To 2016-2017
To Current Issue

By Ashley Wu

  1. Untitled
    By Maya Joseph

In the mosaic jazz club lights, I was absolutely sure she was the most beautiful woman in the world. She had grey dreadlocks, which hung in cumulous clouds from the top of her forehead to the small of her back, leather-black skin, and a heavyset body. But most importantly, she exuded a high aura of resilience. Her eyes, dimpled and deep-set, swept across the room half-closed in a meditational reverie, reminiscent of some sleepy native goddess living underneath the pines. She sat in a dingy chair, shaking a hollow tambourine against her thighs. But her voice was sweet and low, accented with undeniable pangs of sadness. Her voice was not a voice, but rather a fading imprint of someone once there, but never forgotten.  I watched her sing the blues from a small corner, and her words spun a delectable web of gossamer strands, materializing and then dissipating in the summer heat. After the band ceased making art out of confusion, she walked over and placed her palm on the blades of my back, and in her gruff voice she said “Hey baby, thanks for coming out.” I wanted to be like her. But my body was a thin reed, a melting wafer on a choirboy's tongue, and she was throaty and inescapable, full-bodied and soulful. Half in love and embarrassingly drunk, I made my way to the exit by pushing through multitudes of sweat-drenched bodies. In my eagerness to leave, my lips made contact with the bruised skin of somebody’s forearm. I left that night with my sloppy, drunken kiss on a stranger’s body, one of the unseen souvenirs that each of us accumulate throughout life.

In my confusion, the intangible form of my great love, I made my way down to 外滩, affectionately nicknamed the Bund by the Chinese expatriates. I remembered visiting once as a child. I glared across the black river for hours at the glistening city on the opposite shore, searching for some indefinable truth to grasp, some palpable manifestation of my dreams, but all I received was bewilderment. As a kid, I feverishly dreamt of life on the opposite side. I dreamt of bird-boned people and light dappled streets and the layers of mystique I would apply to myself. I would lay claim to every street, and each reverberating bone in my body: the fibula, the lunate, the ossicle, would belong to Shanghai. One night I sat there for an excruciatingly long period of time, defining each and every detail of my future across the bank, until all my needs and wants coalesced into garbled chaos. But on this particular night, I was trying to finally bridge the gap between my two realities. I trudged like an apparition from one bar to the next, downing cheap shots, flitting in and out of obsession with perfect strangers.

All around me, grotesquely wonderful representations of human extremities towered. I saw several intriguing figures that night. A boy, upwards of twenty years spent on this green earth, wearing a velvet sports jacket and maroon pants. He had hair that looked like that Japanese wave painting, lightly shadowing across a regal forehead. He drifted, cloud-like, through the scummy bar, feet levitating mere inches off the ground.

A girl, black eyeliner accenting her Asian cheekbones, blue streaks of hair. I admired her, and wanted to run my fingers through her stringy hair and listen to her read manifestos. Her military jacket dropped to the floor, and she looked like war. Tough, unprecedented, a piercing through the delicate curvature of her pin nose.

A boy, looking straight at me. Long black hair, simple outfit. He followed me through the dimly lit lounge, and I let myself stare at the shitty psychedelic modern art on the back wall, absentmindedly waiting to feel his tin-boned tap on my shoulder. I wanted immediately to know what his voice sounded like.
Stumbling, I found a clearing in the Bund where I could be alone. The waters of the river were juxtaposed against each other and they were constantly interlocking like fingers do. I wondered if artists made friends with people for their hands. I could imagine spotting a pair of beautiful hands anywhere, and photographing the long skeletal fingers, taut with pulpy veins. My odd fixation on hands disintegrated fairly quickly after I felt my body ready itself for regurgitation.

I hurled gaudy chunks out from my stomach, I became so incredibly inebriated that walking was no longer instinctive. And even in the dingy fluorescent lights of the Shanghai street lamps, I could not romanticize this feeling anymore. I dragged my somber feet across the empty highway, and the multi-hued lights from each passing shop encased my body in this ethereal light. Women hung around corners, cigarettes lighted between their lips, their eyes red like cherry blossoms. They called, and they jeered and laughed. My grandmother would’ve disapproved, she called them “women of ill will.” I wanted to rest my heavy head on their breasts. Subsequently,  I wished for eternal peace in the infinity between their faces and collar bones. I wanted, needed to, collapse. I missed being together, I missed being loved. My sophomoric mouth eked out dry sobs and the flurry of a small animal titrated in my chest. I was drunk and raving on the streets of a foreign city, where no one even knew my name. Stuck in some indeterminate limbo between life and death, I picked myself up and began to walk in the direction of home.