A collection of words and pictures shared with Tunnel in the past couple of months,
Curated by Amelia Anthony, created by individual artists.
TERRACOTTA WARRIORS by Matilda Berke
Every time my mother tries to cry,
she feels an acute nausea, weighing
like pebbles in her stomach.
Maybe it’s something in the way she was raised,
(ballet school blues or Red China bullets)
but either way, I grew up watching my mother like the crimson cliffs,
tears fossilized between her teeth: my mother
like a brick.
Asian girls are never taught how to be loud. In your world,
and in our homes, we are defined by ownership:
“leftover women” and A4 waists,
we’re taught to shrink, to lighten to transparency,
to be decorative,
embroidered silk accessories, a dream
of perfect skin and lotus-pad feet:
we blend into the tapestries,
but the problem with that kind of invisibility is that
ever sees you.
To be here,
is to be living with the shame of living
in a space the world tells you isn’t yours. I heard
of 19th century deviants locked in basements
or stoned to death in the streets,
and I guess old habits die hard
cause I was born biting my tongue,
swallowing my blood
and the salt of my sadness.
If I said I needed help
no one would believe me — everyone knows
They wrote songs for Miss Saigon,
but what lover would ever
sing of me, buried
with my words, my suffocated intimacy
under the Emperor’s necropolis? Our hearts
are no Forbidden City,
but they’re just as well guarded.
There’s a reason they call us jaded
and it’s not cause of the bracelets we wear.
When they come to save us from the misery of ourselves
they want us to bend
like bamboo in the wind,
with the well-loved defenselessness
the tiny printless feet, the delicacy
that brought Pinkerton to his knees,
but they don’t know that we are grit,
and temple lion,
and we may not cry much, but every time we cry
we carve our pain in another Great Wall.
We are the girls who won’t be broken: red-lacquered
steely resolve, we are not your China dolls —
we are fortresses, feeling
there is to feel.
We are terracotta warriors,
we are centuries of stone,
and we’re marching through your love songs
cause we’re here to write our own.
The parrot – static – on its Branch –
Eyes pointed Within –
Oblivious to the fractures –
Absent are the Winds –
My eyes see –
Blue sky – Hidden –
Gray cloud – Exposed –
A Tragic world – This –
THE 36 YEAR ITCH by Christina Weiler
after Marilyn Monroe
it is difficult work,
holding the camera’s eye
while strangers dust her legs in sugar.
her body sanding down to sunburn
and bleached brain.
she is Cadillac Casket —gilded
in translucent robes
and hesitant halos —
packageable on shelves.
after they buy her, people hang her up, after
they steal her and forget her name.
skin worshipped for what it is not.
she watches them twist and toss her name
onto dress peelings,
too holy for a mouth.
she has ivory nails for eyes.
strangers uproot them,
chew pieces of her —
hips, collarbone, chest.
they say her soul went down easiest,
mangled in red palms,
stiff and coated in blisters curdled
from dances on sewer grates.
she awakes again at dawn,
folds her spine,
searches for holy water
to preserve her youth,
hunched like a bitten cherry
spit out and dripping juice.
36 years make a girl into a lovely bruise.
now, her lord is a bottle of fruit juice
she grips routinely to cool fevers,
ivory eyes intending to swallow this nectar
and forget the day
in sips and tremors.
her breath tastes like strawberries,
people gather and jar
it in lungs when they want a palate
until she is low and empty,
all of her.
breaths of billowing skirts,
pale pink kisses
they barked of thirstiness still,
how some like it hot,
some like it hot
in a Cadillac Casket.
FOUR YEARS by Leah Sohn
For a little over a thousand days she woke up breathless,
Trembling as the crisp morning air skated over her sweaty body.
She tugged on her cold sheets for warmth,
But soon noticed the raindrops scattered on the window sill.
She sat up on her bed and reached for the glass of water on her bedside table—
And gulped it down.
The rain still bothered her.
She angrily walked to the window to close it shut.
She pulled down the blinds, too.
Her eyes were bitter and wet,
Not from the rain but because of it.
She sat back down on her very neat bed,
Just to stare into the white wall across from her.
Her eyes fixated on the white coat hanger on the left—
The black skirt she had worn for a job interview
Her favorite white blouse now missing three buttons
The coat wrinkled and stained from drowning in the rain.
None of the clothes had been touched since that night.
No, she could not dare touch them—
Her hands remembered the night four years ago.
The rain still bothered her.
HYMN TO ORION’S BELT by Jennifer Boyd
In Jackson Square, there’s a whisper of scathed
traffic lights, an emperor besieged by dice, crescent
tongues frothing. I nod the silvery plains like a
sleepwalker. Your breath smells like rain.
Snowstorms break our fine china. We stutter
to hide our forgetfulness in tea houses. Repeat
your last name; tell me the words that make
you writhe. Inhale from your vowel pipe. Let go
of the exhaust fumes and sing away
your bad dreams.
OKRA by Rachna Shah
I may never have been skydiving or crowd surfing, but I have seen both horrific and beautiful things in my day. Vivid images that will haunt me and scar my retinas for eternity…
…because where I come from, grocery shopping is a dangerous sport.
If you ever wish to witness unadulterated insanity, you should go to a local grocery store and linger around the fresh fruits and vegetables. It is a frenzy where the winner takes all (technically inaccurate, but trivialities will have to wait).
When an employee comes by with fresh boxes of okra, you do not want to be left out. The poor soul barely has enough time to unload the goods before the angry hordes descend upon the okra like a plague of locusts. Look out for those insane beady-eyed mothers and grandmothers glaring at the employee, craning their necks over the carts to see what fresh groceries have yet to be unloaded in all of their yummy goodness.
It happens in stages. First, the initial sighting. The unsuspecting employee naively heads over to the display area. As he begins to unload the new produce, he notices a slow but steady increase in his audience. Their well-trained Vulcan senses are activated, and they look so hungry that they might just end up devouring the employee if he does not move out of the way fast enough. Because, you see, behind the worker waits pounds and pounds of fresh okra, straight from wherever okra comes from. The shining beacon of crisp okra gleams in its newness. The worker unloads the goods as quickly as humanly possible and flees the scene, often entrapped by the okra-hunters.
Then begins the madness. Having gotten rid of the worker, the plague descends. If you are fortunate enough to have found a good picking spot, you find yourself engulfed in a mad sea of frenzied activity. It is too late for second thoughts and doubts saying, “Is this really how I wanted to spend my Saturday?” No, you pick for dear life. Pick or you die. Pick or you will get shoved into the corner, along with that stray, bruised okra.
You begin to envy those with years of okra picking experience, those who casually fling back okra that is not perfect in every way and accumulate all of the good okra in their bags. You become despondent, wondering if you will even be able to pick a pound before the throes have disassembled the entire store. But then your agility miraculously improves. Suddenly, your own bags become heavy, full with the fruits of your labor. You no longer feel the pricks piercing your fingertips. You pick okra with both hands, and with all of the other hands reaching around you, you feel like the lord of the okra.
Eventually the group of okra reapers disperses, leaving behind the remnant carcasses for those not as daring. The scavengers war with each other, while the spectators watch in disgust.
And you? You walk away with the spoils, the “best okra of all,” grinning shamelessly. You are a glowing pool of inextinguishable light, the triumphant victor of all mankind…
…and then the new batch of Manila mangos comes in.
NIGHTMARE by Callista Tyson
I close my eyes tightly trying to imagine my closest friend tearing our throats out one by one. This is the only time my imagination hasn’t been a good thing. I shiver visibly and rub my temples. The smell of booze and smoke hangs in the air. I finally open my eyes. Everyone has been silent since my friend declared himself a cannibal. Finally, my friend bursts out laughing.
He chokes out, “Nice try man. This is real life and not a Stephen King book.”
Everyone laughs, brushing it off. Except for me. My heart is racing and I can feel a panic attack coming on.
Erik pleas, “Guys I’m serious. It has a nice texture.” He refers to human meat, “and a natural smoky taste.” Erik’s mouth is practically watering as he speaks.
I’m the only one who hasn’t had a drink and I’m glad I haven’t as I watch Ryan and Mike sway back to their tents. Erik sighs heavily. “I’m sorry if I ruined the fun Henry… goodnight,” he says before walking off to our tent. My hands shake when I think about sharing a tent with him. I sit trying to collect myself before I go join Erik in the tent. He’s already asleep as I lay down. I toss and turn until I awake to Erik getting up. I see Ryan’s shadow on a tree. I watch them talk until Erik grabs him and smashes his head against one of the rocks we were sitting on earlier in the night. I watch as Erik pulls his trusty knife out of his pants pocket and smoothly drags it over Ryan’s throat. His hands are practiced and his cut like that of a trained surgeon. He brings the blade to his lips and licks it slowly. His tongue wraps around the blade in such a grotesque way I find myself getting sick to my stomach. Mike walks out of the tent and lands a blow on Erik’s jaw. He runs toward the car. I grab my phone and watch Erik inhale deeply. As he does he closes his eyes in ecstasy just by the scent of death in the air. I watch him jog after Mike calmly. I get out of the tent and begin walking in another direction but still toward the car. I try to be as silent as possible. After another half hour of jogging I hear Mike’s ear-splitting shriek of terror. As he begins another wail it is interrupted by a muffled gurgle. I begin running, I quickly see Erik’s figure. He turns before I can even think of hiding. He shoots me a toothy grin and waves. I try to run, but he reaches me easily. He backs me up against the tree. As he hits my head against it, I am taken back to a few months ago when Erik told me he had mad cow disease. I figured it was from meat, not something far more sinister. His eyes are red and boring into me. I feel the cool metal of his knife and the heat of his breath against my face. As I feel the blade slid across my skin I sit upright in a pool of sweat in my sleeping bag next to Erik.
supreme ruler of the land by Elysia Utech
her snarled teeth transform into something of a grin, as long talons pressing hard against the surface of the floor — waiting, watching, listening. the measly, grayish body of a mouse peeks out from under the stove, and together, they engage in a staring contest. both of them scarcely breathing, waiting for a sort of signal, a silent truce to be made. the mouse darts under the dust-ridden overhanging and makes a run for it, heart beating out of its chest. but the ferocious beast is too quick. her rough paws seize the mouse from the neck down, and she tears its fur off tuft by tuft.
Featured image at top, and all uncredited other photos, by Mira Pusateri