17 tagged with #iowa

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and the miles keep sliding by

i am an arrow shot into the space between the earth and the sky.

words pass me in a blur. taken out of context, they stand surreal: a billboard for "BUTT DRUGS", a van reading "NO CRACKS ALLOWED", a bait and tackle shop called "HAPPY HOOKERS". at times i have to blink away the sand that whirls through the air and sneaks under my helmet, and the words rapidly fade from memory. i recite them in my head to keep them fixed.

riding on the interstate is a high-stakes game of sokoban. cars respond to my gentle pressure; i evaluate every single one of them and decide which ones i would rather ride near, slowly reshuffling the ordering by nudging people up and down the line. by the time i've arranged those rectangles to my liking, some of them have peeled off and others have arrived, and i have to start over. it keeps me from getting bored.

my drawl comes back so fast when i dip a few hundred miles south. my vowels round out as i push west. i didn't think i had an accent until i heard it coming out of my mouth. when i cross the line into the state that contains my childhood, i instantly burst into tears, and then stop just as quickly as my sight rapidly blurs over.

a large orange blur pierces the left side of my vision as i lean into the exit ramp. a car slams on its brakes too late; a young doe cartwheels through the air in several pieces, trailed by glass and plastic. we all stop to look. some of us move on, seeing that others are taking care of each other.

i glance at near-empty motel lots and apply judgement granted to me from a lifetime of watching movies with scenes that happen in near-empty motel lots. the doorbell next to the office summons first the anxious terrier, and then the lady in a terrycloth bathrobe. i wonder if i interrupted her from putting curlers in her hair. she trades me a room key on a large plastic paddle for my successful completion of a registration card, and cannot accept money from me until she opens the restaurant in the morning.

the next day, when i am hundreds of miles away, i realize i left an item behind. she agrees to mail it to me, along with a handwritten post-it requesting seven dollars and forty-nine cents in return.

a cloud of mosquitoes descend as i struggle to turn around on a small gravel road. the tires slip under me; i know that if i lose my grip here, no one will help me.

the sky collapses rapidly around me, folding over the road and curling tightly around my body. each passing truck sends a wave overhead, like diving blindly through the sprinklers as a kid. ahead, a high bridge vanishes into grey, spanning across mud. sand piles on either side. a cloud machine looms on the horizon. the creek laps at the shoulders. a fawn stumbles blearily out of the weeds.

the weather clears, and the road unrolls before me like the slow-motion breath of the planet. i try to breathe in sync, but soon have to pant to recover.

i am an arrow shot into the space between the earth and the sky, and i still know how to come home.

04 July 2019 22:47


fireflies press against the screens, blinking blearily like how i feel when i had to set an alarm several hours before i'd have been ready to wake up. they drift around, seemingly getting sucked back against the plastic grid, flashing like they're trying to send a signal to my glowing phone light inside.

in the smokies, the park closed for weeks around firefly season, citing light pollution from cars as confusing their native firefly population. you could buy a ticket on one of a small number of shuttles that would bring visitors, once or twice a night, to a designated spot, where you would then get out and walk over a hillside and settle in to watch the show. last year, poorly-scheduled demolition projects ran kleeg lights all night long, and people reported poor firefly turnout.

when we lived in iowa, my mother caught fireflies, waited for them to flash, then pinched off the sac of luciferen so she could paint images on my arms; i cried, realizing she was killing things to decorate my body.

in a recent phone call to my mother, i admitted to feeling on edge, riding the crest of stress and near-burnout, and that my response was to find everything calamitous, all words spoken to me as personal attacks. she laughed a little, telling me that she's known since i was a child that i tend towards oversensitivity, that i am quick to find things earth-shattering and disturbing.

23 June 2018 21:54


the shep hung out the cab windows of the truck in front of us. sometimes, he'd turn and eye us, front legs dangling over the side of the door like a teenager riding along in his big brother's sweet rig, tongue lolling out like he's the king of his universe. other times, he'd pace excitedly from one side window to the other, snapping his jaws in the air to catch blowing milkweed.

sometimes, the farm parents would load all us kids into their station wagon and drive into town for ice cream. we fought over who got to have the rear-facing bench seat. one time, i got it, and sat quietly in the back reading one of the picture books scattered against the floorboards. 'i hate reading,' said one of the other farm boys. 'i dunno how you can read back there.'

they had a dog, too; he was a big golden retriever whose name i may never recall, because the first time i set foot on the farm, he ran over and knocked me into the mud to lick my face, and i didn't like it. the dog was told to leave me alone forever, and we never had a relationship. that was before i met the great dane that would teach me that dogs are good.

09 June 2018 20:42


in the second grade, jeremy and i sat in the back of music class, staring at the books of lyrics in front of us. i knew how to read lyrics; the fold-out insert of a simon & garfunkel cassette tape was the first thing i had seen that let me understand that words could be read on paper, and corresponded to words i heard in the songs. there are videos of me at age four, declaring my love for cecelia, belting my heartbreak at finding her with another man.

these were not the lyrics jeremy and i read in music class. he kept his mouth clamped shut through 'god rest ye merry gentlemen', and i asked him why he didn't sing along with the class. 'my family doesn't celebrate christmas,' he explained. 'we're jewish.'

i sat for a moment, thinking to myself: my parents didn't celebrate christmas, either. it didn't seem to matter that i didn't know what jewish was; the obvious fact was that christmas carols were for people who celebrated christmas.

the teacher noticed me sitting in silence with jeremy.

'why aren't you singing?' she demanded of me. jeremy, she knew, was excused from participating because everyone knew he was jewish. the fact that i was chinese didn't seem to be an obvious reason.

'we don't celebrate christmas,' i said.

i got sent to the principal's office, where i read to him from the stack of books he'd been keeping on his desk, for the next time i'd inevitably get sent to him by a teacher who didn't feel like dealing with me. i picked up where i left off, halfway through the boxcar children.

04 June 2018 23:15

giving directions

in preschool one day, they sat us all down in the room together to talk to us about strangers. this was a confusing day for me; it would be almost two decades later that i'd learn that all of my teachers seemed like strangers to me because i was faceblind, and never knew who i was talking to. suddenly, i was being taught that it was never okay to speak to someone i didn't recognize.

one of the teachers, a woman i thought i'd never seen before, called me to the front of the room. i shook my head in fear, and then the other teacher encouraged me to step up. i tiptoed my way out of the crowd of seated 4-year-olds, being careful to stay out of the first woman's reach. anyone can grab you if you get too close, they'd repeated.

'hey, kid, where's the library?' she asked. i didn't know what to say. i didn't know where the library was, and i didn't know why she was asking me. the other teacher, who might have been the regular adult for my class, stage-whispered me a cue.

'takearait,' she hissed. what? why would i ask her to take a ride? wasn't i supposed to avoid strangers?

'hello? the library? where's the library?'

i finally mumbled, 'take a ride,' still uncertain about this charade.

'what? speak up, i can't hear you!!' she yelled at me.

'take. a. ride.'

'come closer, i still can't hear you!'

i leaned forward. 'take a--'

'AND THAT'S WHEN THEY GRAB YOU, PULL YOU INTO THE CAR, AND DRIVE AWAY,' she shouted, wrapping an arm around my head and yanking me off my feet into her chest, pantomiming wildly steering a car around me. 'you never, never talk to a stranger!'

the other teacher, who'd fed me the offending line, shook her head at the class as i was released from the fake kidnapping. 'just point. if someone asks you for directions, just point.'

i walked back to my spot on the floor, not understanding what i'd done wrong. these days, though, it seems i can't go a week without someone pulling up a car next to me and asking for directions. i've lived in this city for twelve years; i can't resist helping someone find their way around.

29 May 2018 22:59

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