"Handbook for a Survivor" by Valerie Stemac

After “A Handbook for the Blind” by Darren Morris

1. This is nobody's fault; except that it is. So start by finding someplace to put your anger. Your therapist will tell you to conceptualize a box to put it in and a shelf to put the box on so that the angry and the sad don't come sneaking out over coffee and make your friends feel uncomfortable.

2. You only have two options: tell your lovers or don't. Each has its unique downsides. A careful lover is possibly the most effective way to make you feel broken.

3. At some point you might find yourself in a rental car in the middle of the Arizona desert at a gas station that is the only visible human construct, losing the last bit of careful from your lover’s embrace. This will make you feel even more broken.

4. There is a third option that you may only come to after repeatedly finding yourself alone. Be alone.

5. When you start to refer to the whiskey as your friend, it is time to reassess your thread of attempts to fill the loneliness.

6. It is natural to believe that your body is the only part of you of value. Some lovers will not understand that you offer your most precious possession. You will eventually learn that even your valuable body is insufficient to secure affection.

7. Most people will not want to be around you. This is not their fault; the heaviness of your insecurities is too much of a burden to place on anyone. Your constant need for reassurance and security is draining. Limit your expectations so when they leave it does not come as a shock.

8. Certain kinds of quiet signify death rather than peace. In your search for peace, make sure that you are not sitting quietly in death.

9. There will be moments when you feel so much of you has been used up that you may no longer exist. Resist the urge to lay silently in an empty room. Find a loud place, maybe one full of children. Touch something cold or alive.


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Valerie Stemac is an artist and writer living in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. She has performed on stage at Dodge Poetry Festival, The Torpedo Factory, and The Lansburgh Theatre in Washington DC. In 2016 she served as Veteran Artist in Residence At Workhouse Arts Center and currently facilitates creative writing with military veterans for Warrior Writers.  

Posted on November 10, 2017 .

"Time x Love" by Rebekah Chan

When you stare at something for too long, your vision gets fuzzy. Or does it? Things are obvious at first sight: a tree, a leaf, a mountain, a person. You see shapes and lines, definition and certitude. Certainty is found in an object’s edges. The knife-like ends of a leaf, the unwavering bulk of a tree trunk. I cannot shake this tree, you think. I cannot move this mountain, you believe. This feeble leaf cannot hurt me, you say. Convictions, lines, limits. 

You rest in this found meaning, using the curve of a leaf as a hammock as the sturdy branches of the tree cradle you from falling. But perception, like certainty, can change over time. You take for granted the sound of the rain, the weight of a mountain, or the steadfast affections of a lover. And soon, soon, as definition is defined, lines disperse, meaning becomes unclear. 

Do you still love me?

***

The location of a kiss can vary its meaning drastically: eyes, forehead, cheek, nape. A kiss usually starts on the lips and then falls to the nape, joyfully indulging in the sensuous pleasure of a lover. After, it will return to the origin, the lips, before a side-step and shuffle to the cheek. Eventually, the kiss finds its way to the forehead as the ultimate declaration of unselfish love. The Christians called it agape. The Buddhists called it metta

***

Kimchi begins as cabbage. Cut the cabbage lengthwise into halves and then add a little salt, much more water and then soak the cabbage in this brine so it will be ready and receptive to becoming kimchi. Allow the cabbage to bathe in the salty water overnight. Ensure that it is entirely submerged. In the morning, check to see that the cabbage is soft to the touch and graceful in its bend. This is how you know it is ready.  

Now, make a paste with the other ingredients: red chili flakes, salted anchovies, chopped green onions, and more salt. Combine this red paste by mixing and massaging it all over the cabbage with your hands. After the cabbage is completely covered in the mixture, pack it in a clear, protected, sealed container, like a jar with an airtight lid. Leave this container at room temperature and allow the fermentation process to slowly take place.   

At first, it will be difficult to discern if anything is happening, but have faith and patience. Korean women have perfected this process for thousands of years diligently transferring love, taste, color and strength from the palms of their hands and the fiery red pepper flakes into the limp, limpid cabbage. It is a rigorous process that requires rest for completion. 

Depending on how warm or cool the air is where you live, you may have to wait for a few days or even longer. But soon, very soon, tiny bubbles appear as a sign that a transformation has taken place, a sign that the cabbage has started to become Kimchi. 

And the appearance: the cabbage will now blush a bright coral, like lobster or shrimp, indicating that the flavor and essence of the pepper flakes have been received.  

The longer the kimchi has fermented, the truer, more authentic it tastes; the sharper, more sour, more pungent, the acquired taste of Kimchi will possess. Korean women rarely give away their kimchi recipes and even if they did, recipes are an equal mix of history, ingenuity, instinct, discernment and intuition. This love, this labor, is equally a process of discovery, mastery and finally, generosity when you serve and feed someone your kimchi.   

***

How could you have known, my love? That it would be like this? Like that time we strolled through Aoyama Cemetery for my first hanami season while living in Japan. We were about to get married and you looked like a Korean movie star dressed in your grey suit and black trench coat. I skipped and swung your hand as we walked through the silent path of tombs and pink petals floating down from old trees. And this scene, this time, this love, is the love I keep coming back to, keep writing about, keep thinking about. 

Somewhere along that path, we buried Norah, our daughter who was born, but never lived. We buried her heartbeat, her tiny body with my face, my lips. We buried our dreams, our pain, our life with her deep within the ground. 

Everlasting is such a foolish word, my love. Even cherry blossoms bloom so they can die. Along that path, we kissed and loved and fought hard not knowing, but thinking we knew. 

Looking back, I see. I see that this is place we started walking together in Singapore, and this is the place we were married eight years ago in Canada. And see this is the place we buried Norah, in Hong Kong. This is the place we died. 

***

Sand is mainly composed of silicon dioxide, in the form of quartz. When time and weather disintegrate rocks and stones, crystals remain as grains of sand. Some grains of sand have travelled thousands of miles to where they are found because of strong winds and rain. While sand is a natural result of erosion, the destruction of things, only the most sturdy and weather resistant materials remain after hundreds, thousands, and in some cases, millions of years after significant abrasion and weathering.

***

And this? This is the place we kept walking, together, holding hands among the flowers and the tombstones. 


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From Toronto, Canada, Rebekah has lived in Asia for over 10 years. She holds an MFA from City University in Hong Kong and served as the Editor-in-Chief for the anthology, Afterness: Literature from the New Transnational Asia (2016). Rebekah has been published in Entropy, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, and Reed Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on October 27, 2017 .

"Reflections" by Mark Ari

I don’t know what death is. I don’t believe what anyone says about it, though there are plenty of folks who think they know something. That’s okay. Maybe they know what they think they know. If they know it and feel it strongly enough, then I’m sure such confidence is great for them. It must be comforting.

This last year, I didn’t speak to Mom much. I always called her once a week no matter where I was living in the world. Usually on Sunday. My father sometimes got on the phone. When he did, he was brief. But mom wanted to chat. On the phone or when we saw one another, she’d start the same way. “What’s cookin’, kid?” Before I could answer, she’d sing. A verse or two. Some love song from the fifties. I’d wait until she was done to get on with it. I’m not comfortable on the phone. When the news is good, it feels to me boastful to say it. When the news is bad, it sounds like whining. So she’d ask what I ate that day. Really, Mom? You want to know what I had for breakfast?

People say she is in “a better place.” I try not to wince. I say it, too. To comfort my father. I don’t know what else to say. His dementia is such that he relives losing her every moment of the day. The same questions over and over. She died? When? I wasn’t in bed with her last night? How did she die? Where was I? I couldn’t save her? There was a funeral? Was I there?

Posted on March 10, 2017 .