16 tagged with #iowa

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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

night noise

the other night, a sound came from above. it was an immediate thump, and then a sequence of smaller bumps, accelerating from one part of the ceiling towards the window. after a gap, a bass thud rang a finality.

on the flat roof under the bedroom window, i plucked a small, heavy clod; it could be dirt, it could be a chunk of the chimney, it could be a rotten seed pod.

'owl pellet, maybe?'

in second grade, my teacher didn't know how to handle my boredom, so she passed me off to an upper level science teacher on breaks to entertain me. i was given owl pellets, tweezers, and elmer's glue; i pulled the dried hairs apart and extracted tiny bones, reconstructing mice in the hour before lunch. i'd start with jawbones; often, there would be three or four lower jaws, but not enough skulls to fill the blanks, and too few femurs or rib cages.

'maybe the owl doesn't eat the whole mice,' i'd report to the teacher. i haven't disassembled an owl pellet since.

25 April 2018 22:40

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