A few weeks ago, as I was starting to write The Afterlife for futurefeed, I emailed several poets asking if they might be willing—in the midst of isolation, uncertainty, sadness, anger, depression, delirium, hallucination, reflection, envisioning, work, overwork, action, care, love, and myriad forms of emergent and spectral intimacy1—to share some thoughts, experiences, memories, dreams.2 I wanted to throw open what I had been thinking and writing to include people whose minds and methods of processing experience I deeply revere.
Dear Friends, I wrote, I am wondering if you might be willing to answer one of the following questions, related to what I have been thinking and writing about for Futurepoem’s futurefeed:
1. Briefly describe a recurring dream or nightmare you had when you were young.
2. Briefly describe an encounter/interaction you've had with an insect.
3. Briefly describe a grave you have visited of a person to whom you are not related.
4. Where do the ancestors gather and/or where do your ancestors gather?
Here is what the poets—in order of their appearance: Mary-Kim Arnold, Celina Su, Woogee Bae, Jane Wong, Hilary Plum, Marwa Helal, Joanna Kaufman, Steven Alvarez, 최 Lindsay, Wendy Xu, Kou Sugita, Janice Lee, Farid Matuk, Jackie Wang, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Rob Schlegel, Khaty Xiong, Anselm Berrigan, Paul Legault, Darcie Dennigan, Cynthia Arrieu-King, Joshua Edwards, Lisa Wells, Thom Donovan, Christine Kitano, Asiya Wadud, Valerie Hsiung, Heather Nagami, S*an D. Henry-Smith, Phil Cordelli, Emily Jungmin Yoon, Mariko Nagai, Johanna Hedva, Jacob Kahn, Susan Briante, Carolina Ebeid, Youna Kwak, Mia Ayumi Malhotra, Samuel Ace, Brian Komei Dempster, Jeffrey Yang, Divya Victor, Steve Dickison, Jade Cho, Alison C. Rollins, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Matthew Henriksen, Brynn Saito, Claire Meuschke, Marianna Ariel ColesCurtis, Anthony Hawley, Quinn Latimer, Jeffrey Pethybridge, Kit Schluter, Jennifer Soong, Chris Carosi, Saretta Morgan, Jay Besemer, Maryam Parhizkar, and Caitie Moore—answered (click on the footnotes after each response to illuminate the poet):
1. I am swimming in a deep, clear lake through an underwater graveyard. I can breathe underwater. I swim above the rows of gravestones that are all covered with moss. I swim through tall seagrasses. In the dream, I know that it’s a dream. It is not unpleasant. I can tell that there are names carved on the stones, but I cannot get close enough to read them.3
1. In my most frequent dream, I am running down endless tunnels, running from whom, or what, I do not know. I just know to keep going. Sometimes, the maze is lush and green, like what I imagine an English garden to be like. Most of the time, the tunnels are the institutional corridors of elementary schools—the walls a drab, pastel green, hard, indestructible concrete.4
1. It occurs even now. With my sister on foot through residential streets, unsure of which house is ours, if any. Uphill, and the day growing dark. In some dreams, we pass a diner to our right. In others, we reach a cul de sac and trespass on a garden, which becomes a wheat field and we play.5
1. I’d often dream about carrying heavy things. A backpack full of pots and pans. Rocks. My brother. My brother and his friends. A melon. An entire library.6
4. Since my father died in 2018 I often find myself with this question. Libraries. He was a librarian. Books. By chance last week I was listening (in the mornings as I unload the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen—in any household I clean more than I cook, like my father, though he had no dishwasher and sudsed by hand, singing along to Neil Young or Leonard Cohen) to the audiobook of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation. Then last week police in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd. The city, then the country, broke out in protests; the police exploded into nationwide violence, ongoing as I write this today. I couldn’t join the protest march in my own city, a leg injury and an old health problem combining to keep me inside. The ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, into Ferguson and Baltimore—narrated in my morning ear, the news a frenzy of videos of police aggression, amid glimpses of handwritten signs, cities smudged by smoke and shot through with flame. I grew up in rural New England and I’ve been recalling lately an incongruous memory from childhood, of a city, a march my parents took us to once, led by Jesse Jackson, his Rainbow Coalition. I was nine or ten or so—my mom and I have tried to remember—it was the early ’90s. My dad’s union was marching, so we all went. The march was big—to a kid from the country, very big—and diversely peopled and its signs and chants and t-shirts and songs were variegated, endless. Images of rainbows? Just ahead of us I remember a group with a boombox dancing its way forward—mostly young black women, probably just a few years older than I was—clapping and stomping in unison, tireless. I didn’t know the city, how long we’d walk, where we were, what exactly was happening. Everything felt unfamiliar but it included you. You were there. Memories from childhood are more like dreams—we’ve all fallen for the trick, having to remind ourselves that as kids we couldn’t actually step outside our bedrooms then fly down the stairs wearing a nightshirt. Memories aren’t history but the knowing of history. The march was a feeling I’d never felt. It didn’t melt away, remained a bright quartz on the candy necklace of childhood. There are people in the scene of history and you are one of them, though you don’t know where you are. Nor what trace you’ll leave. Your belonging is weightier and harder and greater than your ways of knowing. Despite all the language you’ve learned. The dead know what you don’t know, and their love is unspeakable. Whenever people march, the ancestors are there. The march is a dreamtime that gathers us to the brink of them. Thank you to all those who summoned them with their feet this week.7
4. the ancestors are gathered within and around us at all times. sometimes they gather in your gaze. and anytime you wonder, “was it fate?” it was them. they are winking now and joyful. they are free.8
1. Hair is coming in the windows. Hair is coming in the doors. It is filling up the house faster than I can braid it.9
3. Tops of cypress trees taller than me, neck craned up and wind swirls whispering, dust too. Hot light pressing down, whispers dry, sky bluer than remembered before. Abuelos saw this blue too, heard this wind too, felt this wind too, are this wind too.11
1. I would be walking in a city. It would be unclear whether the sky looked heavy, and oppressively low and gray from clouds, or if there was actually a ceiling. After a while, I would realize that the buildings were so close together there were no alleyways, and just one long, empty street which I was walking along; then I would think to myself, this is a maze. Even without spaces between the buildings I would think I saw shadows between them, and in the shadows, things that were moving. And I knew that I was looking for someone in particular; I just didn't know who. As time went by, the mood of the dream would grow thicker and thicker, until I realized that it was actually getting harder for me to move, like the air had grown dense and heavy, and at the point where I couldn't move my legs, I would find myself in the center of the maze, and in the middle of it, there was a statue of a human figure, so eroded it wasn't immediately clear who the subject was. But I always knew that it was me, and at the same time, it was someone else from a past life who I had loved and didn't remember anymore. I would usually wake up crying. I had this dream regularly between the ages of maybe 12-15.12
1. In the checkout line at Aldi, with my mother, my hand in hers, I'm sure I'm a child, placing the package of four frosted cupcakes onto the rubbery conveyer belt and watching them slide towards the front where the cashier mistakenly adds them to the other family's groceries, nobody notices, not even my mother.13
4. When I was very little, I was scolded by mother for eating the offering placed in front of my great-grandfather’s altar. I was unaware, at the time, of Buddhist practices. I thought, he must be inside the altar, when you die you must be kept inside a box, you must be caught inside the mouths of those who knew you. I was frightened by the altar. I didn’t understand who, what, an ancestor was. That night, in an unfamiliar home, the street lamp offered an orange vector of light into the room I was sleeping in. I’d describe my confusion as: “all shadows drop from the trees and gang up on me” (Chika Sagawa). Some imagine, believe, they gather on festive nights, and the stories create shakes in our chests, the light becomes lights. Do they then return to the shadow of shadows on their boat of light? Those who have shape will lose it? The place we are now is a place to be fished from. We fish with our mouths?14
4. At the altar, around a bowl of water. At the ocean, grilling fresh-caught mackerel. In a cave, in the form of white bears, wise and aged, remembering.15
4. Right here. Or about 8-10' off. Sometimes I remember ancestors are not always traveling by blood. I look at the phone to keep them away.16
3. Memorial to Rosa Luxemburg at the Lichtenstein Bridge over the Landwehr Canal on the edge of Berlin’s Tiergarten Park, where Rosa’s body was thrown into the canal on the night of January 15, 1919. It was not her grave. A grave is a site where the energies generated by ritual acts hover, where the living can’t help but gather to practice a kind of sociality that pays no heed to the border between life and death. What is this need for the emblazoned name to mark the void left in the wake of the departed? Psychoanalysts will tell you, the mind does not know negatives. * Rosa Luxemburg was a communist revolutionary, a secular Polish Jew also known for her piercing analysis of the relationship between capitalism, colonialism, and war, which she described in her masterwork The Accumulation of Capital. Her haters will tell you she was too hasty in her attempt to launch a revolution in Germany, that she didn’t understand Volume II of Marx’s Capital, that the underconsumptionist theory of crisis leads you to crude Keynesianism. Her defenders will tell you she was a martyr who uncovered capitalism’s drive toward territorial expansion and prophesied the rise of Nazism in a pamphlet that argued: "Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism." (Are we at the same crossroads now? The question terrifies me.) She was one of “history’s vanquished”—a revolutionary spark snuffed out by the proto-Nazi Freikorps at the behest of Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader and German Chancellor Friedrich Ebert. * The corpse of Red Rosa does not rest in the grave that bears her name. We know this because the corpse they pulled out of the Landwehr Canal and buried under her name “did not agree with the anatomical peculiarities of Luxemburg's body”—she had congenital hip dysplasia, a condition that caused her legs to be of different lengths. She walked with a limp and had a gold tooth. She was shot in the head before she was tossed into the canal 101 years ago. When the canal thawed, a waterlogged corpse was fished out of the water and buried under her name. How could the forensic examiners have possibly mistaken the even-legged corpse for hers? Fritz Strassmann, one of the examiners, had even written the definitive textbook on performing autopsies. * Do not read about what happens to a waterlogged corpse. (Which I did, when I learned, one week ago, that my ex-girlfriend’s corpse was fished out of the Connecticut River. Her body had to be identified by her dental records.) * Rosa once wrote: “My tombstone may have only two syllables on it: ‘tsvee tsvee’ (zwi zwi). That’s the call of the tomtits, and I can imitate it so well that they come running here right away. It’s usually a clear, fine sound, as sparkling as a steel needle. But imagine! For some days now there’s been a very small warble in this tsvee-tsvee, a tiny chest-note. And do you know what that means? That is the first rustling of the coming spring.” Instead, her tombstone unceremoniously reads: “murdered Jan 15, 1919”. If only a grave of onomatopoeias could be erected for dear Rosa! Tsvee tsvee. Her senses were heightened by the isolation she endured as a political prisoner. A head full of chirps and brain blooms. It wasn’t just the song of the tomtits she loved, but everything that signaled the coming of spring: most of all the flowers. Of all the flowers, she loved the snowdrop most. During her intermittent stints in prison she found comfort in studying botany and assembling her herbarium. Her friends would bring her plant specimens. She would put them in her herbarium, marking down both their German and Latin names, occasionally making errors that autodidacts are prone to making (like mispronouncing a word because you’ve only ever read it in a book). * From Rosa Luxemburg’s herbarium: Can the revolutionary also be a lay botanist? What is the disjunction between the avatar of the revolutionary and their sensuous mode of inhabiting the world? And why was I surprised that someone who was so perspicacious on matters of political economy could harbor such an intense love of flowers? * While passing through Berlin for a poetry reading I went to a memorial for Rosa Luxemburg beneath Lichtenstein Bridge, where her body had been dumped into the canal. All I saw: the rifle butt to the head, the fear, the shot, the splash. The scene ricocheted across a century and exploded in my brain as shrapnel. I had brought a red rose with me. I threw the petals into the water and wept. * We still don’t know what happened to the corpse of Rosa. “rumors had long been circulating at the Charité that the body of Red Rosa never actually left the hospital” In the cellar of the hospital’s medical history museum, a preserved corpse—missing its head, feet and hands—was discovered by forensic pathologist Michael Tsokos around a decade ago. It dated to the period when Rosa was executed and showed signs of being waterlogged. Tests concluded that the corpse belonged to a woman who died between age 40 and 50 (Rosa was 47 when she was murdered) and had legs of different lengths. The torso “had been kept on display in the pathology department of Charité Hospital as a classic example of a water corpse or ‘floater’ until 2007.” It was used to teach medical students about a natural mummification process where the fat of the corpse is transformed into adipocere or “grave wax.” Submerged in an anaerobic environment, the corpse undergoes a chemical process that turns it into a lump of soap. Was the soap-torso Rosa’s? In the absence of definitive proof, it was interred at an unknown location.17
4. Ancestors gather in poetry venues.18
3. Five years or so ago, I taught an Asian American studies class and I took my students—and poet Michelle Peñaloza—to Carlos Bulosan's grave in Queen Anne, Seattle. We bought him some flowers—bright pinks and yellows—and wrote poems made up of questions we'd ask Bulosan. We shared a line each; my student shared their last line: "Where is home?" And just then, the flowers we placed on his grave moved in the wind—the petals floating off into the air, in all directions.19
3. Last summer me and the poet Michele Glazer walked through Portland, Oregon's Lone Pine Cemetery. Engravings on the oldest gravestones had been worn away by sun, wind and rain. I wondered if some of the names deserved being lost to weather. The few gravestones we could read all shared a common trait: they were being sheltered by giant evergreens.20
3. At the grave of a translator, in North Carolina, there was a stand of oak trees. Thousands of burnished brown acorns had fallen on the grave. Moss grew on one side of the gravestone, on one side of the oaks, on one side of the silk flowers marking the grave. Moss did not grow on the acorns.21
3. I visited Saint Mary Cemetery once in Missoula, MT, where I lived for two and a half years for grad school. I remember the trees, and the very straight dirt path at the entrance of the cemetery. It had rained earlier that day, so the earth was still wet. There were no visitors that day. Even though the cemetery isn’t very big, it took some time for me to locate Richard Hugo’s grave. I was told he was lying under a very large oak. Every tree there seemed large, and I wasn’t confident what an oak tree looked like at the time. Just as the sun slipped over the mountains, I looked over my shoulder and saw a tree with a growing pile of leaves at the base of it. When I arrived, I brushed the leaves aside and found, in cold, stony letters, “RICHARD HUGO.”22
3. I went to Jimi Hendrix’ and saw a clean Saturn slate.23
3. I visited Jack Kerouac's grave in Lowell, Massachusetts once, about ten years ago, and mostly remember that the tombstone was small and flat in a kind of semi-urban setting, and there were pens stuck into the ground, pen tip down, just past the lower edge of the stone. I stuck one of my pens in the ground too.24
3. This one time I visited Tennessee Williams’s grave in St. Louis, and there was a group of Civil War reenactors nearby. They were scarier than any ghosts. Maybe it was their guns. Or maybe it was the way that glitch in time reminded me how all of us have ancestors, just they don’t all get along. Tennessee didn’t want to be buried in a Catholic cemetery in Missouri. (He wanted to be scattered in the Gulf of Mexico where Hart Crane died jumping overboard). His family put him there. But Williams’s family wasn’t just the family he was born with. As much as his sister Rose (buried nearby) haunted his imagination, so did this whole world of friends and lovers — spinning through his head like a film reel. And he put his inheritance to the page. Open when needed. I needed it most as a scared Catholic kid growing up closeted in Tennessee.25
3. The grave that i visit pretty often: the grave of brigit pegeen kelly. since her death was announced in October 2016, i'd say i go there once or twice a month. sometimes a ton more. i don't know where it is. i'm guessing illinois. i've written to her husband to ask where she is buried and maybe that was bad form. brigit's voice, her actual voice, the way that air passed through her larynx, is such a precious sound to me. the larynx and trachea are made of cartilage and hers probably don't exist anymore. her poems, meeting her, made my writing life possible. probably the same for lots of us, claiming a poet as guide, even from afar. i do visit her grave though—because her poems take place so decidedly in the realms of decomposing bodies. in her poems the dead don't know they're dead. her hyoid bone, her skull, i visit them. maybe i misunderstand. but i go.26
3. I went to William Blake's gravestone. I did a wax rubbing and I saw many flagstones and children there.27
3. Cesár Vallejo, in Paris. Slabs of granite, flower, pins.28
3. I went to see César Vallejo's grave in the Cimetière de Montparnasse. His remains traveled around to several sites before ending up there in 1970. I was surprised by the simplicity of the stone atop him, and by how heavy it looked.29
3. From the grave of compounding cliché: I was in my early twenties, broke in Paris and so spent my days touring cemeteries for free. It was pissing rain at Montparnasse. I mostly had the place to myself. I was dressed in thick gray tights and my dead grandmother's twill blazer, a look I mistook for continental sophistication. I visited Simone de Beauvoir first, then read aloud in English to Samuel Beckett's grave thinking he might miss the sound, when a man emerged from the trees with a camera and telephoto lens and took what must have been—based on the furious clapping of the shutter—100 photos of me. I said stop it. He lowered the camera and receded without a word. Later I realized he too was a tourist and had mistaken the scene as some manifestation of the "authentic." Death's AKA: Godot, the single authenticator.30
3. When I was in Paris in the summer of 2014, visiting with family and friends, I tried to find the (grave) site of the Paris Commune. What I found did have a memorial plaque, but surprisingly little else. Laterin the trip my friend Rob said that the actual grave of the Commune was a mass one near one of the main cemeteries, possibly in the cemetery itself. Coming in from the rain at the official site, I satat a bar and wrote the following: I round a corner in the rain in the neighborhood where the Communards occupied the city near Place L’Italie and I remember the line from Chris Marker’s La Jetee: “A man marked by an image from his childhood.” The 1870s are like a lost childhood for us. Now it is raining. I drink a beer while customers speak in Spanish. I recognize the word communism. I wonder if they are talking about the Paris Commune. I love the streets that haven’t been straightened. The pre-Hausman streets. The quiet because there are fewer cars here. My umbrella, which I bought in Rome with Dottie, has cats on it. Rainbow brand (Japanese). Chris Marker would have liked it, I think. I wonder if it is raining in NY, where today is the launch of Robert’s Supple Science. Elena: Fascism can happen anywhere. It was not specific to Germany. Not just a German phenomena. Elena: Europe has history, America has space. Elena: who will do something and who will save their skin. The least likely people will do something. Hide people in their basement. […] Rob (at Tschumi): he was asking allthe wrong questions. Walking around a city is like taking a photograph with your whole body. Your whole body remembers, not just the eyes. […]31
4. They live here, in the "flash" that Walter Benjamin describes: "To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognise it 'the way it really was' (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger .... The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes .... Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious" (Illuminations, p. 257).“It's not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past: rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words: image is dialectics at a standstill" (N2a,3, The Arcades Project, p. 462).32
4. I think our ancestors gather in our senses, in the ways we experience our lives.33
2. One morning, while waiting for coffee to brew, I watched a spider rappel down a thread and plop itself on the counter. Usually I let spiders be but envisioned myself that evening unfolding the rice sack to find this spider starred against the grains. It wasn’t fear exactly but a sensation like a trembling in the grass, so I smothered it, pressing into the center; the oval body burst under my thumb like a blood blister.34
2. Yesterday a fly found its way into my living room, its loud, low hum trailing it. I know it came in through the dining room window—earlier in the week I saw the corner of the screen flapping in the wind and thought I should do something about it. It's been so many weeks since I've had guests in my apartment because no one has guests anymore. I followed the fly's erratic twirling for a minute and I thought it was nice that it could come and go as it pleased.35
2. Some strange stinging creature, almost a bee, but not quite, almost a wasp but not quite, was lying still on the couch that we’d been using as a headboard for our mattress on the floor. I grabbed a cup and my partner put the cup upside down over it. Then I grabbed a piece of cardboard to slide underneath the mouth of the cup as my partner drew the cup to the edge of the couch. “Hold it tight” I said, “let’s go to the back” and we walked together to the backdoor of the house. “Okay, I’m going to go outside, place the cup down and then lift it up and run back in.” My partner opened the door, set the cup down on the table on the porch, looking at me throughout the window, said “on the count of three,” and began “one, two…” and on "three," he lifted up the cup, I opened the door, and then he dashed back inside and I closed the door behind him. “Where did it go?” Neither of us ever saw it fly up.36
2. I was at my girlfriend’s sublet in Berkeley feeding her cat Diesel while she was away on a cruise in the Atlantic with her mother. In one of the bedroom windows, I spotted a moth that had gotten caught in a spiderweb. I don’t remember if the spider witnessed this or not, but I do remember using a pen to help the moth free itself and how—quite quickly and easily—we seemed to be working together.37
2. On a recent walk my son and I saw a spider wrapping silk around an inchworm in the neighbor's retaining wall. My son kicked the wall. The spider retreated. When I asked my son what he was doing, he said: "Intervening."38
2. There was a year of white moths, always in the nick of time. Snowflake whistling by me whispering guidance. The last was in Utah, on the balcony—I watched it fly into flame.39
2. 4. The miller moths are coming through again right now, and my two-and-a-half year old daughter is entranced daily by them. They drop in glasses of water, or litter corners, dot the windows. Her personal engagement with these utterly common pests, dead and alive alike animated with life, reminded me of being outside playing with fireflies as a child, at dusk and deepening darkness, and the way they would light up, a greenish yellow liquidy light, and then (turn off), turning invisible for a moment and then visible in outline, or a slightly more dense darkness, and then flashing bright again. Where the ancestors are, aside from most basically and physically inside myself and my child, and a thin layer of their physical person covering the world like dust in an old house, is like the gradient of density of darkness, and occasional flashes of light, ironically obscuring the actual presence and person.40
2. When I was 7 or so, I was in the schoolyard of our elementary school. At that time, schoolyards in Korea were covered in sand instead of grass (real or artificial) of these days. So wisps of sandy fog must have been rising from the little kicking feet. I looked up at the sky, and it must have been autumn, because I saw what seemed like hundreds of red dragonflies flying in and out of the pink of the sunset. It was a really strikingly beautiful sight. At a point I can't locate in my life, I have become afraid of insects, though I used to catch dragonflies using my pointer and middle finger, trapping the translucent wings between them as my grandfather taught me. I always let them go. Thinking of all this reminds me that I haven't seen a red dragonfly in years—possibly more than a decade.42
2. By a creek outside of Austin, in the leaves that had fallen and layered around the stone foundation of the cabin where i lived, a very large Texas red-headed centipede lay in an S shape that seemed to undulate while still. A few weeks ago, when we came back to Tucson, two dragonflies fucking in the air and then landing, coupled, on the small metal table beside me in the backyard. A week or so after that, a very large but very still dragonfly on the bark of a tree outside your home.43
1. Recurring dream: I'm running up and down a tiny stream so narrow in some places that spawning salmon are unable to reach their redds. I pick up one fish and carry it to where the stream widens enough for the fish to continue its passage. Just as I release the one, another is in the queue, ramming her snout against the impinging rock.44
2. When I was 6, we came across a black swallowtail butterfly (which, now, is quite rare in Tokyo but was a familiar sight back in the 70s). I caught it and put it in a plastic insect cage. The next day, the cage was covered in black blood, and the swallowtail butterfly, dead.45
2. The stairwell in my apartment was sort of outdoors, with a two-story window instead of a wall. There were always a bunch of bugs trapped against the glass, making noise and trying to get free. But they were bugs, they could never figure out that there was a wall between them and the sky, because it was the same color as the air. So they all died there. The landing of the stairs was constantly dirty with dead flies, bees, gnats, mosquitoes. It was gross. One day when I came home, there was a big tiger swallowtail butterfly trapped in there. It was so beautiful. These huge, gorgeous wings. It looked like it was having a hard time. It was moving its wings slowly, really tired, like it was ready to give up. I said ‘aw’ out loud and moved to save it. Then I realized that I only wanted to save it because it was beautiful. I’ve never felt the need to save any of the countless flies or bees or gnats or mosquitoes that have been trapped there before. I passed them several times a day and I’d never given a shit—but now I did. And why? Because this one was beautiful? That that should be a reason a thing should live or die? No. So—I let it die.46
3. 4. I wish I had a better sense, but I don't know where my ancestors gather. My dad's ashes are scattered in a few places—by a swimming pool, on a mountain (or, specifically, in the snow that eventually evaporated). I have no particular affinity for graveyards, or the gravesites of elders or ancestors. In fact, I remember being inexorably bored when visiting them as a child. I grew up across the street from a cemetery, and it was the place I played, so perhaps that inured me to their effects. In that cemetery, pretty close to my house, there was a gravestone that I, Jacob D. Kahn, used to marvel at for one, Jacob A. Kahn. There was local lore about particular phenomena in and around our cemetery: a spot where gravity pushed one uphill in their car; a mausoleum in which, upon lighting a match before the barred, open-air vault, you could see the dead person's reflection in a broken flower vase instead of your own. When I was young, drunk teenagers would come up to me around dusk or just after dark to ask if I knew where “Emo's grave” was, so I ended up becoming a kind of knowing guide to the site. When I became that drunk and stoned teenager myself, I would end the night trying to sober up in the cemetery before entering my house. Once I passed out until a sprinkler woke me up early the next morning; another time I was so high and thirsty, I got on my knees to lick dew off the grass so I wouldn't dehydrate (or so I thought) and die. I never saw Emo's reflection, but I mean to check every time I end up back there. Maybe it's a spirit or visage I'll be able to summon or apparate with time.47
4. at St. Mary’s cemetery in West Warwick, Rhode Island on a hill overlooking the Crompton mills. my maternal grandparents and my great grandparents, and my cousin are buried there legally. my paternal relatives as well. my dad buried his mother's ashes there illegally at night. we go there a lot especially to see my mom’s mom. my kids come, and we plant flowers or weed in the spring. my uncle mark rubs the moss and fungus off the stones. or
we just walk around and talk. my aunts and uncles seem to be always leaving nice plants there for their siblings to see. they are haunted by missing their parents. they will not let them go. my sisters and i, as long as we're alive, i don't think we'll let our grandmother go either, until we die. my daughters will be able to let her go, i think, maybe it works that way with generations, but my sisters and i gather her to us all the time. the best/hardest is listening to her old voicemails.48
3. I like going to a graveyard of the Japanese diasporas from 100 years ago—these unnamed migrants and immigrants who toiled to make their future, then died. For some reason, most of the gravestones in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, etc) and Americas faced Japan.49
4. They gather in the folds of our skin. In a bright arrangement around the sun. In the airport and at the well. They gather in every room of every house. They gather where we welcome them. They gather where they are called, if they can. They gather outside of the night in the stainless change of our minds. They gather, you may have guessed, at the table. They gather, you might have noticed, at the hair salon. They gather in convenience of our tears. They gather when something requires them to travel.50
4. My queer ancestors don’t gather in cemeteries. They gather on the dance floor, in the streets. They don’t stay where their ashes were thrown: on the front lawn of the White House, in unmarked boxes on Hart Island. They gather between our bodies, connecting us like gossip, like breath on the air, like touch.51
4. The ancestors gather around folding tables and card tables lined end to end with folding chairs. In death, as they did in life, the ancestors gather in the basement because there are too many of them to fit into any one of the duplex’s rooms. They gather near the metal shelves lined with canned tomatoes, near the wash sink, the extra stove, the heater and sump pump. If it’s nice out they might gather in the garage. Despite the bare bulbs and exposed pipes, some of the women wear dresses, some of the men wear corduroy jackets and skinny ties. There are plates of fresh fruit and cheese. There are jugs of wine and coffee. There is no planning when everyone talks at once, but their voices make a warped kind of song.52
1. There’s a dream takes place in the basement of my childhood home in Jersey. I am struggling to close the door to the backyard in time for before the invader gets in. It’s always dusk or full night, and the low ceiling lights buzz overhead. The dream takes root in my mind after our house was burglarized while we were away on a family trip. What I remember is very little. I remember my father saying, “they came in from the basement,” and I remember the large, Pinocchio-head coin bank, which my grandmother kept on her dresser, was now on the living room floor. (Should I mention it was the size of a human head?) From that moment, the basement became an even more ominous or perplexing place, not only occupied by spiders and political pamphlets written in Arabic, it now held a passageway for havoc to get in, all the way into my dreamscape. The dream intruder isn’t always a person; more often it’s a brawny, beautifully wild animal—a stag, a white-haired gorilla—that runs through the doorway past me.53
4. In my dreams, they gather in a Russian Orthodox church and my dad stands up among them trying to say something significant to him and they all look confused about who he is. They must not be MY ancestors, lol. They're always wearing dark old centuries clothes.54
1. A knock on the door, my father answers. A blonde is standing there, tall blonde lady with a chignon. Wearing a skirt suit, and heels, very chic. The skirt suit is coral, sometimes lime green, color of spring. I discover my father is naked though he does not seem to know it. He looks very small in nakedness, facing the tall blonde, whose eyes glow suddenly with laser-force—her eyes are lasers, and they zap at my father. Zap, zap, with every zap he shrivels, little by little, more, and more, until he is nothing but a twig.55
2. We have caterpillars living in a little jar in the kitchen, and I've been tracking them with my kids... These last two days, I've watched them crawl to the top of their habitat in perfect synchronicity—all five of them, hardened overnight into silvery chrysalids. And I walk past them every hour or so and think—what is happening where I cannot see? By what process are they coming undone, breaking their bodies apart into the next incarnation of themselves?56
2. A woolly bear caterpillar slept in my enclosed studio porch for several days at MacDowell Colony. It later moved outside onto the mossy lawn. I had lots of neighboring crows and dark-eyed juncos, so I was always worried about the little one. Sometimes it crawled under a leaf and slept there, just out of sight from the birds. If the leaf blew away, and it was exposed, I’d place another leaf over it. I did this every day until it was gone. In that time, I wrote a poem about it.57
3. In loving memory. In memory of. Mother of. Peace perfect peace. Gone but not forgotten. I have fought the good fight. Wife of. Son of. Forever in our hearts. Also his wife. At rest. His end was peace. Sacred to the memory of. Also their daughter. Killed in explosion. Dead. Died. Only sleeping. Also her husband. Native of. Asleep in Jesus. Always loved. Infant son. A loving father. Erected by his wife. A true friend. Always remember. I am the resurrection. Our dear mother. Drowned. Always loving. Forever with the Lord. Entered into rest. Blessed are the dead. Camphill Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 2000.58
3. The gravesite I most recently visited was on Cheticamp Island in Nova Scotia. Two children or angels stood at the corner of the weather-worn sign. In the ground, half buried in the grasses and dirt, were broken headstones. They were white stone, smooth like stepping stones, and inscribed with faint unreadable marks. To my back was the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the wind. Always the wind. If I turned I could see the sea, and the slope of grasses spreading to the cliffs. A pair of eagles nested there. First I heard their calls. Then I walked to the edge and saw their white heads just below my feet.59
4. Remember the dead, names scripted in ink on wood plaques, women, men, and children chanting from purple books in a sunlit room with a temple bell, the shimmer of bronze. Grandfather’s kesa billows in the breeze of an open window while he lights incense inside a marble pot, mother’s hands glide across ivory keys, uncles pound the taiko, and aunts and Grandmother sing into the sea of voices. Now the sun casts its light again over the bell’s patina, bronze rings out, and my uncle—the only brother left—strikes a match, green tips glow orange as we sing the lotus chant from books with fading purple covers, petals flow through waves of jasmine, fall upon the plaques scripted with the names of Grandfather, Grandmother, and their sons.61
1. I dreamt quite a bit of the dead—the dead I knew and didn't know. In the Japanese popular belief (from long time ago), children under 7 were still thought to travel between this and that world—and maybe that's what I was doing: traveling to that world while asleep.62
1. That my house was going to be invaded by people that we had to hide from. The oldest dream I can remember was of living in a desert. At the front door was my little doll house and through the front door came The Joker who got bigger and bigger. I later came to think of this as some atavistic dream from my parents' war traumas.63
2. I was at a northern California conference on prison art and mosquitos made their way into the keynote.64
3. There’s a cemetery near my home that belongs to a state prison, inherited from the “hospital for the criminally insane” that the prison used to be. It is tucked behind and between the tennis courts and new football field of the local high school. The prison is a stone’s throw up the road from the high school, so that one must pass the high school when walking from the prison to the cemetery, or if walking from the cemetery to the prison. The cemetery is hidden by tall pines and maples and other trees. A chain link fence, a row of residential houses. The graves are small, wedge-shaped stones that bear no names. The same cross appears mechanically carved in relief on the inclined face of each stone, while a different, four-digit number is engraved on the bottom, vertical edge of each stone. The stones are arranged in evenly spaced rows. The older, weathered stones look like granite; the fewer newer ones look like cement. A small, separate section of stones bear a Star of David rather than a cross, though the crosses outnumber the stars by many, many stones. On a recent visit, the grass was lush and green and the honeysuckle was in bloom. I saw upturned grass and earth and freshly packed dirt. I saw a deer eating forbs among the stones.65
1. I am high above the surface of water, as if on a diving board, but inside a very tall room. I am so high up my head is almost touching the ceiling. Down below, there are a few people standing waist-high in the water. Sometimes, they are looking up and calling for me to join them. Sometimes, they are not aware that I am there. I sense we are all in danger, but everyone seems calm. The platform I am standing on is rising slowly. Soon I will not be able to stand upright. As the platform continues to rise, I crouch until I am almost lying down. I know if I jump, I'll be seriously hurt. Sometimes, the people on the ground wave me on, but I can never bring myself to let go.66
1. We emigrated to the US in 1980. I was six. Our part of Anaheim was several blocks of four and eight unit apartment complexes, each with their own name, landscaping, owner. What matters is the easements and alleyways. You could walk these for what seemed like miles and there you saw the sameness behind each complex. The alleys were lined by carports and dumpsters that made surprises possible—several men drinking beers and playing mariachi or banda riffs on a trumpet, porno playing cards or broken toys by a dumpster. The long scale of each alley, and the fact that they were there for kids to explore, elevated them to the backdrop of dreams. I was also a child when i was 28, 29, 30. I would dream myself in a school gymnasium or over a dirt path layered with leaves looking down, and I would start to feel a mixed feeling, like smug wonder and desperation. I would be prone but levitating slightly and realizing by the second that i could really fly and that i could gain altitude by breathing and i could move ahead and maintain lift with conviction. Flying was beautiful, affirming of powers that in a dream are a gift and connection to some force beyond myself, but my negotiations with the promise of flying—the effortful believing that i would as a condition of possibility that i could - reminds me now of sneaking out of the bedroom of the man who sexually assaulted me when i was 9, and believing i could make it back to my bedroom in the house where i was visiting if i held my breath and belly crawled from the bathroom through the floor of the master suite of the home owners, my hosts, and then back to the hallway to my guest room.67
1. I am swimming in a deep, dark pool, in a dark cavernous room. I am the only person in the pool. The water is dark, the room is dark. There is a door at the far end of the room. Sometimes, it is open, letting in a little murky light. Sometimes, I can tell someone is standing there, but I don’t know who it is. I am not particularly afraid, but I know I am getting tired. I know I will want to get out of the pool soon. But as I move toward the door, it doesn’t seem like I am getting any closer.68
1. Many of my recurring dreams or nightmares when I was young involved my childhood home, which was very haunted, and also where my family had lived for sixteen years before we moved. It was always dark in those dreams, perpetually dusk on the brink of deep night; hardly ever any light in that world. Still true, even now, when I dream, actually. Like I’ve been carrying my home with me all this time. But the dreams themselves: My house constantly a different version of itself, or the pain inside it. All the rooms seemingly the same (as they were in waking life), but the structure of the hallway…always hard to walk through, like walking through an extended dead end, again, with little to no light. But if I wanted to see my mom in the dream, for example, in her bedroom, which was the first room to the right of the hallway, I first had to look into the hall and make a kind of contact with the looming darkness before I could enter her bedroom. This was also true, in the dreams, if she was outside in the backyard watering her garden. The sliding glass door that led to the backyard would be cloaked in shadows too, and every time I passed through it, it felt like I was leaving one realm for another. To be clear, my mother was still living when I had these dreams. And even though I’m my mother’s eighth child, I had a very strong spiritual connection with her, so she appeared in my dreams a lot. It’s been four years since her car accident and I’ve spent every one of those years wondering if my mother was ever real, or simply a figment of my imagination, a woman from my dreams, a friend from a former life.69
2. When I was in Marfa, Tim told me about the existence of the tarantula hawk in great gory detail. I have not seen it myself, but the description of how the bug looks, and what it does, may have cured me of my arachnophobia. Are empathetic interventions around phobias a thing? I say slant because this is only a mediated encounter with the tarantulas hawk. And I know a spider isn’t an insect. (bug-eye-roll).70
2. When I was finishing my senior year as an undergraduate in Towson, a town near Baltimore, we were ambushed by a periodical Cicada hatch. That Summer was enveloped by the shrill drone of cicadas emerging, flying, eating, mating, birthing, and dying. Dying in vast piles, in matted venation all over town. We walked on massive networks of cicada corpses, punctuating the drone with the crunch and snap of exuviae. I felt for their anticipation, their long wait of 16 years, embedded deep in the dirt of their subterranean desire. I loathed their single-mindedness, felt repulsed by the inability to escape the destiny of the species. Loathing led to pity. And then what remained was just the stench of their disappearance.71
2. Spiders have the run of the apartment, up near the ceiling and in the three windows. A little while ago, like a poem says: Landlord hired a Spider to replace the screen José forgot to bring back / to cover my bedchamber window set up for filtering who comes out / who comes in // Years ago, a signal dream let me know how insects are not birds though birds are close to insects, and they talk. After my mother died last September, I came back to San Francisco after a week with my dad and family in Minnesota. The next Thursday it was, a pigeon came inside the window at school, in my office on the 5th floor. We looked at each other and kept looking, and I saw my mother looking at me, and my own face imprinted with her face looking back. After a while the pigeon ventured out on the ledge, and jumped back inside as a juvenile redtailed hawk, aggressive the way adolescents can get, puffed up, landed and stood there. I saw then how the pigeon had been hit, feathers churned up on one side, maybe while flying. Ok, you can stay inside as long as you like. / ‘My Little Rock Dove’ / hit by juvenile sparrowhawkface sheltered indoors a pallet / of papers made up been waiting yr name inscribed reserved / didn’t have a bitter word to say / sd words dove’s eyes make up / what were golden bright yellow amber only opaque eyes (*to the tune of ‘My Little Suede Shoes')72
2. 4. My grandfather loved music. After he died in Los Angeles, I remember my mother finding a giant cricket in our Oakland basement, as if he had come to visit us. My mother remembers it differently: it was a houseplant in LA that hadn't bloomed in years bearing a fragrant, sweet perfume; outside, a cricket she had never heard before erupted in song. When moving out of state last summer, I encountered a giant grasshopper. I had stopped in LA to see my partner; we were having lunch at a cafe when the grasshopper landed on my glass. We shooed it onto a pot of donkey tails, but it stayed with us, swaying to the cafe's music until the end of the song.73
2. I found a praying mantis eating a grasshopper. It held the grasshopper like a burrito and ate from the abdomen first. I held out my hand. The praying mantis climbed on. It turned its head and stared at me. I looked into the praying mantis eyes. They held two black points amid a vast green refraction.74
2. As a child, I spent my summers on my paternal grandparent's farm in Illinois. The first time I saw a praying mantis I was struck by the alien features of its enlarged oval eyes and triangular face; the insect was gently poised on a tree against the backdrop of Midwest farmland. The praying mantis still resonates with me as a symbol of both the past and the future; of the potential for the discovery of odd surreal creatures amidst the seemingly mundane Americana of John Deere tractors, pickup trucks, and cornfields.75
2. We used to go on long road trips when I was a child, driving all the way to Montana from Virginia once one summer. The hours in the back of the station wagon with my siblings, piles of comic books and snacks, felt endless. I fell asleep once with my mouth open—when I awoke, I discovered a fly’s wing stuck to my tongue. Just one wing.76
1. I used to have this recurring dream-aspect where no matter how the dream started to unfold, it would end up with me pulling an endless string out of mouth. It never hurt, though I could feel the string moving up my throat, but it never stopped.77
1. Still recurring: driving with two people very close to me (a different assembly every time) in the champagne gold Toyota Forerunner my family had when I was young. It's usually raining heavily and I'm driving towards the ocean, at a height or straight from shore. I usually wake up just after the truck is submerged.78
4. I am fourth generation mixed-European. We inherited this house by buying it from someone else’s ancestors; therefore we have bought ourselves a home from the descendants of thieves. We were brought here by ancestors we do not know. They left us nothing but the names of old countries. I have driven cars held together by paper clips and rubber bands to oceans, into deserts, and up mountains looking for where my ancestors gather. The wind I smell is soaked with gasoline. When I sleep, I see the street lit up in front of the Wendy’s, and in my dreams I help strangers make it burn.79
1. The island where my family and I lived had flooded from a hurricane. We'd barricaded ourselves in our home, and we fought off marauders, pirates, desperados, etc., mostly by throwing things out the windows. I may have shot arrows at them.80
4. Not in any specific location, I suspect, what with their peripatetic lives, where is safety, but when. On Qing Ming day of each year, two weeks after equinox, near April Fool's Day, near the day on which my mother passed away— We ostensibly sweep tombs then. We don't bring joss paper and oranges, my family says, since we are not from the south. But I write a letter each time, bring one or two mementos from the past year. At least, I hope they gather—that they hear me, that my mother hears me; this is the closest I come to prayer. In a cemetery in Valhalla, ruled over by Odin, I suppose, surrounded by other Chinese diaspora. Every single year, it drizzles. Even in his 7th century [!] poem, Du Mu writes, on another continent, "During the Festival of Qing Ming drizzling is the rain."81
4. In dreams, in poetry. In prayer and meditation. In the stories we tell about their crossing from 'old country' to the 'new.' Their energies arrive when we visit the cemetery in Reedley, CA, where many members from both sides of my family are laid to rest. They gather in the mind, in the vision of starling flocks taking flight over the California Valley.82
4. In dreams (between my mother and I, we talk of the dead appearing in our dreams as if it were the most natural thing in the world); in conversations; during Obon, the Days of the Dead.83
4. I gather around my ancestors and don't know where they gather yet. It's my life. I trace the sites of their deaths, hoping to locate their birth places and names in their own languages. Here's Sullivan Alley in Chinatown where my great grandfather, Hong Bak Wing, was stabbed to death. An artist named Charles Albert Rogers painted the alley, coincidentally, the same year of my great grandfather's death in 1901.
Here are some women I can only dream are my ancestors. My ancestors probably, at the very least, shared space and time with them.
A Chinese funeral that I, the onlooker, more than a century later, am trailing behind.84
1. As a child, I dreamed again and again of a holocaust. Always it was the lines I dreamed of, the waiting and the delineation, the sorting. Doom was evident, and inevitable. Always a powerlessness in the face of a power so large, and the little rebellions which never, in the dreams, amounted to freedom.85
1. In another nightmare I had when I was young, 6 years old or so, I was tied to a stake and lit on fire— It wasn't painful, but I was alarmed and told my mom. She dismissed my worries— There wasn't anyone coming after me, she assured me, and no one would light me on fire. The next time I dreamed this, I should wake myself up, and take a blanket off my bed. I was probably just too warm. I was very impressed by her reasoning; to this day, it brings me comfort.86
1. When I was young I remember a dream of waking in the middle of the night to find the numbers missing from the clock. The light in the room was bright. I thought this wasn’t a dream, that this was somehow some reality I could see into. The clock pulsed with the fluorescent light buzz.87
2. I was recently assessed by a drone as I was reading on my terrace. It hovered above me for a minute or two, buzzing and trembling, and I gave it the finger. My apartment is in an anarchist neighborhood that also has a lot of refugee and migrant squats in abandoned buildings; I assumed that the drone was one of the police drones that sometimes monitor the area. My partner asked why I flipped it off—he thought it belonged to our hippy neighbors, who we sometimes see on their terrace, doing yoga and sunbathing. Why would hippies in the year 2020 in a historical city in the Eastern Mediterranean own a drone? I asked him. He shrugged. I hate drones. They remind me of insects sans any sympathetic animal ethos.88
1. I would see an old man who said things like, “the police are always american everywhere on earth.”89
2. The first time I ever noticed slugs was on the fourth of July in Seattle. My friends and I had taken a tab of acid and then biked towards one center of the city, where people were gathering, drunk, to watch fireworks. It was all quite overwhelming, but the movement of our bikes protected us, to some extent, until heading home, at the inception of the fireworks, a military helicopter roared down the canal, carrying an immense American flag below its belly. The thrum of its blades was overpowering, and we were struck still in our walk uphill, stymied by the military might, flexed above the water’s cut. But we found our way from there into the quiet neighborhoods with their outrageous vegetation, to a pool of slime on the sidewalk where slugs were gathering. They were gathering, and we were witness to their gathering—and then suddenly we were witnessed as witnesses to their gathering. They saw us with their tentacle-eyes. Have you ever seen a slug withdraw its feelers? They have four. Two long eyes on feelers and two smaller feelers down below. And a hole, like an abscess, through which to breathe. When they are afraid, they withdraw everything into their slimy hoods. They withdrew from us, their smitten witnesses, then returned to their slime-field when we did not eat them. It was decided that one of us needed to place a piece of body in their path. It was Annie’s finger which would be offered. Anna held Annie’s hand in place, her finger outstretched, in direct line of a slug’s approach. Slowly, slowly, the slug reared back, then opened itself, its mouth, to gorge. It tasted her. We screamed. Recoiled. And then slugs carried on.90
2. Snails: My grandfather and father would lift the enemy snails from the garden and put them into—trap them in—empty Planters peanut jars and salt them. They'd writhe in there, and I, little, would watch.91
3. Last summer I stayed for a week in Nørrebro, a neighborhood in Copenhagen, in an apartment right across the street from Assistens Cemetery. I was in Copenhagen from June 1 to around the 5th, so the days were incredibly long—the sun would rise around 4:30 a.m., and set close to 10 p.m., so it would only be fully dark between midnight and maybe 3 in the morning. Every morning I would wake at sunrise and go to Assistens as soon as it opened—7 a.m.—to sit my Kierkegaard's grave, and smoke, and read. I was reading Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee every morning I was there. Kierkegaard has a family grave—there are three tombstones, positioned vertically, so there are two at the bottom and one at the top; his name is at the bottom left of the arrangement, which I loved—it felt humble. There was a flowering yellow rosebush next to the plot. If you stepped 100 meters towards and out the gate, suddenly, you would be in the full bloom of the city again. It was impossible to pray at the grave, but easy to read.92
3. The cemetery has hundreds of grand tombs; this headstone was quite difficult to find. On Winter Solstice, with not a single other person in sight during the few hours we walked around—dried eucalyptus tightly wrapped in an American flag, a pink peony, a wilted yellow rose. Under dark gray cover, amidst so many dead orange leaves, a watercolor portrait, an ink drawing—multiple nicknames. Tu me manques, someone wrote. A Yankees lighter, a pink lipstick. Multiple letters in glass Coca-Cola bottles.93
1. I used to have dreams of only fields of dark matter, black paint, tar, outer space; the fields moved, roiled, braided, tangled, sometimes in intense discord. Often the drive or law of the dream was (by way of mental & affective concentration) to bring harmony between the two fields, or to bring a kind of rhythm/peace in the dreams where there was just one chaotic field. I say field and abstract painting is present in the sense of the word—really large-scale paintings. There was always in the dreams a sense of spectacle, of looking at screens of the fields, and there were whole affective waves & feeling with the movements, textures of the field––those waves of emotion and feeling were the drama of those dreams.94
2. In our apartment the kitchen was overrun with roaches. During the day they lay dormant in the cabinet under the sink but at night they swarmed out from under in droves. The roach motels (“the roaches check in… but they never check out”) were always full but more always came. My mother, paragon of cleanliness, was matter-of-fact. If you had to go into the kitchen at night you were trained to dance. Wait quietly one moment with your finger on the light switch: quick flick then a fury of stomping. If you were quick, and quiet, you could kill dozens. The roaches in Southern California are different. Huge, fat, lazy, shiny hard carapaces, sturdy, hard to kill. They emerge only in summer heat and they keep outdoors. I feel no animal sympathy, only a coldness that is kin to contempt. At night I step out and see one in porchlight: languid on the step, waiting for me to make a move so it can scurry away in a beady flash. But I can stay just as still. I stay very still. I breathe in its creaturely tension, its minute vibrating insect aliveness. Then I am so swift and I kill it so hard with the lightning violence of my foot that it is smashed into wet froth, a liquid pulp, insect nothingness, total death.95
1. At 15, I dreamt I awoke in my bed with a sharp pain in my mouth, so I got out of bed, walked down the hallway of my mom's house, and went into the bathroom, where I placed myself before the mirror to figure out the cause. I opened my mouth, and, feeling around my mouth with the fingers, found one of my molars was loose. I jiggled and it wiggled until coming loose. But as I pulled the tooth out my mouth, I realized its root was abnormally large, so large that I had trouble fitting it through my lips. When finally I tugged it out (not without a good deal of pain), what fell into the sink was not a molar at all but a dead fetus, which flopped into the basin, grey as a dead rabbit, amongst the gnarls of blood and beads of tap water on the porcelain.96
2. I remember playing with a little red bug on my foam mattress at night when I was around 6 or 7—it was much smaller and friendlier seeming than full-grown cockroaches (the baby ones were ok), and it was red. I followed its movements and occasionally tried to direct them with my hand. This went on for a few nights, until I noticed several more of them. They were 1970s non-hyper powered bedbugs, and my mattress was soon out on the curb.97
2. I could have been as young as four, as young as ten. I had a large pencil box which stored my crayons, one of those hard stationary cases with a bumpy, translucent, purple snap-on top. One Easter, I decided to use my crayons to color some eggs. Without much thought, I left my artful gems in my crayon box, only to discover a few days later that somehow the raw eggs had produced living worms—or worms had found their way into the box. I was frightened at this discovery, that what I had done, or hadn’t done, had somehow sprouted this darkish-pink, spaghetti-like movement, this completely non-human life by some unknown origin. I know now that worms are not actually insects, but no encounter with a ladybug, mosquito, or colony of ants matches my memory of this.98
2. I saw a lot of ants on some ground cover plants my friend gave me. I walked the whole plant outside to the porch so the ants wouldn't get into our crumbs.99
2. In our backyard by our garden there's a colony of harvester ants. We have learned their circadian rhythms and some of their behaviors. We marvel at their ability to carry things many times larger than their own bodies. We fear their bites, which are surprisingly painful. Sometime in the future our relatively peaceful coexistence will produce a conflict, it seems.100
4. The ancestors gather in deserts. Most of my ancestors, in my mind, gather in the Mojave desert, except for my father, who gathers in my dreams.101
4. I think my ancestors gather in certain expressions of my body—I feel so many people in there, as I twist my face or make a joke or raise my eyes—and, paradoxically, also in my writing, where I sometimes give voices to the more fearful corporeal suppressions I withhold. I have tried to find my ancestors outside of myself but they seem to ignore me when in a landscape more interesting.102
3. I haven't really visited too many notable graves. But I do like to visit cemeteries. One that sticks out was in Savannah, GA. My wife and I were walking around a very old cemetery in the middle of town. Most of the graves were from the 19th century. One tombstone in particular was eroded to a point where the engraving wasn't legible any longer, but a huge tree was growing out of the grave, with the tombstone sticking out at an angle at the base of the trunk. So clearly the lifeforce of the tree shot up from the grave site.103
4. I've always suspected my ancestors gather inside tree roots; trunks and branches. Maybe they're keeping watch over the gravestones. I just finished reading C.D. Wright's Casting Deep Shade. She writes that, according to Finnish tree expert Olavi Huikari, half of human DNA is held in common with beech trees.104
4. Always under trees. Their plastic chairs still cracked from heat. Silver whiskers on their chins and necks and long pressed skirts worn with simple Keds. Their dogs beneath the house in evolving uncertain numbers.105
4. The palms patting masa flat, pat, pat. Palm of masa mass plop to comal, the ghost gives rise, fingers flip, ghost exhales, inhales, the masa lives, en vivo, and fingertips from comal, exhale, to the stack of familiares to sustain the most recent instantiation of familiares.106
4. what seems important across the board is the experience of solace, connection, support & responsibility (if that's the right word, & in a more positive sense, a more mutual sense, than i often have experienced it). the people who carry ghosts, myself included, have a relationship both with the ghosts & with themselves as people with ghosts. what seems important is that it is a category of experience that is more widespread than any one of us thinks, & that people hesitate to talk about it because of concerns about misinterpretation. but i know firsthand that the experience is just an experience; it is not delusion. having lived with psychosis, experienced delusions, i can say confidently that these are not that. hanging out in a dream with someone dead who loves me is not the same thing as voices in my head telling me that i should be dead myself & that everyone around me is trying to make that happen. even while i was experiencing those delusions, i knew they had to be resisted; i couldn't be certain they were not real or true but i also knew i wanted to live, i wanted them to be wrong. i could not live my life with those delusions. hanging out with ghosts has always helped me live my life, regardless of the ghost's identity. maybe they have helped me resist the echoes of those delusions by showing me that i'm alive, as i should be.107
1. 2. 4. I was teaching on a Tuesday in New Haven, and my days there were usually pretty long that semester, bookended by a drive that averages 2 hours between Connecticut and New Jersey. I did not know, driving home that night, that I would be caught in a very aggressive and sudden downpour. Though I probably should have turned around and stayed in New Haven, I kept driving, and at a certain point I could no longer see the marked boundaries between lanes in the street. (I was haunted through my very young childhood by this dream memory––of sitting in the backseat of my parent’s car completely alone, with no driver. It was always nighttime, and the sky was always very starry. I don’t know where to call it a dream or nightmare, actually. But I do remember feeling fear like an even tone through my body, like a hum traveling in front of my spine, the part that faces the lungs. I felt something like that when I was driving home that night.) I thought it could not get worse––that the downpour would ease, that I had to get home. My grip was tight on the wheel, having been in a bad crash in similar weather when I was a teenager. I got on the highway, and I think it was then that I began to really pray, asking repeatedly––please, please don’t let me die. All the other cars were driving with flashers, and it was a patch of I-95 where the street lights had been out, or under construction, for months. It was somewhere during that repeated prayer that I saw a moth out of the right corner of my eye, suddenly landing on the dashboard. Its wingspan probably would have matched the size of my palm. It landed on the dashboard, widened its wings for a second, then stayed in that place. I immediately felt a sense of calm, now no longer alone. It hardly ever moved, except to give the occasional motion that it was sensing its space. But it stayed there, for what became three hours in the heaviest downpour I’d ever driven through alone. I was so beat when I got home that I pulled up in front of our building and called David to ask him to park the car. As he came out and exited the car for him to take over, I said, “don’t do anything to the moth.” He looked, said “OK,” and got into the driver's seat as I went toward the house, ready to collapse. When he came back, he said that as soon as he parked the car and turned the engine off, the moth was gone. He looked for it briefly, but there was no sign. I have thought about that moth a lot since then, wondering whose spirit it must have carried. I feel so disconnected from my ancestors sometimes, hardly having known even the parents of my parents. But that was the first time I found myself so wanting to recognize someone who somehow knew me, summoned by prayer in an animal body, making itself known beside me during an almost supernatural terror that felt so outside my daily life. What I do know is that the moth did not let me slip. Maybe I would not have died without it. But it did not let me slip. It makes me think of the brief memories of my elders that I do have. Of my sister, sitting beside the window at the corner of our parents’ dining room table, seeing what she described as a black butterfly, slowly moving as though tracing an invisible ribbon, in a loop. This was right before the phone rang from Tehran, calling to tell my family that my grandmother Zahrah had passed away. Anyway, I keep thinking about time in all this—how these presences remind us that time is not the progress line that the modernity we inhabit would like us to believe, the lives that travel on other lines weaving themselves in front of our own stitch somehow. I keep thinking of the phrase “out of nowhere” and how I want to fight using it. Nothing is really out of nowhere.108
4. My ancestors come to me in the form of questions. Did she graduate from high school, did she like to read, did she defy her parents, did she know my mother's name, when did she learn it, how did she keep her heart soft for her whole life, did her heart turn to stone when her father committed suicide after the '29 crash or was it later or was it before and what did it feel like to have a heart so hard for her whole life and did she know on her deathbed I saw she suddenly regretted nothing but her stone heart, what don't I know to ask about her, did she know how beautiful she was, did she know her pure love would protect me generations later having been passed down to her daughter to her daughter to my mother to me, did she know how ugly she was, did she know her hatred would be passed through my dad to me, did she teach at an Indian Boarding School, did she pass for white or not and was she raped for not passing, did her hands hurt, did her back hurt, did she consider the suffering of others, did she work for white women to vote before black men or did she not vote, was she satisfied, was she grossed out by the poor, did she ever have money to cook meat, etc. I ask the questions as though if I got answers I could say definitively where the ancestors reside—which suggests the ancestors reside in the answers themselves. But, though there's a massive, daily, cellular transfer of the dead's physical forms into the ground then into the trees then into the air then into our lungs, such that all of the ancestors are all of us at the cellular level, the word ancestor connotes an order to that mess—an intimacy only found in a heterosexual family tree. In this intimacy/order we use the possessive pronoun—I ask after the intimate details of my ancestors and you after yours. We insist the ancestors lie in the possessive pronoun, and this can't be completely in error, it is the correct grammar because it allows me to convey that my ancestors did violence to yours, or were silently complicit or failed to change the course of things. Even while my ancestors did violence to my ancestors and your ancestors did violence to your ancestors, what matters now is how the now has gathered then into matter, my is white girl, yours is Japanese American man, who could never ask the specific questions we each ask if our ancestors weren't gathered in us alone, and, in us, cease to exist as a question that can be answered. The living are the manifestation and the annihilation of the dead.109
4. I think my ancestors gather in my dreams, and in every body of water that I come across (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, the sea). The Hmong have lots of tales (and superstitions) surrounding water. My dreams feel watery at times. Once or twice a year, I’ll have a dream where I’m running for my life. As I run, I’ll kick up and fly through the air, desperately escaping whatever evil or destruction that is so eager for my life below. I’ll fly across valleys and mountains, with views of a trailing river. My father told me recently that these dreams of flying are actually my ancestors visiting me; that they are trying to test my body and spirit to see if I am fit to become a shaman, to see if I am worthy of their power, as the first Hmong shaman of the world had been called upon. I don’t know that I will ever be worthy, (or that I want to be, since I do not exactly understand this power) but I do know that after my mom’s sudden and violent death, I dreamt of the spirit world a lot. I was in places of this world where I should not have been, where only those with special shamanistic abilities are supposedly only able to visit. I am no shaman, but I am a poet, which a good friend, Hmong poet and writer, once told me that a poet (or one with the ability to speak the “flowery” language) is viewed among Hmong elders as someone who also shares a shaman’s deep and special connection with life and death, and the hereafter. Both roles are very different, of course, and they each require very different trainings when they’re called upon, but there is shared love, fear, and awe in the world they live in, and in the world where they will each depart to. I am missing the nuance in their telling of this, but I hope it gets the idea across. And so, even though I have no “business” in the spirit world, as I am no guide nor am I trained as one, it seems I’ve been invited there intentionally before. By whom? Maybe an ancestor. Perhaps, the invitation will present itself again in the future. All I know is that when I had traveled tirelessly to meet my late mother, she was painfully surprised and sad to see me having wandered so far away from my body. It is traditionally understood that the dead visit you, and not the other way around. It grieves me to recall the relief and immense guilt that came with our meeting, but I found her. Rather, I was led to her, and the most incredibly, sorrowful thing was that I was able to find my way back.110
4. Chungcheong province north of Seoul I don’t know how many miles // town called Yeongdong, my father’s father, his father or great-grandfather I don’t know how many / generations of father // if my brothers die they will go there too except my youngest brother in a glass box // nowadays because the land is so crowded and small // the women of course you’re not in that family anymore // even I die I can never go there // take my ashes to the bridge to Harper’s Ferry // it’s nice I don’t know if you remember much / their bodies are / their bodies are buried / in a coffin I think // I’m sure it’s wood / they have new clothes / I think they bind them, bind the body / put it in the coffin / the coffin goes in the earth / they dig out all the dirts and make a hole and put it there // you saw that mound, a circle I don’t know how high / they have special jeogori they bind them with the rope / then put them in the coffin /and close it and bury it // they are dead but sometimes they are not quite dead / that’s how they do // all the town people come to the dead person’s house the night the person died / they have three days it depends / three days five days they keep the body in the house / in the winter they keep longer / in the summer they can’t // the women make food / treat people who come to visit / most of the people stay overnight / if it’s summer they sleep outside / they eat and they drink // the day the coffin leaves the house / they carry, a lot of young people too / they carry it to the mountain / it’s a lot of hard work // they go there and bury and that’s it // I wasn’t there // they carry the coffin and in the back of the coffin all these town people / women and kids and men and old people young people / they all cry / with very loud crying / whether you are really sad or not / sometimes they buy people, criers / women who can cry really well // if you don’t cry that’s no good // when you jesa at home you have lots of / dduk, fruit, sake, cigarettes, same food, same ritual / open every door for the spirit to come in / put the spoon in the rice and the first rice you scoop / you scoop it up for the spirit to eat / the first one is for the spirit to eat / in the other place111
1. There is, in the center of the Milky Way, an X-shaped structure made of stars. This is an enhanced, close-up view, courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech; Dustin Lang/Perimeter Institute.
2. Paul Legault, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO.
3. Photographer unknown, photograph of a people sitting around a table in a basement, November 1967, from the private collection of Susan Briante.
4. Samuel Ace, GRAVE / SITE photograph, Cheticamp Island, Nova Scotia.
5. In Gum Gook [Com Coak?] Alley, Charles Albert Rogers paintings of Chinatown, San Francisco. 1901-1902, BANC PIC 2004.007:01--FR, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
6. "Fear and distrust remove,” San Francisco Chinese Community and Earthquake Damage, BANC PIC 1993.033:073--ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
7. Chinese funeral, San Francisco Chinese Community and Earthquake Damage, BANC PIC 1993.033:161--ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
8. Photograph of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s grave by Celina Su.
9. Silverfish drawing by Jeffrey Pethybridge.