Letter to a new sun
A response to Farah Al Qasimi, Michelle Bui, and Veronika Pausova
What kind of times are these? When we call them green onions instead of the name I grew up saying in my mother’s kitchen, a child word. The hard chop of sca-llion. The tall curved shoots waiting to be diced at the diagonal like green soldiers, crunchy and bright on my tongue, swiped off her cutting board.
The grocery store sign says, “green onions, $0.99” and there’s only one wilted bundle left. The supermarket is all clear, the lights flickering on empty shelves. Every box and can has been grabbed except for the last bundle of exactly what my mother asked for.
Last week, before everyone disappeared, I tried to order in my mother’s tongue and was presented with a soup of everything from the inside of the animal, the slick intestines, the unrecognizable guts steaming in a clear yellow broth. We took a whiff and ate it anyway because why not? The insides are just as tasty, maybe better when seasoned by the right hand. And who are we to say no to another meal when the snow owls are burrowing deeper into their holes and ears are falling from the sky.
It starts with the mucky-muck, another child word for the dirt of the day. Turn on the tap, let it warm up the cold ceramic. The water hits your thighs first, trickling between your legs and down towards your toes. Do you have hot dog legs? No, it’s just your body, going from dry to wet. The house is too crowded to masturbate in the shower. You’re worried the spray isn’t loud enough to hide the sounds you can’t control. Your back feels warm and your sinuses begin to clear. The soap is stuck to the tray, speckled with hairs that are not yours, and the shampoo bottle is caked with the residue of past washes, a film around the rim.
Your nose runs like the water, yellow with flecks of black, and your toenails ache with how good it feels. Just as you imagine the mucky-muck of 12 hours dissolving into the water, leaving a trace you can watch swirl down the drain, a small miracle to be clean in a time like this. Just as you lean completely into the warm spray, it hits you. Spongey, soft as butter. So many human ears tumbling down instead of water. Too many. All you can do is yell and hold out your hands. No heads attached to them. No source to return them back to. No chance for the separation to heal.
Little fingers & toes
The dogs and the crows have taken over the streets, suddenly free to roam without having to beg, suddenly in charge. I used to think the crows had lost their minds, screaming murder in the middle of a bright beautiful fall day under a canopy of orange leaves. Maybe I should have paid more attention to their death cries, their beady eyes trying to communicate something like, run. Instead I stay in the kitchen on the swivel stool, gossiping over a paper plate of fish fritters and plantains. Our fingers shiny with grease, we use our words to travel backwards, slipping back into the comfort of another day.
Remember that day cousin Steve, a sushi chef in San Francisco, accidentally chopped off the top of his thumb and they had to graft skin from his ass to cover it up, and we spent the entire summer calling him ass thumb? Oh yeah, my mother said, licking the crumbs on her lips, a joke like that you never forget. I can still see his bandaged finger, stark white with medical tape, bobbing awkwardly as he threw a fishing line into the lake.
I imagined his skin mending back together like a cut on the trunk of the tree. The stitches tumble out into the lake water for the fish. A healing so perfect, only we’d know the before and after. The fish swallow his stitches, swimming around in the murky lake water with new pieces in their stomachs.
He caught a fat sea bass that day. Our dear ass thumb, victorious.
The fish tasted good then, it tastes good now.
My mother busts out her blue rubber gloves to mix the bowl of scotch bonnet peppa, spinning the red pieces around, careful with the eyes. Inhaling, my mouth begins to water, and tears fall down my face, not dramatic. A method of protection, she tells me as she spins and spins. I filmed her with my phone, for posterity. Because nothing is written down and how could I describe the way her hair curls over her freckled eye when she works the peppa, giving the sauce something I can’t explain.
No more peppas growing in our part of the world
The blue rubber gloves are used to remove the roots of weeds from the garden boxes, the +++++fingertips still stained red
We’re trying to grow chickpeas because we miss the lemon garlic tang of hummus in our mouths. I have time now to rub off each delicate shell without complaint, thinking of a peach-coloured room in an old hotel I spent one night in, wanting to escape to somewhere new.
I’ll be the first to break the mound open, trying not to be too greedy, rewarding myself for all my hard work.
Hard to believe, but the dogs and the crows play very well together. The streets have never been safer, the trees have never been more unbothered, and the air is as sweet as a fresh dewy morning no matter how the earth is tilting. The supermarket is for snow owls, the shelves covered in bundles of grass and the skeletons of small animals. A gigantic den. Sucked clean, the owls scatter their vertebrae all over the plastic 2-for-1 signs.
Our garden is pretty puny, but we do our best to survive, planning our day around the coming and going of a new sun. Each morning I visit the compost bin to prod at what’s festering, mixing food scraps, dirt, coffee grounds, and the crushed eggshells together. Our living garbage stew. Conventional wisdom tells us to love the compost bin and simply observe the decomposition of everything we’ve given nature to work with, closing the loop with every turn.
My mother mourns the loss of her Chinese evergreen, living as long as me until one morning it shriveled and browned. She suspects a pest but can’t find a web or insects on the small white flower heads. The plant is all tired out of this world, she reasons, afraid of the latest developments just like us.
Did you know Chinese evergreens are not from China
but the tropical jungles of Thailand and the Philippines, I tell her,
trying to make her feel better.
They contain toxic crystals that kill household pets.
Did you know Meyer lemons are from China
but were purely decorative until a white man named Meyer
brought them over to North America
and they became the choice lemon we know today?
Ahhhhya, she says. Don’t talk about lemons in this economy, when you know we haven’t tasted those juices in much too long.
Later that night I find the dying evergreen outside in the garden, a nest of crows picking at leaves. Maybe she wasn’t listening to me or maybe she meant to place it there, hoping for the worst. I tell the birds to drop it, to use their animal brains to recognize when we’ve made a mistake.
Lamb & lilacs
Before, my family had to write letters to tell each other how they felt. They did this in therapy rooms and by hospital beds. They wrote short but moving notes for funerals and celebrations of life. The words were deeply felt, a gift, but the meals to follow were better.
When we wanted you to know how much we loved you, we found a lamb in the garden and slit its neck quietly. We removed the coarse white fur with the long quick strokes of a knife to get to the meat. We found the rack and split it open, rubbing it up and down with butter, herbs, and spices.
The mint sauce must be made right before serving, crushing the leaves to release the scent at the table. Sometimes when I smell lilacs in the garden, I confuse them for the mint sauce and have the sudden urge to stuff the petals in my mouth.
Because there are no lambs left, we have to resort to writing letters to each other. Tired of being trapped in the kitchen and the bathroom and the garden, running out of
things to say,
I think about what comes after dear.
Eggs of a fish
The dogs and crows and owls will survive just fine, populating the supermarkets of the world without us. The ears will have to stop falling out of the sky eventually, replaced maybe by fingers or the more familiar rain clouds. All we can do is throw a dinner party
+++++for ourselves. I present the dishes from the food in the
garden, the scallions long gone and used up, little green pieces we pick out of our teeth later.
The thing we care about is not the fish heads, of which there are so few left in the lake, my mother proposes at the table. The thing we care about now are the fish eggs, the beginnings before the fish is formed.
if there are
We grip each other’s hands and close our eyes, bringing ourselves back to the muddy black waters of the lake. We dunk headfirst and let our eyes adjust to the murk,
++++treading water above plastic and Styrofoam shaped like a sandbar, reusable containers tangled up in seaweed, confusing our own trash for life
down there, swimming along an invisible grid of before and after
carrying the sweetness of trying to breathe like
a different kind of animal