7 tagged with #gbff

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these days, i feel haunted by stories i'll never fully extract from the earth. each tree that grows casts off leaves into the wind, bits of fiber and carbon that settle into the mud some distance away. i feel hardening bark, gnarling roots, a surface crawling with ants, fresh buds chewed off by hungry squirrels. i'm hungry, too, but i cannot share their food.

i come home sometimes to hemlock boughs littering the yard, yellowed needles sucked dry by clusters of adelgids. these hemlocks were planted here by humans, anyway; a ruled straight line between two properties, as if the trees would obey those boundaries and never grow large enough to pry up concrete. they never knew that a disease would wipe them all out at once. in the summers, when i park in the driveway, i look up at the sparsely branched trees and wonder if there is a safe place beneath them. i walk off the distance from the tree line to the house and try not to think about how it's shorter than the height of the trees.

i shed skin cells and hair into the world the way the trees flake off weak branches. each item dropped is a thing that my body has put energy into forming; i breathe air and drink water and eat food, only to shed it minutes, hours, days, years later, once my body decides it's no longer a part of me. but those not-parts-of-me cram into the nooks under my laptop keys, the cracks in my floorboards, blowing into the cobwebs in the corner. some of it escapes further, an eyelash ripped from my face by the wind, drops of blood from my palms when i stumble and grab a sharp rock, left under a bush in the forest when i'm miles and miles away from domestic plumbing.

these are all, perhaps, stories that haven't been told.

14 April 2018 22:50

go by flying fox

my mother invited me on a trip with her old classmates to visit a part of the great wall. she was the only girl in her late 70s beijing pre-med program, and whenever i run into that wall of macho guys, i inevitably end up flexing back at them. at first, i thought it was to prove that i could put up with them; later, i realized it was just as important to show them that my mother could raise a strong human.

we rode a gondola from the tourist village to the watch tower, climbing around crumbling stacks of old stone where the reconstruction efforts stopped. i was fresh out of the rock gym that summer, primed to feel the cracks in the foundation and lean my body weight into unlikely positions to slowly inch up the side of a pillar roped off for visitor access. who was watching? just my mother, her college buddies, and a small trickle of other visitors; none of the park guards ever came this far. none of the security cameras in the area were hooked up yet; i could see cables dangling from the back of every box, snipped vines wilting in the dry northern heat.

but i saw a service path leading from the village to the wall when we glided up in air-conditioned bubbles, and i wanted to find it and walk down on my own power. 'i'll come with you,' my mother said, not wanting to lose me down the cliffside.

'me too,' said one of her more quiet classmates.

we found a sign that read 'GO BY FLYING FOX', with an arrow in the direction of where i thought the footpath would be. there was no flying fox; i might never know if the sign was aspirational or an artifact of a previous, dismantled attraction. our flying fox was a dusty, rocky crevice that trickled down the slope.

'i'm getting ripped off,' said my mother's friend. 'we all paid the same entry price, and the other guys are getting two rides in the gondola, and i only got one.'

he looked pale, but he was still sweating, so i wasn't worried about heat sickness yet. he'd never drink out of someone else's water bottle. i looked down; we were almost halfway back, but who knew how much the trail meandered?

'no, man, you're getting a bonus,' i said to him, cheerfully. 'we all paid for the same ticket, but you get to walk on a path that no one else got to see!'

i don't know if he found my statement funny, but his friends laughed at us when we finally made it back down for lunch. 'it took you guys forever!' they teased.

'bonus trail,' i said. 'we got our money's worth.'

09 April 2018 19:18


i thought it might have been snowmelt, or a leaking water main; those happen a lot in the spring. but when we got closer, the smell rose from the cold earth and signaled a sewage leak. i looked down at the dog, his short, fluffy white legs scrabbling on the pavement as he strained to inspect the thing that repelled me.

this smell brings me back to summers at my grandmother's; for my daily lessons, i crossed a small bridge that spanned a canal. it was an open sewage channel, where butchers dumped their slop, tenants dumped their chamber pots, pedestrians chucked their cigarettes. in the baking dry beijing july, not only would my cousins and i cover our faces and mouths, but sometimes closed our eyes. the smell clung to our clothes and hair.

one year, that i spent at home, i heard that the sewer had finally been covered. i looked forward to crossing campus without the stench during my next visit. in my dismay, though, i saw that there was a constant low trickle of sludge over the covered channel; rather than getting access to the underground sewage system, people continued to heave their refuse over the railings of the bridges, down along the concrete canal sides. there was a second, new sewage channel now, several feet closer to the footbridge than before.

i tightened my grip on the leash, dragging the dog back out into the street, rather than trying to lift him over the brown rivulet flowing from my neighbor's front yard to the nearest stormdrain seven houses away.

08 April 2018 22:42


'you cannot wear these!' my aunt yelled in distress, when she hefted the hiking boots i had worn to her house. 'no no no no!'

i couldn't understand why, until she started passing them around to my other aunts.

'oof, these are too heavy,' said another aunt, nearly dropping one.

'you will get tired,' the first aunt said. 'maybe this isn't the same as it is in the united states, so you don't understand, but we walk everywhere here. we don't have cars. so you will get so tired walking with shoes this heavy.'

they started rifling through the closet, looking for adequately light walking shoes they could loan me for the duration of my visit, while i laughed a little, trying to think of a way out of this problem. my cousin sat next to me, wanting to help, but not knowing how.

'here,' i said to her, flexing my leg and encouraging her to poke my thigh. 'do you think my legs are strong?'

she made an exaggeratedly impressed face, bringing my aunts closer. 'feel this muscle! it's so big!'

my aunts crowded around, jabbing my thigh with skeptical fingers.

'wow, you must be a real athlete!' one of them conceded. 'you are definitely strong enough to wear heavy boots. good job!'

07 April 2018 16:37

soup vendors

there was a particular kind of tofu soup that my father craved. my cousins and i followed him from vendor to vendor. "tofu soup?" he'd ask, before being invited to sit down at one of the small tables.

"sorry, we're out of soup already."

this went out all up and down the street. "i can't believe it," he lamented. "how can everyone be out of soup?"

after a while, my cousins couldn't take it any more. "look, uncle," one of them said, gently. "they all have tofu soup, but no one wants all four of us to take up a table just to sell you one bowl of soup. you have to sit down and order other food, and then ask for a bowl of soup."

"i only want soup," my father said, frustrating rising in his voice. "i only want soup."

we passed a turtle soup shop, where you could pick out a turtle from a live tank and have soup served in the shell. we passed steamed dumpling shops that would finish cooking in bamboo cases on the table. we passed candy shops, and i remembered my father telling me a story from his childhood when he convinced his youngest brother to eat sheep droppings by saying they were candy.

later, we settled on having a full lunch just so my father could have his tofu soup.

29 March 2018 16:33

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