Thanks to Stephen Beachy, I’m happy to have some fiction in the latest edition of YOUR IMPOSSIBLE VOICE, a digital magazine. Maybe you’d like to download its elegant bits and read them on one of your exobrains? … My story takes place in a karaoke bar and has in it a rambling about life in Queens that goes:
I leaned toward Gus and hoping not to appear rude by talking during our friend’s performance (but she wasn’t paying any attention to us; when she was singing Muriel was truly transported to a different dimension), I said, “The thing about this corridor of our city – from Woodside through Elmhurst through Corona through Flushing and on to Bayside and beyond – an incredible swath, at times like the Kowloon Walled City in its density and inventive bricolage, and superseding it in terms of the diversity of its immigrant populations, is that this often praised mixing shoulder to shoulder of people from every dominion on the planet breeds a respectful and intimate but insuperable separation, which is made all the more vexing due to proximity. In the morning one can see the parents of – among many others – Sikh children and Uruguayan children, Romanian children and Cameroonian children, Bhutanese children and Basque children all dropping off their kids at the school. One perhaps can’t imagine such a sight without experiencing it first-hand. The place is awash in color of both traditional costumes and very au courant if off-the-rack business casual; the Cantonese-inflected English mixes with scrubbed Midwestern and Punjabi lilt as I hear striver family heads discussing playdates and swapping recipes. Nowhere on any other place on earth does this prismatic confluence occur. And yet for its singularity, everyone is rather ho hum about the spectacle. The smoothing of all that difference into capitalist civility is remarkably unremarked upon. Oh the omnipotent digestive juices of the market’s gut – it eats it all! And maybe the non-remarking is but one other aspect of the digestive process. (How quietly it eats!) So it’s true that one, in a moment of weakness, could think it a commercial for American utopia and racial harmony: the interlocking of all these communities, the painless and insidious assimilation, the simultaneous proud and painful resistance to that assimilation, the flow of first to second to third and fourth generations, the seemingly unifying and seemingly ubiquitous materialist ambitions. And yet like the city itself the complex is unknowable, one’s neighbors are so close yet so far away, we each find ourselves alone and lonely, and the functioning diversity miracle itself is only another demonstration of how far short the most miraculous will fall in the futile ambition to save ourselves from ourselves.”
I paused as Muriel finished her second song and the room again convulsed in raucous applause. She waited with great showmanship before beginning her concluding number: “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. On hearing the first notes the crowd instantly went wild.
I had to shout in order to be heard but leaned closer to Gus and yelled, “And yet at other times – when I trundle down its street and avenues, weary from my day’s labors or the prospect of my nightly ones, when I am going to the greengrocer for bell peppers and onion to make another basic bachelor’s supper, when I stop to hear the busker’s tambourine for just a minute before shyly dropping in a few coins, when I order some sweetly marinated meat over rice from the food trucks, when I’m in line to buy Band-Aids and deodorant at the pharmacy – at these times I look around and see all my harried neighbors doing the same, the gimpy and spry, ill- and sweet-tempered, nebbish and vampy, and yes it’s then I do believe in some unity of purpose, despite the chaotic provenances of Diaspora City, and I see the essential program provided to all is not to acquire or win but rather is just to exist – and to avoid pain – and we are not at all making the world and are therefore not at all responsible, but in the moment have only been given it, the prospect and circumstance of the hour, and we are forced to navigate this place, each of us, as best we can.
“Then I think: Fellows! Sisters! Cousins!
“But,” I concluded “the feelings then, while not marked so much by loneliness, are drenched with a resembling error, namely self-pity.”
The fall issue of Your Impossible Voice is here with incredible new work from Aaron Shurin, Eugene Lim, Kathleen Jesme, Mary Carroll-Hackett, Fernando Vallejo (translated by Laia García Sánchez and Robert Jackson), Kyle Hemmings, Daniel J. Pizappi, Steve Weiner, Michael Shou-Yung Shum, Rachel Nagelberg, Marianne Villanueva, Nicholas Alexander Hayes, Gerard Sarnat, Nels Hanson, Laura Bernstein-Machlay, Kent Monroe, Mara Naselli, and Nicola Waldron with cover art by Padma Prasad.