Kayo Chang Black
"Feeding on Men"
"The Power of Freedom"
Concept: "Human Physicality, Time Axis and Poetry"
One day, my friend invited to me to the digital session at the University of New York. When I went, several artists and customers were in the huge hall. I drew many pictures on an iPad and projected them on the ceiling. Until now, I have not believed this method of digital drawing could be used for paintings. But the iPad can be directly controlled and I drew pictures that more accurately represented my intention than I had expected. As a result, this day became a session of digital modern music and digital painting. It was the day I found a new method of expression.
A few days later, I was attracted to the exhibition of Judson Dance Theater at MoMA and went several times. I also researched the Fluxus movement in NYC. This exhibition introduced the contemporary dance Judson Church of NYC was doing in the 1960s. It was introduced to some of iconic contemporary dance companies (Steve Paxton and Lucinda Childs, etc.) who created American contemporary dance.
In this exhibition, dances were re-performanced at MoMA and Judson Church. That was luxury for me. I painted almost unconsciously on the digital tablet. I decided to draw the live dance, including the structural part of the dance. At the beginning, the movement was close to the graphical music score and graphic dance score to enclose the movement of the body together with the time axis in one picture. This was guerrilla live digital paint in MoMA.
Robots have evolved in modern times, but there is distant relationship between "body and person." The series consists of poetic works that imaged life and death while incorporating a positive message to live.
Chihiro Ito was born in 1980 and grew up in Tokyo before moving to New York to work as a contemporary painter. Chihiro exhibited at Gallery and Museum and Alley, Farm in Tokyo, France, Portugal as an Invited artist of Guimaraes 2012 Europian Capital of Culture, Serbia with the NPO Japan Yugo Art Project , Cyprus with the Home for Cooperation as Pafos 2017 Europian Capital of Culture, China, Korea, and America.
Chihiro is the Director of Asagaya Art Streets & Panphagia, winner of the Program of Japanese Government Overseas Study Program for Artists/US-Japan Creative Arts Fellowship, winner of the Program of Overseas Study for Upcoming Artists sponsored by Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan 2018, and a Holbein Scholarship Winner (Japan) He also write for The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.
Read more at http://chihiroito.tumblr.com.
Tears rolled down my powdered face, dampening my makeshift lavender headscarf. I bit my lower lip and cried without making a sound. I could have said no to Gökhan and walked away from the nikah,the Islamic wedding ceremony—but my conditioning would not allow it. Growing up in a Taiwanese family, the concept of “losing face” was ingrained in me. I understood how unforgivable it was to humiliate someone in public. I felt compelled to submit to the conditioning that I have willfully fought against my whole life, to maintain my future husband’s honor in front of his entire clan. But the obligation to compromise my integrity, whether it was real or imaginary, was crushing me. I hated having to pretend to believe in something to please my future mother-in-law.
Gökhan’s mother was a gregarious Turkish woman. Short and squat in stature, she was the matriarch of the family. She had moved to Denmark with her husband in the ‘70s, and all her children had been born and raised there. However, she held onto the customs from the old country and behaved very much like a traditional Turkish wife and mother. I never saw her without her headscarf, even in the middle of summer. Gökhan’s father, on the other hand, had adapted to Denmark. He was a quiet man with a handsome, honest face. He owned a grocery store in the neighborhood, and when he found out that I loved strawberries, he’d bring some back from his store every day during my visit. He was the type who would go with the flow and let his wife take care of all the traditions and rituals.
I had just arrived in Denmark a week earlier and had met Gökhan’s family for the first time. We slept in separate beds because his mother thought it was improper for us sleep together until we perform the nikah.
That summer, Gökhan and I were in-between places—we had just left Dubai and in the autumn moved to Bahrain where I would start a new job. My new employers instructed me to move to Bahrain alone, or marry Gökhan so I could sponsor his dependent visa. Since we did not want to break up, we decided to elope in Canada. We made a pitstop in Copenhagen on our way to Vancouver to see his parents before we legalized our union.
Even though Gökhan’s mother and I did not speak the same language, I wanted her to like me. I understood that the nikah was pivotal to his pious mother. I was not against it, but I also did not want to give her the impression that I was willing to convert to Islam. I am proudly secular, which caused major friction when Gökhan and I first started dating.
“If you want to be with me, and be accepted by my family, you will need to convert,” he said—it was the only time I remember Gökhan being adamant about anything.
“No.” I stared at him as if he had warped into a goat. Converting to Islam was unthinkable. Being secular is my mode in life, and I was not willing to change it.
He explained that all I had to do was to pretend, to do it for a show, which was what he had done his whole life. I still refused. He called me spoiled, stubborn and selfish. I cried but persisted. It was a battle of wills that lasted the whole day.
“If you love me, you will accept me for who I am,” I argued, my eyes blazing. “You wouldn’t ask me to compromise my integrity.”
Eventually, I broke him down with a combination of persistence and tears. “You won’t need to convert,” he said, hugging me. “I will talk to my mother.”
It was no surprise that Gökhan yielded—I was the girl who always had her way. “Don’t smoke in the mall.” Mama used to glare at me when I was on my way out of the house when I was in high school. “Someone might see you.”
You don’t want me smoking in the mall? I did just that with abandon. Don’t want me dating white guys? I did, just to make you cringe. Oh, you would disown me if I got a tattoo? I did, just to test you.
Gökhan was right: I was spoiled. Mama relented, and Gökhan did too.
My initial experience with Islam was when I moved to Dubai for my first job as a librarian, about ten months before meeting Gökhan. My first impression was that it was strict and conservative. I had to abandon wearing skirts to work because it was indecent to show my knees. The religion forbade many things that I enjoyed, such as alcohol and pork. During Ramadan, even non-Muslims could not have a sip of water in public. However, I kept an open mind. I wanted to be involved with my future husband’s traditions.
When Gökhan told me about the nikah, I knew nothing about it. He described it as an engagement to tell Allah that he, Gökhan, had chosen me, Kayo, to be his wife. That did not sound awful—it seemed like a symbolic ceremony. I agreed that I was willing to take part in the nikah, as long as I did not have to convert to Islam. He talked to his mother who agreed that I would not have to. Overjoyed that her son would no longer live in sin, she invited the whole extended family, prepared an elaborate spread, and summoned the prestigious imam, a religious leader, who would officiate the ceremony.
I had no idea what I signed up for.
On the day of the nikah, I was in the center of the room wearing an ivory, ankle-length, cotton maxi dress with grey embroidered flowers at the hem. I’d bought the dress a few days before because it was long and covered my legs. However, the top portion was too revealing for Islamic taste, so I wore a grey cardigan, buttoned up all the way, which hid my tattooed arm and immodest cleavage.
Gökhan’s three aunts were fussing around me, trying to pin a lavender pashmina over my head as a temporary headscarf. His little sisters, aged eleven and thirteen, whose room had turned into a bridal dressing room, stole curious glances at me. When I returned their stares with grins, they gasped, turned their heads and looked away. His boisterous aunts laughed and chatted in a combination of Turkish and Danish. They clamored and made animated gestures with their hands and clapped as they giggled over some anecdote I couldn’t understand. I stood amid this commotion with a dumb smile on my face and nodded my head as Gökhan’s only English-speaking aunt asked me if I was doing okay. Despite the chaos in the room, a part of me was having fun, soaking up his aunts’ contagious excitement. I felt euphoric and found myself smiling more as time passed. I was putting the finishing touches on my makeup when Gökhan poked his head in the room. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute in the next room?” he asked in a quiet voice, avoiding my eyes, his thick, dark brows furrowed.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
How did I, my mother’s rebellious and stubborn daughter, end up participating in a nikah with a Danish-Turkish guy she had only dated for less than a year? The truth was that the defiant teenager who continually stretched boundaries and pushed her mother’s buttons found herself a lost and scared twenty-six-year-old woman in the Middle East.
I was born in Japan to Taiwanese parents and grew up just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. I always prided myself on being an adaptable third-culture kid—I was fearless and foolish. Fresh out of graduate school, I moved to Dubai to start my first job as a librarian, even though I would not have been able to find the city on an atlas.
When I first got on the transport bus to the terminal of the Dubai International Airport, I burst into tears—the warm and humid air tinged with dust reminded me how far away I was from home. Homesickness was only one of the many challenges I faced in Dubai. For the first month, I tried to get an internet connection in my apartment to stay in touch with my faraway family and friends. I spent all my free time going to Etisalat, the national internet provider. Each time, I spoke to an indifferent woman at the counter who wore a black headscarf and emitted an intense frankincense perfume. Each time, she told me “two weeks, inshallah.” Each time, I left the building defeated and depressed. Before I knew any better, I was convinced that ‘inshallah’ meant ‘go away.’ It took over two months for me to have an internet connection at home.
On the weekends, I would roam around the city wide-eyed, trying to absorb this strange, desert landscape filled with glitzy shopping malls and imposing skyscrapers surrounded by endless construction sites. As I walked by in my short-sleeve t-shirt and knee-length skirt, South Asian workers gawked at me with their unblinking, saucer eyes. I ran away to divert their gaze. I was confused, misunderstood, and isolated from everything and everyone I knew.
Within days of arriving in Dubai, I cried on the phone to Mama. After three days of crying, Mama broke down and came for a visit. She cooked for me, helped me settle into my new apartment, and we explored the city together. We shopped in the souk, went dune bashing in the desert, and had afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab. However, after she left, I was even more homesick and lonely, which drove me to go out to meet new people. Eventually, I made friends with other expatriates, young women close to my age who had also moved to Dubai for their careers. But they did not ease my sense of alone-ness. What I wanted was someone to come home to and wake up next to every morning. Someone who would understand me, someone to go on adventures with, someone who would take me away from this loneliness and despair. After dating Gökhan for a few months, I thought he could be that person.
The truth is, my definition of a good relationship was simplistic and naive. I did not know a thing about a healthy relationship—as a teenager, I watched my parents struggle with their marriage. At the tender age of fifteen, I found out that Baba, my father, had been cheating on Mama.
Baba was a travel guide and was often away from home. At this time, Mama was in her mid-thirties, but she dressed and acted like a much older woman—a dedicated mother whose husband was away for long periods. Since Mama spent her days cleaning and cooking, she paid little attention to her appearance. Her clothing of choice consisted of dowdy, faded sweatsuits. Her world revolved around Baba, my younger brother Davis, and me.
Before school one morning, I was eating my eggs sitting on the high stool next to the kitchen counter when I heard Mama scream Baba’s name. I am not sure what business Mama had poking around Baba’s black nylon side bag—maybe she was putting something in there, or perhaps she was looking for something for him—either way, she pulled out a love letter in Baba’s handwriting, addressed to another woman.
Mama lost her mind with this discovery. She wanted answers. She needed reassurance. She demanded Baba explain himself. He could not. He ran out of the door with his luggage to catch a flight and left behind Mama who had turned into a wailing mess. I do not remember how I got to school that day.
After school, I found Mama standing disheveled in the middle of the kitchen, wearing her frumpy, pale pink cotton nightgown even though it was three o’clock in the afternoon. With tears streaming down her face, she wailed and screamed that she wanted to die. She clutched a crumpled-up letter in one hand and with her other hand, made slashing gestures with a kitchen knife as if she was going to slit her wrist. I was terrified.
Several days later, I came home, and the house was silent. Before this whole fiasco, Mama always had a snack ready by the time I came back from school, like a brothy bowl of Taiwanese-style beef brisket noodle soup, savory braised pork with rice, or flavorful soy-sauce marinated chicken wings. But that day, when I wandered into the kitchen, she wasn’t there. She was not at her usual station in front of the stove, engulfed in tantalizing steam coming out of a bubbling pot that she was stirring, telling me that my snack would be ready soon.
The eerie stillness was a stark contrast to what had happened in the kitchen only a few days before. I began to search the house to make sure Mama had not hurt herself. At the entrance to my parents’ room, I held my breath, turned the doorknob, pushed open the door and tip-toed inside. I entered the room inundated with the stale, feminine odor of unwashed hair—the scent of desperate sadness. Mama was asleep and snoring loudly even though it was the middle of the afternoon. Her jet-black hair matted on the cream-colored pillowcase. Her usually smooth forehead crinkled with despair—even in her sleep, she was in agony. On the nightstand, I saw bottles of pills. Sleeping pills, seductive, secret sleeping pills that promised peace and a pain-free slumber. I picked up a bottle and rattled it—it was almost empty. I gathered every bottle in sight and took them. I rushed into my bedroom and threw them in the bottom drawer of my nightstand where I had stashed all the knives in the house a few days earlier.
At an impressionable age, I learned that my parents were not gods—they are flawed human beings. Watching my mother’s meltdown caused by my father’s infidelity, I discovered the dire consequences of being emotionally dependent on a spouse. I told myself back then that I would never want to be in her position. I would never allow my love for a man to turn into ammunition that he could use to maim me. I also learned the importance for a woman to be financially independent—with no economic means, Mama could not leave Baba even if she wanted to. She was an old-school, conventional Asian housewife who had never worked a day outside of her home.
During this dark time, I was overwhelmed and did not know how to process my conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I was angry. How could Baba betray Mama when she dedicated her whole life to us? At the same time, as a Daddy’s Girl, I was confused. Baba was indulgent, showering me with his affection and bringing me trinkets from his trips. When I needed help with my chemistry homework, he was attentive and patient. He was also a fun-loving father who took me and Davis snowboarding on the weekends. I knew he loved Davis and me, but his affair broke Mama’s heart and spirit. I did not understand how such an amazing father could be such a shitty husband.
I developed unhealthy relationship patterns around this time—I worried about men cheating on me or leaving me, but I also desperately dreaded being alone. My strategy was to become infatuated with a person and charm him with attention—the goal was to have him fall hopelessly in love with me, so he would not cheat or leave. At the same time, because I never wanted to be dependent on a man for my financial well-being, I moved around for my education and career. I never stuck around for anybody.
On the surface, I seemed accomplished and strong, but underneath, I was insecure and lonely. The tough girl who smoked and defied her mother was just a façade. Since having my first boyfriend at seventeen, I had not been single for more than a few months at a time. Like a rabbit chased by an unknown assailant, I dashed from one man to the next, looking for someone to validate me, to calm the nagging, neurotic voice inside my head: I will never find someone who would love me because I am always “too” something. I am too fat. I am too emotional but also too ambitious. I am too crazy, too free-spirited. I talk too fast, think too much, and have too many feelings. I am too strong-willed, and at the same time, too needy. Over and over again, this voice whispered to me throughout my relationships. With every failed relationship, it confirmed that I was unlovable.
When I met Gökhan, the nagging voice subsided. We connected on OkCupid and hit it off. He was living in Copenhagen and seemed like a reliable and attentive man. He was cute too, with wavy, dark brown hair, deep-set mahogany eyes, a straight nose, and a thoughtful demeanor. He quieted my anxiety with his patient, soothing voice. We fell asleep talking to each other on Skype many nights. I felt safe having him in my life.
The start of our relationship was a sweet and romantic internet fairy tale that spanned continents. After chatting online for three months, we met in person in Istanbul. On our second night together, Gökhan and I climbed several flights of creaky stairs to reach the rooftop of one of the budget hotels in the Old City. Opening the door to the terrace, the twilight before sunrise greeted us. Gökhan draped a blanket around me when he saw me shivering in the chilly, pre-dawn gust. Then, groping his way in the darkness, he led me to the shabby lounge on the far side of the terrace. We shuffled in our flip-flops, trying to suppress our giddiness. I looked up, enchanted by the constellation above me. As my gaze followed the horizon, I saw the flickering white lights from the boats and ferries dotting the Bosporus, the strait that functions as a border between Asia and Europe. The twilight was misty, making it hard to see where the sky ended and the Bosporus began. Over the railing of the terrace were the muted shadows of the shops, homes, and hotels of Old City, peacefully asleep. All around us, the shutters were drawn, the lights dimmed, and it was quiet. We sat bundled up on the lounge in the blanket. I was snuggling up next to a man whom, days before, I had only seen on a computer screen. He bent down and planted a kiss on my lips.
“Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Ash hadu an la ilaha illal lah…” The muezzin called out the first stanza of the haunting and melodic adhan at the crack of dawn to remind all Muslims it was time for the opening prayer of the day. My eyes flew open. To my surprise, my surroundings had transformed. Twilight had receded, and in its place, the sun emerged. The first pink and orange rays illuminated the sky, chasing away the stars. I rubbed my eyes as the sunshine warmed my face inviting me to crawl out of the warmth of Gökhan’s arms. At dawn, the Bosporus was no longer shrouded in a mysterious mist–it was bustling with ferries and ships moving back and forth between Asia and Europe. The city below was no longer sleeping; it was buzzing with horns and chatter as people arose from their beds to begin a new day. I was in awe of Istanbul’s transformations between night and day. Looking at Gökhan’s handsome face on this brand-new day, I kissed him before we headed back to our room. I was happy and in love.
Less than a year later, we faced a conundrum.
I followed Gökhan out of the room and closed the door as his aunts and sisters giggled behind us. We entered the next room, which was his parents’ bedroom, and he sat me down on the edge of the bed. Averting my quizzical eyes, Gökhan said, “When the imam asked me what your religion was, I couldn’t tell him that you didn’t have one. So, I told him that you were a Buddhist. He said since you are of the Book—neither Christian nor Jewish, you would need to convert.”
His words took a few moments to sink in. Once I understood the gravity of the situation, I started to panic. Did he know this was going to happen before talking me into the nikah?
“This is not part of the deal,” I shouted, shaking my head. The pins keeping my lavender headscarf in place pricked my scalp. “You promised that I didn’t have to convert if I go through the nikah!” I glared at him; my gaze was accusatory.
“I’m sorry I didn’t know,” he muttered, “You don’t need to go through with it if you don’t want to. It’s completely up to you.”
Is it up to me? No, it’s not up to me! I started to cry. Gökhan looked at me with his thoughtful eyes. He handed me a tissue. I dabbed my eyes, blew my nose, and shed more tears. I looked up and saw myself in his mother’s vanity mirror. The rebellious teenager inside me mocked my puffy face and smeared make-up—but I could not stop crying. Gökhan fidgeted next to me, occasionally patting me on the shoulder and repeating the phrase, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
Don’t you fucking understand? I shouted inside my head. From now on, we can never be truly happy together. If I don’t convert, your mother is going to hate me forever, and I am going to feel lousy making you choose between her and me. If I do convert, I will resent you for as long as I live. I kept my head bowed because I could not stand looking at the helpless expression on his face. I could not utter a word because if I tried to verbalize my feelings, I would start wailing. The teenaged me would have walked out of the door without looking back. She was, however, overpowered by the decent Taiwanese daughter who did not want her future husband to lose face.
Looking back, I realized that I put myself in this messy situation on an impulse and through deeply rooted fear. I was in love with the idea of being in love. I also loved having an exotic boyfriend who had grown up in a set of cultures that were vastly unlike mine. I bragged to friends that between the two of us, we had four passports. At the same time, it was my fear of being alone that drove me to this irrational decision to go through with the nikah. Knowing what I know now, I should have walked away—coercion and compromised integrity are not a good foundation for marriage. However, as a third culture kid, I have been crossing borders and adapting to different cultures my whole life. I thought I was ready to cross a new one with Gökhan.
I was wrong.
I wept for an eternity, shed enough tears to fill the Bosporus. The girl with a cigarette dangling between her fingers, who dated white boys and covered herself in tattoos had turned into Gökhan’s bewildered bride. On the other side of the door, the imam was waiting for me to change my wicked, wayward ways and Gökhan’s entire clan was expecting us to profess our undying love and commitment to each other. I cried and cried like a lost child. I did not know how to get out of this mess.
Out of nowhere, Gökhan’s father walked into the room. He was smiling. He closed the door behind him and started laughing. I gave him a look of bafflement as he spoke rapidly in Turkish. He paused and nodded his head. Gökhan looked at me and interpreted what his father had said. “My dad said you are taking this whole thing way too seriously.”
His father grinned at me, said a few more words and nodded again. Gökhan translated, “He said it’s totally fine if you don’t want to go through with it. But you could also put on a show by pretending to convert, which would make everybody happy.”
I stared at his father, shocked that he had just asked me to go out there and tell a lie in front of the whole family. He chuckled, nodded at Gökhan again and left without saying another word. What his father wanted me to do was what he had done, and what Gökhan had done his whole life: pretend and go through the motions to make peace. I felt defeated and exhausted. I forced my gaze back to Gökhan. Oh, what I would do just to make this awful situation go away!
After taking a couple of deep breaths, I asked Gökhan to fetch my makeup bag from the next room. I cleaned my face with a fresh tissue and wiped away the black smudges under my eyes. When Gökhan returned, I smeared on a thick layer of foundation and powdered my face. Then, I applied a sparkly lilac eyeshadow that matched my lavender headscarf. Staring at my reflection in the mirror, I grinned. My eyes were still puffy; my smile looked pathetic but convincing enough to those who did not know me. I smiled again and knew that my mask was secure. I reached for Gökhan’s hand and led him out of the room.
Sadly, Mama’s rebellious Canadian daughter did not have big enough guns to fight the rebellion in Denmark. After all, I was only one young woman trying to keep my integrity abreast in the face of a conservative, cultural tidal wave.
I followed the imam, who told me to repeat the Shahada, the Arabic script that would declare me a Muslim. “La ilaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah,” which translates to “I testify that there is no other God but Allah, and Muhammad is God’s messenger.” The imam said it slowly, pausing after every few syllables to allow time for me to mimic the foreign sounds. Afterward, I signed a piece of paper that the imam had prepared. Shortly after, he declared us husband and wife.
From that day, I resented Gökhan. I never forgave him for putting me through a conversion.
Our union did not last long. Four months after we arrived in Bahrain, the Arab Spring broke out. A series of protests swept across the Arab world. In Bahrain, the government cracked down on the demonstrations, which created an environment of fear and uncertainty. The turmoil made it difficult for Gökhan to find work. A year and a half later, when he finally secured a job in Dubai, our marriage crumbled. Instead of following him, I got a job in Hong Kong to be closer to my parents in Taiwan. We broke up.
Many years later, I found the lavender headscarf in my wardrobe. I am still in Hong Kong, but now married to a wonderful man who loves and accepts me just the way I am. Though painful, I learned so much from wearing the headscarf that day, like communicating expectations, and accepting the people I love for who they are, instead of trying to change them. Even though going through the nikah and living in Bahrain was challenging, I would not trade that experience for anything else. Without it, I would not have learned how to be in a loving and equal partnership. Taking one last look at the headscarf, I put it in the trash bin. I have come a long way— the girl who smoked in the mall has grown up and learned how to love herself. I now know that I am strong enough to be the person that I have become.
Kayo Chang Black, a librarian-turned-writer, is a Taiwanese Canadian who lived in Dubai, Bahrain, and finally decided to settle in Hong Kong. She has lived between the intersection of cultures and the clash of expectations. Currently, she is working on her first book, a collection of interconnected memoir-essays titled In the Shadow of the Middle Kingdom.
Feeding on Men
Dark calls to Darkness.
Like calls to like.
I who have died a thousand times
am a creature of flickering hope.
Must I tell again the words I know for the ears of men?
Theirs are the voices moving night to morning
Their voices are denials of all dying.
Sometimes words are not enough.
In my blood I heard the world’s weeping.
My soul is enslaved so many ways with bolts and bones.
Must I really become dust?
You mocked me, the master of my image.
I do not choose to dream.
For our old Lord lives all alone.
Wherever I wander, wherever I roam.
My heart is not here.
I gave you innocence, I gave you hope.
Return you me guilt and despair?
I am tired of kings.
Our priest is the muttering wind.
Why was I forged as a link in this chain?
If I can hear a symphony where tree tops blow
While living beyond the river valley
So quiet green and still
I’ll find my place in space as big as a fly
To kiss as winds kiss.
The most dangerous creation of society
Is the man who has nothing to lose.
If you win, you need not explain.
If you lose, you should not be there to explain.
We come from one mind of human kind.
We children are formless—slow to wake.
Our words are flame and ash
Hatred which could destroy so much
Never failed to destroy the man who hated.
So man cried, but with God’s voice
And God bled, but with man’s blood.
Black, immortal ink
I ask “what if the wind turned against the rain?”
The wind fills our mouths with strange words.
Great words, you frighten me.
Words, they will tear you limb from limb
In the name of love.
We don’t see things as they are
We see them as we are.
Where white is black
And blank is white.
When God, was dying
We have watched him die a thousand times.
Death times death is being.
The earth has music for those who listen.
We grow never weary for we are old.
Say not ‘good night’ but in
Some brighter time, bid me ‘good morning.’
We are the songs that were never sung.
I, I am a salvaged half star
That managed not to be killed.
But now I feed on men.
 H. Marvell
Edith M Roberts
Mary Ann Cassiday
Abbie Austan Evans
Gerard de Nerval
Anna L. Barbarid
Viola Perty Wange
Nina Wilson has published a novel called Surrender Language. Other credits include poetry, photography, essays, and short fiction in Adelaide Magazine, Rascal, Dark River Review, Fishfood Magazine, Coe Review, and many others. She enjoys photography, hiking, reading horror novels, and fishing. The poem in this edition is the cento form as she loves reading poetry, collecting lines and verses, and connecting them to make something new.
The Power of Freedom
It has been a while since I have written you. In fact it has been since you were in prison that I last wrote. We have texted and talked but nothing endeared like the letters we exchanged then. I believe letters are more adorned than any other form of communication. Letter writing is the most sincere form of writing, and it is only with this sincerity that I can talk about the following events. And it is with honest intentions that I write to you in hopes of easing your apprehensions of what society thinks of you now that you are out. We first met many years ago at a mental health program and since then our paths have crossed an unduly amount. Your presence is with me now as I write; I feel you close to my heart and I address your spirit and character written through words that I hope will touch you. Letters are more real, more genuine, more authentic. They allow me to contemplate and to search for true meaning. This is why I write, to get a sense of you in my mind’s eye and to share a piece of my heart that evokes feelings on subject matters that need processing. I want to recall these events, so you know you were and are now, not alone.
I was overcome with joy to see you at the volunteer event It’s My Park Day. You looked older since the last time I saw you. That’s how you know time has passed. The time I had seen you before was in the Travis County jail, you had recently been booked and were probably waiting to see a judge. I was being transferred. I saw you from across the room as the males were lined up and leaving. I raised my fist in a sign of power but was too afraid to call out your name. I tried then to make a psychic connection with you, but you were staring straight ahead. I knew at that time I had missed you. Your dark brown hair was long, very long, you looked strong, you looked hard, and yet you looked defeated of power. What were you thinking about when you were looking into space? You looked perplexed and angry. These two emotions go together well in jail. There is a lot of time to contemplate for the things we have done, to judge oneself and evaluate one’s conscience in order to understand what got us caught up in the first place. It is never the initial act that is the cause for our being put in jail, but a series of events and problems beforehand that cause us to lose our composure and commit a serious offense of power.
I remember your pose, your stature, your sternness. They say prison makes you harder. I know that was the truth for me. You get beaten down by cell blocks and iron doors. The locks are a high-power machine under the force of an apathetically abusive prison guard who has nearly all the power over you. Sometimes the guard would not let us out because they call in a lock down. Sometimes they lock us up from being out of our cells because they call a lock down. Lock downs are only supposed to occur when there is a fight, but this is not always the case, sometimes the guards just like to exercise their power, sometimes they are just trying to control and limit the amount of power an inmate has.
Guard power is supposed to keep us in line. Literally keep us single file when we walk, keep us controlled when we eat, keep us down when we look at them, keep us contraband free when they strip search us to the naked skin. Their faces show helplessness, a nonchalant type of oppression. They are not there to answer questions or be spoken to. There is a form to fill out for that. They are not there to hand out food plates, there is another inmate to do that. Their power is in the uniforms they wear and in the keys that jingle at their hip. Their power is in that key that opens a trap door within the cell door. I used to suck the air’s life force in when the current would flow through, after all the miniature traps of each cell were opened. Anything to get on the other side of that cell block. Do you feel me?
They say prison makes you harder, maybe because living on cement surrounded by concrete masonry blocks is a form of cell torture. They use solitary confinement too. Solitary confinement is literally a method of punishment that prunes the synapses in your brain. I had been there too. Only once, I do not know why, I do not remember, I think I flipped off a prison guard and yelled at him up in his face. I was not the violent type, just angry, pissed off. Without self-composure I lacked tolerance power.
I remember walking in line with three other inmates. Walking anywhere out of the cellblock was a form of power. To get to go to the nurses station (where you would be able to see a female inmate), or visit your lawyer (the only person you could see in the flesh from the outside) was a glimpse of life beyond. Going outside the cell and into the halls was power. But an inmate once got ahead of himself by a couple steps and the prison guard tased him from five feet away and he dropped to the floor and convulsed. This was an exercise of power against power. I knew that this was a form of control, prison abuse. Another time a guard told me to behave because I was painting on the window of my cell door with jelly, mustard, and ketchup packets that I had saved up. The guard said the goon squad was going to come in and rough me up. This is a place where power goes unchecked.
Then there were jail visits. Inmates used to be able to see visitors through a window with a phone connecting each side of the window. But they got rid of this method because seeing a visitor through the glass was too much power. Love is power and human heat is power. You could touch your hand to your visitor’s hand through the glass and feel their power, the warmth of love. Whoever enforces the rules wanted to stop that and so visitors were now only allowed to visit through a cheap computer screen that came in all pixelated.
I remember once writing to you saying that good people go to jail all the time. It is true, inmates, and nurses, and social workers, and visitors… My letters gave you power, I could see it in your response. I had been there and know what gave me power and I knew what it would take to get you through. Letters helped get me through. Letters with pictures of the outside and words of love. The guards would boast saying, “This is your home now!” But I knew this was not my home, this was a jail and this was not my home. I taped some of my favorite letters to the wall so that I knew where my home was. But I did not decorate, because I knew that this was not my home.
There were four forms of technology that gave me power. The visitors’ computer screened monitor, the television, the radio, and the phone. The television was a constant distraction (sometimes you would see an interesting clip or commercial). We were never let out long enough to watch a complete program. Sometimes you would get a cell where you could see the television through the window. But in order to listen to the television you would have to tune in to a special broadcasting station on the radio. The television gave me power under times of extreme duress and desperation. But I would rather use the battery on the radio for music and sports. The radio was my most comforting form of power. I would listen to music, Dodger’s baseball games that came on at night and the Catholic station. These things gave me extreme power over the depression and sorrow I experienced. I would have to count the days that the battery would last in the radio so that I could buy new ones on commissary in order not to waste any commissary money. They would only give you two batteries at a time and you could not store any extra replacements.
Commissary too was a major source of power in the form of energy and relief. You could buy something but only people from outside of prison could put money on your account. This would allow you to buy a calling card. Calls were not free and they charged by the minute (power of the outside influence). This economic source of power was what got me through from day to day. I could buy soda pop and candies and chips and thermal clothes and socks and a phone card and paper and a pen and use them when I felt so sad that I wanted to cut my wrists but didn’t have anything sharp enough. So, when I felt so feeble and hopeless I would sustain myself with an item off of commissary. I would eat a Milky Way, or Cheetos and soda, or draw a picture, or warm myself, something, anything to activate the power of dopamine receptors. I would write letters to family and one friend that kept in touch with me. I would write my dreams on paper, I would write my delusions on paper.
Besides books from the library–which caused me extreme gloom because the protagonists were always in a better position than my own, releasing in me power struggle/power dichotomy/power balance/power of comparison where I wanted to be right there with the main character–were the delusions. Delusions are the last form of power that kept me alive. The delusions saved my life and the insanity made it easier to cope because the fantasies were real in my head. I would auditorily hear the voice of Julia, a girl who spoke to me about her time in prison and how she got out. All I really remember was that she was desperately suicidal when she was incarcerated and she would speak to me and tell me there is a better life waiting on the other side. I would hear the voice of India every time the sun beamed through the window in the mornings as I watched its golden light move across the wall. The voice of India called on me to come to this foreign land and I could hear the sounds of a bohemian culture ripe with beauty and imagined it to be some sort of massive holy shrine, a place to go to waiting on the outside.
When you have been ostracized by society you are stripped of all your power as a contributing citizen. You forever look on the outside in, you are labeled, you are indefinitely going to lack the power of exactitude and certainty with an assertiveness that you are doing the right thing. Going through the pen makes you question most of your future decisions for some time. Going through the pen makes you doubt, makes you fearful because you know what punishment is possible and what realities exist away from the confines of a blissfully ignorant community. Societal position will always weigh on you with an informal balance of power. In their eyes you have been rehabilitated or been restored power. But it is not the same. Now you have a more powerful conscience than most others because you have been forever changed by this event of succumbing all your freedoms of power. Now out, you can see the reckless acts and deeds in everyday society, committing both harm and virtue, you see how choice affects others not just oneself. Pain is evident all over the world, but the hardness makes the infliction of pain more tolerable.
I will say that incarceration has made me more pure than I ever thought I would be and I see it in you. Purity is boring though, the sin has been conscientiously cut out not because it is necessarily fire and brimstone, but because it feels better not to feel the guilt and carry that weight. I think most people just want to feel better about themselves and that takes self-discipline, or empowerment. What I’m talking about is purity at heart, what Dali Lama practices. Because purity isn’t a constant feeling of bliss, I still get upset sometimes, it is a feeling of steadiness, persistence, and self-control, especially when impure things fall upon you. This is not my philosophy it is simply a way of living. I don’t really feel up or down, because emotions should be used sparingly in the moments of most poignant of times or those of tender joyous arousal. Your memory bank is a powerful vault of who you are and I pray that we crack the code upon death and see the beauty and make sense of the shame. I want to know you forever dear friend–infinite power!
When I saw you the first time from being released, at the volunteer event in the Austin park, I saw the soft you, I saw the born again you, I saw the hesitant you, I saw the reformed you. But I also saw the vulnerable you. You looked strong but bewildered, testing the waters, making sure not to upset or disturb the equilibrium of the state of affairs. You fully contributed to societal interaction, not because you wanted to but because you knew it was right. 100%.
Do you think there is some error in love that causes people to break the law? Love might be harder to understand than power. We love for the good and the bad. When we love and don’t receive love back this alters our perception of what love is and maybe we find love in the bad, the drugs, the money, the lust, the violence, the hate; we all struggle over our own powers. Powerless gets tangled up in all that self-destruction, because there are different types of power as I have mentioned, just like there are different types of love. You have learned to love yourself. I see it in you. I don’t mean vanity though. See how convoluted love and power can be? All this life seems rooted in pleasure. When you don’t feel anything what are you to do? Go back to the habits that make you feel? I want you to remember the past, as difficult as that may be, so you never get lost in that darkness again. And now I ask, what are you going to do with all your newfound power?
When I got out I felt a lot like a disease of society, like I shouldn’t be there. Most inmates eventually get cut loose though. The power that society holds over others’ past experiences and others’ future choices either positioning them or limiting them towards opportunity, that’s rank power. But now it has been three years since I was let out (upon understanding that I am now mentally fit) and I have been reminded that this is still the beginning of the rest of my life. Knowing that you have been stripped of almost all power and now have regained your will, you must realize your potential. You are more powerful than most to have survived such administering of incarceration. And, remember too, this is still the beginning of the rest of your life.
All power to you!
Shaun Haugen is a writer and artist who enjoys paying attention to the details even though he is still very much influenced by the world of the abstract. Combining reality with what it is versus what it should be and what it could be, he hopes to encourage into light, expose, and tackle age-old social injustices such as poverty, abuse, addiction, mental health, personal/internal war, and incarceration, while emphasizing general tolerance and compassion.
Relying heavily on poetic prose, the writing can get lost in the abstract and deep emotions, but bringing it back to the concrete is an enjoyable challenge. He hopes that through his literature, social issues that plague society’s core and that have been pushed aside from mainstream concern will be addressed. Limiting political boundaries to left or right is not the goal. Revealing how society leaves part of the moral psyche ignored is the focus.
Mallory Chesser has an MFA in fiction from Texas State University. She works for the University of Houston and serves as managing editor for Story|Houston,an online literary journal focused on short fiction and creative essays. Her work has appeared in Electric Literatureand Moon City Review.
Marieken Cochius is a Dutch-born artist who has lived in New York City since 1987, and in the Hudson Valley since 2013. Her work encompasses drawing, painting, sculpture and printmaking. Cochius’ work has been exhibited in places ranging from New York City, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, Austin, Texas, to Japan, Germany and the Netherlands. Her work is in numerous private collections in the US and Europe. She has collaborated with musicians and other artists. A public sculptural commission was completed in 2017 for the Village of Wappingers Falls, New York and will be installed in 2018.
Peter Coe Verbica grew up on a commercial cattle ranch in Northern California. He obtained a BA and JD from Santa Clara University and an MS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is married and has four daughters.
Leah Dockrill is a visual artist residing in Toronto, Canada. Her academic education includes degrees in education, library science and law. With informal art training, she developed a thirty-year art practice of painting, digital art and collage. Her artwork has been exhibited in Canada and the US. She has won numerous awards, including the Gold Artist Award from ArtAscent : Art & Literature Journal. Several literary reviews have published or will publish her collages and paintings. Among these are High Shelf Press, Glassworks Magazine, The Esthetic Apostle, and www.understoreymagazine.ca. She has been an elected member of the Society of Canadian Artists since 2000.
Derek Entwistle finds that living in Japan offers many a photogenic opportunity. Finding and capturing the beauty of a moment is part of the adventure.
Sophia Falco is a photographer whose work has been published in the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review and The Esthetic Apostle, and been featured on the cover of Tilde: A Literary Journal. In addition, she is a poet whose work has been published in Inside the Bell Jarand in The Mindful Word. Sophia studies literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Aaron Graham hails from Glenrock, Wyoming, population 1159, which boasts seven bars, six churches, a single four-way stop sign and no stoplights. He served as the assistant editor for the Squaw Valley Review, is an alumnus of Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and The Ashbury Home School (Hudson), and was recently the Cecilia Baker Memorial Visiting Scholar for the 2016 Seaside Writer’s Conference. Aaron is a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where he served with The Marine Corps’ Human Intelligence and Counterterrorism Task Force Middle East as an analyst and linguist. His work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Print Oriented Bastards, SAND, The Tishman Review, Rising Phoenix, The East Bay Review, Zero-Dark-Thirtyand f(r)iction.
Jeanne Harris holds an MFA in Acting from Columbia University. When not teaching English to sixth-graders, she works with a theatre company in Houston, Texas.
Chyna Jones lives in Detroit, Michigan, where she is a part-time art student at Wayne State University. Since she was young, she’s always had a passion for art and making things with her hands. Jack of all trades, she practices with different types of media from doll making to illustration work. The illustration in this edition is a venture into embracing the natural beauty of the Black female form. Body image, especially as a Black woman, has always been a struggle. So, this piece is her way of showing that, to herself and others, your body is fine. The smallest imperfections or “ugly feature” can be seen as uniquely beautiful and be treasured aspects to being you.
Sussu Laaksonen is a Finnish writer living in the Bay Area. She believes that monogamy is overrated, and polyamory is also overrated. She has written for Finnish television series and films, and published a cookbook based on one of the TV shows. Then she married an American nerd, and now she is in San Jose. She pays the bills by measuring translation quality in high tech using a system she developed, which turns out to be more interesting than it sounds. It took her a long time to get over language shock and start writing in English.
Roeethyll Lunn was an English instructor at a community college in eastern North Carolina for many years. She considers herself “an experimental writer” of essays, short stories, poetry, and articles about people living in the Pee Dee area of rural South Carolina just before desegregation. She holds a BFA in Broadcast Media from Morris College and an MFA in English and Writing from Long Island University. Her publication credits encompass newspaper articles, online magazines, college publications, and various poet society anthologies.
Haylee Massaro believes that photographs can provide a fragment of a larger story about a place, a time or a person. Even as a child, she was drawn to photography. Many of her photographs examine the inanimate or the often overlooked, and contain fragments both of what is and what once was. The subject matter is random and captured in the everyday. She is a teacher living and working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She enjoys both photography and the written word. Her photography can be seen in Ink in Thirds magazine, 805 Lit & Art Journal, Gravel Magazine and the Virtual Artists Collective. Her written work has appeared in Better than Starbucks: Poetry Magazine, Five 2 One Magazine, and The Opiate.
David Olsson lives in Stockholm with his family. He writes essays and fiction and is the founder of the Instagram account @p_r_o_j_e_k_t_e_t. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Microfiction Monday Magazine, The Esthetic Apostle, Burningword Literary Journal, From Whispers to Roars and Sonder Midwest.
Michaela Overley is an emerging artist currently studying at the University of Central Arkansas. Originally from Colorado, she moved to Arkansas at the age of sixteen. Through moving states and towns, she was able to experience a wide variety of cultures and environments that often inspire her artwork today. She aims to capture the stillness and quietness of forgotten landscapes and scenes. She uses realism to show the environments accurately and hopes to convey the moods and feelings of the buildings portrayed. The photo in this edition is from a two-part series she hopes to expand in the near future.
A confessed outsider, Chicago’s J. Ray Paradiso is a recovering academic in the process of refreshing himself as an EXperiMENTAL writer and street photographer. His work has appeared in dozens of publications including Big Pond Rumors, Storgy and Typishly. Equipped with cRaZy quilt graduate degrees in both business administration and philosophy, he labors to fill temporal-spatial, psychosocial holes and, on good days, to enjoy the flow. All of his work is dedicated to his true love, sweet muse and body guard: Suzi Skoski Wosker Doski.
Elias Peirce is a new writer with work forthcoming in SIREN Magazine.
Ron Pullins is a writer, playwright, and poet working in Tucson, Arizona. His works have been published in numerous journals, and his plays have been produced across the country. He sees his work as an adventure in thought and language. Much of his work attempts to blend theater, poetry, prose and graphical/typographical arts.
Janette Schafer is a freelance writer, nature photographer, part-time rocker, and fulltime banker living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her play Mad Virginia was the winner of the 2018 Pittsburgh Original Short Play Series. Recent and upcoming publications of her writing and photographs include: Watershed Journal; Yes Ma’am Zine; Feckless Cunt Anthology; Nasty Women & Bad Hombres Anthology; and Unlikely Stories V. She is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Chatham University.
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