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“The Void Blues” by Harley Claes

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Image by: Ulrich Moskop

My body was seated in my soul under blacklight- bound to analysis though I could bare no judgement as I sit and spin for aural opium.

I had pictured a panorama of my trauma as an infernal, despicable whole.

I made myself sick to purge my past as illness. To forget my incapabilities, I was lenient on rediscovery. But I could not forget the urgency of my depressive, sadist-sucking nature, I was raised a defensive.

Having fallen for an acid casualty- I was mindsick & hallucination dependant, picturing all our visions as prophetic. Realizing as a patient, I was only wracked with delusion.

Now we base the next measly muse

Off of what is stirring within us

An emotional riot

That is streaking across the streets

Begging to be believed

But inside me

Is only a void the size of a fist

 

 

 

 

 

Harley Claes is an experimental poet and novelist from Detroit, Michigan. Her first poetry anthology is titled Pity the Poetics.

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“To Mario Kart from a Marxist” by Kate Wilson

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Dear Mario Kart,

You were the love child of Shigeru Miyamoto and his team in Japan in 1992. Miyamoto, who also created several other popular games, works for Nintendo, which is regarded as one of the absolute best gaming companies in the world, and whose net worth is 32.8 billion dollars. Essentially, you were born of greatness.

You feature characters previously seen in various other Nintendo games – Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Bowser, and the like. You give us a fun, child-friendly venue to go-kart race, collect coins, use power ups, beat the clock, and beat our friends.

In total, there are nine versions of you for almost every Nintendo gaming console – the Super NES, the Nintendo 64, the Wii, the Wii U, the Gameboy Advance, the GameCube, the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 3DS, and, most recently, the Nintendo Switch. Each new game includes new characters, courses, gameplay, and power ups. You are popular, to say the least. You are so popular, that you have sold 90.50 million total copies. The most recent game, Mario Kart 8, sold half a million copies stateside on launch day alone, and 100 million copies worldwide. Mario Kart, you were born of greatness, born into greatness, and you have been great. For 25 years, you have been a best-selling game that has made its way into the hearts, minds, and wallets of users.

But, I see you, Mario Kart, for exactly what you are. You appear to be a fun, childlike video game, but no, your intentions are sinister. You are not what you appear to be on the surface — oh no. You are deeper than that, as we all are. You are, in fact, probably the most important, avant-garde analysis of the American Dream.

To explain: when someone is in last place, no matter how many helpful item boxes they get, they will rarely advance to first. And when someone is in first place, no matter how many blue shells are thrown, rarely will they decline in position to last, or even to the bottom five players. Upward mobility is hard in your game. Advantages for last place are virtually useless, unless the player is in the very back of the pack, and even those advantages will not put them anywhere near winning. And, in first place, the most common power up is coins, which helps keep one ahead. This is clearly your way of critiquing the American dream! You equate last place with being disadvantaged, or a minority. Minorities may get assistance, like affirmative action, extra scholarships, and the like, but this does not always put them on an equal playing field. And those who are ahead may not receive the same power ups, or advantages, but will receive tax breaks and other help that makes them stay at the top. Upward mobility in economics, and in Mario Kart, is difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

You are not forgiving, or merciful, or kind. You are hard, Mario Kart. You use so many of the same tactics our own economy does. For example, if I were to play you, and be one of the first racers across the finish line, I would be like top 20% of wealthy people in the United States who hold 84% of the total wealth. If I were the first place racer, you could consider me to be like the Walton family, who has more wealth than 42% of Americans combined. However, if I were one of the last racers to cross the finish line, like 40% of Americans, my wealth may be only 0.3% of the United States’ total wealth.

You act as the ever present reminder that only one can win; and reinforce the idea that only one SHOULD win – especially since ties are virtually impossible in Mario Kart, as finishing times are calculated to a thousandth of a second. According to a World Values Survey, Americans value winning more than any other industrialized nation on earth, even though enjoyment of a thing decreases as competition increases. Americans often live within a binary – winners and losers – and we feel a deep need to categorize people on their wins and losses. Moreover, so many wealthy people are considered winners, while poorer people are losing at the game of life, which is a different letter all together. Mario Kart, you display this so clearly – winning is good, and losing is for the unfortunate. You remind us why we strive, and that it is possible we might not make it. But strive, we do, with the hopes of first place.

I suppose, in one big race, we are all on the same Rainbow Road, dodging the same green shells, and revving our own car engines with the hope that something, anything, will propel us forward.

 

                        Ever Yours,

                                    Kate Wilson

 

 

 

References for Further Reading

History of Mario Kart’s characters & creator:

https://web.archive.org/web/20130625232227/http://www.nowgamer.com/features/1148204/super_mario_kart_the_complete_history_of_nintendos_kart_racer.html

Nintendo’s Net Worth:

https://www.forbes.com/companies/nintendo/#

Nintendo as the best gaming company in the world:

http://n4g.com/news/2038482/why-nintendo-is-the-best-company-for-gaming-culture

List of Mario Kart games:

https://www.mariowiki.com/Mario_Kart_(series)

List of Nintendo Consoles with Mario Kart games:

http://nintendo.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Mario_games

Popularity of Mario Kart Games:

http://www.vgchartz.com/article/250157/mario-kart-a-sales-history/

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sales:

https://www.polygon.com/2017/5/1/15502234/mario-kart-8-deluxe-sales-record-nintendo-switch

Item boxes & power ups based on current position:

http://www.watchmojo.com/video/title/Mario%20Kart%20Franchise%20Retrospective/

Affirmative Action:

https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/aaps/aaps.htm

Minority Scholarships:

https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarships-by-type/minority-scholarships/

Minority opportunities may not create equality:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/opinion/sunday/does-affirmative-action-do-what-it-should.html?mcubz=0

Tax breaks for wealthy Americans:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-27/trump-plan-s-business-tax-cut-seen-as-major-boon-for-the-top-1

Financial upward mobility:

http://www.epi.org/publication/usa-lags-peer-countries-mobility/

Economic Disparity:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/economic-inequality-it-s-far-worse-than-you-think/

Wealth of the middle class & rich:

http://www.nber.org/papers/w18559

Walton family wealth:

http://changewalmart.org/how-rich-are-the-waltons/

Ties in Mario Kart:

https://www.reddit.com/r/mariokart/comments/353cqs/is_it_possible_to_tie/

Winning & losing:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201208/why-do-we-have-obsession-winning

Winning survey:

http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSOnline.jsp

Happiness and winning:

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/00222102033004002

 

 

 

 

Kate is from Mammoth Lakes, California, and currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah where they are working towards a BA in English and an MA in teaching at Westminster College. Kate is a Virgo and lesbian who loves swing sets, their dog, and their girlfriend. Their work has previously been published or is forthcoming by Pressure Gauge Press, Write About Now, Rising Phoenix Press, and Rag Queen Periodical, among others. They are currently a poetry editor for “ellipsis… Literature and Art”. You can send Kate photos of the ocean on Twitter at @pasta_slut.

“Out-of-Body” by Wanda Deglane

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Out of Body

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanda Deglane is a psychology/family & human development student at Arizona State University. Her poetry has been published or forthcoming on Dodging the Rain, Rust + Moth, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere. She writes to survive. Wanda is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants, and lives with her giant family and beloved dog, Princess Leia, in Glendale, Arizona.

 

 

“Surface Tension” by Gary Hartley

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Image: Tracie Cheng

The oil has spilled and we know it is coming. It will not be contained. There will be no expertise right there where it happened and none when it arrives, because it is us here, just us, with no expertise. Beaches await dark blankets and dead feather beds.

Over there, the robots are heading our way, from inland and on planes and from the places that the majority can only describe in terms like ‘nowhere’. We have made eye contact but not acknowledged each other meaningfully. We reap some benefits at this point of course; they have not pulled their guns and we might well venture to imagine that they never will.

We comment more and more on things, often with tenuous-at-best grasp of said things. Mute, we type everything out. We ensure there is no nervous tension this way, no silences for our eyes to take in.

Soon, the water shadow is upon us, part of our lives. We cannot sit on beaches and sip fizzy drinks and hope for, if not the best, not the absolute worst things all at once.

Smaller and smaller issues we find worthy of commentary. We let nothing go unexpressed; grasping opinions and acceptable formats from what was once dead air. As we tap tap we flick glances at colleagues and rivals and that’s, naturally, the same thing.

The once-living creatures and the floating plastic bottles are now the same sort of ephemera, croutons in abandoned soup that no service industry staff member will be seen dead collecting on a tray for improved aesthetics.

We see the briar pit and we want so badly to stick in it, for the experience firstly, then to tell friends and strangers and strangers as proxy friends, maybe go on to pitch it as a long-form work. The effect of the sun’s rays on the semi-liquid blackness is beautiful in a way. We do not vocalise, mouths stuck in rigid ohs as we ponder the lexicon of disaster.

There will be no humans coming to take our jobs, nothing that convenient. We will not be able to shout at their strange languages and funny clothes. Hard loss pollutes memories, but there will be some recall of this as the epoch when we could have done the solidarity thing, but dodged it for reasons that seemed practical at the time.

Near-dead bird can’t fan off the gloomy gloop, wings now in the hands of those flight non-experts that can be bothered with ideas as old as intervention. Solvents in the water, nothing ever solved but we pass comment, of course. Takes so hot the soles of our shoes melt, molecules creeping towards a water-bound family reunion of sorts.

Slip slapping in as ever, the sea, stoic in just another of its doomsdays. They say the ship’s been plugged. The robots don’t mind either way as they stare into mirrors, aspiring for more convincing emotional reactions. Their makers say the loving machines will clean up messes in future, there will be nothing like this, this all-too human thing. Their creations nod and smile; practice could possibly make perfect. The only sticking point might be price, but we’ll cross that smart bridge when we’ve coded it.

It never mattered that we had no expertise. That ship had sunk and the library had long shut. Not in my day, those thoughts and words that came before, those laughable irrelevances. Speak now or forever something bad. We comment and comment again, wondering if there’s an economic angle to this paragraph or the next. Everyone else is thinking the same thing. We might write about that too – shrink-wrap the new news, string it out to whatever word count is vogue.

It is what it is and a dozen or so other stock phrases for courage. Keep eyes closed, leave all communication devices on the sleeker-than-ever-before sand and do what’s necessary. The time for stepping in was yesterday and you blew it in a long, bad conversation – the only way is out. We walk into the oily water, watery oil, first ankle then waist-deep. The gloopy weight feels a bit like armbands, meaning it’s that time again. It’s time to wonder if it’s OK to feel reassured.

ENDS

 

 

 

 

Gary W. Hartley is from Leeds, but has lived elsewhere for some time. He used to co-edit The Alarmist magazine, and has a book of poems out on Listen Softly London Press. He communicates into the digital void via Twitter: @garyfromleeds

 

 

 

“liminal edgings” by Savannah Slone

Susie Kim
Image by: Susie Kim

liminal edgings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savannah Slone is a queer writer who earned her B.A. in English: Professional and Creative Writing from Central Washington University and is completing her M.F.A. in Writing at Lindenwood University. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared in or will soon appear in Manastash Literary Arts Magazine, Creative Colloquy, Heavy Feather Review, Boston Accent Lit, PaperFox Lit Mag, The Stray Branch, The Airgonaut, Ghost City Press, Sinister Wisdom, decomP magazinE, Maudlin House, FIVE:2:ONE, Foliate Oak, Pidgeonholes, and Luna Luna Magazine. Her debut chapbook, Hearing the Underwater, is forthcoming publication at Finishing Line Press. Savannah lives in Skykomish, WA, where she works a handful of part-time jobs and cares for her toddler with autism. She enjoys reading, writing, knitting, hiking, and talking all things intersectional feminism.

“WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE GREAT FISH CAME GNAWING?” by Cavin Bryce

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“To Bloom Not Bleed” by The White Deer

The Earth existed then as one all consuming ocean spotted with a single island near the equator. It was a thin strip of sand only four feet in length at its widest point, but warm and soft so the native boys never complained. The sky was only ever perfectly covered in thick, morphing clouds. It rained incessantly.

On this island lived a pack of feral boys, the last of the humans. Their skin was honey colored, a hue reminiscent of sunlight refracted through amber. The boy’s sported differentiating features spare their skin tone; the colors of their eyes, shapes of their bodies, and thickness of their hair all varied greatly

In front of their beach was the ocean and behind it existed a world of vines and trees. Eyes of all sizes watched them from both the ocean and the forest. This observation was constant. Sometimes, these glaring eyes carried voices with them, starving voices from a dead world. If ever they wandered too far into the brush, or the ocean, the boys were quickly hunted and ripped to shreds by the monsters that watched them from afar.

At first the boys would travel deep into the jungle, swim out into the blue expanse of the ocean, in an attempt to uncover any evidence of their forgotten past that may still remain undamaged. Many of them perished during those endeavors, and the curiosity of the remaining children was eventually made obsolete by the drive to live. Their food sources were thinned to tiny fish, the children of colossus parents, and an assortment of berries. The boys ripped into the slick bodies of fish with a near animal instinct and consumed everything raw; scales, flesh, bones, and fins, everything but the eyes. Even the youngest of the pack would snap the head off of whatever he could catch and slurp their organs up savagely.

Water was collected in crudely woven baskets, or in containers that washed onto their shore. The largest of these containers was labelled: 2% Skimmed Fat. It held a lot of water.

 

 

One of the boys was named Gardner. He was gentle, with soft eyes and a light touch, one of the few who took initiative to look after the smaller children. One morning he woke up before all the other boys and waded into the shallow water bordering himself and the great beasts. There, he rinsed his hair and stared into the rising sun’s rays. He heard the whispers of lesser creatures, as one always did when they neared the water or forest. They whispered promises of a kingdom in the sky, above the infinitely raining clouds, where he would reside after death. The sirens talked of a place where hunger and pain didn’t exist, where the sun kissed your skin. Amidst these whispers came a great booming voice that drowned out the lesser creatures.

“It’s over,” the dominating voice said.

“What is?” Gardner thought.

“Your life. Your species.”  Gardner scoffed. Nothing could reach them on the shores.

“Come, boy, swim out here and see what is left of your people.”

He hesitated, straightening himself in the shallow water.

“Come, come and see why you are so content on your puny island.”

  ⧫

The rest of the boys awoke to see the eldest of them paddling out into the ocean. They screamed bloody murder at their comrade. His name, Gardner, clung to the moisture in the air, vibrated with the force of their confusion and sadness. He hoped, as he paddled, that they would be safe without him.

When Gardner reached the trench he turned to the shore of his beach. He could see nothing but a blur, heard nothing but distant screeches and pleads. When he looked down into the ocean, he saw nothing but an encompassing blackness and jagged rocks. As he plummeted into the water, deeper and deeper, there still was nothing but rock and water.

“You lied to me,” he thought, “there’s nothing here.”

“And that is what’s left. My siblings and I, along with the boars and great apes, consumed your civilization long ago. Out of sheer pity, we have allowed your pack to survive all this time on that pitiful island.”

Dead, glowing eyes each the size of the moon appeared suddenly from the blackness. Beneath them, a mouth cracked opened and revealed aisles of jagged teeth that emulated, in size and shape, an ancient mountainscape.

“We can’t stand to see life so idle any longer. Before you were demolished, your people found meaning in activity. It is cruel to keep you like this, unchanging and unmotivated.”

It was hard to admit, but the beast was right. Day after day the boys ate, washed themselves, and played. Then the next day they did it again. It was all without purpose, without an ounce of understanding.

Inside the intestines of the monster, Gardner saw entire cityscapes in crumbles. There were vehicles and neighborhoods, even entire islands floating in gastric acid. Memories of a time long ago flooded Gardner’s brain. He remembered his brother, his mother.  He hoped that this beast would take his home in one fell swoop and that none of this brothers would feel any pain. There was the slightest feeling of hope, as his last breath oozed from his lips, that he would see them again in that place where it never rains.

Tet @ the Coffee Shop by Tini Ngatini

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Image by: Bryan MacNeill, friend of author

Viet Nam has changed my relationship with coffee shops. They used to be a space where I worked and entertained my friends. Then, recently, they became a sort of anthropological space where I encountered a religious event which brought me to another level of appreciation and respect for local culture.

That local culture is called Tet. The Coffee shop where I encountered is called ABC.

The ABC coffee shop in Ha Noi, Viet Nam is a fusion of Asian and Western atmosphere. It has some Western characteristics like those found in Starbucks and some that might only be found in Viet Nam. By the former I mean comfy-soft seats, satisfying internet connection, people sitting by themselves with eyes fixated on a laptop or book with earphones on, casual outfits of course. Meanwhile, the latter characteristics are that the majority customers [mostly female] are wearing nice clothes, nice shoes and makeup on. Also, 90% of the Vietnamese customers are in a group with friends or family. The activity they engage in the coffee shop itself ranges from chatting, playing board games, holding a meeting, chilling with their lovers, napping, or eating sunflower seeds, or even just playing with their phones and smoking.

Such contrasting coffee shop features exist side by side at the ABC coffee shop. From my usual seat in the corner I can see a few European-looking customers in casual outfits. They sit quietly by themselves with eyes glued on their laptop or book and earphones on. And on the left side, just a few steps away, there are groups of three to six Vietnamese customers in lovely outfits gathered around a rather large table, lavishly chatting and laughing, or watching something on YouTube without earphones attached. You are most likely familiar with the kind of scene on the right. But, the one on left could elicit a glance or two out of curiosity. Or, it could be out of slight irritation that makes the glance more a “can you please tone it down” gesture. But, if you have been living in Viet Nam long enough, you might just be okay with it.

At lunchtimes, the whole of Viet Nam goes quiet. Between 12 and 2 pm, it’s nap time for the Vietnamese in general. Vietnamese customers who come during these hours are often by themselves, popping in to take a rest on the comfy sofa areas; or, if they don’t fancy a nap, they take a moment to rest, munching on sunflower seeds, eating food they brought or ordered from outside.

Such are the common views to be found at the ABC Coffee.  These scenes have been on my mind a lot recently, and have made me see coffee shops in a completely different light. Indeed, it all changed on the second day of Tet when, coincidently, I was at the ABC. That day not only upgraded my relationship with cafes to another level; it also helped me see the beauty inherent in the local tradition called Tet.

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Image by: Bryan MacNeill, friend of author

Tet, short for Tet Nguyen Da, is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival.  It is usually celebrated either in January or February, depending on when the first day of New Year in Lunar Calendar arrives. During Tet, all businesses are closed for seven to ten days, which makes it near impossible to hunt down open restaurants and coffee shops. My landlord even advised me to ‘stock up’’ on supplies before the festival began, such is the extremity of the situation!  Here in Ha Noi, People get busy preparing for Tet about a week before the actual holiday. At this time, found ubiquitously across the city are ‘new year gates’. These are banners exclaiming  the new year greeting “Chuc mung Nam Moi,” reminding locals and visitors alike that Tet is just around the corner.

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Image by: Bryan MacNeill, friend of author

Inside the cities, pavements are transformed into temporary marketplaces, selling flowers and plants associated with Tet celebration such as Cherry Blossom, Apricots, and oranges.  Shopping malls are flooded with people hunting for new clothes to be worn on the new year, ornaments to decorate their houses, and foods for Tet. It is also one of the best times for shopping, as every store offers discounts of up to 70%. With all these activities going on, the traffic becomes even more chaotic than usual. Vehicles move at a snail’s pace, Tet plants and decorations balancing precariously atop wobbling motorbikes. Take a gander around the streets during Tet and, you will spot houses, offices and other public spaces decorated with red and yellow ornaments such as lampion, flower, plants, small flags and, of course, the Viet Nam flag.

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Image by: Bryan MacNeill, friend of author

Meanwhile, inside people’s houses, families become preoccupied with cleaning the house and ancestor altars, and preparing continual offerings for the ancestors’ spirits from the last day of the year to the third day of the new year. The offerings they prepare during these times of the year are more special than the usual type of offerings people do twice a month. The offering during Tet has more flowers and fresh food every day. The women of the house are expert at preparing both these offerings and the special Tet dishes such as Bánh chưng.  Most often, the whole family also go on visits to the family members’ and ancestor’s graveyards before Tet. They go to clean the graveyard, to pour some water over it, to spread flower petals over the graveyard, or leave flowers at the feet of the tomb. And, of course they pray for them.

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Image by: Bryan MacNeill, friend of author

On the first day of the New Year itself, people gather with their family to exchange “lucky envelopes (money?)”—a Tet themed envelope with paper money in it, starting from 10,000 dong to any number you want to put.  This exchange is viewed as the most important Tet ritual because the lucky envelope represents the wish for a prosperous and lucky year ahead . A native Hanoian told me about it at length:

“That envelope represent for lucky money means you will have more money, Successful, basically it’s the same as wealth. It based on unreal story from China. Like Chinese they have a story about it, mainly to put a ring of coin to the children during new year so evil may not touch them. If you tell this original story from Chinese to any Vietnamese, they will refuse, and say that they never heard of it. And not many Vietnamese ever heard of it. [It’s] Vietnamese culture but not many people thinking as it was in Chinese in the past. We turned into our own way long time ago Vietnamese understanding. They [Vietnamese] give envelope, not because of reasons as they did in china. They [Vietnamese] give envelope to all age Not only children….”

“…. But in the past [in Viet Nam], it supposed to be coin, not paper money like nowadays Envelope. We switched to paper money 100 years ago. may be. Since I was small we did not use coin. Until I was 13, 2003 or 2004. But, they switched back to coin again. They did 1 time, but it last 2 years, people don’t like to keep it cause it heavy and not convenient. So they switch back to paper. May be 14 years ago. They produce coins for 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, but it lasted for 1-2 years. [because] at the same time we still had 1000, 2000 paper money. People rarely use coin. So, 2 years after, government took coins back and never used them again.   The main thing about [lucky] envelope is the way Vietnamese use it is different from Chinese one [that Vietnamese give envelope not only to children]. Even now, Chinese also give envelope to all age.”

She explained that older members of the family give lucky envelopes to younger members. For instance, “my grandpa will give lucky envelopes to my mom and me and my brother. Then my mom will also give envelopes to my grandpa.” The exchange moves downward: her mom then will give lucky envelopes to their children. Similarly, older siblings in the family often the same to their young ones. This ritual also extends toward children in their neighborhood who may visit during this period.

Another important ritual people engage in the first day of Tet is buying salt. It symbolizes a hope for prosperous year ahead. “Why salt?”, I asked a Vietnamese friend of mine.

“…You know in Viet Nam we have this saying đu năm mua mui, cui năm mua vôi meaning buy salt in the beginning of the year, buy lime at the end. Vôi is lime. Like cacao, they usually use to paint the wall..it will help to erase bad things, bad spirit they believe, that’s why usually bought at the end of the year, aiming to let go all the bad things. Buying salt at the beginning of the year will bring luck to the house and help family members to be more connected, to live in harmony. and we also use it in rituals in Pagoda, salt is something you can never live without.”

On the second and third days, people put on their new clothes and go to the Pagodas to pray for a lucky year. Another Vietnamese friend of mine says, “people start going to the Pagodas to pray on the New Year Eve, usually after watching the firework displays.”   During these days people also visit friends, usually already having met their relatives at the grandparents’ house on the first day., So if you happen to be in Viet Nam on these Tet days, you would see many people in their nice clothes on the streets,  or you would see houses widely opened, showing scenes of  families chatting and enjoying the delicious Tet delicacies.

It was on the second day of Tet, at the ABC coffee shop, that I accidentally participated in such a special moment. I came there with my usual intention to grab a coffee and get some work done. As it was still Tet celebration, they opened only the first floor.

I sat at the very end of the room. There was not much going on in the coffee shop; a few customers sat at the other end of the room, playing with their phones. After a while, the owner of the ABC came in with two men. They sat at the table two chairs away from me. I saw them talk with one another; I didn’t take too much notice.  Then my eyes stumbled upon the cookies and cakes on their table. Wait a minute, I thought to myself; they are not customers. I took my eyes off my book and subtly threw intermittent glances at their direction.  The two guests spoke to the ABC owner respectfully, making a slightly bowing head movements as they talked. Finally, they shook his hands, stood up, and left. They must be either friends or relatives of the ABC owner, I concluded. And those cakes, cookies, and beverages on the table are amongst Tet food I have read online.  It then clicked in my head: This place, after all, is also where the ABC owner and his family live. And today is the second day of Tet. People are supposed to visit their relatives or friends.

As I held my gaze, observing this interaction, a palpable and yet unnamable feeling seeped in. I am participating in Tet ritual, I thought to myself. I somehow did not feel like a customer at that very moment. The fact that ABC is also the residential place for its owner suddenly became interesting to me. I think it was the familiar living room format of the coffee shop which facilitated me to have such an insider experience of that Tet’s ritual: the living room has no partition whatsoever. It put me in the same space with the guests. The proximity made the experience intimate, as if in some way I was part of the family.

Later that day, on my way home, I had a similar feeling when I saw a father and a son in their suits riding bicycles (presumably to visit their relatives or friends).  There was a certain kind of beauty that emanates from the two men in suits on their bicycles; it was a precious moment to witness I felt humbled and embarrassed at the same time just by seeing their dedication to their cultures. In the past, I’ve personally done anything I can to escape participating in similar social conventions involving family visits. I was leaning toward some of my Vietnamese friends who see Tet rituals as unpractical considering the money you spent on flowers and food, especially for offerings, that will end up at the dumpster next day.

But in this moment, I could see the social power and functions of local culture such as Tet for people who hold on to it.  In the case of Tet, its significance lies in its religious element. The religious aspect of Tet is encapsulated in the activities of praying and giving donations to the temple some people engage in, in the offerings to the ancestors’ spirits in the house, in the visits to the ancestors’ graves, and in other forms of reverence one pays to the elderly.  These are religious activities as far as they centered around the idea of Divine other in the form of spirit and its celestial virtues. One may argue that these religious gestures are what Pure Land Buddhist Shinran and Honen referred to as the ‘miscellaneous acts’. Majority Buddhists in Viet Nam are Pure Land Buddhist, after all. Within this view, the religious gestures themselves are meant to evoke good karma. They are activities which are believed to bring one closer to and/or to enter divine realm [the Pure Land]. Yet, not the one which result in the rebirth in the Pure Land.

The offerings, the flowers, foods, and money sacrifices and other forms of reverence appear to be a simple way to pray to god. It is so simple that it often deceives us into thinking of it as unintelligible, superstitious, or even devoid of reason. So, it is no surprise if some people may suggest an abandonment of traditional religious practices on this basis. This simple way to salvation seems similar to the bhakti yoga [devotion]. It exists presumably to accommodate to followers who, for one reason or another, have no access to the other two means to salvation which are claimed to be more sophisticated. The first is what the Bhagavad Gita refers to as jnana yoga, the way to know God through knowledge [philosophy in Platonic sense]. And the other is karma yoga, the knowing god through work.

I think it is safe to say that local cultures such as Tet have a certain degree of intelligibility and practicality. They may be simple and repetitive, and yet they are not devoid of reason. On the contrary, local cultures can be important assets for countries which are on the journey to become “modern”:  they can offer something that might complement modern values and other forms of progress they wish to adopt. That is so, especially because modernity may come with unexpected results such as social or spiritual alienation. It is these possible alienations which the continuing practice of local cultures might be able to answer. Last but not least, their simplicities fit modern people who have limited time for more sophisticated and intellective practices, such as meditation and philosophy related practices.

A Conversation Between Three Entities: The Face, The Witness & The Viewer

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The Witness: Why do you cry?

The Face: Because, I see.

The Witness: What do you see?

 

::  The Face stares back for a time where The Witness thought to itself ‘until Kingdom-Come, when will it speak?” The Face’s eyes weld up with the deepest sorrow yet the greatest joy with a mouth closed and an unbreakable silence. Then, The Face let out a heavy sigh. ::

 

The Face: I am a Seer

My eyes pour

So, my third eye may shine

It is the diamond of my mind

It cries…

Dripping down from the center-to-the-center

Into a dewy pastel place of pale blues, greens, teals and pinks

Entering into the richest purples

I am not alone…because, You, The Viewer sees

You too are The Seer with eyes that pours like a prismatic liquid rain

The Viewer: I couldn’t make out what you were trying to say, at first. When you were staring back at me as I defined all of your edges and making you more prominent in form. So you would eventually speak to me. And yes, I said “Eventually”— At least, it would and will happen than never.

The Face: I just wanted to protect you.

The Viewer: From whom?

The Face: You, my dear.

The Viewer: Why didn’t you just come talk to me. Now you seem to have a posed caring condescension in your tone.

The Witness: I am ready to listen to you, now.

The Face: At Last…

You have placed me upon your shelf as I collected dust and you even meshed me up with some prized junk

Just. like. a. leftover…

It is okay that you don’t always know what I am trying to say straight away

Such like Lovers need space in between their intimacy.

The Viewer: I want to know, I want to be aware.

The Witness: But, ‘Mono no aware.’

The Face: You also need to be in a space that is ready to receive me

I will indeed communicate my meaning and you may or may not be in a place to listen

You may pretend like you did not know

You’ve been ignoring me the second you were done with me

Look where my external body rests now

The Witness: How? I work with you almost every day, face to face, hand to hand and I get nothing. Just talk to me. What do I need to know? It’s so cruel. You make me work without acknowledgement to my heart…What about my mind or body?

The Viewer: Too many rules…

The Face: You are only ruled if you are blind

Begin to…

Taste with your ears

See with your tongue

Feel with your nose

Listen with your eyes

Breathe with your heart

The Witness: You’re saddened?

The Viewer: Why so…?

The Face: Perhaps it is tragic when

You have forgotten about you and me

Us.

We are one in the same, we are one

In your forgetfulness, you have forgotten how much I deeply-deeply-deeply love you

I handpicked everything about you

I knew just who you were, who you are and who you have yet to become

Your beauty surpasses all physicality

Your truth goes beyond into other beyonds

You are Love

Your purpose is to love

Your greatest obstacle is to Love yourself as if You were Me and I am You.

 

The Face“The Face” by MMM
 8″ x 10″ Acrylic Paint on Canvas, circa 2018

“Not on my lips anymore” by Elisabeth Horan

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Image by Nydia Lilian

Your sexual preference is the strand
of spider web across my eyes
this morning,

Annoyed, I swipe
it away; it is perfect and persistent;
it laughs at my effort, yet
doesn’t let go.

My wanting you is for what –
I don’t know – as if new clothes
would make me

Somehow happier – more complete –
as if a male outfit
could dress me less like a pauper,

More like the butch empress who shuns the
requisite lesbian clothes

Our time was not for naught but smacks
of chocolate mints after dinner,
you want one so badly
especially after ordering only a salad –

In the parking lot
a well meaning couple,
(whichever one you choose)
says,

There’s a little something on
your face,

And I know it so well, brown and green –
the warmth of it: smears just like our body parts.

I still pray for us, reunited, but your taste is
not on my lips,
not on my lips,
not on my lips –
anymore.

 

 

 

Follow Elisabeth Horan on Twitter @ehoranpoet

“How a Girl is Born Brutal” by Weslyn Rae Newburn

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Image by Ignacio Cobo More

 

 

I spent the summer pretending
my legs were confined in a sheath
of iridescent scales, swimming with
eyes closed, nose pinched tightly shut.

The burn of chlorine in my throat,
greasy shine of sunscreen on my shoulders,
cool juiciness of lemon yellow freezy-pops,
that tasted nothing like real lemons.

That summer my bitterness festered
like the smashed green anoles on the back porch.
Guinea wasps stirred in my Pepsi
and I didn’t feel sorry for them.

Your forgotten girl, I prayed
for the sun to scald and blister you –
make you shrivel up like watermelon seeds
in hot, dry crabgrass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weslyn Rae Newburn lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Her work has previously appeared in The Eyrie, The Blue Hour, The Blue Hour Anthology: Volume ThreeAlong the Forgotten Coast: Selected Poems, and Alphanumeric. She likes film photography and collecting roadkill to create spooky stuff. To read more of Weslyn’s work, please visit: weslynrae.webs.com.