Open Mic Friday! featuring my Litcrawl piece

Happy Friday, my very dears, and welcome to the Open Mic!

Today I’d like to share some of my own work with you. It’s a new piece I’ll be reading tomorrow night during Litcrawl, the final event of the SF Litquake festival. I wrote it a bit more than a month ago, specifically for the Litcrawl reading, so it was always meant to be performed out loud (though I think it’s all right visually too). It’s the only response I can come up with for something that always terrifies me to think about. You’ll see what I mean.

No Answer But This, Lisa Hsia

I picture this: I am dead.

There is a reprieve before the nothingness.

In this in-between place I am alone in endless darkness.
I can’t tell if my eyes are open or closed.
I can’t tell if I’m sitting, standing, or lying down —
my sense of myself is gone.
I suspect I no longer have a body.
There is nothing to feel —
or see —
or know —
even the silence is no silence, without noise.
There is simply nothing.

it becomes known to me
that I will have three minutes.

Three minutes of my life, to live again —
three distinct and separate minutes —
I won’t get to choose them.
I won’t get to see, hear, do, or say anything that I didn’t while I was alive —
(I won’t even know I’m dead)
I’ll just be there, alive again, for three minutes.

Beginning now.

I’m on the track. My arms pump at my sides as my knees lift up and down, back and forth, running. My heart jumps in my chest while I try to keep my shoulders from rising up and my fingers from clenching. Huff, huff, huff. The sky is white with mist; the sun’s not out yet. Cold air breaks against my face; far underneath my skin, cold muscles tingle in my thighs and biceps. I stretch my fingers out and back into loose fists, keep my head centered over my shoulders. Huff, huff, huff. My belly quakes with every impact. My feet feel big, my toes clumsy, inside the thickness of these socks and shoes. They make a sound when they hit the dark red of the all-weather track: tum, tum, tum. It sounds like the gallop of my heartbeat, the urgent pull of my inbreath, the panting gasps bursting from my open mouth: huff, huff, huff. It’s so much work, moving my body across the ground. Why am I doing this? It would be so much easier to stop. To sit —

I’m in a parking lot, with my husband. It’s a warm day; my shoulders and cleavage are bare. In my right hand I feel the heavy weight of a nylon shopping bag. I know what’s in it: ripe yellow peaches, a basket of plump blackberries, three shining Japanese eggplants, a red onion. I shift the handle in my fingers and my nose brings me the scent of fresh basil, thick and green and spicy. Suddenly his strong hand grips my forearm, halting my steps. Watch out, he says, and I turn my head to see a car pulling out at our left. We step backward, out of its path. The car is silver, sparkling clean; it turns and its rear window catches the sunlight, sending a glint sharp into my eyes like a camera flash. The car moves away, and we begin walking again. A faint covering of sweat forms over and under my nose. I forgot where we left the car, I say. It’s over there, he points, and I see the white curve I know. I was totally going in the wrong direction, I laugh, and he turns and leans his face to touch my cheek with his lips. My left hand reaches for his right and our fingers twine into the familiar clasp of years together: warmth moving through warmth into warmth.

I’m in savasana, the pose that closes all yoga classes. Corpse pose, the teacher calls it: final resting pose. I’m lying on my back atop my mat, feet spread to slightly wider than my hips, arms out eight inches away from the sides of my body, palms facing up. Someone sneezes near the back of the room, and I flinch, but keep my eyes and mouth closed, and breathe through my nose. Through my eyelids I sense brightness: there’s a skylight overhead. I relax my cheeks and my jaw, and my shoulders drop toward the mat. Let yourself sink into the earth, the teacher says, but I hear the little noises of my classmates, I feel the air flowing over my skin, and my senses reach for these things like lifelines. Sink into the earth. Someone to my right fidgets and sighs. Covering my body is a soft blanket that smells of comfort — and feet. Its fringed upper edge tickles the skin at the base of my throat. I dig my thumbs and fingertips into the woolly cotton and pull down gently; the tickling stops. I hear a deep inbreath from the front of the room, and my teacher begins to sing, sri ram jai ram jai jai ram, sri ram jai ram jai jai ram. With her voice to guide me, finally, I relax.

The filtered brightness of the skylight vanishes, my breath ceases, all sounds and sensations are gone.

I am dead again,
and this time —
very soon now —
this is it.

But oh god, oh god —
I weep without eyes to fill or tears to flow —
each minute of living —
each second
and I had so many thousands of them —
millions —
what was I doing,
not to recognize the fullness of each one?

The fullness
of just being?


Thank you to my IWL friends for helping me revise this during our September meeting, and to Kimber, whose beautiful voice inspired the yoga teacher in the third “minute.” To the rest of you, I’d love any sort of feedback! And if you’re in SF — hope to see you at Forest Books tomorrow night at 6.

The comments are open!