By Jamie Nguyen
shutters close; wind sends branches trapezing through thick tropical air. rain’s shadowed figure’s insistent tapping against window panes, thunder knocks on doors. the avenue’s a river, the neighborhood a swamp. drum fingertips to the beat of the hurricane’s pounding. hide under covers, doors stay locked. but tucked behind the mango tree, through the technicolor brush, pad across shattered seashells, wade through the courtyard floods; Grandmother’s purple orchids glow. violet stars in a grey-green world. pierce the haze of a midsummer storm, a bride’s irises sparking through a gauzy veil, a lighthouse’s beam breaking a harsh night’s mist, the sun splitting the horizon’s darkened dawn film. the hurricane rattles the walls. the orchids still. streets surge, perhaps in suburban Florida the Greeks find another river to bestow a deity. the moon ducks her shy face behind overcast curtains, the freckled galaxies of the night sky’s window follow suite. twilight is breathing, gusts of Zephyrus’s heavy pants. the city’s heartbeat thuds with each crack of thunder, clap of rain against sun-baked asphalt. clear my concrete of exhaust. from the clouds pours a freshwater saline solution, rinsing oil wounds and smog scabs. stained glass on Grandmother’s lampshade, over a tarnished oak dresser: the residue of a glass of iced tea withheld a hundred sponges. and glistening among milky green and matte pink protrudes the mosaiced image of purple orchids. childhood imagination shaped its petals as violet love hearts, wrapping bedtime dreams in quilted blankets. iron to stem. blade to root. sharp flicks of the wrist. and flowers drifting through humid air, petrichor still seeping from the front yard. violet petals clog the drain, assembling a mosaic of Grandmother’s purple orchids. where the screams of Hurricane Elsa failed, deft fingers and metal claws did not. the sun rears its proudhead over the clearing horizon, and the purple orchids wilt.
ripped out pages line rotting walls. typed words of different fonts, different sizes, different languages widespread; jigsaw wallpaper. a library card, discarded, among stacks of empty covers and heaps of unopened mail. bills, presumably, deadlines, due dates, complaints. I know every letter across the yellowing paper. every click of the space bar. every indent. every scene, every fictional love story, every setting for every one of my maladaptive daydreams. for there are words in the folds of my mind: introductions, plots, characters, unfinished chapters. my protagonist never finishes their quest. there are no conclusions, only open-ended, un-tied threads. my nervous system, neural networks are nothing but my storybook multiverse. childhood escapism I could never escape. hide-and-seek in the brain’s contours. catch me if you can—I beg; I can’t even catch myself. memorize every freckle, beauty mark, shadow, highlight, every typed word in the trilogy of you. ask me, cupid’s bows quivering, “when will it be over?” and I can only sigh, for I know cupid’s bow is quivering, aligning the shot to take you from me. paste the trilogy of you to the ripped out pages on my rotting walls; your every feature woven in the multiverse of my mind. whisper, “it’s never been real. “maybe growing up is long overdue.”
Take Me to the Night Market
the clock strikes ten, and jetlagged eyes force themselves awake. suddenly, you are ten again, some primitive instinct or evolutionary reflex or childhood muscle memory brushes off exhaustion and tells your bones that it is time to move, move, move. watch the air crackle with oil and paper firecrackers two streets over, witness your soul crackle with adrenaline and the type of giddy excitement that courses through the rivers of your veins, shouting at every cell of your body to wake up, wake up. your grandmother hands you a folded stack of red and blue bills. your mother ruffles your hair and cautions you to be safe. your little sister is suddenly so very little again, grabbing your wrist and begging for this treat and that drink and the air floods with “this jiejie! this one jiejie!” teenage woes have been shed, now you are ten again and she is five, and the night market is ours for the taking. you will run and yell and laugh and eat until your ribs hurt and your stomachs hurt twice as much, until grease dribbles from the corner of every smile and one too many milk teas turn eyes into wide, caffeine-flooded saucers. an overprotective mother follows leisurely, more concerned with her father’s stories than our safety—for this is home, and this isn’t the unpredictable foreign country she packed bags for thirty years ago, leaving behind a family and household in hopes of starting new ones. you smile at strangers, laugh with a girl you’ve never met—everyone here is just like you. here, you aren’t a minority among the the red, white, and blue; your dark hair and almond eyes and olive skin don’t set you apart from the crowd. paper lanterns cast your sister’s face in the technicolor of the night market: you hold her tight and realize that among the red and gold, you have finally found home. but the night market closes at midnight. your father’s travel visa ends in two weeks. school starts in a month. before long, your plane will land back in the land of the free, leaving you stranded in cages of blue eyes, blonde hair. that’s a problem for another day, you decide, and smile as your grandmother’s jade rubs across your cheek. for now, we can stay smiling and remember we are never truly alone.