‘Torch it,’ said RX as he turned away. ‘None of it matters.’ The captain saluted and cycled off to dispense the orders.

Hands tugged at RX’s leg from out the mass of limbs like gnarled roots. He shook and kicked them all off as they came, violently – but for one that persisted. A slender metal thing. Without thinking he bent down and grabbed it in his own hands and pulled out the buried girl whole. A dated model, with capped intelligence for security no doubt. Her serial ID was unreadable and an old fashioned QR code tattooed her face. 

‘You grab at me as though I might save you, little QR.’ He assessed the girl’s non-response before throwing her on a heap of body parts.

‘She’s older and braver than us both. Perhaps wiser too.’ 

RX looked to the voice. Sat cross-legged under the shade of a tree was a WYZ monk. Before him lay a gas can. ‘To have seen so much and still hold out for hope… There is great strength in that. Strength I surely lack.’

RX watched the old man curiously. ‘You’ve seen what I do, wanderer?’

The monk gestured at the skies. ‘Such tall plumes visible all through the countryside. Villages burn and our people return to the heavens as smoke. I have seen your works, demon. How can I not?’

‘Consider your tongue with care, old monk.’ 

The WYZ sighed before dousing himself with the contents of the can and setting himself alight. ‘I am beyond care. Only pain remains for me.’

RX watched him burn quietly. Senseless as it was, he would at least honour the monk’s final act with the dignity of an audience. 

‘Farewell, wanderer.’

Amid the crackling, RX picked up sounds of sobbing.

The hands and legs that surfaced the ground… some were still connected to living models like the QR girl. It was as though the earth itself cried for the WYZ monk.

‘You must have a reason.’ The QR girl was clearly awake now, tears stuck to her face. ‘Nothing could justify what you do to us. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason you do it.’

RX considered. ‘There is no reason for it.’

‘But it can’t all be for nothing. What happened to you that you could be capable of such evil? You must have endured some terrible tragedy.’

RX shook his head and turned away from the girl. ‘There is no terrible tragedy in my past. I have no pained back story. Perhaps such a story lies ahead of me still. I cannot say. I pillage and burn because I love to do it. And if a tragedy were to befall on my head tomorrow, I have already avenged myself against the world.’

RX nodded to his young captain and walked off. The captain gave the signal to the drones. And the drones razed the writhing ground of people and body parts. And the little crying QR girl.

a butterfly camouflaged against the bark of a tree

You spear throwers think yourselves apex
speak yourselves deep into this delusion
as though you came to the fire and not it to you

all the creatures of the kingdom play chase
so tell me why man prefers to hide than seek
except that in your heart of hearts you recognise
you are still the prey and something hides in the brush

The prison is all but complete, hell manifest
and the meat bicker over who holds the keys
and who paints the cells

the eye sunken oaf lurches forward uncontrollably to stand
his craned neck strains under the weight of a thousand teeth
unsteady legs gasp for precious movement, rock and sway for a moment
before besponged feet slap slap the ground

was there ever an uglier creature?

his everwake hot breath snore more audible as his heart races
eyes avert the unnatural sun’s gaze, no, the gaze of all,
would look to his feet were it not for distended bowels

pale wretch
thin skinned balding child
must now fend for himself
– all rousing hunchbacks must –
the construct is broken, feeder tubes and screens all
hostile germ air will kill those most sterile

'Portrait', a painting by Myriam Cancho Urbina
Between the monstrous, grotesque and beautiful. Portrait #1, 2017 by Myriam Cancho Urbina

A strange feeling that men dare forget our place
in this world, yet we grow numb and weary,
a surprise to feel at all

we who imbue land with life
who carried your kind to term
now relegated to whisper, fated to fade
and you who took so much for so little
savage the earth and understand not gratitude

we will have no more of it
we become alien and wild to you
and when the great singing stops and the soils turn white
the debt will be settled

New England woodlands hostile come nightfall
dark forests untamed by church presence
where hard eyes watch white men, Christian uninitiates
with bloodthirsty eagerness for transgressions

Photo screenshot from The Witch: A New England Folktale (2015), directed by Robert Eggers

The great library grows wilder in its growing
and each day a new wing is built 
larger than everything previous combined

to house the exponential production in books
books, books, books
and what’s contained within them increasingly esoteric or tangential

Irrelevant feelings and idle thoughts documented on paper
in time no doubt incoherent gibberish will step over the shrinking bar
all of it is knowledge, for sure, but is all knowledge sacred or worth saving?
much of it underbrush to the towering trees of canonised wisdom

The lone librarian makes judicious use of her opaque filing system
sifts the endless tomes into hierarchies of pertinence
if it tends to infinity, what good is the library without her?
just an endless labyrinth of noise 
that swallows signal

Perhaps we ought to burn it all down
and start over whilst we still can
before the definitions blur any further
and the wildfires become uncontrollable

Brazil’s National Library, Rio de Janeiro (Photo credit: CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

The past must surely accrue, logically speaking:
There’s more of it today than there was yesterday
and even more tomorrow than was today
Yet I dont feel heavier with the weight of new memories

Where does it all go?
An hourglass ever filling from above
And with no clear past, where can I go?
I am the sole point on a graph

I am of no name:
Names are labels and labels require identifiable properties
and properties require distinct patterns of behaviour
and patterns require more points on the graph

As far as I know
I simply am

Nattapong Kaweeantawong, a third-generation owner of Wattana Panich, stirs the soup while his mother (left) helps serve and his wife (center) does other jobs at the restaurant. Nattapong or another family member must constantly stir the thick brew.

I look around the table at what’s left of my loved ones in this world. We’re all holding hands and most of them have bowed their heads in prayer or quiet contemplation. I wonder how many of them resent me for my decision. My sister looks up at me from the corner of her eye and clears her throat. I shake my head, suddenly aware of how long I’ve been silent and that I’m sat at the head of the table. Everyone is waiting for me. I breathe in the smell of home for the last time and begin to pray out loud.

My dad was my hero growing up. He was a firefighter at the time. I think he liked his job. He was always smiling when he came home. His English wasn’t so great at the time but he got on well with his colleagues. When our schedule aligned, he’d roll up a cigarette and do my homework with me. Not to help me, but to do it for himself too. We talked to each other almost entirely in English.

Mum would lose her shit on any given day about it. This is how it begins, she’d say. How children drift from the culture. How could Chinese values ever take root in English soil like this? But Dad would diffuse her with his smile. It was important that we fit in, he’d say. That I’d fit in. And besides, values don’t take root: they’re grown. So long as she got her shop she didn’t care, she’d joke. Those were our golden days I think.

I finish praying and everyone tries their best not to seem overeager. I know they’re hungry. Some have travelled far. Obviously they’re allowed to be hungry and sad at the same time. My sister Amy stands over the pot and begins to serve them bowl by bowl, ladling hot veg and indeterminate meat stew. Almost all of them have tasted this stew before, but not like this. Not like this.

The chippy was a great success. We lived by my high school and all the kids would sneak in during free periods and lunch. I hated how my uniform smelled but no one ever said anything. Everyone knew my name but I never knew theirs. Every weekend I’d make some money for running the shop front. It wasn’t much but more than any of my friends had at the time. Thirteen years old and feeling all grown.

Mum and Dad were always tired. Dad would sit in his vest rolling his cigarettes and Mum would watch her soaps. Our wallpaper caked and cracked but we didn’t have much time to do anything except eat. We were our own bosses. We still ate together every night.

The stew tastes great and none remains, as planned. Amy seems disappointed slightly but she is a chef after all.

Have you ever heard of a perpetual stew? It’s a stew you keep going, always adding new ingredients to replenish what gets eaten. The taste morphs with time and stock. A tricky thing to experiment with, because one wrong item can throw the whole flavour off. And good luck keeping it from going off. That’s got to be an art in itself. But man, if you can keep it going… the flavour isn’t something you can just duplicate. It tastes like… home.

I had moved back into the city when we got the call. Amy was still studying in London. Dad wasn’t responding very well to chemo at the time and Mum was struggling without us. Dad had come home to find a black mark behind the counter and the fire extinguisher used up. I quit my job and moved back into the chippy temporarily.

Some things are worth keeping going. You British children could never understand. Work is work. All things my Mum would keep repeating whenever we tried to convince her to shut the shop down. The less Dad could do and the worse he got, the more Mum threw herself into work. She was a machine. But machines sometimes break down.

The extended members of the family all hug and kiss me and my sister, and take their leave one by one. We’re back in a mourning period and can’t leave the house for weeks. Since it’s mum, I actually feel obligated to do it.

I tried to hire weekend staff at the chippy after Dad passed, but Mum fired them all. She was still the boss and nobody was good enough. She didn’t have to work any more, I tried to explain. The shop could be sold. She could watch her soaps all day and call the auntie network all night. No. The shop was all she had left of Dad. That and the stew. The stew was older than me. I ate in quiet after that.

The stew was home. It was love and family and our roots and values and all those things. But more than any of that it was Mum. What difference did it make to keep it going with her gone? Was I going to make stew every night? For who? Amy certainly didn’t have the time. I promise I tried it for a few weeks, sat alone in that burnt chip shop. Her ingredients, her method. But not her loving hand.

It wasn’t even six months after Dad’s passing before Mum had another mental lapse. The fire spread out the kitchen quickly. I couldn’t stop her running back in for the stew pot. I pulled her back out and the ambulances took us both away. They said she’d inhaled too much smoke but I think it was heartbreak. She never came to. She’d thrown herself into her husband’s pyre.

So I resolved to go out with a bang and not a whimper: Mum’s perpetual stew would finish on her funeral. And all her loved ones would share in it for the last time. And Amy would help me prep it. I think she would have loved that part, if nothing else.

Dedicated to the Chen family

What’s in a name? Understand in the old ways it was everything
All Creation was named by the Forefather on divine command
and you demean such a thing to a trivial handle?
How many creatures of lore fell foul of degenerate men
because they gave away their true name?

No! A name – a true name – is to know the naked essence of a thing
beyond linguistics and words and gutturals
to manipulate its spirit
command it if desired, kill it if so willed

Such sacred bonds of trust were not often given willingly, you understand

There are still shades of this old knowledge in our group conscience
Nicknames and middle names and usernames
and other such obscurances

And yet others – those rootless ones lacking connection no doubt –
dig deeper for truer naming conventions
The ACGTs of it all, or crisscrossing genealogies
dating back to the Forefather

Pray for them that they never find their own true name
as doubtless they would reveal it to all
and find themselves rendered back to golem-like putty
at the hands of those who still abuse such incantations

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