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by Catherine Chen



Last night I dreamt an earnest mythology. I knocked on your door to tell you

the commune of dreams exists.

Globular mess. Queer failure. Nothing relinquished

I was okay with how little we understood as we

tended a garden, 10 quails, 4 chickens, 3 pigs, a cat, and 2 pitbulls.

Because I meant this to be true.

Because I meant: you are enough.


In the fishbowl kinship flourished with little to no experience of how to answer questions of being or

where to go to become.


Finding language inadequate, I ate the language.


As my belly grew neither doctors nor psychics could explain the phenomenon.


I went home with medication. The aggressively handsome doctor said to call the office with

questions anytime, Monday through Thursday between 8 am and 4:30 pm. I flushed my pills down

the toilet. I reused the bottles for the herbs I had been meaning to plant and they grew. Into yes. In

spite of. Everything against us. You. They.


Eventually the herbs evolved into magnolia. The magnolia died and returned as popcorn trees. I

woke up


in an empty bed

& I kept waking up over & over:


The self-excavating memory.

The performative archive.

We grind ourselves into ecstasy.


Star dust formulation escapes the patent

process. Yes, you too escape this.



I want a body not conceptual but abrasive, like broken glass that tears open garbage bags. I stopped at the emotional edge of capacity and wondered if this would be enough. I wondered what constituted a form of something that was enough. No woman is enough. No secret is enough. I find you enough, that's why I loved you so readily. I wondered if I was hysterical because the world, and every system it had created, wanted me to fully embrace hysteria. The kind of hysteria embodied by women who died so I could assume my position of suffering. It would have explained so much about me and nothing at all about the world. I cupped the water as it was poured into my hands. I did not flinch. I held the stainless steel pitcher just until it reached 180 degrees Fahrenheit. How could I have known then why I wanted to revel: in hysteria. I found no qualms about writing about hysteria and about locating myself in hysterical behavior.


Still, I was against diagnosis.



I slid into the metaphors and easy language of hysteria. I took pleasure in the simple statement "She is hysterical" and some more when I realized she and I were the same woman.



I wanted clear, articulate reasons for the violence we had been undone by. For years I struggled to  make sense and could only blame myself for the many failures I entertained along the way. When you  are determined to leverage your emotional capacity to the body’s limit, there are going to be many walls you are tasked with climbing, or else detonating. I did not wish to harm anyone but forgot to account for the objects and desires my body would not be able to tolerate.



Wrecking myself, I thought, was its own domain of passion. Any expression of passion might be meaningful. I wondered if women who wrote letters to their lovers, letters that were later collected and published without their knowledge or consent, knew they would be betrayed. And by whom. I imagined a contemporary analogy for this situation and felt my chest cavity clench, embroiled in gendered depression. My nipples grew hard at the thought, my skin warm. I was broken before nine every morning, and this seemed both fine and deeply unfair.



By the pond, under moonlight, we evaluated our relationship to work, our relationship to the values we construed as false or wrong yet could not reject. Groups of ducks swam past, leaving their wake as witness. Unsolicited, one duck ventured toward us and offered a spin. We were overjoyed to be granted a private performance.



In emerging through this moment I became aware of materiality, a quality better observed than felt. I considered the histories which had been funneled into the shape of the unconscious. The textures, sounds, and capital swallowed whole by the earth. In migrating, names accrued debt. You entered a room and stripped. There was no exit; an immigration official eventually allowed your family, and mine by proxy, into a country we recognized as the one we had attempted to leave.



After grieving, we worked hard and bore children. We worked twice as hard to raise the children. Uninterested in family, we did not die until the day our skin turned bronze and our breath became exhaust.



The wet bark, dewy midnight. Calm and unwanting. How much we longed for melancholy, a melancholy we attached to historical images of girls dressed in white lace, intimate already with the expectations of the world and the people of that world like mothers and teachers and crossing guards and aunts who were not actually blood related and women walking on the street and writers and women writers and sympathizers and citizens and sycophants and actors whose approval was more sought after than anyone else and righteous community members and queers and invisible girls and, as an afterthought, themselves.



You were sensitive to scents others rarely noticed. You could touch a person’s skin and discern which humors were unbalanced. Even decaf coffee was too much. “My eyes are about to pop.” Spoken with accompanying hand gestures. Draping a thin sweater, snipped down the center so it functioned as a cardigan, around your shoulders, you woke before my father and French pressed coffee for him. Then you pressed twice more, until the product had been reduced to a taste more like water than coffee. You sweetened the concoction with maple syrup, and drank.

Catherine Chen is a writer/performer in Cambridge, MA. She exists online @aluutte and IRL on day-old pastries.

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