Limpieza pa’ la Tristeza

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Estoy triste
so I’ll light my candles
one by one
and when all the candles are on
and all the lights are off,
i’ll draw the blinds open
so the neighbors can’t see
and the moon can trickle in
to heal the wounds
the daylight sun rays left behind,
i’ll open the window
to change the air in my room
the way doctors change
the blood in a dead body for preservation chemicals,
no,
the way a snake sheds its skin to grow a new one,
yes,
and then I’ll light the incense
while I turn on the shower

I’ll take a hot shower, with the bathroom door open, so the steam will fill up my bathroom, and then flood my room, empañando el vidrio, fogging the glass, and with the heat, my pores will open, like cactus flowers in the morning sun, and to remind myself I’m in my body, and it’s all I’ll ever own, I’ll clean it like a cat licking its fur, slowly, to heal, to enjoy it, to move on, to pass the time, to feel, and when I’m still in the shower I’ll scrub my hair with apple vinegar and water to take out the bad luck, spirits and oil like abuela and Reema said, the water will trickle down my face, flooding my wide pores, and I’ll wash off the salty remains with my face looking up at the sky and then I’ll rinse it all off, I treat my showers the way characters in books do, a shower or a bath is rebirth in my high school English class, now naked and still dripping, I’ll step out to the sink, look in the mirror and think how odd my body looks when the steam fogs the mirror, it makes all the colors blur, shapes get confused and I can’t tell where my hips end and where the toilet seat begins, I’ll dry my face to tone it with rose water and lavender extract and then I’ll spray it with the aloe I blended with hand-picked rose petals, I’ll dig up the coffee I don’t drink to exfoliate rub my face my butt my stretch marks, my bloated belly and swollen feet and then I’ll lay on my floor to rest until my thoughts start slipping away into a light dream, that’s how I’ll know it’s time to get up and shower again, a final cleaning to wash off the salt, I’ll rinse with cold water and think about the candles, they have been burning for too long, and I’ll realize my aloe also needs a shower, my journal needs ink, my head needs my pillow, the book on my window sill needs to be read, and my dried flowers need to be hung so I’ll rinse and step out again,I’ll feel a bit better, clearer, more fresh, but before crawling in bed I have one last step, a thick Aztec clay mask, I’ll spread it evenly on my skin, with a brush I’ll pretend my face is a canvas and the clay the paint, I’ll spread it until my face turns grey like the moon on my looking glass, and then comes the music, a fifteen minute salsa freestyle dance between my bed and my desk with a broom sweeping the floor and my hair tucked tight behind my ears and when the last beat sounds, I’ll wash my face with cold water again and then add a drop of maqui berry oil, I picked maqui in Santiago when the days got warmer and my skin got darker, I’ll spray one more time, moisturize in a circular motion with the tip of my fingers and I’ll be fresh, I’ll blow out the candles, read, sleep and I’ll be ready to wake up again.

 

Image by William Eggleston

 

incessant

my head’s not in the clouds it’s in second hand smoke rumbling the remains of a mute blast of a bomb i do not recall when or where going off when or where what went wrong rattling my hardened stone block of brain which was once the color and vigor of blush pink turned into onyx black ink bleeding through hazy eyes the asphalt rattles the cage of my skull ringing the impact is null nothing hits me shifts me i’m at the bottom of the ocean sitting with my legs before me like a rag doll crane my heavy head to look up a hint of sun twinkling through the far surface there’s no one there was no thud i’m not sure how i got here but i landed like an anchor

Artwork by Mona Hatoum, Image courtesy of The National

WELP, MIRRORS!

Written by Anonymous

monica rohan.jpg

You overslept. Wakey wakey. Out your bed you go. Your hair is a mess. Snap. Mild headache. You hobble over to the mirror, to see yourself. What do you see?

You walk around. Everything and everyone around you is a mirror, not because they really are, but because you just can’t have it any other way- you want to see nothing but yourself in everything and everyone. Yuck! Until you’re sick of yourself. Welp! Now your reflection is not the real you, after all. Come on, save the bull for the seedlings. You don’t even know who the real you is, but somehow, you expected the mirrors to have all the answers.

Deranged, frantic, you rumble around, covering every mirror you see, or smashing them. The world around you grows dark and cold, because, now, you got rid of all the mirrors. It’s all too eerie, you don’t want to be seen as that weird one that’s afraid of ittie bittie mirrors. So you wait until everyone is dead asleep, nighttime, then you can wage your total war. The revolution won’t be reflected. Your first casualty, the mirror in your bathroom cabinet. God knows whatever the hell you’re holding in your hands, you grab anything you could use to smash it. You carry a dark heavy cloth across your shoulder. You keep the lights off, you don’t want your mirror to see you. Sneaky. Stealthy. You put that science fair trophy on the ground. Calm. Silent. Over the mirror the cloth goes and you quickly wrap it all around. Tighten it up. Are you trying to suffocate it? This is a goddamn mirror for Gonzalez’ sake, not Caylee Anthony. What gives, you’re too deranged anyway at this point, too far gone. Okay. Now you want to hit it on its skull, knock it over, smash it. You pick up the trophy, lift it up and over with your arm, get that torque right, your left hand still gripping the cloth over the tied-up mirror.

Welp! An arm smashes out from the other side of the mirror and bam! sucker punches you. You wince. Trophy dropped. Your arms scrambling. Mirror shards all over the glossy bathroom floor. Gush. Stunned. Your reflexes too slow. Another hit, bam! Now your nose is crushed, total blood geyser. And you’ve fallen over, sprawled on the bathroom floor, glass shards snipped into you. As you fall, you hit the back of your head on the tub. Bam, right under the Andromeda, you have this towering dark thing that’s just crawled out of the mirror, its outlined figure dominating over you. Welp! How’s your little war shaping up now? It feels like a bad trip, and you want so much for it to be nothing but a nightmare, or some nasty hallucination. Nope, you’re deranged, and this is as real as real gets. You’re still spread all over the floor, you try to scuttle, but bam! Before you could make any move, that thing knocks you shitless with your own trophy. So much for winning. You’re bleeding, your skull, throbbing and your vision, dimming. In your last gasps for sight, that thing reaches out for the light switch. Flick. Surprise! You see it. It’s you. No no no no, it’s your reflection. But nooo, you couldn’t be more wrong, it’s very much you. You you you. Who knows though. And for all they know, they can’t tell and won’t even bother, it’s all the same to them. Okay, now you’re probably unconscious. Fading. Everything is fading into darkness.

You overslept. Wakey wakey. Out your bed you go. Your hair is a mess. Snap. Mild headache. You reach over your forehead, down to your nose. Weird, right, everything somehow is fine. You then reach over to your hip, you could’ve sworn a glass shard was plunged deep just the previous ni… You don’t want to go there. Instantly repress that memory, or bad trip or whatever it was. Nothing. Ever. Happened… You convince yourself. And right by you, you notice it, this large rectangular slab hovering. It has a clear window, you can see through it, right. But on the other side, is an exact replica of everything in your room. And right there, is that thing. Welp, it has also woken up. It slugs over towards you, to the floating glass frame, and you towards it, in tandem. It looks exactly like you, and it is looking right at you. It’s you. You you you. You’re looking back at it. Locked, you both look into each other. What do you see? Welp, mirrors!

 

Artwork by Monica Rohan

self-ish

I am a comma. Sometimes I think writing about yourself is an act of narcissism. I question the value of literature almost everyday. I wonder if I am asexual. I love books but they’re a bit like men, where they can tire me, and wreck and drain. I am startled both when someone likes me and when they don’t. Sometimes I catch myself practising to love myself. I am continously surprised by existence, by the verb and noun: be and being. I don’t like reading plays. Dialogue is tiring, in reality or the page. I am constantly plucking thorns out of my middle. It is paradoxical – a painful extraction of pain itself. White men intimidate me. I think society has taught me that they are intimidating; I am an active member of society. I hate running, it reminds me of the difficulty of breathing. I am not asthmatic. I’m planning an exhibition about dreams. Or pillow books. I’ve lived on four continents. My favourite emojis are of the sunflower, the crescent moon, the wilting rose and the cup of coffee. I tend to live up to several stereotypes imposed upon me. I still remember my friend from high school telling me “You’re kinda selfish”. I still remember calling my friend fat in kindergarten. I used the word “large”. I feel jealousy very frequently. I think an exceptional amount about love. Technology is a bad lover to me. I have felt true flickering moments of happiness in these places: a rainy January night in New York City, a late afternoon floating in the Dead Sea, the pride parade in Manhattan, a Daniel Caesar concert in Paris, in the middle of a conversation at the Grahamstown Arts Festival, staring at the sky from the Piazza di Michelangelo in Florence, laughing throughout a dinner in Rome, stepping off my high school stage in Botswana, taking a shower after my surprise 19th birthday party in my dorm in Abu Dhabi, and finishing Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on my mother’s bed. I thought I would be happier when a guy told me he loved me. Like a circle had finished being drawn. I am often scared of opening my mouth. I like the sound of my voice. Sometimes I sound like I have a cold, or I’ve just woken up, or just smoked a cigarette, or spent some time amongst Americans, or Arabs, or French people, or my best friend from Jamaica, or Indians. These all, sometimes, may be true. I don’t think I’m particularly likeable. In a TV show, I’d be a supporting character you might feel conflicted about. I have spent too many moments of my life aspiring to be white. I like tree-lined avenues. I like lying faceup on the backseat during a road trip, and skimming over treetops with my eyes, through the car window. I don’t like mangoes and always add a disclaimer that I am probably the only one. Fruits and flowers have a lot of mathematics in their makeup. Fruits and flowers always connote femininity and yet are keyholes of science. I talk in a kiddish gush because I spent most of my childhood either quiet or angry. I don’t have anyone to spoon with but the thought of spooning is comforting. I frequently do not like my face. I think I am a pretty girl but a pretty where someone took a sweaty thumb to a lovely woman’s image and then smudged her a bit. I’ve touched a snake. I have never held a gun. I have never seen heroin or cocaine or MDMA in front of me. I search for the cold side of the pillow. At parties, I start out pretty awkwardly because I don’t know how to talk to people. Some people say I have a British accent but I watch only American and Indian shows (and one Danish). I’ve never been to Britain. I recognize I am too quickly judgemental, but I suspect a large number of my judgements are accurate. For some periods of my life, I’ve challenged myself not to cry for at least one day per week. I’m too emotionally sensitive to be a debater. I have loved a debater but never when he was debating. I think “I” is annoying. Social media tells me too many things I do not want to know, and too little of what I do. But I like the control I exert over how people see me. And get disheartened when I realize that I cannot control that control, that that control is always pretty tenous. Some things I like living for include messages that make you smile eye-crinkle-deep. They can be messages from your phone, your friend, your “person”, your brain, your universe. I’ve fallen in love over two years. I’ve fallen in love over two weeks. I’ve only had one crush on a girl and she had blue hair. I think I rationalize my way out of my flaws too much. My phone storage is always full. I like taking pictures but I don’t know how to work a fancy camera. I secretly want to make films. I spend hours walking around, setting life into something cinematic, a scene. I often think about one of my friend’s descriptions of me, where he wrote that I want to “make everything around me beautiful”. My favourite cities were New York and Paris, even before I finally lived in them. My best memories of Paris: picking 4 euro wines from Franprix, the blush of the ancient buildings during late afternoon, writing essays at Loulou’s on St Michel, light buttery croissants at Gare de Lyon before work, 95 cent baguettes, happy hour at Châtelet, picnics by the water, strolling through Montmartre with a sense of familiarity, even ownership, seeing the Eiffel Tower pass by from the window of the 6 train, the room of unfinished hand sculptures at the Museé Rodin, looking at the rain from inside a cafe, warm Nutella crepes, sitting in front of the paintings at Museé de l’Orangerie, watching people smoke, skin golden from a setting sun, and the cheap yellow umbrellas on sale at the grocery. With New York, I am still learning. I read somewhere that the “self” is an inconstant thing, always in a state of change like a chameleon, and this comforts me. My “self” always feels, in my hands, like a slippery eel thrashing in my grip. I am a collection of punctuation: ellipses…and marks, questions and exclamations. I am a comma,

 

Artwork by Frida Kahlo, “Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States”, 1932

I Swim Under the Bridge While They Drive on the Highway

Siqi just messaged. She told me how beautiful Yaxi highway is. Yaxi highway… of course I know Yaxi highway. It is the road connecting Chengdu to the beautiful town of Xichang. It’s where heaven on earth hides, according to the travel advertisements on TV. She sent me photos of the scenery on her way. There was snow scattered around on the semi-barren yellow mountains, on the giant red truck driving in the opposite direction, and on the green iron sticks separating both roads. The scenery was new to me. I have known Yaxi highway for as long as I can remember, but never on a winter day. The last time I went there, it was the first week of August.

The sun was burning in Chengdu, unbearably stifling and dull. The fridge was filled with light yogurt, mint flavored ice-cream, and fresh apple juice that mother had just squeezed out. Standing straight under the central air conditioner in a light-pink pajama dress, I wrote a list of things I needed to pack. Besides the daily cosmetics and some clothes, I also made a list of heavy and expensive things: a 5D Canon camera, a 35mm prime lens, a Pentax film camera, a box of black and white 35mm negative film, and a bag of batteries. I wrapped them around clothing to protect them and put them carefully in my Jansport, until my father interrupted me. He pointed at the black, long and conspicuous zoom lens lying quietly by my window, and asked: “You are not bringing that one?” I looked at him, not sure what to say.

Ever since I started practising photography seriously, I developed a growing preference towards prime lens, as opposed to zoom lenses. Somewhere in my mind, I deemed zoom lenses as a cheap invention. It compromises photography into merely a means of documentation, of snapshots, whereas holding a prime lens indicates a dedication and respect for photography as an art. My favorite one is the 35mm prime lens. It is perfect for portraits, faces, hands, and all the little beautiful details in life. But I didn’t realize what I was excluding when I talked about the “beautiful details in life”. I knew what father meant when he asked me that question—why not the zoom lens? While prime lenses might be perfect for portraits, they are not useful for traveling, especially for those tourist snapshots in which someone stands next to a giant monument saying “Welcome to the Heaven on the Soil”. That is exactly what a zoom lens can do.

“Your mother is browsing something online for the trip,” father said to me before walking out of my bed-room. He didn’t ask me to help her. Or had he just forgotten to do so?

Yaxi highway connects not only Chengdu to the so-called heaven on earth, but it is also the way to my grandma’s hometown, which we visit almost every year. Ever since primary school, I hadn’t traveled with my parents at all. This coming trip would be one out of the only ten other times in which we drove over Yaxi highway, heading somewhere other than my grandma’s old country house. During the past six years, I have backpacked in Europe and Russia and traveled to Kenya and Cambodia, alone or occasionally with one friend. I avoided touristy places, choosing museums or local bars instead. After father left for work, I walked towards the door of my bedroom and looked into the living room through the hallway. I saw the framed family photo, hanging on the wall forty centimeters above the headboard of my bed. We were at the bottom of a snow mountain near Chengdu, two years ago before I left for college, apparently on a winter day. The three of us looked really beautiful in that photo, almost glowing, perhaps because of the snow reflecting sunshine in all directions. I saw our bright and smooth skin. Our smiles revealed rows of healthy white teeth, thanks to the sunlight. Father’s navy blue coat, mother’s light pink jacket and my checkered red parka with a faux fur hood had created a beautifully color-balanced painting against the white snow background. It was taken with the first camera my mother bought me, right after I received admission into university. That was a Sony mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, claimed to be the best camera for amateur photography. I looked at the photograph carefully, and I wondered what the ISO, the shutter speed and the aperture were when it was taken. I thought about a couple of possible combinations. None of them were the auto-mode.

“Honey, which color fits me better? This rose red or the orange one?”my mother asked. I dragged my way next to her in the living room, and stared at the pictures of skinny models posing with innumerable brightly colored scarves –  cherry-red, air-force blue, blue sapphire, Bondi blue, cadmium orange etc. The hodgepodge of bright colors arranged in a crowded and old-fashioned way was presented on a low-resolution screen. It dazzled my eyes, and for a moment, on that muggy summer afternoon, nauseated my stomach.

“Aren’t these colors too bright?” I raised my concern lightly.

“Bright colors have a good texture under sunlight, and especially true in front of cameras” mother responded with a smile, “Shouldn’t you know better than I do?”

I stared at the colors, imagining mother and I standing in front of the main gate of the national park, her covered with a cherry-red silk scarf and me with an air-force blue one, being photographed by father—say CHEESE. Then the next family takes up our place, then the next next one, and the next next next one. Mother had narrowed the color choices down to three. But before she even asked me again, I left to the kitchen:

“I need some ice-cream, it’s too hot.”

I opened the upper part of the fridge. And I immediately saw five big glasses of freshly squeezed mango juice organized on the shelf. The lower shelf was reserved for the yogurts. I had just finished drinking the apple juice half an hour ago and there was no mango juice on the shelf then. The mangos looked tempting, juicy and fresh, soft and icy. Parts of the mangos ’flesh floated around on the surface of the juice. Dense and sticky. Mother didn’t tell me what she did for the past half an hour besides shopping for colored scarves online. The mango meat stared at me, signaling me to approach. I leaned forward just a little, and the coolness from the fridge traveled through my body rapidly. I stepped back immediately. I didn’t wash the apples or cut them into pieces this morning. I didn’t peel the mangoes or remove their fibers this afternoon. There I was, standing in front of the fridge, looking at the pile of yellow objects from a distance. I hesitated. I thought about what it would look like if I took a photograph—the white refrigerator lights cast on top of the bright yellow mangoes swimming in orange-colored waters. It would probably be a beautiful photo. I closed the upper door of the fridge and opened the frozen section. Without even trying to search, I took out the first plastic wrapper that my hand touched. It was a piece of corn-flavored ice-cream. I picked it up and ate it all.

 

 

Artwork “Car at Night”