Fiction / March 2015 (Issue 27)

Getting Here

by Henry Wei Leung

From the snow I walk into Angell Hall and see a hot girl and the euphemism hot registers as a sensory warmth which is the same hot of spicy food and the language nodes in my cerebral cortex cannot ape the difference between the three. It's all stimuli. A squirrel eats anxiously nearby, rises hind-legged like a tyrannosaurus; one mile away a deer causes traffic to stop and a man to sigh; all three have radiation in their bodies from the bomb still in Hiroshima. The cloud shoots up in my mind again from a collective of depictions. A leaf in another country falls into a lone man's cup, becomes the impetus of tea. James Burrill Angell goes to China to negotiate opium dues by holding emigrants at Pacific-arm's-reach.

My mother's father sends fistfuls of lard across the border from Hong Kong and parcels of leaves wrapped in paper. My mother makes a memory of this and keeps it for me in California. She marches north to Tiananmen for Mao in the snow and never makes it and I carry vacuum-sealed Peking Duck on a plane home. I walk into Angell Hall and I wear pink pants my mother the widow sews and I wear them in a photograph and I am six years old. I lean against the Buddhist swastikas along the column's base while summer ants widen like a river delta all around me, bulbous and abundant at the seams.

We are bulbous and abundant and may one day find a form in language for eternal presence. I teach my students in Hong Kong to write wish poems using the subjunctive the conditional the retrospective but this is wrong, this is corrected English and is wrong for them. They write their wishes into the same present tense as the wishing itself. (I wish my mom is a magician.) (I wish I have a silly sister.) (I wish people don't think I'm weird.) The wish is desired and is.

I sit on a gym bench watching round fourteen of Ali-Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila while sucking spit from my mouthguard. I sit on a bus called the Lucky Leprechaun telling the story of the fight to a girl I love with a paperback of lies in her lap and I am sixteen. (I wish boys and girls get along because I don't want to fight.) I am nineteen and not in love and twenty-six and press my palm against the marble lap of James Burrill Angell and no one knows me here. At a given time I am homeless somewhere and no one knows me there. I am the ocean floor a low tide unfurls, I am the caverned smell of stew in a house on another shore.

I am another and another. I have known question marks the way fingers wrap around a smooth woman's legs on the beach.

I shake the doors off Angell Hall and graduate as a robin forms its nest, bounding in circles to puff and smooth an inner edge.

I am in California again. I am again and again.

I am waiting for a bus to Chinatown—where I get my hair cut by retired gangsters—when a man pulls his bicycle onto the curb and says my father's name. Then he corrects himself. He asks if I ever knew my father, who died before all these memories I've boxed inside me. Surely I know of more memories than that. The sun is so strong it uncurtains the tint of the man's sunglasses and his eyes swim like something still alive in amber. I am the thing my father left, not yet his age, mistaken for him by a classmate from a village in that other world. Longing is a country where all ghosts look like mine. We watch the bus come and we let it go. I answer his questions as best as I can. But the knowing is greater than what I can know. And I never quite get there, I never do.

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