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Valerie Hsiung

from hummingbird et partygirl

You’re calling my mom a bad breed. We fucked later that night or the day after. I’ve been in corpse pose for seven days—perfect for my Halloween Sameera. Effectivement, any long-haired purebred Chinese can play this part. With enough conviction. I don’t have the time for games for crossword proposals. If the muzzle fits. We open up an account and begin documenting the strays. This is an important, political moment in our bifurcated lives. I used to think someone—like an old me—was speaking through me, the now me. Now I see the now me like on a killing streak. Does every great love end with a conviction and bullet holes in the side of a Cadillac? The older I get the more I want to keep the store closed a bit later, pull up a private table onto the street and play a game tourists stop us to ask—what’s this game called? When I read your stories about coming into the possession of some long-awaited inheritance and finally being able to leave the tedium of life in the capital for a life in the country, I envied you at first before remembering all the fixings the farm would require. By the end of the first year, for example, most of the inheritance would be dried up and the living wages of the girls would be cut in half so they could then sometimes be found in the mill riding the local drunk until bruised. I’m not an orphan today, I’m not an orphan yesterday, through I write about them, they, it, the orphan, prefigures into so much of the imaginary in all of my thinking work. With each year I hold my hand out a little more towards my sister though our tastes in movies are so different. Therefore it is best for us to trace another dimension together, especially if this dimension moves through the languages both of us first formed inside and then later were both broken.

This in itself was a new pace. I brought back new paper. Paper for poems paper for ass paper for section 8 school supplies. I think I know what you meant by dirtiness. Coward. I’ve been singing the dirty poem for many years. My first poem said it best. But I won’t make you go back there. You’d have to go through my second, third, fourth, fifth, invasions, etc, all re-iterations of the first, all worse. Again. I’ve been singing the dirty one for a long time. It made me famous as a clock once. Everyone came to the betel store to see me. I was not for sale the owner told many who walked by the window and then set their birds out like circumsized skin on a tray. The greatest teachers I ever had in English were the amateurs and the incomprehensible. Upon closer examination, the skin is the saddest music of the body and this fact and this fact alone helps the herbalists sell their drugs for centuries. It makes me so happy that there are always two drug trades—one the illegal and one which the moneyed do not believe in but lives inside my body, a body called earth.

On the first day she wrote with a black pen. She had back pain. She unrolled a mat. On the second day she drew a line and wrote with a blue one. Her father’s mother painted many scrolls. She repeated this backwards and forwards for some time. These were the sorts of Jedi mind tricks she’d grown accustomed to identifying. It came to her then for the first time that it could be enough to do one thing for the rest of her life and just that one thing could be the identifying point for her dead body when stumbled upon by a neighboring forager. It occurred to her then she was just more interested in the inner turmoil of the one act by itself anyway—after all, through this one act many have been turned towards infinity. She woke up from a deep sleep needing to define for someone else the difference between a nightmare and a night terror, an original signature and a forgery, something she had just only learned the day before herself.

It started as a conversation about drinking water. Somehow this led to the discussion of technological innovation and techno-nationalism. I was interested in tracing the rise of natural medicine as practice in the west in the 21st century, the food choices often associated with this, the types of herbs we see sourced, as well as the superstitions which have led to oversourcing. It seems to me that indigenous medicinal knowledge of indigenous ecologies can become mechanisms of profound ecologic instability when taken into non-indigenous hands the human is centered above or as even separate from these ecologies. Humanity at my side. Sleep mask for my bookmark. I mark then of the way her superstitions have protected us and the ways in the name or the flag under which chemical warfare is enacted. These are the news sources that are nearly removed from capital. If capital is what we, as peddlers of sustenance, are ultimately trying to build a track record of, like credit, like auditing. I would sleep still, in the arms of a man, pluck out his eyes, tell him the fairy tale of sulfites, if it means I could buy her a better grave. But she wants no grave, she wants to be left atop a hill for the vultures to pluck her away. We would not survive the battle over these pop lyrics most obscene.

The thought I kept going back to was: I have to get back there. I have to go back. Somehow.

I didn’t mean to go to bed at that time. I wanted to only sleep for half an hour. When I put the sleep mask on, I thought, I love your fat. The only word I owe anything to is probably: an inkling. One word must carry too, one for itself and the other for the article. These poems, they won’t write themselves. But I’ll still continue to manifest the bile collection marks across my body. Time stands very still once you parse away the actual encumberments, time, it moves backwards too and in all weird sorts of directions. When everything tells you I must get back, I must get back, I have to get back there. Now the first thing I do when I awake is talk to you. As it turns out the only milk that is golden is my milk. My mildew. No tricks for tricks are turned. All deals are dealt by the hands of immigrants and these hands are familiar with sleights of hands, the camera of big brother. All dealers work in gross palaces. I have loved them all. It comes to me then—how all of my sickness could be reversed or all of my sickness could be tied to these biphasic sleep patterns. I still get tired in the middle of the day though I have been cured from my jet lag by most measurements. It is harder to adjust when flying from the east to west than west to east unless the whole day is turned upside down. In these cases, I have found it depends more on the ill effects of caffeine and the amount of work one is looking forward to. When I got back “home,” I sent a text message to myself. Or I tried and made a typo and sent a personal video of us in Zhangjiajie to someone else whose number is one digit off from mine. Then my body said please stop. And I listened.

Nestle, a Swiss multinational food and beverage company headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland, sent two people with faces and records but no bodies to my work, to talk to my neighbors, and then they donated a fat check to the local girl scouts troop, winning over everyone’s hearts. Qualifying as a UNESCO World Heritage site means qualifying for the terms of protection laid out in the Geneva Convention. It is a war crime to use such a place in the name of war and it is a war crime to use such places as the object of reprisal. We call this natural wonder a work of art. An artist should be familiar with the medicines available to them. And the weapons. Medicines that are right here before us and medicines that have been manufactured and medicines that are right there before others and medicines that have been smuggled like books with medicines inside them. I am ashamed for overtime I thought I wasn’t good enough because of my skin and the bilingualism of my life. It drives me to murderous thoughts these days. It makes me plan the burning of palaces where immigrants work too helping the enslavers of immigrants become richer. It makes me plan the stealing back of irreplaceable works of art from the Ming Dynasty. After our guide took us through the park, she stopped for KFC and Sam took a picture of the menu. We went down the glass elevator and over the natural bridge. We stopped a man who was meditating and asked, so sorry, but would you mind taking our photo, so sorry. He so kindly obliged. I didn’t realize until after we had stopped him in the middle of his meditating. And yes, these are the things that we did.

I walk around this place explaining time and time again my illiteracy. My guillotines. It takes me sometime to explain I’m looking for English on a ticket administration machine to a ticketing agent. But security does not concern the frontlinesman—at least not for international voyaging. The frontlinesman sees security on a local front—the every commute—as being key to the cause itself. The differentiation in these modes of security as being the key difference in which the stakes of capitalism are pitted up against. We are plunging forward onto an eight-lane expressway where every vehicle has been stopped for random searching. The poet swallows this poison pill every time. The poet’s tongue geographic and embedded with the morse code we need to find the breach. Time and time again we learn the reasons though are personal—not business at all. It’s personal, this money. It’s personal, this great fraud. I take it to mean she is American in every way. And in this I hear a direct challenge. Yes, the poet—she’s American. But she might be turned. Like a pimp or a government can turn. Last I heard there is arsenic, sulfites in the tap water and the technology has been venture backed through the development of a 21st century patent system. There were always a pair of white lovers I learned my devastating command of English from. They weren’t mine so to speak. But they were mine in that I watched them in the way all this has been framed like a chinatown cinema. As it turns out, the author who wrote of their story was not white herself. And she methodically put their story elsewhere—on the Arabian peninsula, so that no American would ever find them. To project these 21st century racialized politics onto this analysis is perhaps not indulgent but boring. I could have never been a philosopher.

We were in a palace. It was your bachelorettes party or something. Mom was there in another suit. Suddenly there was a fire. The only alarm was my mouth, my own lungs. Everyone was playing—gambling away—their wives fortunes. Until they weren’t. Until I was all. Sister! Mama! All the people I loved were inside this burning palace and all the people I loved inside the burning palace were asleep. Like the queens they were. The men kept me from getting to them, saying, we must let them sleep for their big day tomorrow. I started the fire. I could save my queens.

The problems facing the radical left were in some ways similar to the problems facing the literary avant-garde. How to give a home (a home language) for the alien while not alienating to an unallowable degree those gatekeepers we wish after all to still seduce. No, the thread tells me we don’t want to seduce them. We have to. Like a mother seducing the gatekeeper for medicines for her child to keep warm. This is not the work of the state, this is the work of the sick landing upon the sick. You are sick in the head, we peal. You are getting very very sleepy. At this point the child’s speech begins to slur altogether. Upon giving the child two glasses of water filled to the brim—for anything less would be an insult to the host mother—and each containing half the bodyweight and mass of sodium, the child’s temperature falls back to normal levels. But she never regained her motor-speech abilities. It was ironic, the gatekeeper’s doctor kept repeating over shots of the local mulberry liquor, the hungrier the child, the less confidence they had to steal the mulberries. Except after a certain point, upon entering the mode of complete starvation, they saw a sudden “boost.”

Valerie Hsiung is a poet, writer, performer, and the author of four full-length poetry and hybrid writing collections—YOU & ME FOREVER (Action Books, 2020), outside voices, please (CSU, 2021), hummingbird et partygirl (Essay Press, 2021), and e f g (Action, 2016). Her work can be found in or is forthcoming from places such as The Nation, The Believer, Bennington Review, Black Sun Lit, The Rumpus, jubilat, Chicago Review, Denver Quarterly, and beyond. She has performed at Treefort Music Festival, DC Arts Center, Common Area Maintenance, The Poetry Project, Shapeshifter Lab, and The Silent Barn. Born and raised by Chinese-Taiwanese immigrants in southern Ohio, she now lives in Brooklyn and Hudson. 

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