by Amy Scott
When the Spanish conquistadores arrived at a then-unnamed peninsula, they were feeling confident. They had already “found” Asia, established forts and slavery on various islands, and managed to slap together a couple of monasteries in their spare time. As human resources was important in their line of work, they had also learned a few key phrases in the native tongue. They were good at their job. After watching a man stick a Spanish Aag on a hill, the company’s mapmaker felt it his duty to get some information about the village.
“What’s the name of this place?” he asked a Maya in Mayan.
“What’s! The! Name! Of! This! Place!” he yelled so that the Maya would understand.
The mapmaker smiled and patted the Maya on the cheek. He shipped his calligraphied masterpiece home without bothering to learn that Yucatan, in Mayan, means I don’t understand you.
In AD 867 some Vikings decided they wanted to see a monastery. They chose Coldingham, a pious town in Scotland. When they landed they were disappointed to see that it was just another boring stone building. They politely surveyed the garden and regrouped.
The Vikings knew they looked bad; their hulking mass of horns and long braids imposed upon that island of sacramental mendicants. They didn’t mean any harm. But the monks and their years of prayers, calloused fingers, and weakened eyes misread the Vikings’ presence. So when a shelf collapsed under the weight of a Norseman’s clumsy hand, the monks sounded the alarm. Sheepish, the Vikings Red. Gold leaf fluttered in their wake.
Mother Superior at the nunnery next door pricked her ears at the clanging bells. She assumed the worst. She raised a knife and her voice: “To be chaste, expose thy face!” The knife descended, slicing off her nose and upper lip. The knife passed from face to face.
When the Vikings came to peek inside they blanched retreated. In his haste, one Viking knocked over a candelabra. The building burned to the ground. Inside the nuns expanded and contracted, reduced to ashes–chastity intact.
The female angler fish spools away the hours by chasing her bacteria-powered lure. She spends the remainder of her time swimming to and fro, fro and to. Maybe once in a lifetime the female will stumble upon a male.
The male angler fish is born without a digestive system but with a strong olfactory sense. His only goal in life is to survive. To do so, he must find a female. He sputters blindly through the dark until he catches a whiff of her pheromones. He wastes no time with foreplay-he simply bites her flank in a saucy How-you-doin? With that, he releases an enzyme that digests her skin into his mouth. Their blood vessels fuse together, circulating nutrients into his system.
By some joke of Nature, his happiness cannot last. First his smell goes, then his organs, finally his tiny brain. He atrophies until he’s nothing more than a pair of gonads that exist to serve his lady whenever she feels the need to breed.
When Devan Jagenath feels lonely he thinks about this story. He’s still lonely.
Hanami (Flower Viewing)
When they were boys, Heigo Kurosawa and his younger brother Akita played beneath blooming cherry trees. Pink and white petals rippled all around them.
ln school they learned about Splitting Cherry Tree, how four hundred years ago its peaty roots broke through a granite boulder. The city built a fence around it and called it a national treasure. Silky puffs of pink and white litter its branches in spring.
The boys grew up. Akita made movies; Heigo narrated silent films from a stand near the screen. In the 1920s talkies began to replace wind-up Chaplin antics. By the 1930s, blaring song-and-dance numbers had edged Heigo into a corner. He twiddled his thumbs, praying for the fad to die out. It didn’t. He thought about the boulder-breaking cherry tree from his youth. He didn’t have a fence or a job. Heigo wasn’t a national treasure. Akira was. Tenno they called him-“the Emperor.” In 1933 twenty-seven-year-old Heigo threw in the towel. “lt was because of the existence of my brother as the negative,” his suicide letter read, “that I was born the positive.”
Every autumn Mary Ann Daher plugs in her headphones to listen for his call. Since 1992 she has tracked a lone whale, “with a voice unlike any other,” as he wanders through her radio.
Mary Ann can’t figure out why the whale comes at all, alone like this. But every year, when leaves crinkle like tissue paper beneath her corrugated soles, he returns. She wonders if he has lost something, a beloved mate or perhaps a calf What else could call him back to the same stretch of exiled ocean?
As the years pass his voice deepens slightly. She still recognizes it. Lately she hears him moan, casting a strange, lonely cry down to the Pacific’s depths. It clangs against reefs, echoes in caves, and tapers into a soundless line.
Mary Ann watches the screen and waits, hoping to hear a refrain.
The train started to pull away while a man ran to keep up with it. He ran until he caught hold of his daughter’s hands. Every time he thought about letting them go, he just ran faster. He ran and held her hands and didn’t let go. He couldn’t. So he pulled her from the moving train and back into his arms.
She survived five concentration camps before the war was over.
She thinks: How would my life have gone had my father (not) loved me so much that he let go of my hands? lt’s hard to think: He loved her so much that he held on. It’s harder to think: She wanted to say goodbye. She wanted to let go.
ln 1958 James MeUard discovered an entire Turkish city. lt contained the world’s first known map and the history of a people with no ruling class or alleyways. They lived close to the sun, accessing each other’s homes through rooftops and ladders.
Through a mishap involving a stolen urn, betrayal, and a broken heart, James lost control of the city. Excavations stopped and 9,000-year-old Catalhoyuk lay at rest for another 35 years. lan Hodder, Cambridge archeologist, convinced Turkey to forgive the Dorak Affair and let him continue excavations.
He discovered an entire world hidden in a shallow grave beneath one of the kitchen hearths. lt contains a woman’s skeleton curled in a fetal position. She is holding something and together they form a heart. lt is the skull of a man.
lan cannot bring himself to disturb them.
Nicholas Gills, age 19, does not believe in God. “l believe in Kool Keith,” he grins, “and skateboarding.” Nicholas’s goal in life is to be a man. He works hard at it. He shaves regularly, lifts weights, and eats steak twice a week.
But when it’s quiet and dark he’ll confess that he’s afraid of small noises in the trees, of gravestones, of empty streets. “They’re too quiet,” he says. He’ll pick at a scab and say that his first memory is of his mother’s face-a flash of disappointment when he accidentally knocked a bowl of spaghetti off his highchair.
He tries to live in a way that will redeem him of that glance. He’s proud of his life but will never admit it. Instead he will lean forward, clasp his hands, bow his head, and talk about his mother. How she bought him his first skateboard when he was seven, right after his dad left and right before she found a steady job.
“I think skateboarding is my weird way of saying thanks.” He grins, “And, you know, ‘l love you’ or whatever.”
Berlin’s East Side Gallery is a stretch of wall patchworked with aging murals. At first you only see bright, Easter lsland esque heads splattered across crumbling concrete. A step closer presents peeling paint. Another reveals silvery graffiti, but it’s only when you reach out to touch the wall that you see the faint marks of hurried hands:
“Dance to freedom”
“No more borders”
“Dinos for peace”
“Mexico ’68, jamas se olvida!”
“Thoughts are like races of birds in heaven”
“When you read this we are far away”
“How can I be nostalgic for a world I never knew?” ”Andy was here- maybe not”
“William, I was here for you. Juju.”
AMY Scott was born in South Korea and grew up in Agoura I Iills, California. She thinks that the beach, 826 National, and the HYU recycling program are all good ideas. She is a founding member of the Utah School of Young Artists, a local community-building arts and letters group, and cannot wait for their March 2007 Elevator Show. After graduating in April, she hopes to pursue doctorate in literary theory or an MFA in creative nonfiction. She would like
To give an enormous ‘Thank you!’ to her friends and mentors in the English Department for their endless patience, support, and encouragement.