The Literary Shanghai Journal

Alluvium

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Welcome to Literary Shanghai!

  Literary Shanghai is a community of readers, writers, and translators, Chinese and English, with a local and regional focus. Our goal is to bring our literary community together through events, workshops, and our literary journal. Read more.  

July Events

Sunday July 16, 10am

Outing: Shanghai Confucius Temple Book Market Visit

Poetry

Jonathan B. Chan – three poems

Jonathan B. Chan is an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge reading English. Born to a Malaysian father and Korean mother in the United States, Jonathan was raised in Singapore and sees his cultural tapestry manifest in his writing. He has recently been moved by the writing of Marilynne Robinson, Joan Didion, and Shusaku Endo.  He is preoccupied with questions of theology, love, and human expression.

 

hồ chí minh

 

motorcycles weave

like flotsam in a slipstream

anxious swarms nudging

through gaps, I twist

to avoid their brusque advance

as epaulette-bearing shophouse

guards glance furtively from

their stools. the humidity

is swift and familiar, local cacophony

splashed with tonal colour, food

painted with colonial hues-

the city whispers

“I’m not some war torn country.”

 

I slurp pho in a 6-villa compound;

I nod guiltily at limbless beggars.

a tremulous emotional current

envelops me at the war museum: the

claymore that’s accompanied me

for months rests indignantly in a glass

case. the trenches, jungle marches,

rifles held above crossed water:

I quiver with sympathy

for the vietcong

 

the new face of vietnam

is global: the young

bury their dead, epithets in

museum displays and lacquer

rendered with expressionist

technique. scars are masked

by korean cosmetics, echoes

drowned by the zing of

fast food (I am told today’s

youth could not fit in the cu

chi tunnels), moans and cries

swallowed in the optimistic

motorbike hum- it is more

fastidious to march to this beat.

 

market vendors jockey for

attention, food stalls wave

their laminated menus, old

cyclo peddlers grunt at

the chaos in the junctions,

acrobats leap on bamboo to

remember the pulse of

village life, I stand with unease

in the facsimile of a gangnam

department store.

 

the only

locals are

in uniform.

 

~

mahjong

 

after psle*

my tuition teacher

turned her center

into a mahjong den

“you deserve a break,”

she’d chortle,

teaching us to fling

thick tiles, eye one

another amidst

the click-clack of

washing, stack

tile walls as if to

guard state secrets.

we’d bet on things like

school postings and

scores, things so

important to a 12-year old

but inconsequential

in a game of mahjong.

we never did play again; our

teacher wary after they

complained, “teach our kids

to score, not gamble,” and

the humdrum of

secondary school

encroached on our aptitudes

the clicking of tiles a

coda resounding in

emptied chambers.

 

 

* Primary School Leaving Examination

 

~

boyhood

 

harbinger: starched fabric rests on

shoulders, the auditorium a

formidable patchwork of stern and

naive, a song resounds- the

lyrics wrestle on your tongue

 

arborescence: nurturing gentlemen is

like pruning bonsai- every red stroke

a snip, every reprimand a shear,

pressure toughens the bark, but can

trees water themselves?

 

supine: there’s a compulsion to let

the winds bowl you over- you’ll learn

to say no after calling it quits too

many nights, red retinas tracing

the reasons not to get out of bed

 

epoch: a young man has clear

milestones- graduation, enlistment,

parades. we are not empires that wax

and wane, we look on zeitgeists with

face-grabbing bemusement

 

denouement: typing poems in an

empty bunk, ignoring the thought of

arrested development, cautiously

contemplating what comes next,

short answer- more of the same

 

 

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Poetry, Translation

Yong Shu Hoong – two poems (translated by Chow Teck Seng)

Yong Shu Hoong has authored one poetry chapbook, Right of the Soil (2016), as well as five poetry collections, including Frottage (2005) and The Viewing Party (2013), which won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2006 and 2014 respectively. His poems and short stories have been published in literary journals like Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Asia Literary Review (Hong Kong), and anthologies like Language for a New Century (W.W. Norton, 2008). He is the editor of anthologies like Passages: Stories of Unspoken Journeys (2013), as well as Here Now There After (2017), which was part of The Commuting Reader series commissioned for the #BuySingLit movement. He is one of the four co-authors of The Adopted: Stories from Angkor (2015) and Lost Bodies: Poems Between Portugal and Home (2016).

 

Negation

I’m not a vegetarian
but I go meatless
on occasions for
the best intentions.
Eating too fast is
another sin. When I
bite my lip and blood
corrupts my vegetables
I’m no longer even
a vegetarian for a day.

 

 

我非素食主义者
但因缘际会,总有些时候
为一些美好的诉求

戒肉
自然,吃太快
也是罪。当我
咬到唇 血
染口边蔬菜时
那日 我已断非
一清白的素食者

 

(Translation by Chow Teck Seng)

 

~

 

Meat Joy, 2014*

 

 To put it blandly, it is

just lunch.

 

But armed with a pinch

of salt, I can certainly try

to unlock all the flavours

and serve a fresh perspective.

 

Take for example, a wedge

of New York City, stuck

in a mall in Hillview where a few

HDB blocks used to stand,

before the entire estate

was roundly erased. After dust

settles, the new sign proclaims:

Dean & DeLuca. A chain of

upscale grocery stores, first

started in SoHo in 1977.

 

This is 2014, 11.30am.

 

I’m having my $18 burger.

The beef is so thick that

well-doneness doesn’t seep into

the patty’s core. I survey

the large plate, and consider how

best to devour the grub.

 

My mouth isn’t wide enough.

 

So I pick up the knife

to draw blood by carving

through the meat, reflecting:

 

How well this red sap

must look, when splattered 

across the floor space

of gleaming white marble!

 

I feel like having a brawl

 

 

With the taste of violence

upon the wingtip of my tongue.

But there’s no worthy opponent

here – only nerdy schoolgirls

fretting over homework, and

straight-laced office workers

celebrating Happy Birthday

with a silly cupcake bearing

a desolate candle.

 

I want to get up

and blow out that flame

wavering for way too long

under someone else’s nose,

but I’m too filled to move.

 

I do not dare to request

for more hot water to douse

my half-spent teabag.

 

Lunchtime is officially over

 

If not for the haze, lapping

menacingly against full-length window.

 

* This poem appeared on the website Kitaab and in Yong Shu Hoong’s chapbook, Right of the Soil (Nanyang Technological University & Ethos Books, 2016), but without the Chinese translation.

 

无肉不欢,2014

 

说白点, 这
不过就是午餐

别太较真  就如一把
盐巴, 我会尝试
从新鲜的视角  去品
出最丰富的味道

举例来说,纽约市的斧头
餐馆,已深入
本地山景区的商场腹地
当然原本挺拔的几座组屋
已连根拔起 整个住宅区
也完满删除。尘埃落定处
竖起招牌宣称:
Dean & DeLuca
高大上的食品连锁广场
品牌1977创建于SOHO

现在是2014年,上午11点30分

我正啃食18元的汉堡
过厚的牛肉,肉饼内部
未能熟透。我眼观巨盘
的四周,思考 如何让口
绕道避开令人为难的血腥

唯我嘴断非血盆大口

于是动刀
雕刻肉身
划出血痕
引血反思:

当血水溅洒
雪白晶莹的
大理石地板
上,红将会
何等娇艳?

我但觉经历一场厮杀

舌尖遂尝
暴力的滋味
一一竟是所向披靡
此处,仅有乖乖牌学生妹数名
纠缠在功课里
一些一本正经的
公司职员在庆生:
为可怜兮兮的杯型小蛋糕
插上孤单的小烛影

我想站起
把窝在人鼻息下
摇摆不定 太久
的火焰 一口气给灭了
唯自己 实腹饱难动

我也不敢
要多点沸水
让未泡尽的茶袋 再来个水浸灭顶

午休已尽。该落下庄严的帷幕?

唯全景玻璃窗外
尚有雾霾,正肆虐着 掩埋天地如幕

 

(Translation by Chow Teck Seng)

 

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About Literary Shanghai
November 27, 2016
Poetry

Holly Painter – five poems (II)

Holly Painter is a poet, writer, and editor from southeast Michigan. Her first book of poetry, Excerpts from a Natural History, was published by Titus Books in Auckland, New Zealand in 2015. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have also been published in literary journals and anthologies in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. Holly teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont.

 

Gather in the outcasts, all who’ve gone astray

 

In God’s preferred version

of this year’s Christmas card

I’m seven months pregnant

seven months on from our wedding

 

You’re a man now, by the way

with an untweezed moustache

and a paisley green cravat

that matches my maternity dress

 

at least in the sense that I’m red

and you’re green and God may be

color-blind as a dog but He knows

the Christmas color grayscale tones

 

from watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

We’ll watch it too this year, in God’s

preferred version of our Thanksgiving,

and not cringe at George Bailey’s

 

abusive tantrums but cheer at the final

family scene and God will smile

when we don’t pull out the tripod

for our yearly Christmas card picture

of two dykes and a dog.

~

When you tire of your homeland

 

Gather up one corner

and start walking away

 

Stroll through a neighboring autumn

Drag your native land over leaves

red and yellow like flattened peaches

 

Stretch your home spaghetti-thin

But careful! Not so fast!

 

When it becomes impractical

to tow your old life any farther

make your way to the national gallery

 

There find the painting with a thousand snaking rivers

and thread your country up to the oily horizon

~

Comfortable Grunge

 

All of us are soft and easily bruised

the flatulent boys of a kindlier youth

the sleeping patterns of fur and dripping noses

the careless rise and fall of mud-matted flanks

 

we’d bathe our lungs in comfortable grunge

wilting flower-weeds in pots that miss the sun

yellowed upholstery with its own nicotine cravings

 

on the radio, hear a recording of the tossing sea

imagine it in the stately grey of old BBC broadcasts

wonder about waves you can’t see

 

outside, the air is much too fine to breathe

donkeys chase nervous chickens through the yard

~

Defend the Holy General

His sons: the one a strapping lad,
a captain, the other his quavering ship,
whistling with wormholes.
Both throw the knuckles for something
to do but see in every comrade’s smile
only molars caked with gold

His vision: his keyring of monocles

His blood: warmer than he thinks
and harder to reach than his wife’s
her child’s bed leaking
into theirs every month
To him it only happened once

His kingdom: a ground so salty
the vegetables come up pickled
while the trees twist
gnarled like pretzels

Defend him still
the holy general
the general store
the storied past
the pastor’s wine
or swine that you are
surrender

~

Retrospective

 

Do you know the moment

when it occurs to you that

so-and-so from your childhood

 

must have been rich or ill or

pregnant or getting a divorce or

racist or not all that bright

 

and you realize that you are both

the reader and the unreliable narrator

of your own life story

 

and nothing you observe

can be trusted completely

even now when it is clear

 

that your math teacher was gay

and your pastor not aloof but shy

and your babysitter a drunk

 

and your mother always terrified

that something would happen to you,

her favorite of all her children?

Continue reading
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Holly Painter – five poems
August 4, 2017
Related posts
Scott L. Satterfield – translation of ‘鹿柴’ by Wang Wei
July 24, 2017
Poetry

John Mulrooney – two poems

John Mulrooney is a poet, filmmaker and musician living in Cambridge, MA. He is author of If You See Something, Say Something from the Anchorite Press and co-producer of the documentary ‘The Peacemaker’, from Central Square Films. He records and performs regularly with a number of groups in the greater Boston area. He is Associate Professor in the English Department at Bridgewater State University. His work has appeared in Fulcrum, Pressed Wafer fold’em zine, Solstice, The Battersea Review, Poetry Northeast, Spoke, Let the Bucket Down and others.

 

Watching the Detectives in Time of National Crisis – a Love Poem

 

When Omar Little gets killed

in the back of the, no, I’m not going to tell

I’m not going to tell you

in case you haven’t seen it.

And the reveal matters.

And so there is always a place

where the story starts

the waters arrived at where

the god declares she is a god

and you who are so good at

making something out of nothing

child of the general truths

at play in the fields

can tell me who the speaker of this poem is.

Newborns stumble out of the womb

already mourning the closing of Jersey Boys

all crying from homesickness.

The speaker of this poem was convinced

he was once filled with god’s breath

and that’s how he got addicted

to this breathing thing.

The country breaking in his chest

like a borrowed heart.

Satan, that old philanthropist

grins back from the TV screen

“Lenny Briscoe smiles and looks at the body”

says the augmentation for the

visually impaired.

the speaker of this poem –

her worries make a nest in her mouth,

the death of a loved one first imagined

the lines of their face

now suddenly the clutter

in an apartment being packed up for moving.

Whiskey’s best advice is to find

Venus in the night sky

and the speaker of this poem

is forever seeking that which is

not yet mortal.

Perhaps the poem is not a thing

but just a condition of things,

and Kanye West you see

is Hölderlin and Joey Bishop was

the red shirt of the rat pack

but that’s not who Jersey Boys

was about.

Detectives look for fingerprints

because they’re seeking fingers.

If I make this skull a lyre

will this light pluck the strings?

To truly love is to never speak

to honor with a poem is to trample

And this isn’t about you

but it is still to say I love you.

 

~

They Eat Fire

 

The flat Atlantic chalky in the sun.

New York, a cluttered interruption.

For a moment, you feel yourself a comet.

For a moment you feel falling,

as if this could not be by design.

Breath held, denied the rest of the cabin,

as if you might need it in some wet, darkness

that you will be plunged into panicking,

until the stiffened muscles of your buttocks

shiver into relaxation under the blunt

guidance of wheels on the runway.

And your mouth opens slight.

Lungs gulp the customs air,

and after making no declarations

your body settles in to the lounge chair

like you had arrived at Lourdes,

faithful, to drink their waters

of Bud Ice and bathe in their cathode rays.

“How do you top a year like that?”

asks the ad for a news program,

as if they had planned it all around their ratings;

revolution in June, earthquake in August,

elections tainted and war, war, war.

The bartender shuffles TV channels

like a deck of cards fanned out electronically.

A hurried traveler, laptop on barstool,

taps formica with a credit card,

causing the channel surf to touch ground

on nature programming.

An unbodied voice says that the early earth

was bombarded with meteors and asteroids,

accompanied by a computer generated image

of firey streaks falling over mountains.

They are researching volcano chimneys

on the ocean floor. In the coldest, darkest place on earth,

where previously it was thought there could be no life,

there are stacks of fire filled with organisms

that defy genus and phylum,

that defy the disciplines of science.

For so long they have survived.

They don’t swim but attach themselves

directly to the column, tunneling in,

rooted almost, and they seem to live on geology alone,

some nutrition there is in explosions.

Blind, cold, alive, they eat fire.

Channel switch bursts across screen.

Ted Koppel’s voice cuts in before

his shock of red hair comes into focus.

Going over the day’s bombings of Serbia,

and the strength of the Serbian resolve.

The night sky, a murky darkness

broken by the flash of bombs

seems subterranean, submerged.

The field interview – a man with a mouth

like a cemetery recounts though

tombstone teeth what makes his

brothers such great fighters:

They tunnel and wait, they hide and seek,

they dedicated. They eat fire.

 

Continue reading
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John Mulrooney – three poems
July 31, 2017
Poetry

Holly Painter – five poems

Holly Painter is a poet, writer, and editor from southeast Michigan. Her first book of poetry, Excerpts from a Natural History, was published by Titus Books in Auckland, New Zealand in 2015. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have also been published in literary journals and anthologies in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. Holly teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont.

 

The Strait

 

There is no street where I live

The leaves of the houseplants rattle

A town of scorched earth and fire escapes,

the city beside the strait

 

Only the inner layers pasted over remain

Today is not a shade of anything

a city grown weary of rebirth

of the scent of raspberries and wood

 

The place that made your cars

will open itself to you tonight

on land that cannot be new

as the hush or the day or

 

the air blowing between rotting boards

that gird the soggier organs

the scaffolding of a rust empire

with wild dogs for sentries

~

Eight

 

Mammatus clouds hover over telephone lines,

fingertips poised to pluck the strings of a guitar.

 

Neil hangs upside-down from the tire swing

jabbing at roly-polies until his stick snaps.

 

He dismounts with a neat somersault and

brushes the woodchips from his ecto green windbreaker.

 

Next year, his parents will split. He’ll move with his mom

to the neighborhood where all the wild boys live.

 

I climb the slide, boots slip-squeaking,

and thump up to a landing caked with wet-pulped leaves.

 

He’ll take pills in high school and get suspended for fighting

while I rack up scholarships and slice myself with broken lightbulbs.

 

I scout the woods where we’re not allowed to go.

It’s almost dark and there are no birds.

 

A flashing needle strings white light across the sky

and then fades as a crash rends the day,

 

a smoker clearing his throat

before spitting out a thunderstorm,

and we run.

~

Beside the Church

 

Rain between the digging

and the burying meant

summer afternoons of

muddy swimming holes

 

We leapt from earthmovers

shrieking as we plunged underground,

ballooned our breath in our cheeks,

and spit out dirty bubbles

 

We sliced a worm with a spade

and the dead fell out

but we were small gods:

we’d made another worm

 

We sprawled in new grass

thin tufts in the dirt

looked straight up the rain

to the black

 

and imagined

dirt coming down

~

Feed Me

 

Feed me only what is necessary

What is tender might be necessary

 

Feed me the train like a chain of clay beads

encircling the lady’s green wrist

 

its boxcars brown as a burlap sack

caked with the mud of potatoes

 

Feed me the red you suck off a candy cane

leaving a stabbing white icicle

 

Then feed me the icicle

the seasonal stalactite

 

that drips itself to life and death

Melt it for me with your breath

 

Feed me your grab bag face:

your punched in nose and your

 

beautiful eyes that can only be

the churning surf you kept

 

Feed my teenage demand

that you be everything:

 

breakfast, lunch, and dinner

morning, noon, and night

 

Feed me only what is necessary

and all you are is necessary

 

I’d feed you too, I would,

but I can never be just another

 

warm-blooded host

that’s not paying attention

~

Apologetics of a College Freshman

 

To the termites of the last empire:

Sorry, but we chew our own cities now

inflate them in the mornings

sour apple bubblegum

and swallow them at night

not the other way around

 

To the tobacconists of the old century:

Sorry, but we roll our own now

stash Mom and Dad in the Christmas cupboard

and take them out to wrap around boxes

crease their edges and trim the excess

while Mom’s still flatly nattering away

 

To the factory farmers of yesteryear:

Sorry, but we grow our own now

sprinkle the seeds of children in classroom

plumbing – they sprout from the walls

absorb their math and science and then

we pluck them and send them to college in vases

 

To the bankers of ages past:

Sorry, but we save our own now

drop kisses in jam jars with buttons

and cursing coins and wishes and

every extra Sunday we save till the

end of our days and then spend

 

To the gods of a time gone by:

Sorry, but we are our own now

fathers, mothers, devils, angels

prophets, priests, chosen people

and if we seem a touch surreal

well, let’s be honest, so were you

Continue reading
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Holly Painter – five poems (II)
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Poetry

John Mulrooney – three poems

John Mulrooney is a poet, filmmaker and musician living in Cambridge, MA. He is author of If You See Something, Say Something from the Anchorite Press and co-producer of the documentary ‘The Peacemaker’, from Central Square Films. He records and performs regularly with a number of groups in the greater Boston area. He is Associate Professor in the English Department at Bridgewater State University. His work has appeared in Fulcrum, Pressed Wafer fold’em zine, Solstice, The Battersea Review, Poetry Northeast, Spoke, Let the Bucket Down and others.

 

At the Brooklyn Promenade

 

Blue clouds of the dusk sky

shimmer on the surface of the harbor;

placemats of blue lace on a bluer table,

and then shift back to something more

cloudlike; something less, being only

the things that they are, and reflections at that.

And what of it.  All day

sorting a crate of our recent past

which cannot go away

fast enough, dividing stacks

of almost identical diagnosis attempts,

a hundred pages of the unsaid,

layered blue of MRI prints –

a series of study sketches

toward an unfinished work.

This park is the triumph of making,

a template for Sunday afternoons

where I had guided her slowly,

so careful as to be clumsy,

along the promenade to sit

on a bench under Brooklyn Bridge,

its vast arc the manifest perfected

sum of some quantifiable knowledge,

because it was something she could do,

just to get out for a while.

Today, a man photographs

the cobbles along the walkway

littered with cellophane and

pink strands from a feather boa,

a newspaper soggy with urine,

its letters running like mascara;

these are all this day alone,

against the irreducible sky

and the splendor of structure;

what the wind has done

to make this day particular.

And these shapes changing

on the water like like or as

are not even, cannot be what I sing

because memory is death; it kills the things

you cherish or dread and replaces

each one with your memory of it:

a hollowness built of the real.

And suddenly it was almost me who

could not walk to a bench by the bridge,

although it never was,                                                

although my arms and legs

obey my commands,

do what I tell them but never what I want:

wrong and helpless,

I span one to the other

because all I can do is identify

make myself metaphor,

a thing that might look like,

that you think is but isn’t.

And I want to dive,

that marriage of plummet and jump,

in below the refracted sky,

to the water’s silence

and come out on the surface

that might make me one of

these changing things I cannot change,

which will erase my clumsiness

and redraw me as shimmer.

 

~

Autumn Walk After Jodorowsky

 

More métier en scene

than inchoate vagabond

some summer in the knees

some summer in green

 

and of course in the water

were protean secrets,

the day and clock pulse

still too small to retain

 

an atmosphere true but

in the forge of gravity

The Empress of autumn

sought the star, summer

 

plunged below and yellow

irises found hiding spots

and our eyes seeking them

confirmed that we all sought

 

the commensal beauty

and usefulness therein –

big fish and little fish

bandicoot and boa –

 

blood is protein knowledge

on autumn’s whistle stop

or winter’s all aboard,

but summer yes she bleeds –

 

rats and racoons wreak

havoc around her feet

cluttered under composts

of spring that winter nicked.

 

~

Poem on Madonna’s 50th Birthday

 

here is August soaked with reminder

that the world is material that changes

 

there’s a flag at half mast

for someone who didn’t even make the papers

 

the rainy season comes upon us

like it was the tropics like the

 

flutters and hums on Bleeker

were south beach waves and breezes

 

the flutters and hums on Bleeker

that becomes a material that changes

 

Paparazzi armies lay siege to the ineffable

dumpy men made of rain

 

make glimmer solid in a flashbulb

and Elvis Presley 31 years dead

 

waits with us to reinsert mystery

into the material substance of our lives

 

says with us we ache we ache we ache

comes to love us

 

as we come to love ourselves

by waiting upon those

 

we desire to both want and be

until memory strikes a pose

 

and crosses over the borderline

of our love.

Continue reading
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John Mulrooney – two poems
August 7, 2017
Fiction

Jason Erik Lundberg – ‘Bodhisattva at the Heat Death of the Universe’

Zha materialized in my front yard, having finally found me after an interval of roughly five million years, give or take a few millennia. He was human again, and male, wearing those ragged worn-out monk’s robes he seemed to cherish so much; they rippled and fluttered in the breeze, even though my little asteroid hosted no atmosphere and, therefore, no wind. Above us, the twin red supergiants of this system—which I’d long ago named Mother and Father, so much bigger and older than when I had first settled in this place—rotated in their dance of peanut-shaped illumination.

“Hello, Zha,” I said, continuing to rake pebbles into the form of a gigantic asterisk, the image reaching halfway round the asteroid’s face, taking patience and artistry and determination; he and I both knew what the message meant, and I suppose I’d done so in order to call him here. Despite millions of years of solitude, I supposed I still wanted the occasional contact.

Yha. My name was projected, sent directly into my mind. I preferred the physical act of talking, of sending air up my esophagus to vibrate my vocal cords and produce sounds. The fact that no air could be found in the immediate vicinity was irrelevant, and both Zha and I were past such trivialities. Have you finally decided to forgo this existence and travel with me into the Pure Land?

“Can’t a person call her former lover for a chat without leaping into the subject of existence-transcending? Has it been so long that you’ve forgotten how to engage in small talk?”

Zha’s expression remained neutral, but a dozen microscopic gestures flitted across his face. I smiled at the thought that I still knew how to irritate him. What would be the point, Yha? We have had every conversation that it is possible to have, in so many incarnations and iterations that I have lost count. Even after achieving enlightenment, I remained in cyclic existence in order to guide every last sentient being to Nirvana, including you, who are now the last. I am tired, and the stars are tired. It is time to end this foolish game of yours.

“Game? You think I’ve been playing a game all this time?” I threw my rake down onto the carbonaceous chondrite and began kicking at the pebbles of my asterisk, scattering the image into unrecognizability. It seemed that my message had been both prescient and affirmative: Zha was still an unbelievable asshole. “You still don’t understand me, you arrogant bastard. Not during the many incarnations in which we were married, not when I was your daughter, or mother or father or brother or sister, and certainly not now. You want games? I’ll give you games.”

I dematerialized, leaving behind my corporeal form, my latest home, and the plants and pets I had conjured up from the asteroid’s physical material and manipulated for my amusement and companionship; I left it all to crumble and became pure consciousness, leaping light years with but a thought, pushing myself beyond the bounds of the Milky Way, skipping from one star system to another as easily as I once had skipped over the paving stones on a pond filled with artificially-enlarged koi, the pond where we had first met, all those endless lives ago. After I’d slipped from a wet stone and splashed into the shallow pond, Zha, crouching on the bank, had laughed, not maliciously, but with a wisdom that already understood futility and acceptance; I had taken his hand then, and laughed too at my sorry state, and our karmas become forever intertwined, like a carefully sculpted bamboo.

I felt Zha’s presence dozens of light years behind me but closing the gap quickly. My path led directly through the hearts of moribund blue supergiants, immersed me in the violent radiation of hypernovae, and skirted the infinitesimally-detectable event horizons of supermassive black holes. I felt the urge to clutch every passing star to me and fling them back at Zha as casually as a clod of dirt, but incorporeal as we both were, the effect would have been negligible.

I ran, Zha chased, and billions of years flowed by. It gave me time to think, and to reflect on the gradual darkening of the space around us. The galaxies were burning themselves out, what had seemed like endless fuel and energy proving its finitude before my vision. Would it be possible to exist once the universe had expired? And, as Zha had so frustratingly pointed out, what would be the point? Damn him.

I became somatic once more and reposed onto the shifting plasma surface of a white dwarf on the outer edge of the known universe, warming myself with the dying star’s heat. The crackling and hissing of its radiation in extremis tickled my auditory senses. Why was I still clinging to this existence? Was I really so afraid of death? It was unclear how long I sat there contemplating my stubbornness and fear, but at some point Zha arrived, as I’d known he would. He didn’t say or think a word, and instead just rested next to me, still infinitely patient despite everything I’d ever said and done to him. Calm and resignation settled over me like a blanket as the white dwarf’s energy cooled.

“I’m ready,” I told him, and his response was not condescension or arrogance, but relief. He took my hand and vocalized the mantras he’d so long ago devoted himself to learning and tried to teach me. The ancient words flowed around us as a palpable living river, and I repeated them in sync with Zha’s utterances. All around us the stars winked out, but the chanted syllables took their place, filling every occupiable space in the now-cold universe with Om, our white dwarf the last to burn out, but deplete itself it did, bleeding its energy into us, into the words, lending us strength, and as its temperature reached absolute zero and its atoms ceased movement, a doorway of blissful orange light opened in my mind.

Zha turned to me, his smile both beautiful and beatific, his essence the very apotheosis of empathy and love, and held out his hand. I took it and followed him through.

 

fin-

 

(originally published in Strange Mammals, Infinity Plus Books, Oct 2013)

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Fiction

Jason Erik Lundberg – ‘Occupy: An Exhibition’

Jason Erik Lundberg was born in New York, grew up in North Carolina, and has lived in Singapore since 2007. He is the author and anthologist of over twenty books, including Red Dot Irreal (2011), The Alchemy of Happiness (2012), Fish Eats Lion (2012), Strange Mammals (2013), Embracing the Strange (2013), the six-book Bo Bo and Cha Cha children’s picture book series (2012–2015), Carol the Coral (2016), and the biennial Best New Singaporean Short Stories anthology series (2013–2017). He is also the fiction editor at Epigram Books (where the books he’s edited have been shortlisted for and won the Singapore Literature Prize and Singapore Book Awards, and made multiple year’s best lists since 2012), as well as the founding editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction (est. 2012), and a recipient of the Creation Grant from Singapore’s National Arts Council. His writing has been anthologized widely, shortlisted for multiple awards, and honourably mentioned twice in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

 

Occupy: An Exhibition*

 

 

  1. The early morning sky over Singapore’s Central Business District, grey and overcast. The clouds harshen the sunlight into flatness; one can almost hear them rumbling with impotent thunder, holding the air tense and stiflingly still with the anxiety of the forthcoming rainstorm that will not come.

 

  1. The ground floor steel-and-glass entrance of One Raffles Quay, Asian headquarters for international banks such as UBS, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, and Societe Generale. A chain of elderly women and men with interlinked arms forms a blockaded perimeter, some sitting in wheelchairs, some standing on aged legs and propped up with canes or walkers, some sitting on blankets directly on the ground, all of them staring straight ahead, unmoving.

 

  1. A similar linear barricade of the elderly, this time blocking the entrance to the ORQ offices inside the pedestrian underpass that links up with the MRT train station.

 

  1. A wide shot of the CBD’s other skyscraping seats of capitalist power and influence—including the UOB Building, the Far East Finance Building, and Ocean Financial Centre—all surrounded on the ground by calm, unmoving chains of the elderly, looked on by armies of ambitious civil servants and financial wizards eager to cross the line and earn the day’s manna.

 

  1. The gathered crowd outside ORQ, an ocean of white button-down long-sleeved shirts and black slacks and skirts. In the foreground, a handsome European man of indeterminate ethnicity in his late 20s, dressed from head to toe in tailored Massimo Dutti and holding a Fendi briefcase, representative of the financial success of the young men and women around him, likely with clients all over Asia and Europe, and an imported Jaguar housed in ORQ’s basement car park. On the man’s face is an expression of bemused confusion, as if unsure whether this is all a publicity stunt, or a government-mandated day of observance, or something else entirely.

 

  1. A close-up of one of the ORQ “protestors,” a Chinese octogenarian so thin that he appears barely more alive than a skeleton, clothed only in a stained singlet, greyish Bermuda shorts, and undersized thong sandals. The old uncle’s face is lined with deep crevasses, his skin leathery with a lifetime spent working outside under the scorching tropical sun. Despite his tired appearance, his eyes blaze with determination.

 

  1. A female police negotiator, engaged in a one-way conversation with an old Malay woman in a wheelchair. The negotiator’s posture and gestures are indicative of a willingness to discover what the protestors want, but the old woman’s gaze purposefully avoids eye contact, making it apparent that the police are not who the elderly will open to. Out of focus in the background are just visible a number of other police officers in their dark blue uniforms of authority.

 

  1. Mr. Massimo Dutti stands less than half a meter from the old uncle in the singlet, his mouth open in an angry tirade, no longer bemused or confused, his pointing index finger only centimeters from the uncle’s nose, the tendons in his neck protruding, a vein in his forehead swollen and standing out. The bankers in the immediate vicinity look uncertain whether to cheer the young man on or restrain his outburst.

 

  1. Mere seconds later, yet Mr. Massimo Dutti and his cohorts are recoiling backward in incredulity at the sight of the entire chain of elderly surrounding ORQ having transformed into stone as a reaction to the threat, looking for all intents and purposes as if they have been sculpted and then placed in that location as a work of public art.

 

  1. The ORQ protestors once again flesh and blood, the old uncle’s eyes projecting an implicit warning. The elderly on either side silently share the uncle’s expression, their attention now focused.

 

  1. Mr. Massimo Dutti, very likely not accustomed to being treated in such a way from a runty little uncle who looks as if he normally hassles hawker center patrons to buy packets of tissues, leans forward with his arm over his head, his Fendi briefcase in mid-swing on a trajectory to connect with the old man’s cranium, his lips drawn back sharply over his teeth. In the background, horrified looks from the assembled bankers. The female police negotiator reaches forward with one hand, her mouth open in a shout.

 

  1. The octogenarian effortlessly grips Mr. Massimo Dutti’s wrist holding the briefcase with one hand, a steely strength belying his age and appearance, preventing the Fendi from making contact. With the other, he has pulled the young banker close by the lapels of his designer suit jacket, his tight grip wrinkling the material into distortion, their faces close enough to kiss. The old uncle is completely calm. The young man’s eyes are widened in surprise.

 

  1. Close-up on the horrified expressions of the young bankers. Their features are pinched, as if responding to the sound of horrible unearthly shrieks that seem as though they will never end, and then cut off abruptly. Out of focus, a young Chinese man’s head is turned to the side, his hand over his mouth, as though about to vomit in terror.

 

  1. The sidewalk in front of the old uncle, where lies a desiccated corpse still clad in Massimo Dutti, the clothing now hanging loosely from the steaming husk of a human being. Only the legs of the old uncle and the elderly to either side are visible in the frame, but their skin glows golden as if from an infusion of siphoned energy.

 

  1. An overhead shot of the entrance of ORQ, where hundreds of people scatter in all directions at once, away from the elderly perimeter. The police officers in dark blue are just barely noticeable, attempting the futility of calming down the fleeing bankers or directing their egress.

 

  1. A long shot of the CBD, utterly abandoned but for the single street-level ring around each financial building and a smattering of drained corpses, the noon sunlight gleaming off skyscraper glass onto the empty thoroughfares below. Police barricades as far back as Niccol Highway form a secondary security perimeter.

 

  1. A shellacked MediaCorp television anchor, her mouth open in mid-word, nearly crowded off of the screen by the gigantic inset displaying an image of the link-armed elderly at ORQ and the words: WHO ARE THE 35K? WHAT DO THEY WANT? The static ribbon up top, in bright red letters: A National Day of Emergency. The news crawl at the bottom of the screen displays the time (2:24 p.m.), the Straits Times Index (down over 1,300 points), and the score of the latest Manchester United vs. Arsenal match (2-1).

 

  1. An army tank squats on the street just outside of ORQ, its cannon barrel aimed directly at the elderly perimeter, the afternoon sun glinting off of its green metal exterior, surrounded on all sides by young National Servicemen called up on reservist duty, covered head to toe in pixelated camo gear, their rifles raised and ready.

 

  1. The air thick with rifle smoke. Pockmarks dot the neighboring buildings, broken glass litters the concrete sidewalk. Three NSmen lay on the ground, their faces contorted in pain, hands attempting to quell the blood oozing from the holes punched through their bodies by their own ricocheting bullets.

 

  1. Out of focus, a camouflaged pant leg retreating to a distance behind the tank, a blurred variegation of greens.

 

  1. Close in on the muzzle flash from the barrel of the tank’s 120-millimeter cannon, the explosion of force a blazing orange mushroom, with a lighter orange line of trajectory extending forward from its middle, reaching, reaching, reaching for the statues in such close proximity.

 

  1. Stillness. Billowing smoke. What on first glance appears to be a grey sheet of paper drifting to the ground; on closer inspection: a rectangular sliver of concrete.

 

  1. The tank in retreat, its rear end displayed to the unharmed once-again flesh-and-blood elderly, turned away by non-violent resistance. On the sidewalk and the city street: concrete and rubble and shards of glass, all loosed by the massive concussion of energy.

 

  1. A line of young protestors beyond the police barricades, none older than thirty, mouths open in defiant yells, fists pumping the air, each holding a man-made placard: THE 35K ARE ALL OUR GRANDPARENTS! ABANDONED BY SOCIETY ≠ NATIONAL THREAT! THE 35K ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY! WHERE’S YOUR FILIAL PIETY NOW?! Unlikely that they would have been granted a permit for this protest, and yet the nearby police officers stand back, unable to join in, but unwilling to disperse.

 

  1. A MediaCorp news feed, but off-kilter as though the video camera has been bumped, zoomed in on a leg emerging from the rear passenger door of a black Mercedes-Benz limousine, clad in charcoal grey designer pants, the equally expensive shoe polished to a high shine. Recognizable outfitting of the Old Man. The time indicated on the crawl: 6:37 p.m.

 

  1. The mass of elderly protestors all stares at the Old Man, whose hands are raised in a questioning gesture. His face out of view, his back muscles tense against his ironed white short-sleeved dress shirt, his white hair cropped close to his skull as if just cut earlier in the day. A small irregular oval of perspiration in the middle of his back.

 

  1. The ORQ perimeter, now unfurled, reaching around to encircle the Old Man, all elderly eyes on their contemporary in age. The Old Man’s head is turned, shouting to someone out of frame, his hand up in a gesture of halt against the barrel of the handgun only just visible.

 

  1. From above, a double ring of protestors completely pens in the Old Man at its center. Outside the protective paddock, a confusion of security officers, hands to ear-mounted Bluetooth communication, body language indicative of panic.

 

  1. The wrinkled octogenarian uncle in singlet and Bermudas faces the Old Man, his mouth open, his hand extended to shake. The Old Man’s gaze at the proffered hand is wary and anxious, as though recalling the fate of Mr. Massimo Dutti and the other expendable bankers.

 

  1. Close-up on a tight handshake, the skin of both hands creased and liver-spotted, yet the muscles and bones underneath still convey power and confidence from both men.

 

  1. Tight on the Old Man’s face, his expression full of surprise and relief. The elderly in view behind him relax; some begin to smile.

 

  1. The entire perimeter, and the Old Man, sit down directly on the ground. The old uncle speaks. The Old Man leans in to listen.

 

  1. Over the shoulder of the Old Man as he calls to the other limousines parked next to his, the assembled crowd consisting of his son, the entire Cabinet, and various other members of Parliament, who lean forward to catch every one of the Old Man’s utterances.

 

  1. The suited government figures spreading out in all directions, each man and woman headed toward a different occupied area, not entirely comfortable but unwilling to contravene the Old Man’s dictum.

 

  1. An Indian woman in leg braces shakes the hand of the Old Man’s son, whose smile is practiced yet genuine. The woman’s sari is faded, its colors dulled with use and wear, yet it glitters in the fading sunlight, throwing sparkles onto her interlocutor’s face.

 

  1. A longer shot of the CBD, displaying more double rings, inside which sit each Cabinet minister and the other members of Parliament gathered for this summit, each locus of political power straining to hear the quiet, yet firm, voices of their constituency.

 

  1. From far overhead, the thick orange rays of the setting sun illuminate more than two dozen perfect circles, each circumference glowing a light gold, a color endemic of hope, acceptance, and optimism.

 

fin-

 

* originally published in Red Dot Irreal, Revised Edition, Infinity Plus Books, Dec 2012

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