Jesus in his twenties


My magnificently talented friend Hannah Connolly (here’s her art blog and portfolio website) made this illustration for my story Jesus in his twenties. You can read it here — I thought it might be nice to put it up in downloadable format.

If you’d rather read it online, click through to see more:

Continued reading >

Existential crisis of the butterfly

At the supermarket I wander through the narrow aisles in my cornflower blue work blouse, stopping every so often to stare intently at packages. I pick them up from off the shelves, and turn them over in my hands, trying to read the nutritional information on their backs. Each time I wade into the the mystery of the characters on the labels it is as though I am circling the center of a lake in a rowboat without oars; if I am lucky, I can pick out stray characters, like meat (肉) or sea (海), but mostly I am at a loss, mute as a beached mermaid. I end up buying five dollars worth of bottled green tea (お茶) and the cashier bows so low to me my heart rises into my throat; I am sure I have never done, and will never do, anything half so grand so as to deserve this reverence.

I walk back to the house, plastic shopping bag around one wrist, submerged in drifting air from a season the Japanese call the plum rain, feeling, not for the first time, like an actress in my own life. There’s a darkness inside me even here, in a neighborhood peopled by roses, but it’s comforting, and it tethers me, not to home, nor reality, but to truthfulness, to fidelity to the woman I am in other places, at other times.

The house I’m staying at is old, but pleasantly so, and I find I am not bothered by even the sound of rats in the walls, or the tiny moths that hover like stars in the living room. I have always been good at enduring inconvenience cheerfully, but as I grow older I think I’m becoming more mature about it; I’m not haunted by the need to congratulate myself for suffering anymore.

My morning commute to the office includes a fifteen minute walk to the subway station through a residential area. It’s a neighborhood I might see in a dream during a fever: sinuous, narrow roads lit by a blue sun enclosed in fog like satin. It’s always raining; the air tastes like an elixir of immortality. On days like these are gods from myths born. I find myself thinking of the future, with fear, but also with a warm-hued optimism that beats in my breast, hanging there like a single pearl.

The front and back passenger cars of the subway train are separated from an unmanned control cabin by a door embedded in a panel of glass; if I can, I like to stand by it, and look at the soft, tactile buttons, the electrical panels intricate as honeycomb, the off-white phone near the floor. When the train moves the tunnel falls behind in smooth, lush waves. For me, tunnels are not so much a location as an emotion, dusky but intimate somehow, like an evening in late, sensual spring, a period of violet darkness marking the rhythm of the lives of sacred flowering trees. There’s a fish-eyed other-worldliness there too: the walls around me, punctuated by occasional gold fluorescent lamps, temporarily illuminating my reflection in the dark glass. I imagine the veil thinning, from opaque, impenetrable to translucent, vulnerable. I imagine stepping through it, with zero resistance, easily, like rainwater seeping from soil under the slightest pressure. The objects, and people, on the other side vary from hour to hour, desire to desire; right now, for instance, I’m seeing mountains, and forests, and ghosts, in rain jackets.

Sensory details braided, manifold, into my psyche: a tiny store called Takahashi Fruits, a man, presumably Takahashi, in green overalls with one strap hanging off his shoulder, a pained, bitter expression on his face. A fire station, purple-pink hydrangeas, a young blind man in Shinjuku Station being guided to the exit by a stranger, telling him「助かりました」(you saved me). Peaches encased in protective netting, priced at five hundred yen each. The cashiers I see working the 2 AM shift at the 7/11, whose names, printed in hiragana on tags, I try to memorize with a desperation I don’t know how to explain. The garden of a long-dead emperor, a hotel room in a suburb outside Tokyo. The windows of the train, where on a few summer afternoons I can see the sun start to descend at the same time the moon makes its appearance at the opposite end of the sky. My mother’s voice saying: Ser feliz es triunfar. To be happy is to triumph.


When I fell in love with you I lost my appetite for seven days.
My arms and legs ached, dully, tenderly. Along my throat, and beside my breasts,
lymph, oval-shaped, milky white, swelled like new peaches: Emotion, a pathology, pathos of.
The needs of a body silenced by the greed of the soul; my senses so changed
just walking to the convenience store in the suburbs I smelled the sea.

You’ve never even touched me. What would I do if you did —
Every nerve ending would dissolve into blossom.
The little death darkening my blood to hematite.
The largeness of love, the demands it places on pride,
would either cure or impoverish me permanently.
I don’t know if I could survive that fire.

This feeling has never been gentle to me, and fear lies
like a fragile gem in my skeleton: too tremulous
to touch, a breath away from rupturing
into a cloud of gold. The mortality of love,
its half-life a night in Pyrrhic, pellucid springtime,
is a lesson I have learned over and over again,
but never managed to commit to memory.

What does it even matter. Oh, it is not as though
I would dare think of forever. But I do
still remember the Yamanote line at six in the morning,
the train hanging suspended by a single thread
as I put my hand on your shoulder. The purity of
that instant like heroin. Like Mount Sinai.
My heart so changed when the doors opened there was lavender filling the air.

Mientes mucho

My mind often returns to August of last year, to that beach in Kamakura. I remember it was mid-afternoon. I was sitting alone on the cold sand, feeling time within me like an organ of my body, like a second heart, heated, and fast. That entire day I had been alone, on autopilot, but there, by the the ocean, I found myself shifting back into a realer, more organic state, and I thought of my life, how it had developed into this foreign animal I knew to belong to me, but did not recognize, nor control, a life powered by something other than me, something more innocent and magnetic, and free.

Life possesses its own momentum, I think, a type of gravity generated by the soul. Like the survival instinct, but more human, more mundane too; less about danger and more about memory, and desire, and the muscular, spiritual pull in the body that comes with the existence of beauty, the appearance of pain. I don’t always feel it but when I do its effect is tidal, and immediate, like an electric current. I think of that instance, a few years ago, in Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Memorial airport, waiting in a shuttle bus on the tarmac wet with rain, and pausing, suddenly, to think: I’m living. I’m here, and I’m alive. It was a forceful, and tender, and gently, momentarily paralyzing thought, like passing by a garden for the millionth time and noticing, for the very first time, the row of tiny flowers lining the path.

There’s a difficult, intractable, callous, evergreen part of me that my mother often calls my “nature.” I love, and require, this solidity but I wish I could change the angle of it, give it substance instead of just density. I wish I could carry resilience like a physical object. I wish I could swing it like a sledgehammer.

I think a lot about my character, how it sees, and reflects, and pursues the world. I think a lot about possibility, and emotion, and owning up to my bullshit. I think a lot about how for years I dejectedly but willingly described myself as a neurotic girl, and then a neurotic woman, just because my father called me that once. I think a lot about what it means to judge, to separate, to reject, to forgive, to value, to cherish, and how love intersects with these, individually, and in a sequence, and all at once.

Instances of peace are close to my soul. They slow time down, prolong my life for just a few more seconds, and the pretenses of calculation — how to be, and say, and act, and to what degree — which have so sustained my identity slip away, and I am not afraid, for once, of excess, or hesitation. I return to the beach at Kamakura, alone, entirely responsible for my own life. No need for excuses; no need for lies. I go through my photographs of the trip, the snapshots of white-petaled flowers with rosette cores, the plain and dignified mountainside vistas, the gray roads, their subtle, gold-toned luminosity in the summer evening. I go through images of the sea, its mirada vidriosa (“glassy stare”) and of my face, which some have called “heart-shaped,” on those impulsive, rare instances that I turned the camera around to capture my tired but smiling expression, framed by iron and blue.

松 / 待つ

I take the night train from Narita to Umejima. I sit in the second of three seats facing a window, knees together, my head resting against the backpack in my lap. Every so often I check its pockets, confirming that I still carry three items: a square passport, a cantaloupe orange debit card, and the tiny notebook containing the only photograph I have of my parents together. Though cold to the touch, the weight of the photograph is familiar and comforting, like a nebulous, gentle memory of childhood not yet rendered bitter by time.

The woman next to me sleeps; occasionally her cheek falls against my shoulder, like a honeybee settling on a flower. The vertex of her summer’s evening has bent and met with mine, and her face is so meaningless but will remain in my memory like the smell of brine. Though I travel — and live, to a certain extent — alone, her touch on me is close, immediate, and dolefully, doggedly human.

Rilke said, once: Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

It has always been easy, and enjoyable, to be painfully, perversely hard on myself. I have pined for men who would not love me, and women who could not; for a release from shame, and a return to it; for thorny roses, phone calls, cool midnights, total respect, physical power, emotional intimacy. And I know it is wrong, to beat myself up over what I do not have, but I don’t know how to avoid, or correct, or suppress these feelings, which are half-man and half-beast, and which follow me even when I have left the labyrinth.

Maybe I am at my best when I am by myself. It doesn’t matter if I am a good person or just a good liar — there is no one to impress. I make it from point A to point B and point C; I feel proud of small accomplishments like counting out exact change in Japanese yen, or crossing the street in the dark, or noticing the beauty of a whole, red moon, partially obscured by apartment blocks.

On the train, the sensory hearts of the world are sliced away; no taste, no fragrance here. I don’t feel much of anything beyond the eternal, neutral desire to live, to complete a journey to its natural end. When I see my reflection in the window opposite me, the gentleness it rouses in my breast is both narcissism and pride, in my soft and tame face, which which may not be beautiful but is mine, in my alertness in an illusory world of ghosts, in my independence, which was not easily won. I am thousands of miles away from anyone who knows my name. I feel unknown, and tender, and pure, like nude, luminous snow. The world is easy, translucent, cooked down to its tendons; I am a twelve-ribbed twenty-year-old who treasures her life, whose soul is trembling, cracking, and spilling, like egg yolk.

The colored leaves / Have hidden the paths / On the autumn mountain. / How can I find my girl, / Wandering on ways I do not know?

The clouds rise off the mountains like smoke. Crows sit on telephone wires; they open their wings like Aphrodite scarring the foam. I walk through the neighborhood, in the yellow heat before the typhoon, in my sweaty tee, in running shoes trembling like orange blossoms.

Rivers travel from canyon to ocean, belly-up and boneless, in the receding bitterness of spring. They are loyal, constant; but when they arrive at the coast, at the lion’s mane ultramarine waves, do they hesitate, as I have? Do they ever think — no — I want to go back, I want —

Heaven help us. We move forward.

My mother is like a falcon lost in private flight. “Es que no hay pozo más grande,” she, in tears, said to me. “There is no deeper well.” Too much of her body is underwater. Too much of her body feels what her mind denies. It’s because of love; isn’t it all? It’s the fault of the lament, honor, and debt of love. I want to prove to her that she is worthwhile without love, that I could live forever without it, its delicate almond-shaped leaves falling, its direction as clear as exhaust ascending. I won’t be manipulated by love. I won’t be dragged by it.

When it rains here, the trains and the trees move like prophets chosen by brown-eyed angels; like their souls are crystalline, and pure, honeyed, and unafraid. I want to know that same gentle, complete peace — but I’m still distracted, by new days, new desires, their shapes when they settle inside me, round and heavy as peaches, their smell dissolving into the air, pulling me out of sleep like Athena bursting through the pate.

My body, twenty years old, can sit still, be quiet when supposed to, polite, good; but it doesn’t know how to hold my mother in its arms. My body, twenty years old, knows it’s time to go. Goodbye — no — I want to go back — I want — oh, heaven. Help me. Look at this body of mine, this river reaching the ocean and thinking of the gorge where it was born, look at me, in the middle of the fire, holding to my mother. Look at these, the wounds of intimacy; I don’t cry anymore, but God, how they still stink like oil, how they cling like anchors. In time, I know, I will grow accustomed to this. Repetition, I know, is the only real cure for suffering. Repetition, I know. Repetition, I know.

The clouds rise off the mountains like smoke. Crows sit on telephone wires; they open their wings like Aphrodite scarring the foam. I walk through the neighborhood, in the yellow heat before the typhoon, in my sweaty tee, in running shoes trembling like orange blossoms.

Fuera menos penado si no fuera

1. SAGRADO: The storms here fill me with a blend of exhilaration and fear that crystallizes heavy and clammy over my thoughts, resting on my heart like unfamiliar cities, or unattainable love. But the air inside Briana’s car is warm, and I feel so safe, as though I am being taken by the hand and led through the delicate, gentle motions of a dance. Her minivan chugs steady and unfailing towards a horizon of ash, along the highway into the darkening apex of an evening saturated in slate and violet, and clouds move through the sky like seawater over calves, and subdued, languid rain falls, and falls, and falls.

2. SANGRIENTO: Pain is a place, and it has my mother’s eyes.  The air hums low, and the tunnels are aglow, lined with round neon lights like fragrant yellow roses.

3. SACIADO: I am sitting sandwiched in the backseat of a mustard sedan; the roads are lined first with a carmine and currant sunset, and then a viscous, starless night. The Bulgarian lily, the shadow in the water, the ache in my belly, the hour between, the low blow I, in an inevitable moment of weakness, have forgiven — in other words, the woman I love — she sits beside me. I want to take her by the shoulders. I want to put the world away, or at least reduce it until it exists only as an inchoate blur of roseate and saffron hair, framed in the dark by the passing of golden sodium vapor lamps and tricolor headlights. I want to tell her I’ve been asking God for someone like her ever since the dove left the ship for the shore.

Two people

In in the morning she wakes up very suddenly, the dream caught painfully in her throat. She sits up and spits it out onto her hand. It is is small, soft to the touch, growing and shrinking to the rhythm of human breath. It leaves thin lines of blood and saliva on her forefinger and thumb, and on the sleeve of her pajama shirt, where she rubs it clean. 

The curtains are drawn. Her roommate on the other side of the room is asleep, face turned towards the wall. According to her blue neon alarm clock, palpitating intermittently in the dim light: there are twenty-seven minutes before nine, and so twenty-seven minutes before she must leave the bed, wash her face, and prepare herself for the day.

Sitting in a pool of white sheets, her knees at her chest, her arms over her bare, unshaven legs; she rolls the dream between two fingers, trying to commit the weight and texture of it to memory. It is heavy as a marble, heavy as the moon. Holding it feels like summer’s end strawberries taste. She closes her hand around it; she lowers her head.

In the dream, a girl she loved (loves? She’s given up on tenses) held her hand on a school bus. Much too real; never real enough. A dream’s life is early and fatal like one of early April’s milky snowbanks, an instance of tender, pink-hued cold shot through by sweaty weather. That girl’s doe eyes, her baby blue jacket, her fragrant hair; the illusion of warmth of her fingers spreading through her body like a criminal’s car moving out of sight, getting away. The heat of the dream stains her, slick and violet, smooth as butter and sweet as honey in her blood.

An unpleasant, painful expression sweeps across her face — and then, as always, she recovers. She swings her legs off the bed. She is getting older, and her dreams are getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller. I’m not disappointed, she says out loud, to herself, to the translucent, beating dream resting in the center of her hand. I’m realistic. And yet somewhere, maybe not anywhere physical and quantifiable, but somewhere: she is leaning over to the girl in the school bus, in the sunlight, and she is kissing her temples, the apples of her cheeks, her toothy, blissful smile.

It’s difficult for her to learn not to be bitter. She is still trying.

El rayo que no cesa

Spring blooms in my stomach like infatuation, decadent, heady, and fatuous. Spring makes the tips of my fingers tremble like newborn roses. Spring dribbles down my chin in milk-warm, orange-pink stripes; it fills me up like cream soda, like honey. Soft, smooth, so sweet, overripe, dissolved in blood, sweat, in floral oils: Spring leaves stains on the front of my blouse, on my sheets, on the doorknob to my bedroom.

Spring is a season of love. Love: what does an aflame Persephone, stripping wheat for grain, cracking mussel for pearl, what does she do when breaking hearts? What does a bitter Artemis, skinning boar for meat, killing boy for pride, what does she do when breaking hearts? I am weaker and uglier than any Grecian girl but look at me, at the red on my hands, down my chest, where I have crushed and regrown, crushed and regrown my own heart, again, again — you cannot tell me I am not more bloodied than they.

March is a month of assassination in a season of love and you look like gold and almond liquor, you look like the knife, thumb pressed to the blunt edge, peeling a navel orange over a white kitchen counter. Even the evening, with its eyes and mouth of butter yellow, its touchable hipbones of violet and orange, cannot compare. I start with spring, goddesses, dream, March, lilies, birds, and now you; I find that there are many, many reasons to love. My mother and brother, their tender, green-golden voices like roses opening in the morning. Spring spreading like light through a room. A heart. My writing, the closest I’ll get to seeing my own soul, swelling, bleeding like a stuck pig, blending with the saltwater, the flowers, the perfume of your flaxen hair.

Love: I am the glutton God could not account for, and I dream of love like a wave approaches the shore. Dreams: cast in marble and moonlit blue, a nighttime poison, a nighttime blossom, enclosing the hint of fragrance in clothes, bodies, lips, that hint of fragrance that must always accompany love.

Many reasons to love but —

There is an ache in my body wide as the moon and old as angels, sweetened by spring, bared by your face, your warmth. It is called please. Please.

Spring’s sun is mute, and the oceans still and cool to the touch; but when I stand under and beside them, my fear held in my bare arms like a bouquet of trembling lilies, the wells in my heart fill with the first rains of the year and the birds of prey come down to the water, and fold their wings, and lower their heads to drink.

— you are the only reason.

The God of Kerosene

I was born in love, mired in it; in the mud of a woman’s blood. This is a letter. This is a letter, printed on the air above the Atlantic, to the only two who would remember my infant eyes.

Twist the verdict like a bottle cap, until the virtue and the venom spill, staining our necks and fingers with a pink both soft and bitter. Take your medicine. Wade out into the blue ocean between your throat and shoulder. Rest from this. No more pain.

We float on opposite ends of the still water; someone watches from the shore.

How do you explain to your mother that you still love her abuser?

The serpent used to sing to Eve. A lullaby from a kingdom of salt, where white flowers that lived through the winter grew into doves, and scarring on the body, colored sweet as cotton and sea foam, was left there only by choice.

No pain here, Eve.

God would beat the animal for this song. God would beat the animal until it was blinded, its eyes and spine broken into blossom. In the dust, it wept. But it still sang: No more

Even as her hand reached up into the branches, while He soaked the garden in kerosene: still.

pain.The angels with their swords; Eve’s hand, small as a new plum. The serpent sang: No

How do you explain to your father that he is an abuser, and you love him?

pain. The kingdom by the sea; Eve’s hand, opening.

This is an attempt.

I was born in love, buried in it; from snake to woman, from flower to ocean, from god to kerosene. Rest. Take your medicine. Forgive me. Find it in your doves and scars, in your blood and belly, to love me, still. Please,

no pain. 

Somewhere, Paradise is burning.