There was something in the shoulder of a clean-pressed uniform that never seemed to fit me in the same way that it did for others. Plaid skirt, clean flats, and an oversized blazer to grow into, that first week of my life in Seoul was cold.

On Monday, Ashley Kang, the kind of girl who always looked like she was either disgusted or had eaten a grapefruit or both, pulled me down and told me to sit. I didn’t really want to. When Matthew set his books down on a nearby desk, her face soured even more.

“You can’t sit there!” Cruel, like the first graders on the school bus who liked to kick the back of your seat just because you wouldn’t talk to them.


“Because I don’t want you to. No one likes you.”

All around were faces that said not this again, but I pushed her back, annoyed. Stop.


These cannot be my people.


It was one month into school, and Sammy Kim – new kid on the block – had already proven herself capable of laughing with all the kids in class with a familiarity I could never muster on my first day.

“I’m from Hong Kong,” she said. A poised, LA kind of girl piped, “I’m from California!”

“I don’t like Californians, they’re all such valley girls.” Without a moment to spare, the girl from LA nodded, laughed with her hand over her mouth, eyes scrunched in a fake smile that was so ready to throw away everything else that California was and ever could be, and said, “I know, that’s basically everyone from California.” Laughed again. The crowd dispersed.

“What do you think?” said no one to the only girl in an oversized blazer and an actually knee-length dress code-adhering skirt.

I keep my mouth shut like the model minority I am.


Student council took us on a picnic to celebrate and told us to wear our house colors: color-blocked, PE uniforms of blue, green, red, and purple. Freedom, whispered the breeze. I spotted my purple-clothed friend sitting on a large foil mat with a group of other giggling girls, and walked over to search for a corner to call mine. Then a red-clothed girl said, in a voice I will never forget-

“There’s no room for you here.”

Red and purple, red and purple – that strangers could dictate my life. I’ll sit on the grass, I could have told her. And Sammy, I could have said. We will never. Ever. Be friends. Instead I, in my fraying blue shirt, watched the purple girl hesitate and say nothing, and went off to find my other blue friends and throw around an ugly yellow frisbee, cheeks burning. Once blue, always blue.


That summer, my arm got stuck in the metro door, and fear hit me like a train. Mom tugged endlessly at the door from the inside of the train, while everyone else just watched, silent, unmoving. The train didn’t have to move and snap my arm off for me to all at once start gasping for air, submerged, stabbed. The doors finally opened and as Mom stared at the people standing beside her, I got on, tried to laugh, and listened to the shame I hoped the people around me felt.

On Thursday night, I took the subway and watched someone’s foot get stuck between the platform and train as no one stopped to help her. Someone kept muttering behind me, shoving coins into a vending machine, and I stood there, in that space between vending machine and train, hesitating. When she finally clambered on, all I can remember is following her numbly onto the train and feeling all of the shame as I slowly became one of them. Later I wrote a poem about the incident, printed it out, performed it for class.

This doesn’t sound very realistic, the teacher wrote in the margins.


The animal shelter that we volunteered at was in a different part of the city and required us to take the metro. Even though the others had lived in this city for eight, nine years, and had histories from a time before me, somehow, I ended up in the lead. As we clambered down the stairs, my Taiwanese-Korean friend asked me about my Taiwanese-Korean ethnicity. Clumsy, fumbling, I replied, “Yes.” But we are not the same.

I’m flashing back to this morning during study hall, when someone didn’t know me, and the first thing he said to me was that my name was so white. Like he couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have a Korean name and wanted a full explanation – all just because he had never known someone like me.

He stuck out his hand for a handshake like he wanted to take my name away from me. I smiled and turned away. It was awkward, it was rude, and it was mine.


as a child, I remember the hum of the sea
as you sang for me from
the pages of the old dictionary,
beaten blue cover on the
definitions of your long-dead youth;
stories swimming with spirits.
I listened as you slipped sand
through the creases of your soul.

I remember how you made
corpses waltz in grey satin dresses
across my sky. you told me to
listen to the old man playing
fiddle from the foam of the sea
and the trumpet calls ripped
from the gulls’ frosted throats.

you defined love as a ghost
who holds your hand and
wanders the beaches, blowing sand
out of seashells and holding them, too.
you told me love’s face floats in the corners
of your soul, translucent and kind.
as I lay with my head in your silken lap,
you told me you loved me.

I still believe you.
I remember the day we wandered
the graveyard and blew out the flames of
dandelions, because you told me a wish is planted
in every person you help find their wings.
that day, I knew what you meant
when you told me to keep making
the dead smile and sing.

The Bleachers

I sit behind the block, fidgeting with my goggles and cracking my knuckles. There is one more heat before I swim, and watching the other swimmers race makes me want to rip somebody’s spine out. I lick my lips; the arena tastes like rusted copper and it reeks so grossly of chlorine I could swear the air is tinted yellow. The drone of thrashing water and frenetic onlookers makes my mind go numb.

Silence settles over the building as the next heat steps onto the block. The stillness is louder than the uproar moments before.

Beep, I say, mimicking the starting official. Beep Beep. Take your mark.

The starting buzzer fires, shattering the silence. The crowd erupts violently; their shrieking voices make my ears ring.

I love it.

I stretch my ankles, counting to ten as I bob up and down on my tiptoes. My hairs stand on end and my stomach feels like ice — for the first time in years, I am nervous. This race will be my last.

I whip my arms around me, slapping myself to get the blood going. The pool churns violently as athletes smash into the wall, ricocheting off at breakneck speeds. I envy the swimmers. There is nothing like the sensation of breaking the water with your body, the hit of jarring frigidness, the exhilarating rush of surging through the water in streamlined form. The icy numbness flowing through your veins, the muted roar of the crowd underwater. The unrelenting support of your closest friends.

I look up. I’ve stared at this ceiling for countless hours: during dryland, through sprint sets, or when drifting down the pool after an exhausting day. The lighting is normally white, sharper than a cloudless January day.

But today, the plaster above me is a musty beige. The air feels warm and damp, and the ceiling lights are weak. I can’t help but wonder if the dimness is just my imagination.

The swimmers before me have fifty yards left. I slip out of my sweatshirt and sweatpants and pull my goggles over my eyes, snapping the strap into place before pulling a second cap over my head. My goggles had been a present for my ninth birthday; they had black rims and shimmering lenses, two bright neon-blue ellipses that danced in the sun like the glittering scales of an exotic fish. Now the replaceable bungee strap has faded from years of use, and the blue-black stripes have been reduced to a dim blue-gray. My swimsuit feels thick and silky, black as tar.

As the heat before me finishes, I hear a crack and a searing pain shoots between my shoulders.

“I’ll be watching your race. Good luck,” my friend chuckles. His voice is warm and damp beneath the golden balcony lights.

I turn to face him — it’s OshKosh, wearing that goofy-looking smile I know all too well. I smirk as I rub my reddened back.

“You too,” I reply, “but I won’t need any.”

He laughs.

We both stare at each other through our goggles, unable to see the other’s eyes. As the crowd dies down, the only thing I can hear is the pounding of my heart. I take a deep breath, and I step onto the block for the last time.

The race is just like any other — when it is over, I talk with my coaches, cool down, and change. I have twelve events until my carpool finishes his last race, so I take a seat on the bleachers and try to read.

OshKosh approaches. I love the way he lumbers about, the way he holds his thick frame upright, his acne-studded body, his short, prickly hair. He is wearing the OshKosh sweatshirt that gave him his nickname; it is the same design as the one he wore to his first practice with us, eight years ago.

“Hey,” he calls out. He’s showing me that foolish-looking grin I love so much, but his eyes are clear and dark as he sits down beside me.

Only he knows I am moving. Tomorrow I’ll be half a country away and yet here I am, sitting on these bleachers, reading.

I glance at him. He is carefully adjusting his cap, trying to squeeze the tips of his ruddy ears beneath the velvety silicone plastic. His upcoming race means a lot to him; it is his last chance to qualify for regionals.

I need more time with him. I have to be there for his race: to see him achieve his dreams, to at least say goodbye — maybe I can stay a bit, maybe my carpool won’t mind the wait–

But I know I can’t. I have clothes to pack and a plane to catch. And my carpool — I can’t be so selfish. It is impossible for me to watch his race.

We sit in silence. On the bleachers, not moving, not speaking — the timestamps above flicker rhythmically as I watch our final moments together slip away.

My friend takes a deep breath and holds it before quietly letting it out; he laughs bitterly, staring restlessly at the grimy tiled floor. The silence is suffocating.

I hate it.

The bleachers are disgusting; they are littered with smashed food particles, spilled drinks, hair, more hair, an unidentifiable black, stringy substance, and God knows what else. I must leave, and as I look back, I see him sitting calmly on the bleachers — the sunlight dances around the room and lights the metal seats ablaze. There he is, staring straight back at me, eyes unblinking, face expressionless, unmoving and indomitable. He looks away, still unblinking, brooding over the days to come without me.

Inside the Ribcage

People tell me I look just like my mother.

It took me years to see it. The structure of our cheeks, the shape of our smiles. A few weeks ago when my mother drove me home from the airport I looked down at my hands and was startled to see hers. I hadn’t realized I’d known them so well — the wrinkles on the joints of her fingers, the patterns of crevices at the base of her knuckles, the veins that bulged out of her skin when she made a fist.

I don’t know how to explain my mother.

My childhood memories of her are shaped by numbers: every day we sat on the swing in the backyard, my older brothers’ textbooks between us. I fancied myself a prodigy. I sat proudly in the front row of college classes in calculus, C++, chemistry. Now when I look back I remember my mother driving me from school to the community college an hour away three days a week. I remember she brought me lunch to eat in the car. I remember that when I sat for exams it was her numbers that spilled out of my pencil, her numbers she’d seared into my skin from hours of practice tests, homework questions, textbook examples. Her numbers that had flattened me into my seat and slapped the tears off of my cheeks.

Only it wasn’t her numbers. It was her father’s. When I go to India every few years I see them still, on the swing of my grandparents’ porch, overlooking the dusty street air and the stray dogs that wander the backroads. My mother, pale and fragile in her youth, feet curled underneath her with a book of trigonometry in her lap. Her father, my Nana, sitting upright beneath the creaking chains, gnarled skin sallowing into itself.

When I was thirteen, Nana cupped my face in his hands, held my cheeks up against my mother’s. He was looking at me; I was looking at him, and at Nani on the couch, and at my mother’s face radiant above mine. My mother is beautiful. I wonder what combination of Nani and Nana’s genes led to this: Nani, with her wizened body stooped into the ground over her walking stick, Nana, with his round face, bulbous nose, peeling brown skin. Maybe it comes from neither of them. Maybe it’s the besan she grinds into her body every day, the henna and coconut oil in which she steeps her hair overnight. Maybe it’s the manicures and the kajal and the hair irons, all coalescing into the image of a woman who has found the fountain of youth and has bathed herself luxuriant.

My mother had wanted to be a doctor.

That was before Nana tore open her chest and fashioned her a new spine made of functions and integrals and logarithms. Now when I touch my ribs through my chest I do not know how much of my bones is my own and how much is what my mother has welded into me.

I don’t know how to explain my mother.

I was twelve when she began the inevitable descent from infallibility. The day the world splintered into pieces around us, I remember she sobbed, holding herself together in the corner of the hospital room. It’s not your fault, I said. My mother stopped crying once the doctors stitched me shut.

She failed me, is what I tell my friends four years later, when people still stop to stare at my scars. My friends are quick to agree. What kind of mother could erase two years with a wave of her hand, could look her daughter in the eye and laugh about mental illnesses, because why don’t those girls who starve themselves just eat? and oh, maybe I have social anxiety too!

Now I think that maybe it was easier that way. I remember how my mother sobbed in the corner of my hospital room. I remember she told me maybe this was karma for having such an easy childhood. Like the needles that dove in and out of my wrist had torn open her skin.

People tell me I look just like my mother. I wonder how it must feel: to stand there powerless and watch your image tear itself apart.

Split Ends

This is a story that begins at the ends: the frayed, thinning, split ends. The mangled roots that tell a tale of irreparable damage and stagnated growth. Why wouldn’t I cut them off? The scissors are in my hand, the inimitable power to sever and the potential energy of choice gripped shakily in my palm. But my finger rests perpetually on the trigger. This is why.

The first time it happened, the scissors were not in my hand. They were in the hands of my fearlessly independent eleven-year-old cousin. I was only six years old, so young that I blew off big decisions like dandelion fluff, unconcerned about where the seeds would land. It wasn’t until after I had heard the harsh snips of the blades and felt the tickling of severed hair brushing past my neck onto the ground that I fully internalized the meaning of irreversible. Irreversible clung to the mangled locks of slightly-damp hair and stared back at me when I glanced at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Irreversible was all that I had lost and could not get back.

When my mother came into the bathroom, her eyes dropped to the ground and took in the tufts of black hair scattered haphazardly across the sterile white tiles on the bathroom floor. Later, she would tell me never to let someone else hold the scissors again. She would tell me about the sacred power of choices and the burden of consequence. But at that moment, she didn’t have to say anything. Her eyes, hollow with the shards of broken expectations, said it all.

Today, when someone asks my mother when I last cut my hair, she’ll act as if she’s forgotten. “Not since birth,” she’ll say, the lie slipping unnoticed through the cracks of her proud, plastered smile. But I know that first haircut hasn’t been discarded from her memory like the locks of hair that she had swept up with the dustpan and tossed into the trash bin. Beneath the pretense, I can see her eyes narrowing with the same shameful discernment, as if I were a puzzle that she couldn’t quite piece together.

That was how it always was with my mother. She would never tell you anything, and yet you would already know. As the years passed by, and my hair grew longer and longer, I became an expert at reading in between the lines of the homilies she would impart whenever her moral smoke alarm went off. Never do the wrong things. Always make good choices. I quickly learned that Always and Never were the king and queen in my mother’s realm. Soon, I became a loyal subject, and the Absolutes restricted me at every turn.

Getting a haircut after the first debacle fell under the domain of Never, even as my hair transformed into a disobedient cloud of tangles that only grew more irrepressible the more I ignored it. Every week, my mother and I would sit down in front of the educational children’s TV programs on PBS, armed with a fine-toothed comb to inflict pain and a bowl of ice cream to lessen it. Each time, I would beg her to cut it all off. And each time, she would refuse, continuing to tug persistently at the tangles without offering an explanation.

After a particularly painful hair-combing session, I realized that I was sick of my mother’s power to trap me between the stubborn walls of Absolutes. I was sick of her fingers knocking the scissors out of my hands as soon as I had picked them up, hovering anxiously over me to make sure that I wouldn’t cut myself. I wanted to test my own power for once. So I took out the sewing scissors and my beloved American Girl doll. As I grasped the scissors tightly, I felt an electrical current coursing through my veins. In a surge of anger, I chopped off the doll’s synthetic black hair. The plastic strands fell to the ground noiselessly, and the doll continued to stare at me with her glassy-eyed complacency, unconcerned that I had just taken everything away from her. Suddenly, the blades felt like poison ivy under my trembling grip. I let go, and the scissors clattered to the floor. They had defeated me this time.

At that moment, my mother came into the room. She looked at me knowingly, as if she had foreseen this all along. “It’s so easy just to cut things off, isn’t it?” she said quietly. “But things don’t always turn out the way we expect, and we have to live with the consequences of every choice we make.”

I finally realized why my mother had refused to let me cut my hair. After that day, her fear of the irreconcilable was passed down to me. Like a virus, it only grew, spreading to every aspect of my life. Every time I was faced with any decision, I would panic, remembering the tufts of hair on the tiled floor of my cousin’s bathroom and the doll with mangled hair who I never played with again. Even for the simplest of choices, my mother’s words echoed in my head. So easy just to cut things off. I became so scared of making the wrong choice that I ceased making choices at all. Like an overrun garden, my hair grew out of active neglect. And that’s when the split ends began to appear.

It was gradual at first. But after a while, it got out of hand. Every end became a split end. I was perpetually stranded at a fork in the road. The longer I waited, the more damage I was inflicting. By dodging the burden of consequence, I was only orchestrating my own ruin.

And so here I am again. At the ends. With all of the power, but none of the will. So easy just to cut things off. But in reality, it is so difficult. The scissors are in my hand.

my grandmother

my grandmother lives
in a sunny-yellow room with dried wildflowers in a
china vase by the window.

her canary-coloured castle
is adorned with stacks of outdated cosmos and
faded national geographics
-stained with oatmeal and soup-
colorful green boxes of
prescription pills, gauze, and healing ointments.

And my grandmother
knows the playful Summer Wind
who kisses her wrinkled pink cheeks,
catching in the lace curtains as he
Brings her pink flower petals and small green leaves from the garden
Leaving them gently on her windowsill

And she knows
the sunny-yellow goldfinches
who chirp
and cling curiously to the window screen,
wondering when she will leave her tired body
and join them in their glorious flight.

With her watery eyes, and her gentle coos
she is almost a baby
when i spoon feed her.
she smiles as it dribbles down her chin
Landing in little splotches on her pale pink gown.
And as i look at how gentle and small she is
her bony wrists and spotted hands remind me of my mother’s.

And most nights,
i am afraid of the day
that the cold moon will take her back,
and i know i cannot ask for more time.

so instead

i buy her new magazines when
she grows tired of the pictures in her collection.
And i replace the wilted flowers with
wild peonies and baby’s breath and white lilies
and i kiss her forehead,
wipe the dribble from her chin,
comb back her silver locks
and listen to her gentle cooing,

like a brilliant goldfinch singing
from the muffled confines of her ancient chest.

Not the Last Time

“Pass the pani, please,” I bugged my sister, who tossed me a bottle of chilled water, a refreshing coolant in the scorching blaze of Indian heat. In the back of the cab, my thighs glued together from the sultry air, and my fingers frequently tangled as my skin grew sweatier and sweatier.

I did not dare unclutch my hands from the handlebar; whenever the driver swiveled sharply amongst the disarray of the hectic road, I felt certain we would run into a cow. Contrasting the humid air, my eyes seared with dry pain from the dusty air. Jetlag stuck me hard at this hour, but the never-ending rush of rickshaws and motorcyclists withheld my eyes from closing shut.

Apart from the headache from the boisterous sirens of the produce trucks, another thought overwhelmed my mind. Had fate rolled its dice slightly differently, possibly landing on a three instead of a five, I could have called this very place my home. Eagerly, I examined through the clouds of filthy haze for signs of comfort and belonging, but I remained fruitless.

Didi, my sister, sat relaxedly beside me, somehow lulled by the reckless rocking of the cab.

“You know something? When I’m older, I want to move here.”

“Why’s that?” I asked, still on the edge of my seat.

“I don’t know. I guess I can’t help but remember when we were younger, and Nana would teach me Hindi out on the veranda and would read me parts of his scriptures. I’ve never met a man as wise as him.”

I scanned my brain hard for such moments like this with my grandfather, but only his calm yet cracking voice over the telephone replayed in my mind. He would speak to me in Hindi, and I would reply back in English.

I released my grip on the handlebar at last when we approached the house. Though tainted with smears of dirt and some of the wood chipped away, my grandparent’s home still stood with great grandeur in contrast to the cluttered streets, crowded with beggars dressed in nothing more than battered rags. To my right, delicate, blush pink lotus flowers and towering guava trees filled the lush green garden.

We stepped inside the doorway, the rich smell of spices rushing to my nose. Instantly we were greeted by my aunt, grandmother, and cousins.

“Oh, how tall you have grown!” my grandmother said, her sari infused with the smell of masala. Didi wrapped her arms around her, exclaiming, “Good to see you, Nani!”. From the sounds of laughter and excitement, a heard a faint voice approaching.

“Beti,” he whispered. My head turned instantaneously, the deafening drum of my heartbeat vibrating through my ears now. Tottering towards me was my Nana, his legs as skinny as sticks and his face pale as winter frost. The wrinkles that blemished his face sagged as to stretch his gossamer skin so it hung past his chin. While his head remained completely bare, fine white hair still grew like a jungle in his large ears.

He took my hands in his, and I could feel his frail arm shaking uncontrollably. When he spoke he repeated his words once or twice, forgetting that he had already said them. I felt tears building up in the back of my eyes, a sea waiting to be released. My stomach lurked with a fierce stab of regret.

I stood before a man whom I should feel is apart of me, a man whose wisdom I could have soaked up like a sponge. Here he slumped, so wearied and brittle, almost as if he were to crumble into thousands of pieces in a matter of seconds. A gulp in my throat formed as I thought how I barely knew him at all.

Truly, though, it was near the end of my journey in India when this regret ignited in my thoughts. As we approached the doorway, once again, this time for goodbyes, I heard my father say, “Well, this may be the last time we ever come here.” He hinted that the next time we visited, we would be throwing my Nana’s ashes into the river. These words stung my skin and left a hefty bruise.

The cab ride to the airport left my sleeves soaked in snot and tears. You failed, I thought. You will never know what it’s like to be an Indian. I glanced out of the window and saw a family bathing themselves in the holy river water, and thought to myself, The only thing you have in common with them is the color of your skin.

I did not desire this meeting to be the end. What I wanted most, was to found a connection with the dense Indian culture and the people of my motherland. But how could I, if I did not speak their tongue and they did not speak mine? I thought about my own children, and how they would be completely clueless to the magnificent wonders that is this subcontinent. The glorious mandirs that adorned the littered streets had me itching to join the mass of men and women who filled every square inch of space. I rolled up my wet sleeve and promised myself that I would return, to join and pray with them.

All Roads Lead to Nowhere

The classic golden Californian hills and fields whiz past in a wheat-colored blur and the world itself spins by like a toy.

Embarking on a road trip feels like true freedom, a blitz through the universe. As the road rumbles beneath the tires, it feels as if the highways are being pulled underneath the car, and I’m gliding through the air. There goes a black hatchback with water stains spotting the sides, a silver sedan as shiny as a new dime, and a white minivan with chips on the edges of the door. The clouds in the sky, distant and unmoving, look as if they’ve been pressed down by a rolling pin. Flat, dirty grey, and slightly rough around the edges, they resemble the inside of my fleece sweatshirt.

My ten-year-old body fits into the natural contours of the seat and I try to adjust my head against the peculiar angle of the headrest. Whatever fancy gears and levers might be attached, the average car seat is a device designed to be one-size-fits-all, and it is the headrest, more than any other part, that first presents this fatally uncomfortable flaw to the passenger. The air conditioning turns on as the engine purrs to life, and the air wafts lightly over me, warm and dry like skin, as if the car itself were breathing over me. Later the breeze cools down slightly, and I adjust the dials periodically—now a stronger current, now a lighter one. Now I am too warm, now I am too cold. Dial clockwise, then counterclockwise. The same pattern for the radio, as it stutters on and off at intervals when we pass through the stuffy, dank stillness of a tunnel.

There is something about being in a car that allows one to become almost perfectly detached from the rest of the world. We pass by an accident, several police cars flanking a pick-up truck and a smaller sedan. The police cars look cartoonish, the red and blue flashing lights making them seem like toys. Our car whizzes past the accident, leaving it behind in a blur of gray asphalt. The lane dividers on the highway look like stitches, and I mentally trace a finger over them.

And yet, despite, or perhaps because of, the constant movement, I am restless. There is no song on the radio that satisfies me. There is no temperature on the dial that either soothes or warms my skin with the consistency I desire, no matter how many times the car, blowing through the vents, sighs over me.

“Are we there yet?” I ask.

“Are we there yet.”

“Are we there yet.”

It’s a small mental trick, that if you repeat anything long enough in an enclosed space it eventually becomes absolutely unbearable.

My big sister gives me a silencing, cold stare and says, “No.”

“Do you wanna play a game,” I continue to pester.


“How about a movie.”


Eventually she snaps at me and says something vicious. I don’t say anything then, for a long time. I begin counting the cars we pass (or which pass us) on the highway. One rattling pick-up loaded with a ladder and construction tools. A grand brigade of six motorcycles revving past like a roll of continuous thunder (and spewing dark fumes that indicate the same). They rear up on their back wheels as if they were riding horses, and from the passenger’s seat I can see that  the motorcycle closest to our car, only about five feet ahead of the hood, wobbles ever so slightly before coming back down safely.

“That’s pretty cool, isn’t it,” I say to no one in particular.

“Huh,” my dad, who is driving, grunts noncommittally.

After some thought, he adds, “It should be the vehicle wrapped around the person to protect them, not the other way around.” It’s as strong a condemnation as his mild disposition allows. With rounded glasses on his round face, he is the Peter Griffin of the family, frequently amiable and sometimes clueless.

Trying to take my mind off this conundrum, I pick up a well-worn pack of Trident chewing gum. The thin cardboard is damp with old perspiration and the T in Trident is coming off from a week of hard use. I inspect its contents the way a smoker would survey the number of cigarettes he had left, and finally slide one small clay-like green slab with neatly sliced edges out of its not so crisp paper slip and into my mouth. Despite the slight griminess of its packaging, the gum is a cool burst of watermelon on my tongue, taking on a ridged texture from the impressions of my teeth for a few chews before settling into a mellower, taffy-like feel. I slip the pack into my deep jean pocket, letting it await another boring moment.

The car is a symbol of freedom, with its mobility and power. But I keep thinking about that. Doesn’t being truly free mean that I wouldn’t want more freedom? So, the people who have freedom are the ones who don’t think they need it? Yet, I feel a primal urge, calling me outside to run in the ocean of grape fields with wind flowing through my midnight black hair.

Is that what freedom feels like? I wonder.

The clouds are slow and silent, and do not reply. Eventually the landscape transforms, slowly, then all at once, like dawn breaking. The golden hills become cool, fog-laden forests, and then give way to enormous dunes of ice-plants and sand. Beyond, the ocean beats against the shoreline in protest of the low tide, gray and relentless. For a time, I can forget my questions about freedom. As the window slides a crack open, the smell of salt and seaweed slips in, a cool scent that makes all my senses come alive.

Tears of Hope

Music echoes against the cool wooden walls of the old room, each note emphasizing how silent and still everything else is. Old books, stacked unevenly on the shelves are coated in a thick layer of dust, and papers are strewn across the floor. The song comes from a music player, perpetually playing the same three notes forlornly, longing for someone, anyone, to join in with its song. The drapes flutter with each gust of wind, not shielded quite enough by the room’s sole window which has succumbed to the elements and disintegrated along with the world outside.

Far away, a man stumbles through the dry, desolate desert all alone. Upon his skinny body cling tattered cargo pants, scattered with holes and loose threads. An equally worn shirt hangs loosely, size large, though he is now a small. He was once known as Jeremy, but the name has long since slipped from his memory along with thoughts of his family and home.  As he climbs each hill of sand, his tattered leather bag slips off his skeletal shoulders repeatedly, forcing him to stop and adjust it over and over again.
A year passes. The man has survived by drinking from wells in abandoned villages and sleeping in empty homes nearby. The water is bitter and the houses coated in dust, but they offer shelter from the neverending sand and sun. As weeks pass his strength begins to dwindle, his steps become smaller and smaller as he walks; he stumbles along, eyes half closed, legs weakening.

As he drifts in and out of a sleeplike state he recalls a time where life had a meaning, when each step forward took him somewhere instead of in endless circles. More than that he remembers the days, moments, in which everything changed. He recalls the announcement on the news, that the asteroid would not avoid Earth as expected, but instead plummet directly into his future with his daughter.

He remembers the dream-like moment in which he swept his daughter up in his arms and laid her down in the backseat of the car, speeding away into the night. He relives it all, each piercing memory, as he continues across the sands of a completely different world — the car accident, holding his daughters limp body, laying it among flowers, below a willow tree. He remembers forcing himself to leave the person most important to him in the world, tears in his eyes, and, later, the feeling of the ladder in his hands as he climbed down into the bomb shelter as a red flash streaks through the sky above him.

Suddenly, the man is jolted from his memory. His body bashes against a rough surface and his eyes burst open. A wooden door greets him, welcoming him with a hard hug. One note, then another, meet his ears, beating down on him with heaviness of the past. The song that he once recognized feels distant, but the meaning is something he has never forgotten.

He rushes inside, eager to escape the brutal sun. The man is greeted by old, dusty books, and a faint breeze that flow through the broken window. He spins around, searching for the source of the music. In a corner of the room he sees a music player with the cord plugged into the wall.

With a rush of excitement he shifts the player in his hands, searching for an opening to reveal its inner workings. He flings off a small panel on one side and holds the music player up to his eyes. With a gasp he pulls out a tiny music box and the music comes to a stop.

He shrivels with sadness, sinking to the floor, shoulders against the wall, sobbing. His mind races, searching for a reason for such a blatant reminder of his daughter. He asks the music box to have a conscious, to speak to him, to explain the unexplainable, and yet he can’t help but hear a voice in his head, whispering his daughters name.

Hours later he lies, shivering on the floor, overtaken by a restless sleep. Even as he dreams he feels a presence. A shadow. As his eyes flutter open he see his daughter at the bookshelf, her tears falling across the pages of a book her dad had once read to her. He has a sudden urge to comfort his daughter, but is left with an empty feeling, realizing that no one is there. He runs to the books, noticing a select few which have recently shed their dust.  He knocks the pile down, searching for one book in particular, the one he had seen in his dream. It catches his eye, the bright fluorescent colored cover and glossy paper, reminding him of the many nights that he sat reading to his daughter.

Instead of reading the book he throws it back down, yelling internally at himself for being so optimistic. He becomes angry, angry at himself and the room for playing tricks on him. He shouts out loud, projecting his feelings into every corner of the room, yet his emotions continue to flood his body. He punches the table once, twice, three times, continuously, endlessly, expelling his rage for what had happened to his daughter.  He spots the books he had strewn across the table earlier and thrusts them onto the floor. Then he crumbles into a ball on the floor, sobbing.

Through his tears he scans the room, colors blending together from the salty tears filling his eyes. The books scattered across the floor catch his eye once and before he can resist he is on his knees, weeding through their pages. His tears scatter like rain across the paper, but he can not ignore the dried tears already among them, undeniably from an earlier time. It is not till minutes later that the truth actually sinks in. He ignores all reason, his mind clouded with hope: his daughter must have been here, there is no other possibility.

Bathroom Break

I spent all night last night

running to get the men in white coats

with butterfly nets

because there’s shampoo oozing out of my walls

making my bathroom tiles sticky

and I’m pretty sure I’m crazy.


don’t forget the graham crackers

or how I bites hot sticks in my free time

or how everyone else ate their marshmallows raw

while I cooked steak over a fire.

And you know, I might one day

learn to play a song on the guitar

instead of barely tuning it

the only problem being I tossed the sheets of guitar chords away

and ignored all my lessons.

Spent my time just


at the tall white bookshelf next to my chair where,

four years ago,

I tore out all the answers to the stories in my

Encyclopedia Brown books,

started a fire with them.

Duct taped my questions up in an attache

shoved them in the corner of my cellar

Finally, meet this guy,

barely even existing in my mind

threw his own sandwich on the ground,

made pens for a living until he was seventy nine,

still hasn’t bought a shower curtain that fits his




He picked all the paint off of my moms cigar box

was left with

wood and brass clasps

not unlike the eyelets in my boots

not unlike how I let too

many people

see the stockpile of salt packets on my desk

the eyes drawn on every round object in my room

and the big reminder on the wall that there’s no jam or butter here

just a lot of scrap paper I’ll never use

and notions of parasols.

A Different Perspective

Dangerous. Deadly. Threatening. That’s what they called it. But all I could see was an innocent puppy who needed love, care, and food. A lot of food.

I looked at the sickly figure, bones clearly visible under the skin and the sorrowful chocolate brown eyes. I winced, and feeling sorry for it, I ran inside to grab some food. I came back out with a piece of bread in my hands, greeted by the same dog running around in happy circles.

Despite countless warnings from my aunt and relatives, I was going to pet this stray. They hadn’t seen that these dogs could be gentle, so they didn’t know. Cautiously, I put my arm around to pet it.

I smiled at the sight and cautiously put my arm out to pet it. I loved dogs, and usually showed no hesitation, but this time I was more careful. Though it seemed good-natured, it was still a stray, and you never know what might happen.

Surprisingly, it let me pet it, tail wagging impossibly harder. I dropped the bread on the ground and it immediately gobbled it up in mere seconds. I called out to my cousin to bring some more, and he arrived, a new bread in his hands. He pet the dog too, grinning at the stray’s enthusiasm.

“We’ll call him Noko,” he announced. I laughed at the funny sounding name and tried out the feel of it in my mouth. I agreed, and it seemed Noko did too, trotting over every time we called his name.

Even as we were laughing and playing with him, I felt a wave of sadness hit me. I was surprised at the sudden emotion, and it soon became apparent why I felt a little sad. Because even if I was helping out this one little dog, I couldn’t help them all. But I wanted to.

Nobody deserved this kind of living. Starving on the street, eating out of the garbage, and having no one who cares what happens to it. Especially in India, where stray dogs were becoming a serious problem, whether or not they seriously acknowledged it. It was a battle, because killing the strays was inhumane and illegal, while neutering/spaying them was considered too expensive, so the dogs were merely left there.

But were there any solutions?

Naturally, curious about other people’s view on it, I googled it. But most people online simply wrote about how they’ve been attacked and the dogs should be put down. If only there was a way everyone could win. Something everyone would be happy about.

But there was a way I could help.

At that moment, in that situation, I told myself that one day I would do something that would notify this problem to the rest of the world. Write a book, make a speech, or open up a website. Because that day, I learned two things: that even the smallest change can help out someone and that first impressions aren’t everything. I thought about Noko, and how he would probably benefit everyday from me simply giving him some food.

Most people stayed far away from strays, but what if all they needed was a chance? I knew they could be really dangerous, but that was mostly because they were in conditions where they needed to fight for survival.

On my last day staying there in India, Noko stayed longer than usual, almost like he knew. It was strange, but it might have been that sixth sense that people say dogs have. I was leaving at about nine o’clock, and by the time I was getting ready to leave, I was surprised to find him still there. He usually left at seven, but he was still there, in the dark.

I gave him one last scratch on the ear, my eyes following his figure through the window of the car when I got in. I took my last glimpse at him and said my goodbyes, accepting but sad. Before I looked away, I caught the glint of metal chains against the harsh streetlight, on the corner of the street and forgotten. I turned back around in my seat and didn’t look back.

I used to be ignorant but never again. Never again would I be able to forget. Each time I saw a dog, the only thing that came to mind was Noko. Poor Noko, who would never know the joys of having a safe home, and food, and a family who loved you. I may have been younger, but I still knew at that time that everyone deserves someone who cares for you.

And now, I’m writing this essay. I’m writing this as I remember the coffee colored eyes that changed me. The ones that drowned me in ase This is the first time I’ve been able to do something that may help. I can only hope that this small change can cause a ripple that spreads. So someone else can know about this too.


Drop a lightbulb onto any surface

Watch the splinters on the skin morph into perfect shards

Flying everywhere, exposing the wiring inside.

A candle sputtering the last of its wick;

the wax dripping onto a finely polished table.

The anatomy of a kaleidoscope seems symmetrical

But bits of unshaped, colored glass reflecting each other

Create the eccentric designs and intangible pictures

Encased inside their hollow shell.

A hall full of mirrors gives no sense of direction

Walk round and round and watch everyone stare back.

Be entertained by the blistering paint

Observe it peel in long strips, bottom to top

as you hang upside down

from the ceiling

Do You Believe in the Devil?

“John, do you believe in the devil?”

John looks up from his book, the old, yellowed pages a sign of its age and use.

“I’m sorry?” he asks, confused and little bit frightened. He looks over at his traveling companion for the week. They were on mail duty that week, getting the mail from their little town in the middle of the desert to one of the larger towns, like Sugar Pine.

“I asked, if you believe in the devil,” he states plainly, and John looks into the crackling fire. The wind blows in his direction, and he squints from the smoke blowing into his eyes.

“I don’t suppose I do, Will,” John says, shaking his head.

William chuckles and nods. “Ah. Not a religious man then.”

John shakes his head, and looks up at the sky full of bright stars, smiling. “My mother was though.”

William smirks and nods. “Yes, John is a very religious name.”

“What about you?” John looks over at William, who is also looking up at the stars.

“Hm?” he asks, looking over at John.

“Do you believe in the devil?” John asks.

William chuckles, and John laughs with him, the tension of the moment subsiding slightly. “Of course I do.”

John stops laughing as William’s eyes meet his. John freezes, and for a moment, William disappears, and something else takes his place. But it was only for a moment, because when John blinks, he’s back.

William gets up, and walks around the burning fire towards John. “You’ve heard ‘em talking, haven’t you? The town, the other deputies…” William pauses, and a wry smirk makes its way onto his face. “The pastor.”

William wasn’t normally a menacing man. He was creepy, sure, but he could hold a conversation. But John had never seen him like this, with murder in his soul and a hint of the devil in his eye. John was actually scared of this man.

William places his hands on his hips, resting his right hand on his pistol. He looks down at his gun, and uses his left hand to pull it out. He looks it over, and puts it away in his right hip holster instead. His smirk is wider as he says, “It’s a sign of the devil, bein’ left handed. It’s said that people who’re left handed are marked by the devil to be evil.”

John swallows instinctively out of fear, but doesn’t move, for the fear of being shot by one of the men he trusted outweighed his need to run. “Well, I’m sure that’s not really true…” John trails off, looking at the ground next to him, then up at the rocks lining their little canyon, and then at one of the long dead trees sporadically placed here and there. Anywhere but William’s eyes.

“For some, maybe, but those are the people who have the evil beat out of them by the lord,” William states, waving his statement off. John’s eyes are drawn to William’s, and he sees the murder in them, the sadistic horror that only awaited John this night. “I didn’t get that privilege, of meeting our lord. The devil had too much of a grip on my soul to want to let go.”

John leans back, reaching for his colt, but as he palms the dirt, it’s gone. Looking behind him, all of his guns were gone, and when he looks back, William has his colt in his hands.

William, scrutinizing the powerful weapon, turns it around in his hands, running his fingers over the beautiful carvings in the wood and metal. He holds it out in front of him, and up to John’s head, the gun in his left. “It’s not hard to see why. Why they think that, that is.”

“Who… who are you?” John asks, and William, or whoever he is, shrugs.

“I guess no one really knows. I wouldn’t suspect you, a man without religion, to know…” He shrugs, but the gun doesn’t move. John’s eyes widen, and he starts to shake. John doesn’t know when his eyes started filling with tears, but the harder William pressed the gun to his face, the more the tears threatened to fall. His skin felt like it was boiling under the heated glare. He could feel the cool tears now rushing down his cheeks, and sweat pooling underneath him, soaking his clothes, but it didn’t help. Nothing could bring him reprieve from the feeling of having his skin burned off him. He could feel his heart give way, stopping and starting every time William said or did something, beating faster and working harder than he’s sure it’s ever before. His head is pounding with an ache that’s so severe, John’s almost afraid his head is going to explode. Looking up into William’s red eyes, John’s world changes. William smirks as John has his epiphany, a curious and sadistic look replacing the look of the devil in his eye, because William didn’t just have the devil in his eye, he was the Devil himself. “Still don’t believe?”

“William?” John asks, but the devil standing above him just laughs.

“What a stupid name, William. That was his name.” He points to his body, William’s body. “But that’s not my name, is it?” John shakes his head hurriedly, and the man above him chuckles. He takes a step closer and puts the cold barrel of the gun to John’s head. John gulps, looking up at him, fear completely taking over his expression. “Say my name, John.”

There’s a pause, and for just a second, John doesn’t say anything, but when the gun is pressed harder into his forehead, he whimpers quietly, and speaks. “Satan.”

A gunshot goes off, a body falls to the floor, and standing above John’s lifeless body, the Devil is grinning down at him. “See you in Hell, John.”

The Skeletons in My Closet

Thunder cracked as lightning branched from the sky.

“Let’s move!”

The hazard lights flashed, and the windshield wipers beat rapidly as I scooped the raccoon’s body into a bag. Jumping into the car, my dad swerved back onto the freeway.

“Muy, time to wake up.” My dad switched on the light. It was time for school.

On the shoulder of a nearby freeway exit slumped a large raccoon. We strategized to harvest the raccoon’s skull the next night when traffic was light, but the law foiled our plan: picking up roadkill was illegal.

My skull collection began when my seven-year-old eyes spotted a glimmering seagull skull sinking beneath the ocean waves. My family and I traveled to Half Moon Bay in late November to explore the tide pools as the ocean waves receded. It was one of my few off days from gymnastics. At the time, I was spending twenty hours a week in the gym, spinning around bars and cartwheeling on beams.

I started gymnastics when I was two years old, inspired by gymnast Carly Patterson during the 2004 Olympics. I watched in awe as she flipped across the TV screen and stuck a perfect landing.

“I wanna do that!” I exclaimed, and for the next ten years, my life revolved around gymnastics. I skipped birthday parties and playdates for hours of practice and competitions.

The next school day, I walked up to my friends during lunch with my skull in hand, excited to show them what I had found over the weekend. They grabbed their lunchboxes and ran away. I put the skull away, attempting not to alienate any more of my classmates.

My first two best friends threw tanbark in my face and wheeled bikes into my shins. “You’re stupid,” they said. “We don’t want to be friends with you.” Any new friends I made were no different: they slammed my books into puddles and threw them into the trash cans. They snatched my glasses and dragged them against the concrete.

When I was eight years old, my dad found a dead sparrow glued to a rat trap in our backyard. Knowing my affinity for skulls, he suggested that we harvest the skull. After a long afternoon, I had a pearly white sparrow skull to add to my collection. While the sparrow’s life had ended, its legacy endured. The skull served as a physical reminder of its life.

The same year, my violin teacher passed away. She was my mom’s viola teacher, and when she heard I wanted to begin learning violin, she quickly took me on. I stood nervously in her doorway, attempting to hide behind my mom as she rang the doorbell.

My teacher opened the door with a wide grin on her face. She had brilliant blue eyes, contrasting with her short peppered hair. Within the first day, I learned to hold my violin and play the open strings. We played duets, and I loved going to lessons.

Our lessons stopped abruptly. My mom told me that my teacher had gotten sick, and I expected that it’d pass within a few weeks and we’d be playing together soon. The next time I saw her, she was in a nursing home, her grip weak and sweaters loose.

She died later that year.

Not long after, my grand-aunt passed away from a stroke. I once ran through her house, using her collection of half-dried markers to color the pages of my taped and stapled books. She handed me sugar cubes and roasted pumpkin seeds as I slipped from room to room. When my sister and I pressed half bitten strawberries on each other’s white shirts, she quickly joined in, chasing us around the house. The pink circles on our shirts were evidence of our crime.

The people I loved the most were gone, but like the sparrow, they had left behind a never-ending legacy. They had loved me and supported me no matter what. Even though they were gone physically, they lived on in memories that would be cherished forever.

Today, I own eight skulls, each telling a unique story with every suture, cavity, and tooth. Skulls were no longer just a novelty but a staple in my life. I proudly displayed every new addition to my collection despite the horrified looks on my friends’ faces, even taking joy in their shocked expressions.

Last Christmas, I received an impala skull with beautiful, long, black horns and swirling sutures. I giddily pulled the skull from the box, excitedly examining it until my eyes drifted to its broken nose; it wasn’t perfect. Aligning the broken pieces on the skull, I glued the pieces in place.

I checked on my skull first thing the next morning. After a hefty layer of wood glue, the broken pieces of my impala skull stayed in place. From a distance, it looked like every other impala skull, but the outline of yellow glue gave it character, something only I knew was there.

I have always been strong, rejecting help from others, pushing myself to my limits, and internalizing physical and emotional abuse. Given enough time, bones can heal, but not as fast as if they are wrapped in a plaster cast. Scars and bandages mask wounds but do not erase them. Wounds make you stronger.

After years of bullying and grief, I have learned to embrace my quirks. I am different than everyone else, and I’m proud of it; it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Skulls go beyond looks and superficial personalities; they are who you are. They change as you change, they grow as you grow. Every skull is complete with the muscles to support it, but they are independent, unique, and perfect in their own way.

The Goldin Era

girls like moths he said  musical thrilling voices

long slender limbs she said silk column dresses

tight tilted faces   I read framed by sleek bobs

eight Louis heels softly bobbing the thick throb of lifting thighs

T-straps dipping into plush grass They’re getting muddy

calves long and shapely burn with lac tic ac id

misty pale in the sunset-drip

one girl spells Ls of her arms, Who designed this hill?

crosses their raised nap

guarding her rib-ridged chest. It’s awful cold

At the house

the doorbell lost in cheerful chatter Maybe press it again—

show themselves in, confident women —uncertain girls

The cheap sneer of polysatin

Running, splashing, hiding across dresses

The hostess appears, pulled patch in her sleeve

wide in the electric glare

Gaping threads, perfectly even teeth look slippery—

like bathwater

on composite countertops

necks swiveling like swans uneasy.

Scanning, leaping

from face to frizz-topped face Is that—?

A crown—no, a helmet

Of gaud-yellow hair reassembled

Stiff as laughter

Crescent moon in reverse

Dirt under a trimmed pointer nail

Against a sky of smuggled smiles

The elegant flow of another gallant pour

Champagne groping awkwardly

For the glass caught off-guard





the wet sound of it

Nod at Me

nod at me nod at the rooftop do it nod

acknowledge the bathtub on the penthouse garden where i am with my friends taking photos in cowboy boots


slips in monochromatic feels

we are 22

we are new york


we are living like western gods so


taking photos in red cowboy boots on the fourth of july like real americans not millennials

and i nod that barbaric yawp

biting at raw U.S. air

at the marks seen through fake silk a material that lost its name scaling the stairs to the rooftop and i found mine in people who know that photos should be zoomed at angles and only in high waisted white underwear on firescapes if not rooftops

where people don’t nod even if you nod please nod please validate our bathtub party

on the fourth of american july and nod

come in and join us

red white and blue bubble bath drowns out balcony noise of

the spice girls on top of this patio looking like nineties does seventies wrong in the south

why aren’t you nodding

at whisky stained flags marking this territory as the girls

join our cult instead

where we fear the laundromat so all our scarves remain signals in the wind yelling

we are poor! we are poor millennials!

the sun she agrees with us wiping the shadows of laundry away her smoldering beams

the natural world is all on our side and yet

you glare on

why look down why look down at that goddamn paper clip you don’t even know if its silver or gold you can look at me clearly im golden were glowing like goddamn aphrodite in spurs

gold spurs spurring dirty old bathtub water we dump off the roof onto people who won’t nod

but even they nod at you look at you why aren’t you nodding

you step over the paper clip into reality into manhattan where bathtubs are indoors and life is all silver not gold

happy fourth of july this is america where no one no gods just millennials

nod transcendentalist yawps in the sky

it’s the young who know it’s still a paperclip

silver new york at most

why aren’t you nodding america

this is our country

bow down to your gods