Category: Memoir & Fiction

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The white scorpion in Barstow, California, as imagined by poet and critic Ezekiel Yu when recalling his childhood.

MEMOIR: A White Scorpion In Barstow, California

Our house in Barstow, California was small for a family of seven but its backyard was quite sizable, except there was no grass. It was all sand, like the desert that surrounded us, and featureless save for a pit in the center packed with stones. We didn’t really play in the backyard, even when we had friends over, because there was nothing to do there and it was always hot. Barstow is a small city scoured by the Mojave sun and for the year we lived there I quickly learned that I was not one for deserts and never would be. Nor was I one for small cities. Certainly not this one, full of old buildings, lean against their own shadows, and people just about as destitute as we were, who regarded us with mean amusement and called us names.

I don’t recall them with hatred because I know that there weren’t many who looked like us in that city and it’s easy to react harshly to the unfamiliar face. Even then I was more confused that they’d treat with such cruelty those who were clearly afraid of their own strangeness and more a threat to themselves than others. No hatred, but I recall them (and they were mostly other children) not without certain pangs: walking home from school, many would jeer at us in mock-Chinese, which we didn’t speak, and on the playground some would stretch their eyes out narrowly enough so as to not resemble a human face at all. […]

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A mirrored image of a child jumping down a staircase in post-impressionist style, perhaps taking place in the 1960s.

SHORT STORY: Don Moss’s “Down The Stairs”

Our large farmhouse had an oak staircase that descended eight or nine feet to the landing, then offered five steps to the right and left, to the dining room and to the parlor, respectively. At age four or five, I would stare down to the landing and imagine a perfect leap to the precise center of the landing, absorbing the fall with no harm to body or to the parquet oak landing. Since the basement stairs were directly beneath this stairwell, I just knew any imperfection in the act would send one through the landing to the basement and to my demise. That last detail was of no interest, simply the consequence of imperfection. This fantasy felt more like a message built into the stairway and landing itself.

Evidence of my never attempting the jump is the fact that I sit, seventy-some years later, now writing these words. I was neither gifted with any useful athletic abilities, nor plagued with innate daring to attempt such a stunt. I didn’t take the fantasy literally, even years before I knew of such a word as literal. The image of the stairs, leap, and perfect landing did not abandon me. The image did now and then vanish, drifting below conscious recall. […]

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Two AI-generated images of East Asian men smoking cigarettes, done in a neo-Impressionist style.

In Memoriam: Carcinogens and the Common Isopod

I must have been younger than ten. These were the days of unanswered questions and rooms that dwindled in size and quantity the more we were tossed about the Greater Los Angeles Area. My father had lost his job, again, and I’d forgotten what he was doing for money when the man with the cigarette arrived on our door.

Was I home alone with my father, or were my mother and other siblings with us? It shouldn’t be difficult to remember, for we were always together, separated only by school or the occasional extracurricular activity, but for whatever reason, I see just my father and me in our cramped second-level apartment. It was summer, perhaps, as the air conditioner was on, although inconstant, and I can feel the sweaty doze of day when sunlight fans downward and blanches one’s musings, with nothing to do but await my older self’s dubious remembrance. […]