BY KATHRYN HARGETT
The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as the Westerner. Life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient, and as the philosophy of the Orient expresses it, life is not important.
On the Mekong, Larry Fishburne mistakes Mother’s gook mouth for a bolt-action rifle.
He uncorks her with his Browning machine gun, & she cradles her new bloomed belly: this bizarre, benign thing.
Arrangement in purple & white:
Orchid dilated beside the kitchen window, stalk clipped to a thin wooden post.
Every Saturday, Mother plumps it with ice cubes.
Nurse tells me to strip.
Don’t worry, honey.
I slip the paper gown off my shoulders.
I have three daughters.
My naked shoulder blades groove against the cool, sterile room.
Rest assured, I’ve seen it all.
She glances around, noting scar tissue & bruises on her opaque green clipboard.
I stare at the platoon on the ceiling.
How they clutch the light—
See, Mother says, bringing my finger to her face.
My eyes don’t fold over when I’m tired.
On admission, the patient is casually dressed and groomed older adolescent female.
Speech is clear.
Regular rate and tone.
Thought pattern, no loose association or flight of ideas.
No tangential or circumstantial thinking noted.
How are you feeling today?
Alright, I guess.
On a scale of one to ten?
Three. Why’s that?
It’s my basal state.
Your set point, you mean.
I weigh the same as it.
Could you elaborate?
I just don’t feel well.
Arrangement in green & white:
Reeds & Cahaba lilies along the riverbed, fish flitting beneath the algae.
My yellow face, hazed in the tadpoles.
The ducks’ wings hammer the gook air.
Mother’s black eyes roll back, spit trickling down her chin.
She perceives the people and events in her life in a rather unique manner one that likely reflects her beliefs and expectations rather than the reality that most people attend to.
Mother flattens her hand against mine.
Oh, you’re my daughter. Look—we have the same hands.
Novel on quantum theory:
Chinaman folds perpetually into hospital gown, rhizomal orbs in the glass, cold hall grows long & long & long, wheelchair clicks forever against an endless tile—
Mother folds drier-warmed jeans on the couch.
She watches HGTV intently, nagging the homebuyers as she smooths the denim across her lap.
The cat crawls into the hamper, nests.
Nurse lets me choose six ounces of apple juice or orange juice to take with my antipsychotics.
I opt for orange juice.
After, I open my mouth, stick out my tongue to show its grooves.
I want to shave my head.
Why would you do that to me?
It makes me feel safe.
Mother lolls against Frederic Forrest’s arms.
Martin Sheen says,
I told you not to stop.
A wild boar, grunting—nothing more than an indifferent flick & she gurgles, shudders, & out.
boy says, then slams his fist against the psychiatric window.
Arrangement in black & orange:
Jim Morrison while the jungle burns.
The cymbals, the shin gunto raised, the package ready to drop.
Ray Manzarek chimes downstairs with the washing machine.
She thinks strangely, in a way that is likely to be seen unreasonable or incomprehensible to others.
Novel on quantum theory:
Mother & I: flickering, slant-eyed, yolk-yellow.
Somewhere, we buzz about the glinting white city, Kalashnikovs hacking & yowling.
& somewhere, a man in gold raises his Bowie knife—
all you gooks is the same—
clench our heads by the queue—
Nurse ladles chicken & vegetable stir fry onto my plate, then dumps jasmine rice beside it.
I take my prescribed beige plate & sit alone at the second girl’s table.
The other patients chirp.
I slip my finger beneath the identification band around my wrist, then scoop rice & broccoli into my mouth.
As I chew, Nurse watches & intermittently takes notes, intermittently checks her phone.
The rice is undercooked, the stir fry strangely sweet.
I pretend that my mouth is full of red clay, but Nurse doesn’t notice.
Mother is only a brown field mouse lying between the mangoes & coconuts: perfumed, cheek pressed against the sampan’s omentum, her black hair unspindeling into its lucence.
You overthink these things.
These things happen all the time.
I’ve heard everything & worse.
I just don’t understand.
We Chinamen only kill ourselves when we tuck grenades into a GI’s flak jacket & run, run, run; or when we dip out of the Pacific noon to present a flaming Betty to a cruiser: our savage babble, our love again.
She is passive in her relationships, so it is likely to expect other people or good luck to solve problems for her.
As a result, she may have some unrealistic expectations what other people are willing to do for her.
We sob more for Sam Bottoms’ yellow labrador puppy instead, lost in the jungle’s purple haze.
Where’d the dog go?
Where’s the dog?
surfer boy screams, lifting himself out of the gunner’s pit, gesticulating, hunching back onto the PBR with disheveled golden hair.
We gotta go back & get the dog!
Chinamen do not wade waist-deep into steaming ponds, arms outstretched, Orient Moses among the leatherflowers & vasevines—ready, at last, again—
Mother strokes my head.
Daughter, daughter—remember how you are loved in this world.
The man with the black & gold veteran hat is staring at me.
He grips the side of his chair, his hand shaking as he straightens himself, his lips wrinkled into a scowl.
I run my hand through my dark hair.
I know—I know what you want.
Novel on quantum theory:
A thousand tides pulling the moon.
A thousand griefs pressed into a daughter’s turned back.
A thousand PBRs drifting towards the savagery, the horror.
A thousand dogeaters crouching in the underbrush, heads adorned with lavender stalks.
A thousand that’s not what I meant.
A thousand Chinooks dragged by the wrist off Chinaman’s bleeding nose.
A thousand Sam Bottomses bundling golden puppies on the Mekong.
A thousand anticonvulsants tapped from amber.
A thousand daughters on fire: running, running, running.
Cat excavates the carpet, trilling quietly.
Downstairs, a spatula scrapes eggs across an oiled wok.
Come take your medicine.
Arrangement in red:
Mekong, Yangtze, Cahaba, Yalu.
Gold lobbies, gleaming & hypertrophied.
Mother killed again & again.
What’s in your mouth?
What else have you got in there?
Some Lamictal, maybe.
When can I go home?
Press the button on your way out.
Mother clasps my hand.
[She] is likely to have difficulty developing and maintaining healthy relationships with her peers.
This is in part out of concern about how others will react to her and her difficulty trusting them.
But it’s true—I did cry more for the laborador puppy.
Mother has already died again & again, wrapped in different pelts, different barbarisms curdling her tongue.
& the dog is a representation of innocence, so of course we cry more—of course, the gentle passenger zipped up in Sam’s coat, only to disappear into the smoke of a firefight.
I think I disappoint people.
Why do you say that?
I just think people expect more.
Man on the subway flashes his hand into the air, turning to look at Mother.
The subway uneats its hair.
And that goes for all y’all.
If you don’t like it, you best get the hell out & go right back where you came from.
Arrangement in gray & blue:
My room’s windows frost.
Pedestrians army down the avenue.
They tell me,
Chinaman, Chinaman, go someplace where you won’t be looked at but looked at.
Novel on quantum theory:
The universe in which we amble, buoyant, across mountains & jungles where winter refruits the underbrush, the squares run with seawater instead, & the Valkyries & poppies rescind into their arrangements in white & gray.
Yes, here it is my hand that tells the men to run.
[Her] responses to the Rorschach show few indications of subjective distress while her responses to the MMPI show clear indications of distress and depression.
The difference between these 2 is likely due to [her] reluctance to be more forward in ambiguous situations.
Mother thumbs antiseptic ointment into my calves, my Jupiter eyes.
Oh, why would you do something like this?
What made you want to do this to yourself?
I watch the white ceiling pulse.
Outside, the hills open, too: my own glass rosebays.
& the platoon, the platoon—
Kathryn Hargett is a college kid from Alabama, a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee, and a Kundiman Fellow. Her work has been recognized by Princeton University, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the National YoungArts Foundation, the Alabama Writers Forum, the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom, and others. She is the editor-in-chief of TRACK//FOUR, a literary magazine for people of color. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming from Anomaly, |tap| magazine, the Blueshift Journal, A-Minor Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere.
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