Prose Spring 2021

Clinical Aphorisms

Ding. The doors slide open.

“Going down?” A physician points to the ground and lifts his pointed eyebrows.

Olivia nods and he gets on.

Olivia is on her 52nd consecutive ride down to the first floor of Langley Porter. She has been on the elevator for, more or less, the entire afternoon. She hovers her finger over the close-door button when another physician, a younger one with too much mousse in his hair, dashes toward the elevator, outstretching his arm to wave it in front of the sensor.

If the sensor weren’t functional, Olivia thinks, the elevator doors would slam shut, amputating the moussed physician’s arm. Inside the small space would be herself, Dr. Pointy Eyebrows, and Dr. Mousse’s right arm — dripping blood, dangling nerves, and all. The arm, then, would teeter on the elevator floor, rolling around a bit before finding a stable position from which to ooze its remnants. Perhaps the fingers would twitch, once or twice.

The phantom limb is the false psychological sensation that a missing appendage is still attached.

Olivia learned this in her freshman year psychology seminar, the one she’d had to fill out an application to take, as it was such a popular class. Rumor had it that you got to dissect a real human brain as a part of the curriculum. In her application Olivia had written a story about how her interest in psychology stemmed from having a great aunt who had multiple personality disorder, how Olivia would be the one to sit next to her at Christmas dinners because no one else wanted to, just in case she inhabited one of her aggressive personality states like the angry cop or the violent schoolteacher. The story was completely made up — really Olivia just could not believe that her small state university had the proper resources for cranial preservation, and she wanted to verify that fact for herself — but it got her into the class, and the rumor ended up being true. On an average Tuesday night in the middle of the term, a TA brought into the classroom a brain, which was a shade between pink and yellow, on a tray which looked like one of those black plastic serving platters used by fast food chains in mall food courts. It reeked of formaldehyde and something similar to fish flakes. “Here’s the corpus callosum,” the TA said, lifting the brain off its tray with gloved hands. “That’s the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres of your brain.” The organ looked much drier than Olivia had imagined it would be. It was wonderfully grotesque. She wondered which part of it dictated her appetite, or lack thereof — which section warned angrily against the consumption of nutrients that were crucial to her body’s health. The next week she switched her major from English to Psychology.

The brain serves as commandant of the human nervous system. Each hemisphere is responsible for different tasks. The right hemisphere houses facial recognition.

Dr. Pointy Eyebrows and Dr. Mousse exchange a look indicating they know each other. Here we go, thinks Olivia. The elevator begins to descend, the red number above the doors decreasing every few seconds.

“How is our Mister Christian Dior?” Dr. Pointy Eyebrows inquires.

Dr. Mousse rolls his eyes. “Oh, you know, still thinks he’s Jesus,” he sighs.

The elevator is hot and smells like paint. Olivia becomes one with its back left corner, resting both arms on the thin ledges that outline the walls of the space around her. Wherever she goes, she likes blending in, feeling small and undetectable.

“It’s like his wife wants him to be a lunatic,” Dr. Mousse continues. “So that she can continue collecting those designer handbags with his approval.”

One check for ‘derogatory comments about patients or their families’ and another for ‘a violation of patient confidentiality.’ Olivia frowns. She has yet to come across a physician who doesn’t break one of the rules she keeps track of. The elevator experiment has not refuted but raised her level of skepticism towards the institution.

The ride stops on the second floor, welcoming a pretty nurse with red hair. The doctors grow quiet. Dr. Mousse backs further into the enclosed space, making room. He gets so close to Olivia that she can sniff the gel which sticks firmly to his head. The redheaded nurse smiles at both physicians, then averts her eyes. Watch your step, Olivia thinks as she enters, there could have lain the puddle of Dr. Mousse’s blood, his amputated arm.

Dr. Mousse has a rear view of the redheaded nurse. A nurse’s uniform is typically not flattering. It is designed for simplicity, with minimal places for contaminants to burrow. It is designed for comfort, for easy laundering, and for cheap replacements. It is not designed to fit perfectly to individual body types or to highlight one’s noteworthy physical features.

A nurse who attracts attention while in scrubs is a well-shaped nurse.

Olivia will become such a well-shaped nurse, in a few years’ time. Her curves will attract the attention of her male patients and hospital colleagues, and that of a few females, too. By then Olivia will have recovered from her anorexia. Upon completing her treatment at Langley Porter, she will return to college and finish her degree in Psychology. The degree will be of no use at first. After graduation, Olivia will turn to her mother for advice on what she should do next. Her mother will say, with the practiced ambivalence she often exhibits, that Olivia should do what she likes. Olivia will then think about what she likes — and the first thing she will think of is coffee (even on her most stubborn days, when she refused food, she would accept coffee). Though she knows this is likely not what her mother meant by her advice, Olivia will get a part-time job as a barista at Blue Bottle Coffee, where a customer will return, day in and day out, and order a caffe latte despite being lactose intolerant. This is because that customer will be interested in Olivia and find her quite beautiful, and a caffe latte takes longer to prepare than a black coffee. While she meticulously designs an elm leaf within the milk foam the customer will ask her questions about her day, at first shy and careful, and then as anticipated routine. That customer will eventually become Olivia’s husband. While working at the coffee shop Olivia will also attend night school, where she will learn the skills necessary to become a registered nurse. She will take the NCLEX and fail. She will take it again and pass. She will celebrate by eating forkfuls of cheesecake from the local bakery that offers only seasonal flavors. The seasonal flavor, then, will be maple pecan. A month later she will get hired as a nurse in a pediatric psychiatry ward in Oakland. Whenever she works with a teen patient struggling with anorexia, she will think of how it has come full circle, her life. She will remember the little elevator experiment she conducted during her days in Langley Porter, when her arms were so thin and her heart so cold. She will not once breach a patient’s confidentiality.

Semantic memory processes ideas and concepts that are not drawn from personal experience. Retrospective memory recalls people, words, and events encountered or experienced in the past.

Dr. Mousse grins a little.

Ding. First floor.

The medical personnel exit, the doctors following after Nurse Redhead. A dejected man pauses in front of the door, waiting for Olivia to get off.

“Oh, I’m going up,” Olivia says.

The man shrugs ever so slightly and steps onto the elevator. From up close, Olivia can see the wrinkles on his face. He has many — on his forehead, surrounding his lips, pinching the corners of his eyes — though he cannot be older than twenty-five. He stares at the buttons to the different floors. None of them are pressed. After a moment he presses the button for the fourth floor. Then, he does something that Olivia has not seen anyone do yet: he turns, arms straight at his side, and faces the back of the elevator. The two are now face to face — Olivia staring at him, him staring at the ground. The elevator lurches upwards.

On the second floor, the doors reveal another physician, waiting. It’s a woman this time, one who wears big round glasses. She notices Backwards Dejected Man and scratches her nose. Olivia wonders what Dr. Big Round Glasses will do next. She gets on the platform and moves to the right, leaning her back against the side wall.

Facing sideways. How diplomatic, Olivia thinks.

Dr. Big Round Glasses smiles at Olivia and puts her hands in the pockets of her white doctor’s jacket. On the third floor, another female physician boards, one that recognizes Dr. Big Round Glasses. Even when prompted by this new physician, Dr. Big Round Glasses doesn’t break any rules.

“Are you thinking fluoxetine or fluvoxamine for Phillips?” asks the new physician.

“Mmmm,” says Dr. Big Round Glasses. “Why don’t we discuss this later?”
Olivia is filled with a feeling that resides between the realms of pride and relief. Finally, someone who is trustworthy.

On cue with the ding of the fourth floor, Backwards Dejected Man turns around. Upon exiting, he holds the elevator doors open, potentially sacrificing his arm for the doctors and Olivia. The doctors thank him and disembark.

“Oh, I’m going down,” Olivia says.

Backwards Dejected Man looks at her for a long moment before going about his day.

It’s a rare occasion for an elevator to make a straight shot from the top floor to the ground floor of the building. This next ride, however, is smooth sailing. No stops, no participants in Olivia’s study. She begins to feel lonely.

Loneliness is perceived isolation.

Before dissecting the human brain, and before going to college, Olivia lived at home with her parents, whose presence tended to make her feel more alone. When Olivia was aged fifteen months, her sister, who was just a year older, died of congenital heart disease. Olivia was never affected by the tragedy; her parents never recovered from it. They raised Olivia from a steady distance, as if afraid of becoming too attached. On the first day of first grade Olivia packed her own boxed lunch — a ham and cheese sandwich with an apple on the side. Her upbringing had instilled in her an independence that was concerning more than impressive for her age. She was always provided for but never coddled. It was as if her parents had exhausted all of their coddling capacity on their firstborn, and they knew from experience that the overprotection of a child had no benefit in the end. And then once in a while, usually on a birthday, or the anniversary of her sister’s death, her mother would drink a bit too much wine and pour out her affection for Olivia all at once. Through tears, she would ask Olivia if she knew how loved she was, how much mama loved her. She would ask Olivia until she answered in the affirmative, again and again, though the truth was that Olivia wasn’t so sure. In such moments Olivia’s father was usually seated in the periphery and silent, sipping on a drink of his own. Olivia found solace in friends, but they, too, came and went. On days that she struggled to find someone to sit with at lunchtime, she avoided the meal altogether, heading instead to the school library where she immersed herself in other, better worlds.

A friend is a person with whom one shares a mutual bond of affection. Friendships can increase one’s sense of purpose and belonging.

Back on the first floor, Olivia is greeted by Nurse Redhead and one of her nurse friends. Back already? What a short break, Olivia thinks. Or had the ride with Backwards Dejected Man taken that long? Nurse Redhead doesn’t recognize Olivia. She presses ‘two’ with her left hand while covering a yawn with her right.

“Tired?” the friend asks.

“I worked 18 hours yesterday, went home, closed my eyes, and before I knew it, I was back here.” Nurse Redhead yawns again. “I don’t know how I’ll make it through the night in my right mind.” The two look at each other and smirk.

One check for ‘raises concern about ability to provide high-quality patient care.’

The friend claps Nurse Redhead on the shoulder, and they return to work on the second floor.

Olivia decides she has had enough. She regrets not having ended her study on a positive note, with Dr. Big Round Glasses. She finally hits a button and feels a tiny drop in her stomach as she ascends.

The sinking feeling in your stomach is caused by a change in force as experienced by your organs.

Years after she gets married, and months after she retires from her nursing position, Olivia will feel her stomach drop one last time, while she’s on a rollercoaster with her granddaughter at California’s Great America. It will not be a large rollercoaster (her granddaughter will only be six) but still Olivia will scream and shout and when the ride is over she will say “Meemaw is too old for this! Let’s take a break.” Her granddaughter, whose name will be Claire Olivia, will smile and shrug and ask for ice cream. They will sit together on a bench by a popsicle stand and Olivia will watch as Claire Olivia licks her strawberry-flavored treat in pure bliss. While trying to get the last bite off the mid-section of the popsicle stick, Claire Olivia will drop a piece of it onto the ground and threaten to cry. Under the hot sun, the frozen dessert will melt onto the cement pavement by their feet. The small red puddle will remind Olivia of the pool of blood she’d imagined on the elevator, that day in Langley Porter, when she’d gazed at everything with apprehension, a deliberate kind of cynicism. She will think of that phase of her life as her own phantom limb of sorts, a psyche from which she is detached but still feels connected to at times. She will wipe her granddaughter’s sticky mouth with a paper napkin and tell her it’s okay, Meemaw will get her another popsicle. When her granddaughter beams up at her, Olivia will think that she would like to stay on earth, for as long as she can, with Claire Olivia. Olivia will not leave the earth for another year, and when she does it will be peaceful, in her sleep and without pain. To her family it will seem sudden. “She was riding rollercoasters just last summer!” they will say with exasperated voices. They will pour coffee on the grass beside her tombstone and whisper for her to enjoy.

The socioemotional selectivity theory states that the concept of an end drives one to live in the present.

When exiting the elevator, Olivia steps over the imaginary puddle of Dr. Mousse’s blood. Just in case. The fourth floor seems much more spacious than she remembers. Lots of windows. Wide hallways.

“Where have you been?” her roommate asks once Olivia enters their room, which could be the definition of bland. She wonders if she will ever leave this strange and suffocating space.

Olivia sits down on her bed. Her legs dangle off the edge, her toes point towards her roommate.

“Did you know that in 1995, Dr. Jack D. Ubel at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an observational study of inappropriate comments made in a hospital elevator?” Olivia says.

“No.” The roommate begins to comb her hair.

“Did you know that in 14 percent of the elevator rides, a physician breached the confidentiality of a patient?”

“Have you been reading?”

“Did you know that here, it’s even higher than 14 percent?” Olivia says. “But there’s this one doctor, she has these big round-”

There is a knock on the door.

“How are you ladies? I’m filling in for Dr. Cao tonight.” A doctor steps into view and adjusts her glasses, looking down at a clipboard.

Olivia smiles widely.

“This is her,” she says, and sits up straighter in her bed. She prepares to listen and to learn, as she has been doing all day.

Poetry Spring 2021

Self-Portrait as Sticky Notes

After Safia Elhillo

Today I write down the last thing my mother and I both laughed at & I write down
my partner’s birthday and all of his names & I write down how many days since the last
attempt & I write down the title of every poem that has ever held me in its arms and
told me I’ll make it & these days I feel so paper-thin, so parchment and puzzle & when 
I forget the good things I just look at myself in the mirror and read them again & again
& again 
Poetry Spring 2021


Two little white parakeets evacuate from my sister’s fingers
and in their agitation they fly into the walls 
they are persistent little things — 
persistent in the flapping and their panic even after going splat 
and they search, frantically, for the loftiest, most remote corner of our living room 

Like the uneasy dance of a flame Kimberly’s eyes keep up with the parakeets, 
but her body is still 
she points her stony chin to them and waits 
and the little white parakeets keep searching for holes in the ceiling 
and she waits, watching still, with locked knees and dancing eyes and a stony chin

The little white parakeets have tiny little wooden feet
And after a while their feet search for something solid
One parakeet rests, 
The other follows, 
And something firm and silvery flashes in Kimberly’s hand 

A little bird’s head pops out from a space between her fingers
she extends its wing and it is tense
and in her other hand she extends the arms of a barber’s scissor 

I watch her barber’s scissor glide through flight feathers
The feathers disintegrate —
They fall to the floor like dust from a window sill —
and the bird is still

When they escape her hand the little white parakeets resume their flapping, 
they see the lofty corners but the keep fucking falling 
and after a while their eyes search desperately for holes in the floor 
Prose Spring 2021

yellow yolk (alternatively, mid-way reflections on a gap year)

I feel like a cracked egg these days, golden-yellow yolk threatening to seep through the fractures of my shell at any moment. Only, eggs are probably much cooler than me, because, when put in hot water, they become tougher, while I collapse further into myself. Science aside, how do they do this? How does anything know how to thrive under extreme conditions?

People once thought I was hard-boiled and tougher than anything. I was a scholarship student with a full ride at an elite university, how could I not be?

I once believed this myth, too. That I had triumphed through hardship, that I’d grown stronger for all of the suffering. All the final exams, the waking up at 4 am to finish psets, the all-nighters, the thousands of extra-curriculars, the panic attacks, the suicidal ideation — they’d all made me a better, more capable person. Right?

The answer to this question used to be one word as well: a simple, sweet, supportive yes, whispered in the acceptance letters, the financial aid package, the Instagram posts speckled with congratulatory comments. But now, I don’t know. I am on a gap year, the coolest and calmest of waters, and still my skin is so fragile. I sleep ten hours each day and still feel exhausted afterward. I can barely manage the teaspoon to-do list I scoop onto my agenda each day. The one class I am taking, I am still struggling to keep up with. Meanwhile, everywhere, I hear the birds chattering.

piece of shit lazy piece of shit waste of time waste of space look at you so privileged and so lazy what happened to high school you what happened to worthy you piece of absolute shit you disgust me how can you not do the simplest of things incompetent impotent piece of shit shitshitshit

I guess

what I am trying to say

is that I did not come out of the years and years of hot water a better version of myself. I instead arrived at college with half a decade’s worth of sleep debt and untempered anxiety and wells of sadness and an unhealthy addiction to validation from capitalistic definitions of success, all buried deep inside of me, biding their sweet, hungry time. Waiting for a lapse like this. Waiting to eat.

This isn’t to say that they’re just now making their appearance. They often lurched out in college, too. But in school I had other things to worry about. This pset and that meeting and this midterm and that financial aid form and this application and this and that and this and that and on and on it went, through rainstorms and hundred-degree heat and nights spent in libraries. Through barely bearable mornings and afternoons in random corners of campus, laptop open, spine hunched forward, fingers click-clacking onto the teeth of the keyboard. The birds still chattered, but in exchange for my worries, I had seeds to feed them.

But here, look at this test I got an A on, but here, look at my two part-time jobs on campus, but here, look at this summer internship and that fellowship. I could momentarily snuff them out, or at least dull the noise to a murmur, a hum, a background instrumental of teetering self-esteem.

But now, I am on a gap year, and I have no more seeds in my pockets. The creatures that birthed me are pecking at my shell, demanding to be fed, but with what? With a finally sustainable sleep schedule? With a somewhat regular eating routine? These birds don’t give a shit about my well-being. Where is your full-time internship, where is your finished book, where where where are all the things you promised me would make this year worthwhile, worth sacrificing everything else.

I am halfway through the year, and I still don’t have any of these things. I am halfway through the year, and the yolk keeps pouring out of my mouth in snappy responses to loved ones, spilling out of my eyes in snapshots of sobbing, coating my hands cold and clammy, dripping out of my pores lying in bed.

How long before I go full humpty dumpty? How long before I go splat?

Maybe I didn’t survive the hot water — I just postponed the heat.

And instead of growing stronger, I am collapsing.

Featured Spring 2021 Visual Art

Drive-In Opera, Fort Mason

Featured Prose Spring 2021

A View of Sydney Harbour from the Plane

When I returned to Australia this time, in one of those tense restless moments in which I’d stretched my arms out and felt as though my palms were pressed hard against the walls, clunky in the corners, enclosed, I walked to the local cemetery.

And I cried.

It surprised me, too — the cemetery is an old one, and in Australia, which means that I have no relatives buried there; no connection to the people beneath the soil. Most of the cemetery has long been turned into a park, and the remnant gravestones are crumbling gently in the shade. It is pretty. It is calm. A destination for casual drinking; sex; strolls.

But I’d cried. I’d taken a walk to clear my head, wandered through the long grass, admired, as a history student, the porous Sydney sandstone church, remarking to myself that only Sydney would have such anachronisms as gothic architecture built from Victorian sandstone, read the words written on the gravestones — and promptly welled with tears. The words were:

Edward Adams, born Kent, 1792, died Newtown, 1844.

Followed by his loving wife Alice, born Glasgow, 1795, died Newtown, 1852.

And so on. The pattern was a British name, a place of birth outside Australia, and the place of death: here. I recognised the place-names, minutes from where I’d grown up: Redfern, Newtown, Macdonaldtown. The abrupt richness of connection in an unexpected place — the sudden ability to reach out and touch, feel, almost physically, the lives of these people in a deeply Australian space, a deeply detached space, startled me into sentiment.

It was clear to me too that this restless walk, this heightened emotion — this period of waking up exhausted from dreams of waiting rooms and mirrors — was no more and no less than a youthful and visceral struggle against filling the same space now that I’d filled at seventeen.

My most important memories, I realised, had always been of moments outside Australia; of life before Australia; even, for a time, of life after Australia. Memories of the period now called: before being sent back. I self-diagnosed my symptoms as the trauma of being sent back to blue skies.
In short, I finally grasped that it was because I’d grown up here that I wanted to leave.

Perhaps it’s because my Chinese name labels me: like water. I was born between oceans. My name in Hebrew means migration. So, at four, I moved like the water between shores, as my parents did, as their parents did. At birth, to my right was the salt of the Mediterranean, beneath me the salt of the Red Sea. Four years later, I must have realised that if I were to follow the waterway through the Persian Gulf, down the Arabian Sea, skimming leftwards through the top of the Indian Ocean, then finally I would arrive here, next to the Pacific.

Funny, then, that my first experience of Australia was being scared of the shower. We were renting an apartment, and there was no bath. I was afraid of the downpour, of standing, gasping, beneath the deluge of water rather than being bathed in it gently below my chest.

My second recollection sees us moving into our first house. I am running and running down that long unfamiliar Sydney corridor and an unnoticed corner of a wooden cabinet looms closer and closer until bang — I’ve hit my head against its sharp point. I fall and burst into tears.

My father picks me up and says, in Hebrew,

“Oh no, Hagar, you aren’t used to it here yet, are you.”

Some oddness of the sentence must have struck me even then, made me file away the words for later perusal. Now I understand that this memory is about my father’s disorientation and not mine.

Most years we return to see family. One afternoon, at a beach café, I ask for directions to the toilets. I ask in Hebrew, the language of my father; our Biblical language of lullabies; of dirty jokes; of memory and history. The waiter looks at me for a moment — then answers in accented English. Afterwards, bemusedly wiping water off my hands, I recount.

“Do I have an accent?” I ask.

My father shrugs. “Maybe you pronounce your reishs a little softly.”

There’s something familiar about the memory — generalised, even, or boring from repetition. In my second year of college, I’d stuck my head out of my dorm room and said something to a Chinese Canadian friend. Her older brother was visiting, and they were passing on their way out to dinner. Later that night, returned, she breathlessly divulged to me, “My brother told me that he’d hallucinated you spoke to me in Mandarin!”

We laughed. I had, of course, been speaking Mandarin. I’d spoken Mandarin and Hebrew before I knew English. You can still hear my fumbling accent sometimes, concealed in my lisp. Somefing. Fank you.

When I was born, the nurses in the Jaffa hospital laughed about the blonde Chinese baby. It was an image that took a struggle of forty-eight hours to produce: a large blonde infant exiting, with difficulty, a small sweating Han mother. Back in China, during parallel visits to see my quietly aging grandmother in her empty apartment, the aunties would thrill at my fair skin; that nose; the ungainly height. It was a common event, in those warm damp Chengdu days spent helping my grandmother carry home heavy plastic market bags, for someone to stop us and ask: “Is she a foreigner?

Ta shi waiguoren ma?

It’s the sound of that question, of that memory, that always rings so familiar. I could unwind for you a reel of similar moments. In Australia, it’s a scene sometimes set at the train station, sometimes at a crossroads, laced through with the familiar urban smell of warm concrete and crunchy Eucalyptus leaves and Thai lunches. In it, a woman asks me and my father, “Where are you from? Is that French?”

My father responds stiffly, “We’re from Newtown.”

I supply, “It’s Hebrew.”

End scene.

The soundscape changes with the setting. In the U.S., after I’d moved there for college, it was always the irritating metallic noise of the accusation: “But your accent isn’t Australian.”

So I embrace it. I’ve learned to thrill in my difference, be excited by it, dampened when I find similarities in another. If the only label left to me is migrant, then I know to enjoy being a curio. It is, after all, branded on me by my name, like an advertisement of restlessness. I get meaning from changing contexts. Homesickness — never experienced it. There’s a special peace, a special calm, a particular looseness of the shoulders in rebuilding a new life in a new place. No connections to the people or the landscape; no longer entrapped in boxy categories, desperately struggling and wriggling my fingertips. How can I describe that as a quality of the air?

It must have been a prescience of this restlessness, then, or a building desperation, that was behind the moment at sixteen in which I’d realised that my greatest wish had become to leave Australia. It’s because life in Australia is too easy, I’d theorised. I have nothing to struggle for, nothing to light me on fire. When I reach into my web of thoughts it feels grey.

Years later, when I did leave for college in the States, I learned to say instead that there is not the burden of history pressing down on Australia’s shoulders. The loss of that heavy weight in a young and removed society makes life both easier and emptier. The rich brilliance of the denseness of bodies and stories that give life in other, older societies that particular fermented tang that drives me wild that connects me, that sparks the thrill of emotion roiling around the eyes, does not exist here. But with that loss so too is gone the heaviness, the sadness, the maddening echo of drowned voices. Hence we immigrants desire to come here: for the calm of the unwritten.

That is to say, the landscape outside my window is filtered through memories of memories. My father’s sadness. My migratory instinct inherited from generations leaving bloodshed. Once, over a bowl of pasta at the local Italian restaurant, my mother said to me suddenly: “Did you know that only one of your grandmother’s four siblings survived? He was really her cousin — adopted by her father after his own parents died.” He had survived because he’d been exiled to Tibet. My late grandfather, remembered in stories of his gentle friendliness, his hopelessness at bartering, had only had a brother. Who’d hanged himself, said my mother over the gnocchi. A heavy weight pulls down rope. The sadness of the stories comes abruptly, in moments; patches; odd, intimate moods. A twin confession from my father at dinner: “We used to sit around the radio and listen for a name we knew. Everyone did that — listen for family members. You’d send descriptions to the Bureau for Missing Relatives.” I think we were eating fish that time, or maybe tofu.

Let me restate, again: looking out my window, at the echoing gentle emptiness of sun glinting off roofs and the harbour through the gum trees in the distance and my easy, easy, easy, life, I say, “I feel like the lucky child of a turbulent 20th century.”

Though of course Australia has an ancient multitude of threads of memory, embedded into the clouds of the blue Sydney sky and the shine of its waves. But this history feels carefully, deliberately wiped from the edges of my reach. Others must feel the emptiness from this too. You can see it in the breathless panting excitement at the one blood that we are allowed to remember, Australia’s own tomb of the fallen soldier.

“I’m sorry, Hagar, but you’re white.” I was fifteen. We were sitting in the library, in our ironed little school uniforms. The allegation confused me. The sorrowful coppery Anglo face that looks down at me from beneath its curved hat in the park memorial is familiar to me as a face in a social function. Its Australia, I’d thought, was barbeques and ANZAC Day and beaches for more than my one month of determined sandy public transportation at the height of summer.

So when I was sent back, in the March of this year, when the coronavirus threatened to twine its feelers into the college room I shared so many miles away from my parents, it was to look down and see my feet stepping backwards until I was curled in a ball in my childhood room, suspended in that web of innumerable strings that had defined me and my life and my future mine. To rebuild my self here, to sit in the park next to the cemetery on an empty afternoon, was to be forced to hold up the mirror of this country to my face: to experience the horrified jolt of seeing nothing reflected back.

Though perhaps it was good to have been sent back. The difficulty of building my life from the deliberately clean slate of new places, the effort of carefully considering each brick before placing it, was slowly destroying my body. The past year made me feel sometimes as though I was gazing down into a calm deep dark emptiness that one sees in the depths of the sky or the sea at night; that if only I’d stretch out my arms and let myself fall, the emptiness would calm my overheating mind.

My horizon reduced to the few streets around my house again. I know them like my body, can feel their map in my mind, touch their lengths. The cemetery is nestled in a corner over there — right here, see, between this dimple and this freckled line. I cried, there, abruptly; a breath ago, a week ago, a half-year ago, from a moment of overwrought relief — a laugh of recognition. The looking glass in the cemetery was suddenly crowded. In the reflection were threads of stories, winding towards their end in Australia.

A final confession: my name has yet another meaning. Biblical. The exiled girl who finds an oasis.

Featured Prose Spring 2021

The Salmon Season Gets Shorter and Shorter Every Year

When my father was twenty years old, the same age I am now, he took a summer job at a fishing plant and cannery halfway down the Aleutian Islands in Chignik, Alaska. The youngest of ten children, my dad began shipping himself out of his hometown of Spokane, Washington in the summers when he was seventeen. He first followed his older brothers Matthew and David to a chuckwagon ranch at the base of the Tetons in Jackson Hole, and then on up to Alaska, where Matthew worked on the boats and David ran the processing plant at the Aleutian Dragon Fishing Company. His age wasn’t an issue. By the tenth kid, my grandparents didn’t know how old he was, and they didn’t care.

There’s only one photo in our house from my dad’s time in Alaska. The picture itself is blurry, and my dad looks caught off guard, maybe mid-sentence. The background is all muted greys and whites; low and boxy concrete warehouses line the back of the dock and mountains dusted in snow rise sharply behind the buildings. The foreground is all yellow, my dad dressed in a floor-length rain slicker with a hood. His strawberry blond hair, which these days grows thick and long, is closely cut and mostly covered by a yellow ball cap. In the photo, you can’t read the words on the hat, but I know that it says “Aleutian Dragon Fishing Company” because my mom still has it. She wears it with her own floor-length yellow rain slicker, a gift from my dad on their first wedding anniversary.

My dad says that my Uncle David took the photo, and he knows that it’s early May because they’re out on the docks and not in the processing warehouses. This means it’s the twenty-four hour opening of the halibut season when the fishermen’s permits line up with the halibut spawning and they can catch hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish in a single day. The Chignik plant’s bread and butter was salmon — ten-pound red sockeye salmon in the early summer and forty-pound king salmon starting in August — but in late spring there was a sliver of halibut season. Since Alaskan halibut can be seven feet long and 500 pounds, the fish didn’t fit in the warehouses and the processing was done right on the docks. They’d hold the fish up on a gaff hook and use a machete to hack off its head, just below the eyeballs. They’d have to take turns, and my dad’s job was to re-sharpen the blades in between rounds.

My Uncle David started at the ADF Chignik plant when he was twenty-one and has worked in the Alaskan fishing industry ever since, though his job these days deals more with dwindling populations and plummeting fishery health. In the late 80s, he was in charge of recruiting college kids to work at the plant. He started with his brothers, which is how my dad got roped into the job, but he also recruited at college parties, convincing drunk Washington State students to sign contracts that they wouldn’t remember in the morning. My dad told me that his brother lured him to Chignik with the promise of adventure and the chance to make what was advertised as “a fuck ton of money.” He did, but only because in Chignik, you kept working as long as fish kept coming in, and back in the 80s, the fish never stopped coming in.

In the photo, there are a bunch of trough-sized metal bins full of severed fish heads over my dad’s left shoulder. The insides of the bins are smeared with the same blood staining his rain slicker, which never came out no matter how many times they washed and replaced the gear. The plant workers used to toss the heads into the bay to chum for marine life, but the fishermen (who were all Alaskan Natives — Aleuts, mostly — and passed Chignik Bay fishing permits down their families for generations) told them that the silver-dollar-sized cheeks were the freshest, most succulent flesh of the fish, so the plant workers saved the heads for the fishermen to take home in exchange for beer.

The Chignik plant processed fish twenty-four hours a day for five months in the summer, and the kids who worked at the plant often had shifts of up to sixteen hours with breaks for meals. They slept in bunkhouses where they hung blankets over the windows because it was sunny for twenty-one hours a day. For the first two summers my dad worked on “the slime line,” beheading and gutting salmon as they wound down a conveyor belt in a wet, freezing concrete warehouse. To entertain themselves, they listened to 80s rock mixtapes (he laughed when I asked if they had CDs) and flung fish hearts at each other — five points if you hit your buddy in the face and three points for every minute that he resisted the urge to wipe the guts off his eyebrow. Respect was earned around the eight-minute mark. My dad volunteered to work the overnight shifts because he made double the money and got to see his brother Matthew when the fishing boats dropped off supplies from Anchorage. On those nights, he lived on coffee, Copenhagen chewing tobacco, and Snickers bars while a half-sun washed dusk over the landscape at two in the morning.

They usually showered every day, but sometimes you were so tired that you took off your bloody rain gear and boots and fell into bed. They played pranks on each other and made ridiculous bets and swore off eating fish for the rest of their lives. Once, he and his friend Todd made a bet as to who could go the longest without showering, and they marked the days on their bodies in Sharpie. My dad won $100 off Todd for going twelve days. Five years after their last summer in Chignik, Todd confided that he had in fact showered on Day Six and re-Sharpied his body. My dad forgave him.

They played poker for days on end and once in a blue moon got an off day to go into town (two streets, single-wide trailers, and a dirt landing strip). There was a woman who sold baked goods out of her trailer and remembered the boys who returned summer after summer. The sole restaurateur of Chignik, she made about $30k a summer selling bread to the fishermen and donuts to my dad and his friends.

After three summers in Jackson Hole and three summers in Alaska (two and a half in Chignik and then a couple months spent helping clean up the ‘89 Exxon Valdez oil spill after a falling out with an asshole boss at the processing plant), my dad once again followed his brothers to Colorado, where he felled trees with some guys he met in Alaska and then worked at a ski repair shop and cobblery, which is where he met my mom. Uncle David kept trading fish for a living. Uncle Matthew went on to accumulate more adventures and hone his storytelling craft. My dad made him my godfather, in hopes that I’d pick up one of those gifts. I’m almost twenty-one and I wonder when I’ll be shoulders deep in fish guts with the nerve to tell stories about it. My mom still has the yellow hat and slicker, and when my dad goes out of town, we eat salmon for dinner.

Author’s father in Chignik, Alaska, 1986.
Spring 2021 Visual Art


Spring 2021 Visual Art

From the Artist of the Cover

Freshman year at Stanford, my peers and I were asked to imagine justice as a city in Plato’s Republic. The violence of this past year has been a disturbing meditation on justice; from the toll of the Covid-19 virus to horrifying hate crimes across the US. I made this collage April 20th, the day that Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. A lot of people online were breathing sighs of relief at the ruling, and rightfully so, but others were concerned; can we call the bare minimum justice? What kind of “just city” is this? I wanted to explore this question using campus as a microcosm of the world. Does our “just city” make sense? Or does it, like Plato’s, sound like a horrible place to live? And more importantly, what can we do about it?

Spring 2021

Editor’s Note

Oh, endings. They are always wished for, but when they really arrive, they hurt. It’s like rushing to finish a TV series or a long novel — when it’s over, we feel empty inside. That thing I just finished, we say to the credits or the closed book, that was my whole life! Now what?

Luckily for us, it is only one season of LQ that is ending: stay tuned for the sequel. But, boy, has it been an interesting one. This year, we stayed in our pajamas for four days straight and read the news in existential dread. We witnessed the world crumble. And we went on producing our little magazine; we went on reading poems. We went on doing what we could do.

Despite the insanity of running a lit mag remotely, being a part of LQ has undoubtedly been the highlight of the year. Everything, from hallucinatory Zoom meetings during midterm season to mailing out copies from our home “office,” from staff study sessions to collaborating with artists, has shown us all that art will persist. And that has been a wonderful thing. It’s what’s gotten me through, at least.

Surely I am beginning to sound repetitive with my thanks — I promise this will be the last of it. Thank you to the 2020-21 LQ staff for your hard work reading and editing every damn week. Thank you Malia, Lily Z., and Angela for your incredible leadership and spirit (every damn week, and more). And thank you to each of our contributors for your amazing art. It has been a privilege reading your work.

Finally, I am beyond excited to pass on this magazine to next year’s Editors in Chief, Angela and Jordan. Congratulations to you and the rest of the 2021-22 leadership board — Lucy, Callum, Adriana, Kavya, Kyla, Lily Z., and Elizabeth — you’re going to crush it!

And, now what? Now, I will close InDesign and Google Sheets and go lie down. For a long time. Enjoy the issue, and see you in September.