Johanna is from New York and lives in Shanghai. She writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. She’s a recent graduate of Bard College and works at NYU Shanghai as a Writing and Speaking Fellow.
Someone has to play the dog on a leash.
I wrote it down locked out
“did the cop leave his mark on me when he still didn’t look away?”
hid the character
for peace has the grain radical in it:
if everyone can eat…
Real dogs are not leashed
though sometimes they are
clothed. Small pink shoes and baggy tube shirt skirt.
A European family of five locks eyes with the least interesting thing on the street:
How much fun is it to edit your food and face? Curious, they got their phones out. I couldn’t tell if you were sick, even when you coughed. Maybe it was smoke. I massaged my own back with a pissed fist.
I guessed how to speak second language sign language. No one noticed the pig in misery while they took pictures with the midget puppy. I keep telling you it’s not hypocritical to prefer food that doesn’t come from your own restaurant. I heard of a girl without lobes who buys hoops just for fun.
The hardest part of miming is keeping symmetry in air. Please do not smoke during the entire flight. She signs the word for “stewardess” like the child that claimed 可以. Her arms gesture above the cobalt neck noose, the bow.
The sign has EXIT lit up in two languages: 出口 plus the arrow. 我们都知道怎么离开. Patterns folding inside, themselves fat in a core.
It’s a difficult trend for 老外, the outside. Other citizens pursue a collective personification of nation, and 外国人, pretend, again. Some vowels you have to send.
Everything you ever wanted to know about animals.
Underwater, Gilgamesh stole the vibrator. I moved into his jaw and we didn’t kiss. He was the strongest; I was the one killing villains. The crab king and I alternated wins; his legs were his downfall. It took a lot of work to crush a crustacean. Old skin slid off the shelled sea mammoth. The ocean ate it. Gilgamesh was the last whale there.
Other species are a mystery. Snakes will not seem to be handicapped. Their soft underbelly is their soft underbelly. Do beavers use sonar? Let this be self-evident: cats can hear death. Everything you see could be remembered. Are salmon bottom feeders? Trust: fish farms would not exist if you didn’t get hungry. I first noticed the circles in your neck when it became clear you were like one of those priests, treating all prey the same.
Combing Up, Never to Marry
Xiangyun Lim has a particular interest in translating contemporary works from the Chinese diaspora. Her works can be found in Living in Babel (Canopy), The Creative Literary Studio, and is forthcoming in Poem. Having grown up in Singapore, Xiang has lived in Seattle, Barcelona, Taiwan and United Kingdom. She is one of the recipients of the Singapore Apprenticeship in Literary Translation (SALT). She can be reached at https://tweedlingdum.com.
State of Phobia
A middle-aged lady sits, heavy
with plastic baggies of
“Smells good right? You want one? Cannot,
got fine. Fine how much money ah?
You know, we used to live in Sembawang, it was
a slice of kampung life,
a village of unending chatter
a village moved
into newly built flats. But
it is quiet where I stay now. No one talks.
‘Don’t speak to strangers,’ my son says.
‘Don’t be nosy.’ So
I stay silent.
(Doors open and
Do you know? It’s so quiet where I live.
I want to move to Yishun. Nearer to my sister.
There’s this hill, once you see it,
soon you will get off the train.
Many urns on this hill.”
One could spy eagles then
soaring in circles
Once it rained for so long
rivers of ashes seeped
into soil, flowed
Xiao Shui, born in Chenzhou, Hunan in 1980, has a degree in law and Chinese Literature from Fudan University. His published collections include Lost and Found, Chinese Class, and Chinese Mugwort: New Jueju Poetry.
Irene Chen is a translator, writer, editor from Harbin who enjoys reading, writing and listening to good stories.
Judith Huang is a writer, editor, and translator from Singapore who also illustrates postcards. She has a huge soft spot for bunnies.
Edited by Chen Bo, Kassy Lee.
He was seven that year, when his father fell down at home, he picked up the phone, not panicking at all.
His mother, a painter, remarried a retired general, while he chose to avoid enlistment through self-mutilation.
He came from Daejeon, South Korea. In the taxi he gave me an unexpected kiss, then became distant again, like a stone evaporating from a stone.
Finally leaving China, in an airport hotel, he decided to once more experience the thrill of a stranger.
Back then my family lived near the reservoir, my father a lumberjack,
my mother a small grocer, her trips into town to restock would sometimes keep her late,
and when her ferry reached the center of the lake, the engine switched off, we would quietly float. Countless egrets engulfed the shore, while the flooded houses would occasionally emerge, covered in soggy weeds.
买一花，不自惜；然有竹据其间，或芟而去焉，曰 【毋以是占我花石地】，而京师人苟可致一竹，辄不惜数千钱；然遇霜雪，又槁以死。以其难致而又多槁 死，则人益贵之；而江南人甚或笑之，曰【京师人乃宝吾之所薪】！呜呼！奇花石诚为京师与江南人所贵；然穷其所生之地，则绝徼海外之人视之，吾意其亦无以甚异於竹之在江以南。而绝徼海外，或素不产竹之地，而使其人一旦见竹，吾意其必又有甚於京师人之宝之者，是将不胜笑也。语云 【人去乡则益贱，物去乡则益贵】。以此言之，世之好醜，亦何常之有乎？
I have strolled in the gardens of the capital’s titled and wealthy, and seeing what is collected there – not one rare plant or stone from distant borders across the seas is lacking – only the bamboo cannot be had. We south of the Yangtze cut bamboo for kindling; for the garden we also purchase rare plants and stones from abroad, some spending countless sums for a rock, a fortune to buy a single flower, all without regret. Yet if there is bamboo standing in the midst some would hack it away saying, “This will not occupy my bed of flowers and stone“. But if in the capital people are able to obtain a single bamboo, then the sum of several thousands is not regretted, ever knowing that upon the first frost or snow it will wither and die. Men greatly prize the fragile and unobtainable, yet those from the south would even mock them saying, “So the people of the capital prize our firewood”. How sad! Rare plants and stones are indeed prized by those of the south and the capital, but were their place of origin plumbed and men from those distant borders across the seas look upon them, I believe they would think those less wondrous than the bamboo south of the Yangtze. And in faraway lands across the seas perhaps no place grows bamboo, so I believe those strangers upon suddenly seeing bamboo would invariably prize it more greatly than those living in the capital, and both would laugh without end. It is commonly said, “A man away from home is worthless, a thing away from home is precious”. In view of this, how can there be constancy among people’s likes and dislikes?
My uncle, a gentleman holding the Guanglu position, cultivates a garden on the banks of the Jing stream, everywhere planting bamboo and not other trees. Among the bamboo a small pavilion is set to pass moments of leisure with guests reciting verse and singing within. On occasion he spoke to me, “I can not strive with those of influence in the surpassing of plants and stone, yet only by gathering what is native to this place I need not labor and my garden flourishes thusly; I am complete. In this way I am styled Master of Bamboo Rill. Nephew, you should write down such words for me”.
I replied, “How in fact are you unable to compare with the influential by conveniently gathering what is native to the land? It is not that you alone have a deep affection for the bamboo, but rather are unwilling to pronounce so to others? Long ago men discussed the bamboo, considering that being void of pretty color and fragrance it was not liked; and as its wondrous strangeness is unequal to stone, and its guiling beauty and charming delicacy unequal to the flower, yet it stands forth as a gentleman of pride and independence, aloof from the vulgar. In this, from antiquity to the present, an absolute few have known how to appreciate the bamboo.
And those of the capital, how can they understand and value bamboo, merely wanting to use it as they would a rare plant or rock to vie in display of wealth? Thus as people from the capital prize it, and people south of the Yangtze denigrate it, their failure to understand the bamboo is one and the same. You sir, grew up surrounded by sumptuous circumstance and are able not to become dissolute in its midst; fine clothing, stables, squires, maidservants, singers and dancers, all those things many wealthy men greatly desire you deny; especially do you steadfastly refuse reckless intercourse with others. In manner stern, aloof and unique, for this do you take pleasure in the bamboo, and all those many things that men fancy and like cannot by nature stand among the bamboo! Even if bamboo were not native to this place, you sir would do utmost to gather it here and then take pleasure in it; you, sir, by might can gather together strange plants and stone yet your pleasure would not be found in their midst.
How sad! Before, the bamboo could not be taken from the south but taken now because is it prized. I have thoughts upon thoughts on this.
- Tang Shunzhi (1507-1560)
Johanna is from New York and lives in Shanghai. She writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. She’s a recent graduate of Bard College and works at NYU Shanghai as a Writing and Speaking Fellow.
Other than the older ones, no one blinked. I asked what you had for lunch and you said it was some kind of rubric; where the snow fell hard, I ate in yellow. I somehow hated even your chuckle. It swung in everyone’s air, empty and sterile, a hanged eunuch. Your shorthand stretched. You were giving them orders. I tapped on the window since the door was locked. I made it a calm tap, like all I wanted was the attention of a bird.
The crazy that comes from posture. The silent crazy, the one you just see. Her weight balances on one foot, her neck twists. What’s the definition of a resource? There are rules about how much space has to be between people in a car and people on the street. Her hand breaks them and slams itself on the window. Her head seems to grow.
If you fall, the baby falls. “Men don’t hear that.” How many disasters could you email through? You were never gullible. She smashed the glass and used it on you. Opening your mouth hurt. Some people blamed heavy winds for her broken foot. The last thing you were was surprised. She didn’t know what would happen tomorrow but when she saw the calendar she had to update.
When she felt nervous she vomited entrance. Her phlegm was an escalator. Everyone stood still and descended. Traded tips. Advice about stocks. Slime metal edged along. The man next to her spoke into his left ear, convincing himself to invest. They were getting lower as her blood rose. The bottom was somewhere to be from instead of toward, she thought. Her gut protested. The headset men stomped on spiked stair metal. Something flipped; the ceiling was coming down. They started to die noticeably. Life left that underground. She was the only one still living in the sand lamp. Carved her name into the last raw stomach, and she, the blonde girl no one knew, finally made friends. Her loyal group, her gold trophies.
Ode To Armadillo. Little armored thing. Show me your cheek teeth. I’d let you bite me if we videotape it. How many weapons could I make from your carcass? I was always your claw but in death it was you who dug me. End of story quick change.
You were alone unless it was breeding season. I knew you were getting younger when you got loose skin, reaching sexual maturity at nine weeks. You were the comfortably disheveled sort. If pursued, the armadillo changes from its normal shifting shuffling to a scuttle, eventually reaching a gallop with remarkable speed.
It was hard work but eventually I caught up to you. Played the cheetah. I never thought revenge was an ugly word until I started wearing it. Stop complaining, I only took your tail.
Although Victoria Giang has been a farmer, director, receptionist, teacher, vagabond, antiques dealer, and painter/plasterer, she has always been and will always remain a dilettante novelist.
My Saint Sebastian
He sat across from me in the magazine library, a cool, subterranean concrete room which functioned as a sort of waiting room for the resumption of productive or social life. Eyelashes fluttered and our gaze connected a couple of times with a spark that failed to ignite. Perhaps it was due to the deafening tropical rain outside or the sterile, museum-like environment which discouraged speech. A war of attrition was silently declared between us, each settling into our padded faux leather chairs. When we would stand to return our magazines and select a new one, we would each walk deliberately close to the other, brush past each other’s chair, and when one of us was absorbed in reading, that was when the other could observe his expression of concentration, the face in repose, a gentle smile of amusement lifting the corners of the lips.
There was no doubt that he was the perfect image of the Greek expression “ephebe,” a beautiful male youth, but the addition of three grey hairs to the top of his head made him irresistible, on the assumption that he would be feeling a tug of desperation at this visible sign that he was nearing the apex of his youth. His oval face framed harmonious features: soft, full lips, a nose with a gently rolling arch like the vague outline of an inviting hill, doe-like brown eyes shaded by lashes that fell thick as a curtain of water over a hidden cave, mysterious and romantic, and skin as clear and luminous as a newly pressed piece of gold foil. Would such a perfectly formed man want anything to do with the company of a woman?
I waited him out, reading volume after volume of Latvian photography magazines until the crucial moment came to depart so that I could arrive at my party on time, unfashionably early as always since I never felt glamorous enough to call attention to myself by arriving late, after fashioning a story of something better to do. So I stood up and took my leave too quickly, without looking back (embarrassed to catch the knowing glance of the librarian), but I paused at the top of the stairs to watch the rain and briefly envisioned my pursuant hot on my heels and reaching the top of the stairs to stand beside me, whereby I would look up from under my umbrella charmingly at him, and our acquaintanceship could trace its beginning to this very moment, but understandably, no such thing happened.
Walking to the party, I stopped by a 711 to buy a bottle of wine, an expensive import from Australia of dubious quality, but with a twist top. An acrid taste coated my mouth in anticipation of the evening ahead. I gazed at the wall of cigarettes, scanning the romantic and exotic names: Boheme, Gentle, Mevius, Seven Stars. My throat burned as I considered the social merits of the pernicious activity that had won me the very friend whose party I was to attend that night. Without cigarettes, I wouldn’t have found the opportunity to approach a strange woman, and my poor life would suffer more in comparison with the distant specter of disease that I hoped miraculously to sidestep.
I imagined my friend’s surprise if I were to appear at the party by the side of my Apollonian beauty. “Oh? And who’s this?” Her eyes would widen.
“Just a stranger who became my friend, same as you,” I would tell her, and my eyes would go glossy as I watched him socialize among my interesting, sophisticated friends, and he would feel delighted at having met me, the cord that tugged him to warmer shores, and how we would tumble onto a bed as inviting as a pink sand beach when I brought him home with me, a whole life condensed into just one night.
Instead, I arrived alone, and opened the door to the sound a cork popping, that unmistakably joyful sound, so I quickly forgot my love, lost to the depths. Joy’s boyfriend led me to the terrace, slinking along like a puppy dog in the garb of a 1920’s Chicano garment worker: wide pinstripe trousers and clinging white t-shirt, perpetually turning back to me with his sly grin, like a doomed Orpheus with skin as clear and white as Dehua porcelain, eyes widened by the thick, circular frames of his glasses, making his expression that of a curious animal.
We drank on the terrace without making toasts as rain sprinkled my back. Joy’s photography exhibition was the primary topic among us.
“The curator should work alongside the artists to develop the concept of the exhibition. It’s an understated role which requires breadth of theoretical knowledge, which is more important than ever in contemporary art,” one woman held forth passionately.
“He used government funding to pay street walkers by the hour, and the compositions he utilized in his photography were quite simple, like that of an advertisement, with text along the bottom which would read something like ‘John, $30.’ In the series, the concept was more valuable than the image. These were men and women who turned tricks on Hollywood Boulevard, failing to make it as actors. To be presented as an image was all they asked.” Someone discussed a photographer’s recent work.
“The exhibition concerns the concept of physical space as it applies to the queer as people, ah, and here’s one of my models now.” Joy turned with obvious pleasure to introduce the new arrival, and who could it be but my Apollo?
“Congratulations,” she told him, and then turning to me. “My country finally says it’s legal for him to marry.” It was the day of a ruling dually historic: both for declaring equal rights and asserting the island’s ability to self govern, a casual yet monumental day, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit possessive over all men, so I was somewhat disappointed by the news’ relevance to him, though intrigued to find him within my ever turning social circle.
“Congratulations, old friend,” I addressed him intimately, and he flashed me an enchantingly intimate smile.
“It’s nice to see you here. Against all expectation.” His voice was clear and confident, and he seated himself at an angle beside me. I poured him a drink, a fizzy lychee flavored wine cooler.
“You’re the one from the exhibition, then? The photos were quite brilliant,” a girl with glittery eyelids complimented him. A few others agreed and proffered their own congratulations. We spent much of the evening between four eyes only, both former students of literature living it out in practical fields – he in banking and me in business. The way his eyes smiled at me, half moons gently turning, it was hard to believe he was a man not for me. His charm was so potent that I could only escape by turning my back on it and making conversation with the two European girls. Still, the warmth of his presence burned the back of my neck.
He departed early, pleading an early day at work, and soon after, promising to view the exhibition, I left as well.
I rode the train with one of the more confident and well-spoken art students from the party and coaxed out her fears for an insecure future, which was followed by my own guilt at having drawn out the revelation before laying a sort of curse by describing my own unfocused post-university behavior. There was no guarantee she didn’t have the vicious, self-serving nature needed to gain funding and moderate success, but her idealism and confident, youthful bluster had created this need in me to tear down the screen and view the bare pedestal for these hopes and dreams. It was a cruel impulse, I realized after following it, a little like lifting up her skirt in public, and I regretted that I had performed this intimate gesture out of boredom rather than love. Now I felt responsible to her.
I came home to my friend’s apartment and cat, ignoring the cat to pass out on her bed. I felt quite guilty as I thought of her cat as well, young and energetic and stuffed in this tiny room, frustrated as a young girl sequestered in a convent. In her black and white coat, she looked a bit like a nun to me.
In the morning, it rained, so I got up only to return to bed a couple hours later. I felt disoriented as I went out to buy breakfast, like I wasn’t supposed to exist and that everyone avoided me as if I were a ghost, catching a glimpse, staring in disbelief before averting their eyes in fear. I lacked the cheeriness to face them with a smile, so I pretended they didn’t exist as well, that I walked among them as a ghost from another plane.
Later, I went out to the photography exhibition. It was held in the basement of the university’s old library, most of which was eerily unlit except by occasional flashes of lightning. The basement space had the aspect of a dungeon; the photos were held on empty shelves, with the partitions decorated with yarn pulled so taut that I also felt the tension, as if the trap door would close, and I would be caught in this basement, between worlds. The idea of queerness was represented mostly as being openly sexual, with scenes of exhibitionism and bondage alongside funereal imagery of lilies and white clothed maidens. This place felt like both a dungeon and a tomb, and the feeling wasn’t oppressive more than it was sadistic.
The images were appealing, but the one that arrested was that of my Apollo, in the typical, confident pose of an ephebe: nude, smirking, leaning against a bathroom sink in a white tiled room. The intimacy he had shown me, he had lavished on the photographer as well in this picture, so that now we could all possess him equally. His sexuality struck me as an expression of his desire to be adored more than to desire another, and this struck me as natural, to adore him.
However, the idea that all the others at the party had seen his beauty in full display and that even more strangers, even those I could see now milling around other pictures at the exhibition, would continue to see it filled me with dread. I was upset to think of others possessing him the same as me, not that they could see his flesh exposed, but that they could feel his obvious charm, fall under the spell of his obvious attraction. Or worse, if they didn’t like him, if they couldn’t feel his beauty as powerfully as I did, if they reduced it to inconsequential phrases. I wanted all of him for myself alone.
Old men love war and blood sports. I understood the reason behind this now. Sending a beautiful young man to die was the only way to ensure that no others could have him, that you would be the final one.