The Literary Shanghai Journal

Alluvium

Submissions Guidelines

 
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.  

November Events

Saturday November 4, 7pm Literary Shanghai @ Singapore Writers Festival - Readings in Translation from Alluvium

Saturday November 18,  3pm Spittoon's Shanghai Literary Tour

 

Sunday November 19, 7pm Book Launch: "Launchpad" short stories

Event Details

Poetry, Translation

Scott L. Satterfield – translation of ‘Bamboo Rill’ by Tang Shunzhi

竹溪记

 

予嘗遊於京师侯家富人之園,见其所蓄,自绝徼海外奇花石无所不见,而所不能致者

惟竹。 吾江南人,斩竹而薪之;其为園,亦必购求海外奇花石,或万钱买一石,千钱

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?

予舅光禄任君,治园於荆溪之上,徧植以竹,不植他木。竹间作一小楼,暇则与客唸啸其中;而间谓予曰【吾不能与有力者争花石之胜,独此取诸土之所有,可以不劳力而蓊然满园,亦足適也,因自谓竹溪主人,甥其为我记之】。

予以谓,君豈真不能与有力者争,而漫然取诸其土之所有者;无乃独有所深好於竹,而不欲以告人歟?昔人论竹,以为绝无聲色臭味可好,故其巧怪不如石,其妖豔绰约不如花,孑孑然有似乎偃蹇孤特之士,不可以谐於俗;是以自古以来,知好竹者绝少。且彼京师人亦豈能知而贵之,不过欲以此鬥富与奇花石等耳。故京师人之贵竹,与江南人之不贵竹,其为不知竹一也。君生长於纷华,而能不溺乎其中;裘马僮奴歌舞,凡诸富人所酣嗜,一切斥去;尤挺挺不妄与人交,凛然有偃蹇孤特之气,此其於竹必有自得焉;而举凡万物可喜可玩,固有不能间也歟!然则虽使竹非其土之所有,君犹将极其力以致之,而后快乎其心;君之力虽使能尽致奇花石,而其好固有不存也。嗟呼!竹固可以不出江南而取贵也哉

吾重有所感矣!

 

  • 唐順之

 

Bamboo Rill

 

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)
Continue reading
Related posts
Scott L. Satterfield – translation of a poem by Wang Anshi
October 6, 2017
Scott L. Satterfield – translation of “A Mean Abode” by Liu Yuxi
September 4, 2017
Scott L. Satterfield – translation of a poem by He Zhizhang
August 11, 2017
Poetry

Johanna Costigan – four poems

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.

 

Four Poems

 

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.

 

 

Continue reading
Fiction

Victoria Giang – “My Saint Sebastian”

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.

Continue reading
Fiction, Uncategorized

Lynette Tan – “Jellyfish Pirates”

On planet earth Lynette Tan Yuen Ling is an award-winning lecturer and Associate Director of Student Life at the National University of Singapore, where she teaches Film Studies, academic writing as well as Singapore Literature. She is also the author of the ‘Pittodrie Pirates’ series of books for children, and one of 10 poets featured in the Haiku anthology ‘Equatorial Calm’. In an alternate universe Lynette is First Mate in dNd, which currently holds the international and all time guild PR record under the leadership of the intrepid Captain Sharky.

Jellyfish Pirates

 

She didn’t think that it could but the sinking feeling in her stomach had gotten even worse. They were in mid-rumble and the other pirates were not only way better than her, her own troops appeared to be struck with some wasting disease and were melting on the battlefield like they were made of jello. They reminded her of the jellyfish that she and her cousins had brought back to Ah Kong’s house at Pasir Ris, meeting a fate much worse than being stranded on the beach where they had been picked up. Nefarious imps that they were the children (she included of course) had gingerly placed the unfortunate creatures on the cement steps under the blazing sun, and watched them liquefy before their wicked eyes. She groaned inwardly as her last recruit met his demise and the foul 6 letter word blazed across the screen.

++++++

Her husband looked over at her, a bemused expression on his face.

‘What’s wrong?’

They were sitting in bed, in that wonderful hour just before sleep where the world stopped spinning and nothing else mattered but just the two of them sharing one space, one life, one destiny. Well usually anyway.

‘Just got defeated in battle.’ I could hear the disgust in the brittle tones of my voice.

‘Look at this’ he pointed to his iPad. ‘I’m really worried about Trump and that crazy North Korean president… we’re not far from another world war.’

She put her phone down and snuggled next to him, laying her head on his warm chest. Two belligerent men stared at her. She should be frightened by what she saw, their eyes like ice chips and the grim lines of their mouth shouted to the world that they were more than. More than what you would expect, more than what you could handle, more than it would take for there to be peace, more than the world could contain and definitely more than ready to send some nukes out there and obliterate life as we know it. But what could she do about it anyway? The world was broken, a thing of beauty when you were looking from far far away, like in 2001 a Space Odyssey, all blue and green and white and perfectly round, but when you got closer the stench suddenly hits you — decaying flesh and rotten blood, vultures preying on the weak, destruction and chaos for no other reason than man’s inhumanity to man. It was too depressing.

‘We’ll just plan on doing what you said’ she let her voice be sweet and planted a kiss on his grizzled cheek. He nodded. The grand plan was to buy some property in New Zealand, far far away from everyone and everything, Lord of the Rings country. Farm the land and find a way to recreate Eden, then when the apocalypse came and hopefully there were no zombies, they would be Adam and Eve, or maybe Mr. and Mrs. Noah, and there would be a new earth all clean and shiny, just green and blue and white and perfect.

++++++

Her island was being attacked again — the enemy troops were on the rampage and her villagers were scurrying into the buildings to hide as if they actually had a hope of staying alive. The buildings were actually the worst places to go to in these attacks, if she were on that island she would dive into the surrounding sea and float on her back, threading the water until the carnage was past. She wanted to shout to her little minions ‘Put on your swimmers you fools! All the buildings are going to collapse on your heads, run into the sea! Run like the dickens!’. Perhaps if the game developers had deigned to draw some ears on her villagers it would have helped, as it was however, her poor deaf pirates ran to certain death as fast as their little legs could take them.

-22! That was brutal. A drop in rank after an attack was the norm, but sometimes the extent of that drop still caused a double take. A victory led to an edging upwards of sometimes +2, or if you were lucky, a +10 in rank, but these defeats … it was one step forward and two steps back much of the time.

The day her mother died had been like that — life before was golden, so bright that she couldn’t bear to look back it hurt too much. It was a steady building up of positives, every smile, the kind words, the looks that said ‘I’m so proud of you’ the holidays and the presents that said ‘I can’t say I love you but I’m showing you’. And then the plunge on that black day. It was like the game, but more than. -1000 points after all the +1 and +10’s over the years until her rank was in deficit. The hollowness was the worst of it, like someone had burrowed in through your heart and proceeded to eat up all your insides, starting with your organs, the soft fleshy tissues, moving onto your muscles and gristly tendons then finally crunching on your bones until you were a walking balloon. That was the unbearable lightness of being, when you were a balloon being tugged along by the hand of fate, wishing you could pop and put an end to your miserable existence but being dragged along relentlessly. Then as if by some miracle (some have called it time) your insides start to re-grow. First the stomach and you begin to feel hungry again. Then your lungs, you start to take deep breaths and notice that the air isn’t quite as stale as it used to be. Then (you never thought this would be possible), your heart. You’re still a mushy walking creature without your bones but pumping at your centre is your heart and it’s urging your backbone to reform. And it does, vertebrae by vertebrae until you’ve got your spine back and you can pull at the string in the hand of fate. There’s some reluctance but fate knows it’s fated and lets go.

+++++++

He was sleeping now. His reading glasses still on his nose, and his mouth open. His features are eerie in the light of his iPad but they are familiar to her. She takes his glasses off and puts them on his bedside table. He’s got quite a firm grip on his iPad but she manages to ease it gently out of his hand and she places that next to his glasses.

‘Wha? I was just asleep there! You do this every night, you have to stop waking me up!’ He grumbles and turns over, burrowing deeper under the covers.

She grins at their little routine, and leans into his neck to get one last whiff of his scent.

A message blinks on her phone, ‘pirate recruitment complete’. Logging on to her game again she sees that her village has regenerated, the buildings pristine as the first day they were made, and it’s time to get back in the rumble.

Continue reading
Poetry

Alice Pettway – two poems (II)

Alice Pettway is a former Lily Peter fellow, Raymond L. Barnes Poetry Award winner, and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her first full-length collection, The Time of Hunger | O Tempo de Chuva, is available now from Salmon Poetry. A second book, Moth, is forthcoming in 2019. Currently, she lives and writes in Shanghai.

 

Morning

 

The teat in my fist

squirts, misses steel,

hits straw. I am as thirsty

for lost milk as the calf

mewling in its stall.

 

~

Insomnia*

 

 

 * The first section of this poem first appeared as an individual piece in The Bitter Oleander
Continue reading
Related posts
Alice Pettway – two poems
October 27, 2017
Poetry

Daryl Lim – two poems

Daryl Lim Wei Jie is a poet and critic based in Singapore, who studied history with a focus on intellectual history and political thought. He is particularly interested in the literary uses of history. His first collection of poetry, A Book of Changes, was published by Math Paper Press in 2016, under the Ten Year Series imprint. Daryl’s work has appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Ceriph, POSKOD.SG, Drunken Boat and Softblow, and his poetry has been anthologised in A Luxury We Cannot Afford (Math Paper Press, 2015) and elsewhere. His work won him the Golden Point Award in English Poetry in 2015.

 

 

The Librarian

 

Too long have I lingered in the scriptorium and mistaken

the glowering spines for young British art. These days I use

an Oreo wrapper as a bookmark: its ultramarine like

the angels in the Wilton Diptych. What sets my announcements

apart from the Lord’s prank on Abraham? Demurring, I reject

the edicts that issue from the Hegelian hivemind. Instead, the silverfish purr

and unmake knowledge out of circulation. Now keep your volume down

lest you arouse the class consciousness. That day I saw a beautiful

octogenarian, all distinction erased between her

and the metropolis’s leading organ. Between you and me,

someone’s slipped something into my drink and it tastes

just like water. The story of my life has been a burr

on shimmering copper. In the new shelving system, poetry is beside

the dissident history of dry-cleaning. A youth corps

is always handy. This one makes sense, at last.

When I approach the threshold, sickness muddles my intestine

warfare. Out there lie worlds suffused with brilliant magenta, with men

whose arms are like wasp’s wings, and chess pieces are reserve currency.

~

Sunday 

 

The dire stillness of Sunday leaves me

gasping against the parquet. Road-widening

continues. Ma is getting her hair done

again. In Bukit Merah, a man fitfully

pisses into a storm drain. Soft fruit

is stepped on, a gravelly paste on

gravel. They say fried chicken

has never been so widely available.

Trump thinks we’re Indonesia, Vietnam, North Korea.

Parliament is closed today, but so are

KTV lounges. In Canto, we say we’ve waited

so long, even our necks are long. After I’m dead,

please burn the epic poem I wrote

about conservancy charges. When is

the next election, asked nobody.

At the market, the uncle is somewhat

ethnocentric. This new development combines

retail, petroleum refining and jazz. Buy low

and sell before the ICBM is fired.

I deny everything, even my denials. I wish

to make a living writing haikus on teabags.

The nation’s favourite sex position

is tax-deductible. Like everyone else,

I cried. I get up from the floor

and make myself a highball. Tonight

I will dream of a snake made of

green smoke, sliding vaguely through

the mile-a-minute, either going home

or elsewhere, it’s impossible to say.

 

 

Continue reading
Poetry

Alice Pettway – two poems

Alice Pettway is a former Lily Peter fellow, Raymond L. Barnes Poetry Award winner, and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her first full-length collection, The Time of Hunger | O Tempo de Chuva, is available now from Salmon Poetry. A second book, Moth, is forthcoming in 2019. Currently, she lives and writes in Shanghai.

 

Burial

 

I changed shoes for the burial.

The earth, soft from rain,

was hungry for the black stems

of my funeral heels.

 

It was hungry for you too,

waiting only for lurid green turf

to give way to reality,

a hole gouged in a field.

 

The funeral director looked

away; your brothers

pulled back plastic ground,

took up shovels.

 

I grasped a handle too—bent

my woman’s body into pivot

of muscle and dirt until the throb

of earth on wood faded, until soil

landed on soil as softly as snow

on snow, until there was no hole.

 

The men stood silent. Burial

is no more a man’s task

than birth is.

 

~

In Montreal

 

the power failed.

Dark sifted through cold,

a halo of shadow around downed towers.

The city waited. The country waited.

Hogs lay frozen against the ditch,

smelling of snow, flesh crystallized

beneath skin. We waited

for the ground to thaw.

Continue reading
Related posts
Alice Pettway – two poems (II)
November 3, 2017
Uncategorized

Christopher Impiglia – two poems

Christopher Impiglia is a writer and art book editor based in New York. He received an MFA in Fiction from The New School and an MA in Medieval History and Archaeology from the University of St Andrews. His words have appeared in ‘Kyoto Journal,’ ‘Columbia Journal,’ and ‘EuropeNow,’ the journal of the Council for European Studies at Columbia University, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @Impigliato

 

The Stars

 

I saw the stars tonight,

and know they saw us

just as we see them:

 

as pinpoints of light

in a vast pointillist canvas.

 

As their earthly parallel

made by the same master

but of different material:

 

they: of dying light,

us: of living pulses.

 

And just as some stars burn brighter than others,

so it is true of you:

 

the focus of their lofty perspective,

their Polaris, their Sigma Octantis.

 

Without you, unanchored by your glow

they would wander aimlessly,

lose themselves in their heavenly sea,

unraveling the constellations,

 

leaving gaping holes

through which we would fall

each night we gazed up at the sky,

 

swallowed by the ever-expanding darkness,

consumed by nothingness.

 

~

New Worlds

 

First, all was nothing:

 

darkness upon darkness.

 

Then, we played our hands at God:

we reached and grasped and touched and caressed,

we crafted and molded and heated and quenched,

and we relinquished to witness

the two new worlds we created:

 

The first one is without you:

desolate, parched, scorched—

the true pilgrim’s path and ultimate test.

 

The second one is with you:

lush, humid, bountiful—

the settler’s dream until realized

and the insects torment and the plain no longer beckons.

 

We should have remained in the darkness,

the only forms in the formlessness,

to undulate endlessly

as the substance of dreams.

 

Continue reading
Fiction

Tim Tomlinson – “Look Closer”

Tim Tomlinson was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, where he was educated by jukeboxes and juvenile delinquents. He quit high school in 1971 and began a life of purposeless wandering that led to purpose. He’s lived in Boston, Miami, New Orleans, London, Florence, Shanghai, Manila, Andros Island in the Bahamas, and Cha-am, Thailand. Currently, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Deedle. He is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the forthcoming collection of short fiction, This Is Not Happening to You (due late summer, 2017). He is a Professor of Writing at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies Program. He’s an avid scuba diver with just under 300 logged dives, and a 200-hr Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor.

 

Look Closer

 

“I know you all know what a dick is,” Rosie said to the sixth-grade girls. “Well, here’s mine.”

From the open zipper in his jeans, Rosie fished his little eraser of a penis.

Some of the girls gasped and covered their mouths with their hands. Some laughed. Some pretended to look away, but few actually could.

They were in the woods just off the recess field, their perimeter guarded by fourth and fifth grade boys.

Rosie said, “You can look closer if you want.”

Kathy Christmas pulled the hair from her face and leaned closer. Maria Bella and Debbie Fancy followed.

Debbie said, “Is it . . . is it getting bigger?”

The soft little pink thing had lengthened, the wrinkles in its shaft smoothed and hardened.

“Probably,” Rosie said. “It sometimes does that.”

Kneeling now, looking more closely, Kathy Christmas said, “Weird.”

Rosie said, “It’s okay to touch it.”

“I’m not touching that,” Kathy said, laughing.

Maria Bella knelt alongside her. “I will,” she said.

She placed the tip of her index finger on the shaft and the penis hardened further.

“Why is it doing that?” Maria asked.

Rosie said he didn’t know.

Maria said, “It’s so smooth.”

Debby Fancy leaned forward. She put her finger on, too, right at the tip.

“Ewww,” she said, “it’s all gooey.” But she didn’t take her finger away.

Then Billy Kanes, a fourth grader, came racing through the scrub.

“Morawski,” he shouted once, and vanished up the path.

Violently, the girls on the periphery scattered into the woods. They disappeared quickly up the paths through the low scrub. Before they could be identified, they would all find hidden exits onto the playing field. But Kathy and Maria were slow getting up from where they knelt. Soil stuck to the knees they exposed between mini-skirts and the tops of white go-go boots. And Rosie was having trouble pressing his erection back into his jeans.

Then Mrs. Morawski appeared.

“Do not a single one of you move,” she said.

 

Rosie was a new kid. His mother married Chris Hulse’s father, and they arrived in town from Nassau County some place close to the city. They lived at the edge of a sod field stadiums wide. You could see their house all the way from 25A. It looked like a red Monopoly hotel at the corner of a ping-pong table.

Rumors preceded Rosie’s appearance in school. He’d been left back at least once—he should have been in the seventh grade, maybe even eighth. There may have been some trouble in his last school, something to do with Rosie in the shower after gym class. Chris Hulse told his friends he wouldn’t sleep in the same room as Rosie, but he didn’t fully explain why. He moved into the basement where he slept on the couch, and he acted like he preferred that, but there was more to the story. No one, not even Rosie when he arrived, could explain why Rosie was called Rosie. His real name was John Scratchley. One thing Chris said: “My father better not adopt him. I don’t want the same last name as that fat freak.”

Rosie wasn’t really fat, he was chubby. He wore size 32” jeans, and his freckled face was puffy at the cheeks and under the chin. His hair was very short, a crew cut, the kind boys got when they got into trouble, but you could see that it was blond.

 

In the office, Kathy and Maria and Rosie stood, hands folded, in front of Principal Siegel’s desk. Principal Siegel was new, too, but not as new as Rosie. He was supposed to be strict, but all he did now was look from Kathy’s face to Maria’s to Rosie’s and back again. He drummed the fingers of one hand on his desk and continued to watch their faces. You could hear a watch tick, and sounds from the hall filtered in like echoes in a tunnel.

Finally, Kathy said, “Are we gonna just, like, stand here?”

Rosie snorted, and Maria bit hard on her lower lip.

“I mean,” Kathy said, “we’re missing I think social studies or some crap.”

The three of them, then, led by Rosie, burst out laughing. They laughed against their efforts to hold in the laughter. Tears leaked from their eyes onto the floor of Principal Siegel’s office where they splotched and darkened the gray and white tiles. They tried to suck back their guffaws, they tried to straighten from their waists, but they couldn’t. It seemed almost like the harder they tried to stop, the more the laughter poured forth. But slowly, painfully, they gulped it back, they swallowed it down, until they mastered it and they all three stared at the floor and avoided each other’s moist reddened eyes.

Principal Siegel continued drumming his fingers, for a minute, another minute, an eternity.

Kathy said, “Dude,” and their laughter exploded again.

Rosie said, “I’m gonna piss my fucking pants,” and they laughed harder and harder, their stomachs twisting into knots, and they pleaded with each other to stop, but they couldn’t, again, for a very long time.

When they looked up this time, Principal Siegel was reaching for the phone.

 

Maria Bella’s mother arrived second.

“He just showed it to us, Mama,” Maria said, ducking blows. “How were we supposed to know?”

To Rosie’s mother, Mrs. Bella said, “I’m gonna have that freak of yours locked up, you hear me?”

Mrs. Hulse stood behind Rosie holding his shoulders, sniffling back tears.

“We’re both sorry,” she told Mrs. Bella.

Mrs. Bella pushed Maria out the door. “Sorry my ass,” she said over her shoulder. “You can tell it to the judge.”

Kathy Christmas’s mother wasn’t home. Kathy was sent to spend the rest of the day in the nurse’s office.

“What were you thinking,” Nurse Meadows asked her.

“I dunno,” Kathy said. “Just how funny and little it looked.”

Nurse Meadows was taken aback. She fixed the glasses hanging round her neck onto the bridge of her nose.

“Funny and little,” she repeated. “Young lady, do you have any idea what you have done?”

“Yeah,” Kathy said, “I, like, looked at a dick. What’s the big deal?”

Nurse Bellows sent Kathy back to Principal Siegel’s office, but on the way she ducked into the unfinished wing of the new school. She entered an empty classroom whose unlocked doors opened onto a staircase to the side drive. She flashed across the drive faster than a squirrel, and back home she ignored the ringing telephone and watched cartoons.

When she got bored, she went outside and walked through the woods to Maria Bella’s house on John Street. She tapped at Maria’s window.

“My mother’s gonna kill me,” Maria said, pulling her friend over the sill.

“Fuck your mother,” Kathy said.

Kathy was something of a leader. Of all the girls, she developed noticeable breasts first, early in the fifth grade. By early sixth, which she was in now, she’d hung out with seventh and eighth grade boys, and she’d been felt up seven times. Maria had been felt up once. Debby Fancy wanted to be, but Kathy told her she needed to wait until there was something to feel.

“What did it feel like,” Kathy asked, “when you, like, touched it.”

“I don’t know,” Maria said, “kind of soft and smooth like velour.”

Kathy said, “Really?”

“Even when it got hard,” Maria said.

Kathy said, “Wow.”

Maria said, “I know.”

“But it didn’t feel gooey? Debby said it was gooey.”

“It didn’t feel gooey to me.”

Kathy said, “You think we should call her?”

“I can’t call anyone,” Maria said. “My mother would kill me.”

“How would she know.”

“That bitch knows everything.”

“You should come to my house,” Kathy said. “My mother lets us alone.”

Maria said, “Yeah, well my mother loves me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just she loves me, that’s all.”

“And what, my mother doesn’t?”

From another part of the house, Maria’s mother shouted.

“What’s all that noise in there?”

Maria said, “You better get out of here.”

Kathy said, “You’re such a wuss.”

Maria said, “Okay, I’m a wuss. But I know more than you.”

Kathy took the other woods, the woods that led away from home. She felt unsettled. She felt something had changed. She was the leader, the first one with a bra, the first one with a boyfriend, the first one French kissed, the first one felt up. It was like a shelf full of trophies. Then, all of a sudden, one shitty recess, and she’s the one asking questions. What the hell did Debby mean, all gooey?

 

Rosie stood in front of the mirror looking at the way his little dick must have looked when he pulled it out. He thought about how it had lengthened and how good that felt, like something really good was about to happen. Had to happen. And he thought about how much fun it was in Principal Siegel’s office, to laugh right in his face. No matter how much trouble he was in, it was worth it finally to laugh right in one of their faces.

He was in a lot of trouble, he knew that. He didn’t know exactly how much, but the phone had been ringing nearly non-stop since the school buses dropped the kids back home. He could hear his mother crying, sighing, apologizing. And once his step-brother came in, without knocking, and said, “Dad’s gonna send you to a home.”

This is my home,” Rosie told him.

His brother said, “This is our home, you fat freak,” and he slammed the door.

Rosie liked Chris. He was a fast runner, good at math, but he was so uptight.

In the mirror, he could see the distant traffic rolling on 25A. It was almost thirty minutes to the nearest town, a town with a luncheonette and a pharmacy and a candy store. He felt like he was living nowhere, at the edge of a huge lawn that didn’t even have houses.

The school buses were just heading back out to pick up the late kids, the kids who stayed after for sports or clubs. Rosie had wanted to join a club. He thought he could do cross-country, but his step-brother told him they don’t accept fat freaks. Then he thought he could do quilting, but Mrs. Morawski told him that was only for girls.

Something in the mirror caught his eye. He went to the window, and there . . . halfway across the sod field . . . was a figure . . . a girl . . . in a skirt . . . a mini-skirt . . . and white go-go boots . . . Kathy . . . Kathy Christmas. And she was coming toward his house. She was coming closer. And closer. So close she saw him. She saw him and waved. She indicated with her hands that he should lift up his window.

He looked down. He was still unzipped.

He wondered if he should raise his zipper. He guessed Kathy could tell him.

He raised the window.

 

 

10:21:26

 

 

Continue reading
Related posts
Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire”
October 16, 2017
Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse”
October 13, 2017
Poetry

Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire”

Tim Tomlinson was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, where he was educated by jukeboxes and juvenile delinquents. He quit high school in 1971 and began a life of purposeless wandering that led to purpose. He’s lived in Boston, Miami, New Orleans, London, Florence, Shanghai, Manila, Andros Island in the Bahamas, and Cha-am, Thailand. Currently, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Deedle. He is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the forthcoming collection of short fiction, This Is Not Happening to You (due late summer, 2017). He is a Professor of Writing at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies Program. He’s an avid scuba diver with just under 300 logged dives, and a 200-hr Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor.

 

At Night, after the Screams

 

wake us

 

we hear him walk

to the kitchen,

 

hear

 

his callused feet scuff

the hardwood floor, hear

 

him mutter curses

at the carpet,

its edge

 

perpetually curled, hear him

go

 

silent

 

on the linoleum

of the kitchen

floor.

 

So much is hidden

 

by our mother,

 

in closets

behind cans and boxes.

 

So much

 

that he loves—

 

Mallomars, Mr. Chips,

Hostess Twinkies.

 

We hear him

rummaging,

 

rummaging,

 

the cans clinking,

the boxes tearing open,

and his hands,

 

his thick

callused hands

ripping

 

through wax paper

and plastic packaging.

 

Hear

the refrigerator suck

open

 

sense

its light through the cracks

of our bedroom doors.

 

When he stands

in that cold light,

when he upends the milk carton,

when he douses

the fire

 

in his throat,

does he wonder, as we

do,

 

what made him scream,

again,

this time,

 

his mother’s name?

 

 

~

Blood Bank

(after Dorianne Laux)

 

When I was sixteen years old and did not

need sleep to feel rested, or a job for

money, I joined the veterans outside

the Camp Street Blood Bank at 7 a.m.

where they smoked cigarettes peeled off

the cobblestones and drank MD 20-20

from pint bottles. They wiped their mouths on

the greasy sleeves of fringed jackets or jungle

cammies, looking for a piece of cardboard

or some old magazine to slap on the spit

and piss and vomit laminating

the sidewalks they slept on. I did not feel

soiled by the filth on their fingernails,

the grease in their hair, or the gravel in their

throats. I was enthralled by the lies they told

about where they’d been, what they’d seen, how

many they’d killed, and the way they told those

lies, as if they believed them. As if I

believed them, too.

Inside the clinic

we reclined on hard gurneys, flies lining

the rims of Dixie cups filled with urine.

“Shame, Shame, Shame” on the radio,

unlicensed nurses in tight white uniforms

dancing the Bump between rows of our

worn-out soles. They pushed thick cold cannulas

in our arms and our bloods drained into

plastic tubing. Arterial blood, slow

and thin. Blood over the legal limit, blood

so dirty it had fleas. Blood of our fathers

who’d disowned us, blood of our mothers

whose faces we’d failed to erase. At night,

I’d be back on Bourbon Street, a pint low,

a dollar flush, Buster’s beans and rice glued

to my ribs. Blue notes from clarinets

and guitars joining the termites spinning

in the halos of street lamps, go-cups crowning

the trash cans and dribbling into the gutter

with the butts and the oysters and the sweat

off the shower-capped jheri-curled tap

dancer from Desire Project scraping spoons

across the slats of a metal scratchboard.

Hawkers barking at the swarms of tourists

gawking at strippers in storefront displays,

and the runaway girls at the topless

shoeshine spit-shining white loafers

on the feet of insurance agents from

Mutual of Omaha. The veterans,

my blood brothers, they’d lurk in the shadows

and scan the sidewalks for half-smoked butts,

and I’d help them put together the lies

they’d tell to strangers tonight, and repeat

to me in the morning, forgetting half

of those lies were mine, and I’d forget, too.

 

 

~

Morgan’s Bluff

 

At dawn the gulls laugh again.

 

Two gray angelfish ascend …

… kiss the surface …

… recede …

the water’s surface wrinkles.

 

Pink light separates the gray sky from the gray sea.

Enormous clouds form like the aftermath of great explosions.

 

How pensive this daybreak,

a grenade without a pin.

 

In a needling insect heat the dawn’s final breeze fades

 

A jeep’s lights flash on, it backs out of the commissary.

 

Pelicans lift from the pylons.

The Cuban whore retreats up the Bluff Road,

her sandals dangling from a finger.

 

~

 

Night Dive

 

Once on a moonless night

I lost my companions.

Their beams were bright

but I’d edged over

 

an outcropping into

darkness and touched down softly

on a rubble ledge

where the wall pulsed

 

with half-hidden forms, eyes

on the ends of stalks,

spiny feelers testing the current,

feather dusters

 

vanishing

in a blink,

spaghetti worms retracting.

So sadly familiar—

 

things I desire withdrawing,

their forms

disappearing

the instant

 

I extend a hand.

The reef folding into itself

like a fist. Then,

from the stacks of plate coral,

 

the arm of an octopus slid,

and another, two more,

reaching

for my fingertips,

 

my palm. The soft sack

of the octopus followed,

inching nearer,

her tentacles

 

assessing

the flesh of my wrist,

my arm. My heart

pounding. Turquoise pink

 

explosions rushing across

the octopus’s form. At my armpit,

she tucked in,

sliding her arms

 

around my neck

and shoulder, her skin

becoming

the blue and yellow

 

of my dive skin.

She stayed with me

such a short time,

her eyes,

 

those narrow slits,

heavy with trust,

and my breath

so calm, so easy.

 

Above,

my companions

banged on their tanks,

summoning me to ascend.

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading
Related posts
Tim Tomlinson – “Look Closer”
October 20, 2017
Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse”
October 13, 2017

Popular posts

Yong Shu Hoong - The Path of Least Resistance (translated into Chinese 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...

Greg Baines - excerpts from "Guerilla War: A Love Story" (Part 3)

Zhen – Delays “All warfare is based on deception.” (Sun Tzu, Chpt 1, 18)   I have been in this bar so many times, it’s like reading the same...