proofreading, and his wolfish tyke. A leisurely ferry ride one morning, resulting in generous photographs, large stories, and a steadfast bond.

West 11th Street stoop, 2003–08
Discussions: boys, writing, food.

East Broadway
2005: A friend’s apartment; a tabla player’s lap; a balcony; sweet Douglas. 1979–80: A dark railroad apartment, now conflated with friend’s cramped Madison Street apartment and my narrator’s studio. Our first piano, a present from Dad to Sis, with much surprise from Mom. Baby roaches on the kitchen table, smacked upon. Popcorn-textured walls avoided by hands. Little brother’s first steps, his wispy hair a Superman’s curl on his forehead. Stairwell with neighbors’ boys.

Sixth Avenue, 1997
he, a stranger in the street: Help me.
she, emerging from store: I’ll try.
he: Look, I have all this money.
she: Put that away! Don’t show it off like that.
he: No? Tell me where should I put it, then.
she: In a bank, of course.
he: A bank? Like a riverbank?
she: . . .
he: You’re telling me to bury my money by the side of the river? Is that what you’re saying?
she: I have to go now.

West 75th Street, 2001
Two cats in my sister’s apartment. Head, wrapped in scarf to ward off allergies. A photograph of me with baby T asleep in my too-thin arms. Little interest in snooping through the life here.

841 Broadway, summer 1995
Editorial internship, first publishing job, the sudden, incredible access to free books. Eric, The Heiress, Garbage. Tim, tall, Showtime. John, supervisor, beautiful, eyes soft and deep. Tightly knit, parties, no pot.

Cypress Hills, 2009
School project: A high school freshman interviews me. I answer, then ask him too many of my own questions. His smile is hesitant. Later, the class’s book of interviews is published. My profile takes up a whole page, the title “Living in Different Worlds.” He focuses on my parents, China, Taiwan, Buddhism, and Christianity. It’s very well written.

Heart, emptied. Tearing everything down in order to build back up. Time must be taken—I see that now.

Dieterle Crescent, Rego Park, 1982–84
Brother laughed at all my jokes. Raced toy cars around the house. Shared room with him and my aunt. Went to bed with Thriller in the background, but always turned it off when Vincent Price’s laugh came on. Hated the Cabbage Patch dolls, then begged parents to buy one. Collected Garbage Pail Kids cards. Tried to run like the Bionic Woman, i.e., in slow motion. The attic was reached through a hole in parents’ bedroom closet. The backyard had a large tree. Walked down the street frightened of the gnarled knots in the trees. Was terrible at selling chocolate to neighbors. A man in a car asked me to approach him. I learned how to ride a bicycle, and skinned my knees every day.

Manhattan, 9/11
I had not been here.

December 2006
A loud solitude begins.

Mott Street, Chinatown, 1979–88
Dance class: awkward cliques; passable flexibility; rudimentary gymnastics; sibling rivalries; halfhearted performances at Columbia University, the Statue of Liberty, Flushing Meadow Park, a Bowery bank, a mall. Oily crullers and sweet soybean milk in the Elizabeth Street tunnel. Juicy crystal shrimp dumplings. The torture of Saturday-morning Chinese school. Parents’ store, first on Delancey Street, then Kenmare. On Delancey: “Why are those women leaning into men’s cars, Mom? Are they asking the men out? Why are their skirts all torn up?”

Here comes the motherfucking Ruckus.

270 Madison Avenue, 1996–97
Second publishing job. Fridays off. All-women department. Not so much claws as manic expression—but also warm, warm bosoms.

Boerum Hill, 2008
American he: Your ex-husband sounds like a bum.
Parisian she: I do not like this word “bum.” You can’t call my ex-husband an asshole.
American he: I’m not! I don’t mean “bum” in that way.
Parisian she: My dictionary tells me that “bum” is not nice. You are saying that he is an asshole, and he is not.

Harlem, 2003
New Year’s Eve. Everything has changed.

175 Fifth Avenue, 1997–2000, 2002–03
Third publishing job. Sensitive to everything, including one coworker calling me “Wah” and another clipping her nails at the desk.

Bronx, 1995
Woke up in the

233 East 69th Street, 2007–present
Elizabeth Bishop had lived here for a month one summer. Now my sister and her family live at this address. I am allergic to the neighborhood. I have vowed to avoid it for good.

Madison Avenue, 1999
Breasts are soft!

Union Square West, 2005
The writer walks through his publisher’s office unaware of the books and people he passes; the night before, he broke his girlfriend’s nose, and this morning his imagination is fired up.

Bronx, 2008
Lost, again, and wearing a see-through dress.

first 19 Union Square West, then 18 West 18th Street, 2003–present
Fourth publishing job. Am overwhelmed by brilliant books, boys, a terrible first year, tighter schedules, slackening rules, bursts of desire and emotion, now a white-noise hum in head and heart.

Fort Greene, 2004
The DJ invites me onto the stage. “One sec,” my finger says. Then I dash off to the bathroom. Q holds my hair back.

East Village
A fifth-floor apartment. A ground-floor apartment. Cherry blossoms. Crêpes. Omelets. The Bordello Salon.

Sunset Park
I am open.

Canal Street, 2003
Painful, beautiful nipple.

71 Irving Place
A man, just finished reading his first Sebald, looks dazed and is thinking of giving up books. Uma and Ethan discuss things civilly. First dates, second dates, long marriages. Laptops everywhere, and laughter, and wine followed by coffee.

West 19th Street, 2009
At ten a.m., a man clad in beige slacks and shirt rides by on a gray bicycle with a burst of peach flowers in his basket. At nine-thirty that evening, a writer saunters off in wise purple, her hair a mass of coiling black silk and fire.

East 22nd Street, 1997–present
I am blank.

The business of a city (3)

June 24, 2009

Tian Fu Square, Chengdu
The shopping mall contains a movie theater. One film stars Christian Slater. The poster catches him in an awkward running pose. He is desperate to escape a bullet. I am alone in Chengdu and want to see a movie. It is either this or a cartoon about animals.

San Francisco
Cupcakes, crêpes, a ring bought and then lost, Danish furniture, seals, hip-hop class, bad news from the office.

somewhere in Los Angeles
At ten a.m., I wake in a crib. I am four years old. My family is living in a friend’s garage. I will remember very little about this time, except for the crib, which I will always think as odd to house a toddler. I will also remember a swimsuit-modeling session with my sister.

blind masseuse: She’s ill. Tell her she’s very ill.
she: What did he say? I’m healthy as a horse, right?
translator: He says you need to get more rest, that you seem stressed.
she: Tell him I’m healthy as a horse. I’ve never felt better.
blind masseuse: She’s not well. Tell her.

Karaoke on a bus. Crying in front of the Mona Lisa. Teenage angst. Terrible wardrobe.

One weekend—a play, a castle, a nightclub; McDonald’s for comfort; driving wrong-side up.

Yangtze River
Hang-ups about germs are now gone. I can pee-squat with the best of them; somehow I favor the left leg. The cousins give me a tip: Use your shoe to press the flush button. I nod at them thankfully. But I’ve always done so. Anyway, who cares about germs or catching sight of old women with bathroom stalls wide open as they bounce their last drops, hole facing hole? I’m sailing on the Yangtze Fucking River, man.

Sitting in a chair, pondering the women in my life.

After our final goodbyes to my father’s little sister and her devoted family, I sit in the car facing the window. My mother sits beside me. She leaves me alone. I am sobbing. I am terrible at goodbyes. For twenty minutes the tears come and go. It’s an ache in the heart. My aunt looks years older than my father. She tried to convince him to move back home. He patted her hand and told her to take care of herself, to eat more, to be a good girl. “Yes,” she kept saying. “Yes.”

Santiago, Chile
Two cousins from Nanchong are earning a hard living. I’ve met both—one had stayed with us twelve years ago for a summer to gain her footing in Chinatown’s restaurants, before returning home because she’d partied too hard; the other I met on my trip to China in April, on the last day of his visit. I want to see them again.

At three a.m., soft sand pools between the toes.

The business of a city (2)

June 23, 2009


An actress wipes off all her makeup without the aid of a mirror. An actor dies backstage, and haunts his understudy in the second act. A man chains his family to their beds to face the flooding of the river. Two office colleagues share an intimacy; then one dies and the other finally lives. A young boy does not speak to his mother, ever. A news journalist is conflicted about toilet paper. A man corrects a wrong. A tour group causes a stampede. A naive poet seeks out the coven of poets living in the park. Lao Tzu the actor gains a sidekick. A radio announcer has trouble hearing. An old woman, banished from her job, takes her anger out on a museum. A boy is unnerved by the number 34. A woman tells her dying mother that she has just married—a lie—and then the mother does not die. A grieving man walks around the park with a secondhand cell phone. A woman takes on a menial job. A man rides his boat down the Yangtze. A proofreader is also conflicted about toilet paper, but for entirely different reasons. A hungry young man must transport an urn to his ailing grandmother. A woman is paid to sing from the side of a mountain. Two old monks move their temple, bit by bit, from the riverbank to the top of a hill. A little girl wants the dog by the river. Theaters, wine shops, factories, and farms are shut down. Shrines, gravesites, and bones are wept over. A dam has been built. A flood is coming. The green gorges, still gorgeous, have been conquered.

This is the business of Mule City.

Prologue: Felisberto, by Esther Allen (section 21 of 25)

June 19, 2009

Some of the things that attracted his attention:

The two halves of an open casement window, facing each other in perfect parallel.

A black cat or dog.

Hands in general; the sight of his own “knotty black” hand, and the thought of it entwined with the white hand of a certain woman.

A white dress.

Tree-lined streets, and a view through tall tree trunks into the distance.

Shifting patterns of light over the surfaces of things.

Balconies, raised platforms, upper tiers.


Dimly lit rooms. The moment when a light goes out.

Hats in general, and the shadows cast by hat brims. Veils.

Trains and streetcars.

A glimpse of his own face in two mirrors that met at a right angle, showing him half his head attached to the ear of the other half.

Modern architecture, which he loathed.

—from the prologue on Felisberto Hernández,
by Esther Allen, in Lands of Memory

“A mountain in the moon”

June 18, 2009

For a while now I’ve been jotting down shorthand symbols in front of a friend who’s across a café table from me. I’ve asked him to forgive me, explaining that I have to make some notes. He won’t take it badly. He always expects me to do something that’s somehow remote from reality. What I truly want is to give my eyes a rest—writing is less tiring to them—along with my face, and my soul. If I weren’t writing I’d have to display a smile or a gesture to my friend, and say some words that fit in with his idea of me, which it suits me for him to keep. He thinks that although I have only a little money left, it doesn’t really worry me; I’m an artist who lives “on a mountain in the moon,” as he puts it, and only descends at odd moments, full of good grace and forgiveness for this small city where it turns out to be so difficult to hold even a single piano concert. He doesn’t believe I experience earthly anguish, so he tells me with an incredible wealth of detail about all the failures he’s met with in trying to finance this concert. But not only am I here on earth, thinking about how I’ll pay the hotel and the bus to take me away from this place, I’m flat on the ground. Since it costs me a great deal to get up and reach the high places his illusions assign me, I’d rather turn my face and eyes toward this paper, misleading my friend with this flight of signs.

—from “The New House”
in Lands of Memory, by Felisberto Hernández

“All is lost”

June 17, 2009

A bit of singing on the floor below, an occasional door slamming in the corridor, and all is lost.

—Franz Kafka, February 15, 1922,
from Diaries: 1910–1923


I can’t find my way back to the library. I’ve heard of this happening, that if you leave even for just one day and for a very good reason, as good a reason as mine, you may not find your way back. Now why should this be so? I do not understand this library. It houses books, yes, but people as well, like a very old boardinghouse, only nobody borrows the people the way people borrow the books, and neither does anybody open up and read a person the way a person opens up and reads a book. There is a densely empty quality to this space that has always attracted me, and yet now the space rejects me. So here I shall stand forever on Monk Street. I am staring at the empty block that should be housing the library. I can hear its various noises ringing out—the creaking of the floors, the locking of doors, books being opened, ever-mirrored worlds being sifted through, reverberating, distorting. I stand on this curb with my hand out, for I know it is here, the library, right here. And for no clear reason, I think of the rows of pencils laid out on my desk in a corner of my room, always sharpened first thing every morning, even the ones not yet needed. A writer must keep his tools ready and able, in good supply—this is the lesson I have learned today, and I won’t forget it anytime soon, not with my dry eyes fixed on the empty block and my hand so close to finding the library’s door.


(I have been neglectful of my library project and am a bit rusty. Forgive me.)

The business of a city

June 11, 2009


Yesterday was a gray day—gray as in hard concrete, distinctly American, per E.’s response to the spelling of “gray.” A clattering of wooden sticks across the street kept time with my steps as the man watched me watch him play. Earlier in the evening, two men in a car repeatedly shouted the word “faggot” at a man on the sidewalk. Before that, a man and a woman stood at a bus stop arguing about their relationship, and the man constantly touched some exposed part of her—her hair, her shoulder, her arm, her forehead—claiming the limited bits of her to which he had access. Before that, a man cooed at a woman walking past him, only to curse her when she dismissed him with a wave of her hand, cursing her even after she’d turned the corner and disappeared into the park. Before that, I stepped into the path of abrupt anger—a drunk man hugged his friend, and his friend’s body heated up in the cool evening, this I could see clearly and still I moved toward them without breaking my stride, and just as I was in the line of fire, the friend freed himself, exploding: “Don’t touch me!” Before that, my dog and a beautiful pit bull–Labrador mix sniffed each other, their nose-tail dance forcing their humans to circle around each other as well, except that we stayed clear of the other’s tail, our noses tucked far above our earthiness, when his dog suddenly lunged at another rounding the corner, and we watched her leaping toward the new presence, that is, I saw the leap clearly in the way she was restrained by the leash, I saw in my mind her body follow through on the leap, and so I stepped in front of her in order to distract her, to calm her and return her to the sniffing stage of our acquaintance, but my dog had sat down, his ears having gone up and telling me to mind my own business.