BRAINDRAIN

Because bodies couldn’t cross the borders—bodies were unwanted. Bodies had disease and sweat and threatening biceps and strange-tongued languages, needed beds and jobs and maybe even women and lives, meant a future of preexisting bodies diluted by the sweat-flesh-stink-color of new bodies. No bodies. But what was okay, they said (they on the right side of the wall), was brains.

Sucker

She wasn't allowed to have candy, so she kept it hidden in her top dresser drawer. Her mother made her dress in church clothes whenever company would come, and each time Connie would sneak a taste. It became her silent sacrament.

A Possession

Menstruate. Watch the blood stain your sari, blooming outwards in a defiant whorl. Grab your hair by the fistfuls and scream expletives until your lungs swell urgently against your ribcage. Demand cigarillos and arrack from your husband, from your neighbors, from the anxious twist of a woman that brings you packets of milk every morning. Give in to convulsions, every three minutes or so. 

The Candle Farmers

We grew candles on our farm. It was always night. I carried embers in a copper bucket and trailed behind my mother. Under the candlelight, the ground was warm. I tucked my plait down the back of my dress. We walked narrow pathways through fields of candles. The glow hurt my eyes, so I looked up at the darkness and star blink. When we reached the empty plain, we dug holes and planted the embers. I didn’t know if my fingers were black with dirt or soot. 

Forecast 2035

They were selling air now? For all of Kai Li’s life, everyone has always worn breath regulators. They filtered out dust and pollution as you inhaled, and your exhaled breath was cycled back into the air. Only Kai Li’s nainai refused to wear one. She was stubborn and would wander the city without even a cheap surgical facemask on days when the smog coated cars in thick, black dust and you couldn’t see past your fingers if you held them out in front of you. “I’ve breathed Chengdu air all my life,” she’d say, “why stop now!”

Mudburgers and Gravy

Fat separating on the warm asphalt, deep-fried, steaming burger-broth glistening, the sugar-popped neon candy crystals from the service counter, just all of it getting under fingernails of sticky hands, sticky cheeks, sticky teeth. Biscuits in concrete-colored gravy. Lots of biscuits in concrete-colored gravy.

Spotted

Moles. Spots, dots, freckles, and beauty marks. I’m covered in constellations of them, enough to trace out a few copies of the entire Roman pantheon. Instead of the spotted camouflage of a leopard whose fur can mimic the fall of dappled sunlight, my spots only draw attention to me through the thicket of evenly stained bodies at a beach in New Zealand. Here, where the pasty skin of Scottish transplants collides with the warm currents flowing south from the tropics, my moles were enough of a distraction to elicit a warning from a stranger.

The Adjustment Period

I woke up one morning with no arms. I don’t mean the kind of waking up where you can’t feel them, where blood has caught somewhere and is now a steady thunder under your skin. I mean my arms weren’t there at all. The down comforter clung to my legs as I kicked at it, frantically rolling out of bed. Standing shakily, I looked at myself in my floor-length mirror, expecting blood, or oozing flesh in danger of gangrene. In place of my arms, however, was nothing. Just smooth nothing.

Mother to Daughter

She gon talk about your skin. And your forehead. Fat girls, they know to go for what’s obvious, round, shining like a bulb of refrigerator light. She’s coming for you like she do for that last slice of cake sitting there at midnight when the house is pregnant with slumber and sweat—say that.

A Death Threat from the Hair Club for Men

Of course the after photos show us smiling in terror. We all know someone who tried to take the hair and run. Someone weak. Someone with a family they left behind when they turned up parsed in garbage bags in the trunk of their car, or someone who didn’t turn up at all.

The Final Men

“Been killing kids up at that campground for forty years,” the old man says. “At least.” He coughs up a wad of something and swallows it. “Kids on spring break. Kids just like you. Groups of fellas and their little ladies.” The word “ladies” pushed through the gap in his teeth like soft cheese.

V-Card 

Mrs. Reidenbaugh gave us our V-cards on the first day of freshman health. They looked homemade. Laminated construction paper with “This card belongs to ________________ and it is special” in 28-point Arial. Cut small enough to fit in a wallet or wristlet, snug behind your student ID and lunch money. 

Mice

There is a mouse in my toe and he comes out at night and whispers in my ear all the better ways I could have done everything I did that day. And there is no negotiating with this mouse—the mouse is right and needs to be listened to because if he isn’t I might go to sleep feeling comfortable and maybe confident and I just wouldn’t know what to do with myself. 

Astronomical Bodies

It starts somewhere inside the body touching tough tissues, sliding along expanding and contracting muscular structures. The strophe and the antistrophe. The wax and then the wane. When she leaves the apartment, her things will become the negatives of a photograph. A bowl left on the nightstand. Her sweater slung over the back of the dining room chair. The toothbrush she forgot to take before she left.

My Mother, Killing A Lizard

My mother got knocked up in New York City, 1960, and never let me forget it: how she’d sweat standing still, her belly swollen and sore; how the rats would taunt her, perched on the stovetop, finding crumbs to eat no matter how well she cleaned. She soon learned not to bother. She moved to Florida before I could form memory. I never got around to moving myself. By thirty, I knew I wasn’t one for change; by fifty, it was best I stay to help out.