CAUCHEMAR KIDS, OR, LOVE/SICKNESS IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
the tanforan mall, home to hooters of san bruno, hollister (of the west coast), dirty glass walls, concrete jungle, kiddie jungle. and, perhaps most importantly: that ironic triumvirate of the star-spangled banner, the growling motto of the west, and their brethren, the bare flagpole. the irony of the “american” flag framing the court of the tanforan “mall” is palpable: not least because the tanforan, before its concrete makeover, was a racetrack and the northern california japanese internment center. yellow men, yellow beasts. anarchy framed by the mellow sky. you can still see the traces of barbed wire, only now there grows a stubby line of hydrangea bushes.
the “american” flag: who is american? the tanforan “mall”: who decided to curse the poor horses with such an ugly home? where was america, anyway. i think the concrete offers a step toward better times.
the only person who hates the mall more than me is my father, who hates the idea of me at a mall enough to murder a small horse. not that a horse has anything to do with my being at a mall, but if you shoehorn me into the right retail center, i just might buy one. i’ve always wanted a nice mare. i certainly spend enough time with them at night.
my father’s calculus of debt methodically includes me as an expenditure. but the eliding boundaries of the “nuclear family” threatens to leave me out of his reach, and both of us confused. too, my father is plagued by (including, but not limited to): narcissistic subjective dissolution, a gendered horizon of responsibility, and a fixation on the patriarch(y) of the tang “family,” which is to say, he is, in fact, an investment banker. call us the provincial chinese branch of merill lynch. i am dr. tang: stroke neurologist, part-time psychologist, and a phd from the university of tokyo.
but no matter what i do, my feminine failing renders any panacea to my father’s ailments an impossibility. medical miracles are doomed trivialities in the periphery of tang concern. comprised of books, makeup, and the vain misgivings of the everyday, the cure to melancholia is not, contrary to the doctor’s orders, a healthy dose of sertraline and a daily routine. the vain misgivings of the everyday happen also to be everything i give a shit about. dr. tang, in her entirety, is a feminine misgiving of the everyday. her sins: depression, anxiety, bulimia—all viral forms of home and love “sickness.” her frivolities: of painted nails, expensive sunglasses, and the occasional glass of merlot. deadly enough to kill. her life, with its fragile edges and poor substitute for curatorship, is simply not worth enough to sustain her daily routine.
i wonder. what would gabriel garcia marquez say about the pathologization of my gendered failing? love sickness is not a punch to the gut. love/sickness is in the time of cholera. the former is a meningitis of the heart; the latter an aphrodisiac.
never has a matriarch of the tang “family” surfaced. rare was it that a woman–who was not, and could much less imagine herself as, a constitutive strand of the implicitly professed tang fabric–would willingly bear the weight of several generations of men-children. tarantula sized tantrums require a professional extinguisher, and the tang fold can produce only bug swatters.
things no one talks about in the field: …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………did gong gong used to beat po po? did second uncle used to beat his wife? does he still? …………………………………………………………………………………………………….the infant girl second uncle gave away first uncle as tyrant ……………………………..……………………………..……………………………..………………………..auntie’s relationship to po po po po herself: dust in the field
……………………………..…………………The Children: unless it is about their academic prospects, or lack thereof The (grand-)Children: born out of wedlock
we are the fray of the “family,” or, the anxiety of a ranch owner in a cattle pen without a corral. who is a tang? who will calculate the debts owed and oversee their uneasy settlement? the concrete steps of our country villa seem like a good place to start.
methodically built and angular in structure are our stairs, polluted only by the kelp of emotion and the cacophony of overlapping voices, which render explosive the torrent of facts disappeared. like the occasional smattering of chicken shit which accompanies the cascade of secrets. one learns to walk around the fecundity. others learn to sweep.
the last time i went to the tang home i became struck by a violent cold. expelled lumps of coal sized pus. not very polite dinner conversation, i’m afraid. that i was a mere mortal, subject to sickness despite my american upbringing, did not answer any of my cousins’ questions about our fundamental ontological differences. they and the neighbors wanted to know every parameter of my life, but they were careful to establish boundaries for themselves–things they knew i could not know. things they could not, but would, tell me.
DO YOU THINK I WOULD MAKE A GOOD TROPHY WIFE?
i do, he answers before i can change my mind. i’m disappointed. even joanne the scammer knows: it’s all one big circle jerk of misogyny. the artist as art object is rather: the woman as art object. occupant of the curatorship of her life, to each her own caucasian home. so to speak.
here’s a reminder to polish up on adrian piper: the personal and the theoretical as Praxis and praxis.
once a dude tried to hit on me in philz by pointing to my “got privilege?” sticker. do you know where that’s from, he asked me. curatorship, challenged. the artist’s theoretical knowledge: loop-holed. i gaped at him. i do not say he was aroused by me. to hit: diminish, degrade.
to be feminized as an artist is to be simone de beauvoir as a manic pixie dream girl–sartre’s, but with a sinister underbelly of her own. the artist’s impeccable taste: a chiaroscuro, and in this case, a delightful proclivity for under-aged girls. sex, seduction, a room of one’s own. these are the trappings of the modern woman: artist in her self-actualized exceptionalism.
i hate that phrase, self-actualization. other words i hate: priapic, wanderlust, escape, adios (for its misuse as a flippant adieu), bildungsroman, self-discovery. i knew a white boy from our recruitment camp at stanford who took a year off before yale: to go bicycling in turkey. finding his middle of the road destiny in the middle of the East. it sounds like an indie movie, i told my friend. “riveting”; “human truth”; “touching; a masterpiece imbued by –‘s charm”; rollingstone, new york times, some white yuppie from the new yorker who thinks he can write. one big circle jerk of male navel gazing. to be masculinized as an artist is to be heroic, a mastermind, and graced with inherent knowledge of the Bigger Purpose. which for him inevitably includes crazy sex, a sizable inheritance (or accidental trust fund from his estranged grandfather’s long island estate), and a peculiar but situationally-justified taste for the absurd. white boys are always so basic: either they actually trust the ethnic restaurant’s yelp reviews or they really just don’t want to try anything new but are afraid to say it. everything else (including that foodie who thinks of himself as a connoisseur) is fake.
i fit in this schema as a flavorful chapter that veers toward the salacious. only then are we neither artist nor woman but artist woman: the well-oiled harmonica of an abandoned cinematographic feature, starring none other than the turkish bicycle and its sun burned rider. we are the only audience of this budgeted art nouveau. as she sits in the empty cinema, sipping on a gin and tonic, she wonders: could scopophilic narcissism be read as simple masochism? it’s hard to sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude’s flickering projection.
on most days during the monsoon it is hard for me to leave my bed. five feet from a view of the city: marvelous. whispers of subrosa quivering: oh, what possibility! to be found under the blankets, a solipsism so quiet it can almost be ignored. to stay is to demonstrate loyalty of the highest order–to thyself, temple of flesh, to sit through the collapse and touch the jagged remnants. failed apocalypse: did you know the strength of your own walls? no, you say. i wake up, lurch. swimming organs can’t drown; nevertheless, you teach me how to breathe.
how loyalty can squeeze itself to ten and thirteen feet but still never touch the ground. clench, goes the bedframe, but it’s your diaphragm that swells with the effort of breath. nowhere do i feel the weight of metal, having resisted the urge to return “home”; crawl into bed, stare at the ceiling and windows unaffordable. i remain loyal to the cause: some sort of catharsis; sated convalescence. that is the commitment i have made on paper, a solipsism so quiet it almost feels safe. to be: elsewhere, far enough to betray the sob, its grip. this is why we fling sobriety; out, out, out dirtied panes chased by dust and stifled moths. i think about how it feels under the covers, always better than here. relax: not (t)here. too relaxed and the temple empties itself; desecration, and you have been banned. alien, save the curve of the thoracic spine, but what a waste; away; dismay. green bodies swallowed by the pills of the cotton; think back to travel across the sea; sink in sea; drown in sweat; swallow the stinging salt. today i awoke loyal only to the bed. turn against the spring, muffle under the must. the bed as place: of cathexis; the barge, a green-glass prison. children will be born of the night, draped across the posts of neuropathy around which sea-drenched teeth cannot curve. cauchemar kids, who swear allegiance not even to their creator. cauchemar kids, who bah on command and do not sink. four-legged kids and a stomach so smooth, lined with only the finest wool. how the walls sway as they climb up the hill.
we speak the same language, you say, but i only heard saltwater gargle. i have finally floated, but my head is beneath the water, and you teach me to breathe but my blood, too thick too heavy to lift, floods the spine and drowns the cave of the esophagus. my gasp the syncopated rattle above symphonic bah’s. how strong are your walls: do they bend? what writing stains?
i have come to the conclusion, lying on this swing, that treachery is the only answer. treachery as that which is holier than denial, more potent than sacrilege. treachery: the only movement of agentic assertion, or transitional objecthood made luminescent. treachery as that which lays the temple’s final step. above which the stiletto wall sings.
that afternoon she sat barefaced in dolores park, musing about that particular brand of abrasiveness she had come to associate with her tar-tainted secondary education. that same bitter aftertaste which, aroused by reinitiated mediatization, she tried immediately to repress once more. she had done this many times since her uneventful departure from an altogether provincial childhood. with it, she left: suburbia, priapic heads (cursed by baldness), and, less successfully, a grudging admiration for whiteness which bloomed from initial infatuation. but weren’t all childhoods provincial. the thought of vanilla nauseates her: the creamy deception of it all. no, it was better to stay away from ice cream, and all those plaster-variances which became too easily tainted or, just as randomly, threatened to swallow you with their infinite blankness. she had forgotten the particularities of her befuddled adolescence. the return of its coldness left her numbed in surprise.
which was better: to be cared for in acts, or to be regulated in the taxonomy of friendship as a self-sufficient being; a potential competitor, in nothing if not that persistent departure from a testosterone-induced haze of self-worth. she didn’t know. or, she did: no one knew. it was impossible to know. she had realized, in conversation with friends torturously made and discarded, that care cannot exist in a state of isolation. it was always getting left behind by the simulacrum of her life: this, she decided, was the problem. she could only ever near a semblance of care–peek the rosy horizon of (that mythical essence!) love–before she, that is to say the “i” of her fleshly cast, decided to impose its unforgiving will on the metaphysical court of her life’s narrative. so that she remained constantly on the verge of reunion with the rumored landmark of care, only to be dissembled, time after time, in the name of the love story.
the abrasive recurrence of her childhood friends–those peculiar specters from a previous life! whose cotton candy induced coma on the neoliberal merry-go-round she would otherwise find distasteful. but their silent presence made sense in the pothole-riddled paradox she identified as “living.” what was it to live if to do so is to enact a constant delay of living? the transient space between the actionable term (and a fossilization of the thing itself) and the phenomenological extension of its “being” initiated by continued occurrence. the only assured thing, she thought, was that of her drifting, which, at the moment, felt worryingly directionless. she felt libation at the prospect of tunnel vision, only, unlike joan didion, she could not yet drive. the highway was indefinitely unavailable to her. so she worried, simultaneously buoyed by her anxiety and driven directionless because of it.
“i have muted you (on facebook),” he confessed.
shuttled along from one pothole premise to the next, she ran after herself. her “i”—the self, split within the matrix of the Holy Trinity—alternately played catch up; twisted; the game of life, which proved to be a combination of catching up and leaving behind as perverted souvenir. if only that were good enough to be true. scampering after the Good Life, she wondered how long it had been since she inadvertently muted her-self. it must have been the last pothole-cum-vacuum out of which she had recently emerged, skin papyrus pruned and hair coarse. into which she was uncertainly plunging once more; she had only traced a shadow of the actual escape.
it’s politics—not i—that is too dramatic. framing my pentagonal room are a series of long rectangular windows, through which i watch the light fade to the sound of julianna margulies’ voice. i have lost myself in the 22-hour news cycle, or what they are calling america’s “last” “great” “drama.” this is the setting sun of great american acting, wherein retirement does not mean redistribution but return, so emergency rooms and the sex—turn tepid from anticipation. sex and—the city is no more. i should like to move to chicago. retrace the steps of susan sontag, margulies of another era, several mediums displaced.
when i was finally permitted to see my mother, moments after her surgery, she turned me away and asked for my father. his presence centered her in a way that mine did not, and in that moment i realized that i was merely a sublease within the emotional contract that bound them together.
duplicitous words such as swallowing. and its synonyms, tempestuous siblings who i have lost among pluperfect tense and hendecasyllables. how can you remember something you never knew? i wander the streets of berkeley remembering all the lives i have not yet lived. delicious words like spewing, my wisdom to the masses. for two hours every day the netizens of berkeley, california turn off their laptops and turn up the radio knob. crooning the color of verdant collage, so we can forget ourselves amongst the 22-hour days. 120 minutes the sound of transition, day somersaulting to the next. melodic integrity and the steady cymbal, like the invention of the album and the disappearance of the radio personality. we love so much the canonization of personality. such as, the paternal figure of paternal figures: a simulacrum the method of peddling through layers that borders on the reductive. the great american drama, last of its kind. the woman grown, girlhood expanded. how can i imagine womanhood when i have already lived my best years as a girl?
my biggest fear is that my mother gave birth to me out of a sense of duty: the way she had done most things that determined the tempo and arc of her life. or maybe: i was something she had insisted into being and later regretted, so full of ancient vileness am i that i drove away even my mother, the one from whose flesh i emerged, who grew me inside of her own body. you are going to be the death of me, she says to me sometimes, when she is angry. just like your father promised. i cry and stamp my feet, scream panic attack! and fuck you! and you make me want to kill myself! over low resolution video. suddenly i am eight again and everything my mother says makes a perverse logic i can’t escape. somehow, she knows my every nick and groove, so versed is she in my infantile reasoning that perfectly rehearsed memories, under her scrutiny, become riddled with the cracks of doubt. i want to make “scorpio finagle” a commonly used moniker or more sonically pleasing phrase. everything my mother manages becomes infused with a driving essence of her, until it no longer knows self or can distinguish between life and narrative written by her.
the great irony of sex and the city is that a show about the navigation and acquisition of male approval could be hijacked by four women, who manage to turn not only the plot but the very substance of the sitcom into a solipsistic universe of white femininity. this has been said before. what terrible humor the white woman can concoct. what deceitful tales she can tell.
sit com is loosely defined as situational comedy which stands (or, more accurately, sits) for the pleasure of the test audience. hello, are you there? i was just wondering how much they paid you to sit through this shit. maybe you found it in the garbage and thought it well enough to reuse. maybe it appeared on your floor; utility turning forget turning beginning to orphan. maybe it never appeared at all and this is all solipsism turned sour: the kind of white lady resignation carrie bradshaw and her fake friends forced for the camera in season six and movies one, two, and three. blandness, too, can have a sting, like acid battery eating into plastic. oh, maybe that’s where you found it. an oozing that turns white to transparent, plastic to air and you can almost make out the coils wrapped beneath rubbery film.
in this way, my mother is the original author: the first artist i knew. but if there is one thing that defines the making of an artist and the subsequent phenomena that extend from her cosmic birth, it is solipsism, and solipsism cannot stand when one is confused by two and i can no longer know self from the seed growing inside me. periodically i ask my mother why she is so scared of life. her answer never changes and we rehearse the same conversation. i never remember what she says but i always remember to revise my question from noun to adjective: timid, cautious, risk-averse. my mother is so functional it scares me. to see someone so apparently bereft of flesh capable of cruelty and cardamom in equal measures is to see a human, despite my doubts. it’s strange when your home becomes alive, or when your skin grows a consciousness of its own. when the waves move according to their own volition, the carefully projected solipsism between moon and self is broken, and the artist is in peril. i want to be the kind of competence that makes my mother scared, which is to say, how do you stop yourself from becoming something that you revile? what does a home without a home look like. when skin peels by its own volition and wounds remain unaffected by salt, who do i turn to for affirmation of my sanity? in a court without witnesses there can be no operable version of the truth. when did we give our voice in supplication and become unable to distinguish food from the hand that feeds? the mouth that speaks? the contract a narrative, debt driving the plot toward a wail: forsaken worlds sting like future exhausted by rehearsal.
in the good wife, julianna margulies is served by the presence of archie panjabi (masturbatory dream of my girlhood in bend it like beckham). i see myself in archie’s thigh high boots and the crook of her eyebrow on which my aspirations hinge. like prosthetics the weight of a hair, you know. i should also like to serve julianna margulies, in the twenty-third hour, when i save the day with three inch heels and sardonic refusal. i am impressed by the way whiteness cloisters itself in this show, leaving enough room (always) for inclusion. but what if we don’t want to be included? archie panjabi has disappeared the last great american drama, taking her cue, followed. there is nothing sacred, and very little good, so naturally whiteness follows the best thing it can find, even if it has to laugh off refusal and rub the sore spot where plastic heel dug into ruinous flesh. like i said, it is politics that is too dramatic. never the brown woman, whose body is never disappeared even as it is always evacuated. even her ghost is pilfered for fabric–julianna’s next costume–so that she is responsible for everything, everything, even after she has died. the white woman of (white) women screams about the solipsism of the ‘hood until the myth of subject coherence threatens to tear. so do i, but i had already abandoned the hood (the ‘hood of the hood), only listened to smooth transitions and jay-z, whose genius is apparent in frank ocean. parent-hood, adult-hood, woman-hood, mother-hood, the sea breeze.
when i was eight my parents enrolled me in a seventh day adventist afterschool program. it was supposed to keep me busy with homework and snacks and playground time, but it came with free bible lessons and conversion therapy which they didn’t know about. which they should have known about, because it was a seventh day adventist afterschool program. i met eve and steve for the first time in the red brick church at the corner of richmond and 39th. heard, with my very own ears, in a musky pew (pregnant with a kind of baroque possibility–a rich, maudlin red) of (st)eve’s treachery, how they ruined their one chance at an everlasting, pre-transcendental peace. eden is a kind of delicate transparency that garbage bags maintain as sulfur dissolves polyethylene. from the rib of the dumpster, an infelicitous union, an impossible divorce. the white god’s prefect represented by plastic–what beautiful deception he can concoct! what sexual tension his bolt exudes, flat and narrow like the pumpernickel expanse of carrie bradshaw’s face. maybe that’s where you found it. plastic draped like foreskin over cracked shell, now that’s
some white lady bullshit.
i have forgotten my mother’s answer but we rehearse the same conversation until—i sit trembling before the ghosts of my fetal whispers. the same conversation: it is not her life she of which she is afraid, but its opposite, which is to say, its derivative: the birth canal, the death drive, me. taylor and i might still have sex, why? i made that bitch faaamous. i made that bitch heinous.
JUST / DO / IT
some thoughts on asian american racial “justice” in the wake of kenyon martin’s apology to jeremy lin:
what (where) are the bounds (the ropes) of the asian american project that frame this perverted ethics? to want representation, without redistribution. to want equality, without disassembly of hierarchy.does jeremy ever look in the mirror and think, i am the
future my ancestors dreamed about. by which ………………………………………………………………he means:
i am the face of asian american racial justice, a mockery composed of: displacement and internal insistence on hegemonic modes of dominance, negation, and death familiar to the geopolitical histories of asia proper. histories by which i mean: the (han) colonizer never forgets his tools. even when he is headless; his victim, shifting.
asian/america a perfect equation toward the technologies of domination.
how the pretense of niceties is weaponized as “rationality” in defense of an anti-Black status quo. how tone marries the word in bastard ceremony / produce bastard children in tongue, or the pastor leading his flock of jaundiced sheep under banners of tolerance and obedience. by which He means submission and willful ignorance, or bastard baas from snouts stuffed close with grass.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. futile language for futile justice (whose?). how the slippage of language is never on “our” side, when there is no “side,” only entrance into discursive formation echoing the fist of an oppressor.
as if lin’s cacophony of contradiction actually evinces a sort of “logic.” as if a softcore mimicry of multiculturalist racism can be legitimized by the posturing of sympathy. the colonizer has always donned sympathy in lieu of liberation.
lessons for burial
i decayed in the present tense. which is to say—what, actually? except the sigh of my sphincter, i am unoccupied with destiny. sure, we all die, but how does one tell the present with facts from the future? lest the future precedes the present, which it often does, and it is the past that we mistakenly look toward. as a position of inscrutability: a margin almost beside the point, literally and not literarily. there’s no there there. only a fading dawn.
today was the day i died. yesterday began with a ray and today continues with the mist. past tense tentative, i am not sure i am even an “i,” or more accurately, if i am paralyzed in limbo until yesterday and tomorrow cohere. it is quickly becoming a day other than the one to which we turn, so i must have made known—past tense tentative—the event of my…well, what, exactly, i am unsure. there are no words which can be accurately contaminated by my situation: the microcosm of the diseased in a few letters? what is the name for a configuration of the Real in which form constitutes the whole and essence of content? in that sense there’s no word for microcosm in the wake of my dawn’s decay.
they say that death is sluggish, and i am here to confirm that the moment itself is anything, but, all moments afterward are exactly that. i am unsure why the people are so concerned with the method of my death; why it never crosses their mind to ask the mode of my decay, or everything that happens after. why they seem to think there is an “after.” in the wake—well, there is no wakening for this. from this. sluggish is the right word to hold the jelly of my blood and the soft mucus of my flesh, as artefact. i am content to lie here while my insides pool out from beneath me, and i am content to observe the dissolution that makes me.
the most important moments of my life have been left in a miniature coffin you will find on the top right shelf of my desk. in it you will find the material equivalent of a corpse. i want you to take all of the objects—beware the sharp points of the pentagram—and burn it by the nearest body of water you can find. make sure nothing remains except ashes, and then take this paper to roll. inhale deeply to whisper me into rest.
4once upon a time there was a girl named E. there was no one she loved in all the world better than her friend T. E and T believed that in each other’s presence, only the marvelous could shine, rain or. T and E believed
7 —forget. she could, nonetheless.
3the rain stopped, and she put herself to sleep. when the milk at the bottom of the glass turned translucent and became dewy drops glittering on the cusp, she knew that.
2they lived love sweeter than adrenaline. a love built on unrelenting gaze and synchronized fear of failure, so T and E relished and resisted the other’s touch.
6a conflict in the body text, so she dissolved into floating alphabets punctuated by the occasional em-dash, but it was all she could do.
5 the particularity of their naiveté, the way in which they trusted so studiously, stupidly, in the absolution of their savior, or tempted the slippery hand of fate by believing that something, something good was destined to come.
1the institution of death is the only one wherein unrelenting mediocrity may find a place.
8but without absolution notes ………………………………………………………………………………………from ……..the…..plot
here lies the body text (née body/text, body-text). grammatical configuration between flesh and command, or thing and the thing that compelled it to action. today and all days from today there will be no truth in action because there will be no action, and there will be no more truths that carry prophecies. as verbs turn to adjectives to cloak cobwebs and the sweet stench of corpse it is wondered if the dead can speak. only with a limp of accent and elided consonants. (it is me who is writing what i am writing. and i swear that this book is composed without words: like a mute photograph. this book is a silence: an interrogation.) soon we taste the resin of dirt in the crevice of sentences and crooked teeth, like stained english, or a language spent among sailors and mingled with the undertone of salt and sand. a language of kelpy excess, or the ocean is a giant grave, where body becomes feed and text becomes vapor and the gravitational pull of the moon. (the word must not be adorned and become aesthetically worthless; it must be simply itself. with stiff, contaminated fingers i must touch the invisible in its own squalor.) commas to the body text what fingers are to you and i, stretching vertically toward the sliver of dirt not yet contaminated by light. ‘the hands are the first to go, until they become little more than nubs,’ the body text a severed head, or an unruly ball of tumble seaweed. skid along wave tops until land on land like ending, or decapitation. ‘can the body text be freed from its sentence.’ not unless body|text a eulogy for the fish, or body/text the bodhisattva’s robes. (i can no longer bear) the text, or the last thing left covering bones (the routine of my existence, and) body or mongrel or text or mongoloid floating, the sea is the color of urine (, were it not for the constant novelty of writing) (i should die) to be buried in quilt knit by the letter c, autopsy conducted by the needle or curved scalpel, teeth harvested by scythe and then (symbolically) scattered into the scene. the seen.
suiyi lives (queerly, freely) in the scopophilic corridor. she is a comparative literature and american studies double major at williams college. on hiatus, in favor of an untwisted bildungsroman (not to be made into an independent film) and an archive of ballpoints and lingerie. a gallery of her current projects, guarded by the death drive, may be found at legitimizedinprint.com