Sitting the Month
Published in The Margins (Asian American Writers Workshop)
These are all birth stories, but I will not tell you mine. Listen to my mother tell it: she likes to say I am a drain and all my children water. The bathtub too small for her meloned belly, the steam ghosting her face. I feel like a vegetable in the pot. Our father installed the bathtub when she complained of showering, how she could barely stand when her belly was so big. It’s true: we stooped her, weathered her. Our births opened her body like an umbrella. My mother has never gotten her period. She claims she got pregnant by pushing chicken eggs inside herself, and that’s why we’ve grown up so fast: we have the lifespans of chickens. She laughed when she said it, but I cried every night for months. Our oldest hen was 14. My brother called me a bentang, said if I didn’t die at 14 he would kill me then himself. The year my cousin Kiwi was born, I turned five. I was too old to be bathed by others, but I liked to be touched clean, to watch the water dye itself dirty. My brother bathed me and was gentle, though I knew what his hands could do. I named the hens and he killed them. That was the order of things. I bathed Kiwi myself, practiced motherhood like lines in a movie. I wrote imaginary subtitles for our bath scenes: Daughter bathes baby in lime soap and water. She never lets the water gets cold, uses her own spit when the soap runs out. Daughter knows this is not her baby, but still washes him as if he were her own body. Daughter knows this is not her son, but still secretly calls him my son. Daughter knows she is not a chicken, but is still waiting for slaughter.
Meals for Mourners/兄弟
Published in Nashville Review
He was going to be a physicist, he told us, though he was the oldest person in his class and this was his second time going back to school. He tried to teach us all the principles of physics, like a body in motion stays in motion. He liked to demonstrate all his lessons: once, he held Second brother by his shirt collar and rolled him down our hardwood staircase. Second brother’s body kept going even after his head bounced off the bottom stair. He slid across our newly-waxed floor and ricocheted off the far wall. Then he was still. A body at rest stays at rest, Baba said. Second brother didn’t wake up until dinner. He said he’d dreamed of swimming in a sea made of sugarwater instead of saltwater, that he gave up swimming halfway and started drinking, the sweetness of the water clotting to sap in his belly. We asked him where he’d been swimming and he said he forgot.
After the car accident on his 18th birthday, the first thing Second brother remembered was that time Baba bowled him down the stairs when he was ten. A body in motion stays in motion. When he hit the other car head on, his body kept moving forward and punched through the front windshield. He lolled out like a tongue. The paramedics extracted him from the glass but kept the shard in his belly intact: if they pulled it from him, he’d bleed out in seconds. What was killing him was the same thing keeping him alive.
Mazu recalls her births
Published in The Indianapolis Review
Sonning is thirsty work. A father threads himself through his wife’s eye, stitches her flat against the dark. The groanwork of gutting. Six daughters stacked in the next room, the seventh now: hammered out of meat. A mother’s minor blood. A father’s earth-salty hands. The god clapping their bodies together, calling it applause. A pause. Then his finish, her hiltless body. Later, a head bobbing in her bath. Birth so painless she thinks she’s only wet herself. But she’s birthed a head without a body, a girl’s. The mother plants the head in a rice paddy, prays it will grow back a boy.