by Amanda Mei Kim
Beyond the tar stained sands, coral takes root on a sunken U-boat, a bed of algae
grows around a bleached tennis shoe, the rubber peeling away from the soaked
canvas. The planet tries to keep pace despite the humans.
The people recycle their stories instantly, no time to assign names or transfer
myths. A fourteen-year-old boy killed a dozen people, “the gunman,” they called
him, the same name as the boy who killed six the month before.
They used to assign powerful, distinct names: the Ripper, the Brooklyn Vampire,
the Angel of Death, the Son of Sam, the Zodiac Killer. Now, there are no more
phantoms, just anonymous flagpersons signaling the path, ambiguous and
The victims are forgotten entirely, they are immersed in a flash of ink, their limbs
flail, their auras turn black and then the light moves on to another unknown.
Not even diseases have names, scattered letters and numbers. Where has all the
exotic gone, when we can no longer languish under the carrier winds with a
missionary in a linen suit at our side?
Killing is now understood as something that happens in batches, to villages and
countrysides, peninsulas, and continents. Planes fall from the sky, cruise ships
carry swimming pools full of legionella, a processing plant sends e. Coli to the far
quarters by train and truck and barge.
Death is produced in factories for the masses.
LOST LANGUAGE: BUILDINGS
I look out the window, seeing the city as it should be seen, from a moderate
height, not looking down at unadorned rooftops with gaping vents and spewing
fans. Nor from below, with the city, a series of tall obstacles and crowded arteries.
The view from the third floor is perfect. Across the street is the church with the
glowing marble steps and lantern towers. I don’t know what all the decorations on
our house represent. Not the garland on the crest above the door, nor the diamond
pattern on the floor boards, or the six-paneled doors. They all belong to another
language and their meaning is lost. A cherub in the church’s alcove holds a bowl
full of what? Milk or water? Stripped of myth. These all had meaning once, and
not so long ago. In the distance, skyscrapers rise up, all concrete and
glass—impossible to adorn with anything but flat billboards and LED lights.
I could place my lips on the barrel of the syringe and fill his arm with my breath
like a balloon. He shows me his antique gold and silver needles, with their bevels
and lumens which were designed to deliver opiates to the painful points. “It was
invented for neuralgia sufferers,” he said, “but that’s not what’s wrong with us,
we’re stricken with grief, nostalgia.”
“But not for long!” He sweeps up his leather kit and heads toward the bathroom to
fill the tub with warm water and bubbles. “Come on,” he says. And I follow. He
opens the case and the needles look like a string of blow darts. He squeezes my
bicep and taps at a vein.
“No,” I tell him, “I’m ok.”
He winks at me, “I think you have a touch of nostalgia too.”
“I’m alright,” I say pulling my arm away.
“Come on, we all have it, a little bit.”
Driving through the desert night, a soft keening sound comes from the crack in the
window and I can see planets in the black sky, the farmer Saturn, floating
Neptune, peripatetic Pluto and Calvado trading Mercury. In my father’s last hour,
it was suddenly clear to him, what he needed to do, not end his life, but fulfill it.
He jumped into the sea to save my mother. All that is mortal can fit in a shoebox
and placed in a wall niche.
But enough of it, will hold a ship upright. It is the pulverized bodies dug up after
an earthquake that kept the ships from tipping as they plowed into the sea.
After the earthquake, they dragged tons of rubble and debris, cooking pots, broken
glass, pottery shards and unnamed uncounted human skeletons, to the shipyard,
filling ship hulls with human dust instead of the lead they could’t afford or didn’t
want to when they had unlimited access to a free and natural resource, the bones
of China men, women and children.
One way or another—by time, human error, unfathomable winds—the ships
delivered their packets of stone, mortar, bone and household trash to the sea.
Another hundred miles, still moonlit desert, passing groves of Joshua trees with
their arms outstretched in a grim slow dance, a retreating dance. Somewhere
nearby, they chopped down the oldest living thing on earth, a short gnarled pine
tree named Methuselah for further study.
ON THE NARRENSCHIFF
When they stare death in the face, when they walk right into it, people often think
they are blessed, how can they not be? The one who faces her deepest fear must
prevail because it is the fear itself that is supposed to be the final test, that little
voice that says, no, you’re not ready, it can’t be done.
Unfortunately, ropes still break, concrete crumbles, roofs collapse, flames climb
thin walls. In that moment, when you’ve actually turned yourself around, no other
logic exists, not the kind that measures the actual distance between a treetop and
the ground, or witnesses the frayed spot on a rope, or sees that an oddly-shaped
bulge in a pocket is really a gun, or that the person across from you has also
turned around and you two are now squarely in death’s grip, trapped in a hero’s
tale, and can see no other way out. Shoot first.
The narrenschiff turns slowly against gales, and even in calm waters, but it turns
given enough time. Forests will grow back, an apology will be made. Names will
be offered and even murder will be personal again. Don’t I know you?
Amanda Mei Kim is a fourth-generation Californian and experimental writer. She received her BA in American Civilization from Brown University and her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She was a recipient of the James D. Phelan Literary Award. Amanda completed residencies at Yefe Nof, Hedgebrook, the Fine Arts Work Center, and was selected by Ursula K. LeGuin for the Flight of the Mind Workshop. She grew up on a family farm and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently, she is working on a novel about the caretakers of the earth.