“Honeysuckle” by Krishna Ammisetty


“Get that out of your mouth!” cried the nanny as she pinched the boy’s cheeks together between her thumb and forefinger, forcing him to open his mouth. “Hai Ram! Why can’t you just behave yourself for one day? Oh, spit it out! Spit it out, already!”

The boy finally gave in and released a glob of saliva along with its precious cargo of mangled flower parts. His spittle drooped from his mouth, a suspension of petals and pistils that if frozen in time would have made a pretty ornament.   

The boy looked longingly at the little puddle he left on the ground. Doubtless, the flower had lost much of its initial allure, but the boy still felt keenly of a critical experience thwarted. He hadn’t enough time to explore the sumptuous taste that lay in the promise of the flower’s sweet fragrance. He glanced enviously at the bees, unencumbered by pestering nannies, humming along and drinking up all the sweet nectar.

The nanny proceeded to wipe the boy’s mouth with the end of her cotton sari. Noticing the child’s wistful expressions she consoled, “Rama, Rama. If this were India, I could tell you each and every plant, and I would have even shown you which ones to eat. Karwapak, kothimera… I would have fed you the leaves myself. But please child, here at least keep from eating anything I don’t give you by hand.”  The boy answered with a reluctant nod of assent. The nanny went on, “I think you’ve had enough fun playing outside for today. You go and get cleaned up while I get dinner ready before your parents come home. You can tell them all about your little adventure yourself.”

At dinner, the boy’s mother inquired, “Where did you learn such bad habits from, Nikith? You’ve never done anything like this before.”  

Nikith just looked down at his pulihora. This was his favorite dish, lemon rice with peanuts. But today it was just mocking him. The rice was the same color as the flower’s pollen, but it bore a spicy tanginess instead of that ambrosial sweetness he yearned for.  

Nikith’s father answered, “He probably learned it from your brother. That Sanju was chewing pan the whole time he was here. Nikith probably saw his uncle chewing those leaves all the time and thought that he could eat leaves, too.”

“Now, you leave him out of this,” Nikith’s mother replied. “This is my house as much as it is yours, and my brother will always be welcome here.”

Cutting the thread of conversation, the mother turned back to her son. “The people here in Kentucky, they let their kids play in the forests, and so many of them come back with bites and rashes. Do you know how many patients Daddy and I see who come with rashes and sores they get from playing in the forest?” She continued without waiting for an answer. “So many, soo many. It was a good thing Neelamma stopped you. You could have become very sick.” Turning to Nikith’s father, she directed, “I want you to call the lawn abai tomorrow and have him clear out all those wild bushes that are climbing over the fence, okay.”

The father grumbled something unintelligible.


“Yes, yes I’ll call him tomorrow.”



Nikith stood in the backyard dressed in his nice polo shirt and khakis. His mom had sprayed cologne on him against his will, and he thought he might spend a few minutes outside to hopefully waft away some of the smell before his friends noticed. He looked out at the woods behind the house, which were forced to recede several feet behind the fence from where they used to be. Nikith remembered that only a few years ago he had tried to eat some of those plants. Nikith laughed to himself. What a child he had been eating wild plants. He was far more sophisticated and matured now.

“Nikith, come get in the car now! Let’s not be late for Akhil’s birthday party.”

Nikith wondered how it was that his mom always made it seem as if he were the late one, when in fact she was the reason they were leaving late, having spent hours getting ready. Still, he knew better than to protest and got into the car without a word.  

Akhil’s house was an opulent affair. White marble floors flowed into floor to ceiling windows shrouded in beige curtains. A crystal chandelier hung in the main foyer, and the whole house seemed to reflect its glittering light in the form of glamour and charm. Equally charming were the guests— the men attired in impeccable suits and the women in warm colored dresses or silk saris.

The party was supposed to be for Akhil’s 10th birthday, but Akhil’s parents had made use of the opportunity for a networking event. The adults, mostly other doctors and hospital executives, far outnumbered the children. Nikith followed closely behind his parents, unsure of where to go. He didn’t see his friends anywhere, but his parents soon met some of their colleagues.

“How do you do, Drs. Rao?” said a jovial looking man with round spectacles. He spoke through a wispy mustache that flowed into a graying but trimmed beard.

“Well as can be, Vasu, well as can be,” answered Nikith’s father. “And you? How’s the practice?”

“Ahh, you know how it is. You know as well as I how the hospital is trying to push out the foreign doctors. Early 90s when you and I came, remember that, they were clamoring for us. But now they’ve got plenty of local candidates and they’re squeezing us out.”

“Yes, yes,” Nikith’s father nodded, “Just have to do our best to hang on, don’t we?” He gave a little wink at Nikith. “At least until the kids grow up.”

“Right, right you are.”

Nikith, tired from listening to this conversation he could not follow, continued to look around the room for anyone his age. Thankfully, the hosts came to save him.

“Oh Nikith, you’re down here? Akhil and the other kids are upstairs in Akhil’s room. Why don’t you go up and play with them?” said Akhil’s mother.

Nikith did not need any further encouragement. He was glad to leave the dull conversation of the adults. Upstairs he found the kids sitting around the TV in Akhil’s room playing NBA 2k12 on the PlayStation. There were only two controllers and Akhil was always playing on one, so that left all the other kids with one controller to take turns on. Nikith didn’t care much for basketball or video games for that matter, so he took a seat on the floor behind the rest of the kids crowded around the TV. He watched as they maneuvered their players, slam-dunking and alley-ooping.   

Nikith noticed a short, thin kid sitting next to him. He was one of the few white people at the party. He too seemed to be getting bored of watching the others play.

“What’s your name?” Nikith asked.

“Jeremy,” the boy answered.

“Cool, my name’s Nikith. Have you played this game before?”

“No, I don’t really play videogames much.”

“Yeah! Me neither. I think they’re kind of boring.”

“Do you want to go find something else to do? I’ve been here awhile and it doesn’t look like I’m getting a turn anytime soon.”

“Sure, Akhil has this really cool playroom upstairs with a bunch of toys. I’ll show you.”

They left the game room and wandered about until they found another room strewn with toys. Jeremy found some nerf guns and loaded them up. He handed one to Nikith.  

“You wanna play? First one to get shot three times loses.”

They had the entire upstairs to themselves since the rest of the kids were glued to the video game. After Nikith got hit the third time, he plucked off the dart from his Velcro vest and demanded another game.

When it was time to go, Jeremy said, “Hey Nikith, I’m having a birthday party next Saturday, and you‘re invited if you want to come.”

“That sounds awesome. I’ll be there!” And then with some hesitation, “Oh and what does your dad do by the way?”

“He’s a professor at the college. He actually tutors Akhil sometimes.”

“Cool, well I’ll see you on Saturday.”

“Oh and do you have Yu Gi Oh cards?”

“Umm yeah of course,” Nikith answered with mock indignation.

“Great, bring them. We’re gonna have a tournament.”

This was awesome, Nikith thought. He had tried to play in a Yu Gi Oh tournament in the past at the Arcade Magic Game Zone, an indie videogame and comic store, but when his mom took him to the building she wouldn’t even let him out of the car. She said she didn’t like how the people looked (they were all grown men with beards) and her son didn’t need to be associating with them. Nikith was crushed. He had spent several days building and rebuilding his deck. He cried that day, even though he had sworn off crying. But this time it would be okay.

Nikith was excited to tell his parents that he was invited to a birthday party once he got home. They asked whose party it was. He replied that it was Jeremy Thacker’s, but the name was unfamiliar to them. They asked what his parents did. Nikith had anticipated this question. “His dad’s a professor at the college,” he answered confidently. “Jeremy told me that his dad even tutors Akhil sometimes.”

“Oh really? Maybe we should ask him to tutor you too,” Nikith’s mom said.

“Mummy!” Nikith protested.

“I’m just joking, Nikith,” his mother assured. At the same time, she gave Nikith’s father a look that indicated he should immediately ascertain Professor Thacker’s contact information. There would be no question of their son falling behind the Chennareddy’s son in any way.

After a few more inquiries, his parents said he could go. They would both be working so Neelamma would drop him.  

Saturday finally came, and Neelamma took Nikith to Jeremy’s house. It was located downtown, in the little downtown that Cedarton had – quaint and historic, tucked away in the heart of Appalachia, with houses that traced back to Cedarton’s coal mining heyday. Jeremy’s was a small house built into the side of a hill like the other twenty or so houses in that neighborhood. Stone moss grown steps led up to the house from the narrow, winding road. Vines lay like curtains over the fence that separated the yard from the road while a broken down, rusting car rested in a shed adjacent to the house. Nikith was worried that his mom would not approve of him coming here and was about to tell Neelamma to go home when Jeremy came out of the house and waved to him.

Jeremy put his arm around Nikith’s shoulder and walked him up the stairs to the house. “You came! That makes three, Tyler’s already here, and Harrison called and said he’d be coming later. Mom said I could only invite two people but she said it was okay when I told her I invited you too.”

Nikith walked into the house and found Tyler sitting on a couch with his Yu Gi Oh cards in his hands. He was a blonde haired boy also in Nikith’s class. Nikith had played soccer with him a couple times.

“Hey Nikith,” Tyler greeted, and then turning to Jeremy went on, “Yo, Jem Jem, are we going to play or what?”

Jeremy looked at Nikith and said, “Alright, Nikith you can play the winner of me and Tyler. There’s some chips and pizza on the dining table if you want some.”

Jeremy and Tyler continued their game. “Tyler, you only have 500 life points left. Come on, I thought you’d be more of a match.”

“Don’t get too cocky, you don’t know what my face down cards are. And let me just tell you I’ve got some strong monster cards, like 3000 attack, that I’m about to lay down…”

Nikith looked around. He had never been inside a house like this. The carpet looked like it hadn’t been vacuumed in ages, so Nikith was glad when he noticed that Tyler and Jeremy were still wearing their shoes. There were clothes and magazines and boxes of unknown contents everywhere. Two walls of the living room were stacked from floor to ceiling with DVDs, but to be fair the ceilings weren’t that high. The house was tiny- the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the makeshift study that was separated from the living room by a curtain; it all could have fit into Nikith’s living room. But to Nikith the house felt large and spacious. Somehow even his own house, which was definitely much bigger, almost felt small by comparison. Nikith began to form the notion that perhaps new places feel enlarged by a sense of discovery, while the old ones, however big, always grow smaller with familiarity.

The doorbell rang and Jeremy opened the door for Harrison. He was followed by two high school girls carrying a birthday cake.

“Hurry, Jeremy, get everyone to the dining table. It’s an ice cream cake so we don’t want it to melt,” said the taller of the two girls.

Nikith asked Jeremy who they were.

“Oh, they’re my sisters. The taller one is Megan and the shorter one is Josie.”

“How many sisters do you have?”

“Four,” he replied. “And I’m the youngest and the only boy.”

“You all live here?!”

“Yeah, it sucks living with a bunch of girls, but Samantha, the oldest, just got married so she moved out. And Teresa, the next to youngest is staying at her friend’s today.”

The whole party gathered around the dining table, and cheered as Jeremy blew out the candles and cut the cake. The ice cream cake tasted really good, but Nikith kept feeling a pain in one of his teeth whenever the ice cream made contact with it. His mom had told him to brush his teeth every night, but Nikith had been neglecting it. He wouldn’t tell her about it unless it got worse. He hated giving his mom another “I told you so” moment.

While carefully yet diligently swallowing his cake, Nikith asked, “Jeremy, where’s your dad at?”

“Oh, he lives on 4th street. It’s great! I get a second birthday party. He’s taking me to Dollywood next week.”

Nikith decided to stop asking questions. The less he knew the less he’d have to tell his parents.

“Ok, it’s time to open gifts!” directed Jeremy’s mom.

Jeremy sat down cross-legged in front of the TV with his gifts in a small pile next to him. Tyler got him an RC hovercraft. It was a green foam saucer with a propeller on the bottom that allowed it go up or down with the controller. “Aw cool, thanks Tyler!” Next, Jeremy picked up an envelope.

“That one’s from me,” said Nikith.

Jeremy opened it up.  “Holy cow, Nikith! Thirty dollars, geez thank you! I should’ve invited you to my last birthday.”

“Lame,” Tyler yawned. “Mine was cooler.”

Jeremy proceeded to read the generic Hallmark card. Nikith wished he had given a gift. He had asked his mom to take him to buy one. Checks were so impersonal. Why did his mom have to give checks for every occasion?  

As Jeremy started picking up the scraps of wrapping paper, his mom went into the makeshift study and reemerged with a large, neatly wrapped box. “Hold on, Jeremy. We have one more gift for you! This one’s from your sisters and me.” Jeremy took the box and eagerly tore away the wrapping paper.

“Wow, this is awesome! Thanks Mom! I’ve been wanting a gaming console so bad!”

Jeremy took the contents out of the box and began setting it up with Tyler. Nikith picked up the box. It wasn’t a PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo. It didn’t even look like the Dreamcast Nikith had once played at his uncle’s house. Nikith was surprised to not recognize the brand. He thought that all gaming consoles were made by one of the major companies.

Jeremy plugged all the wires into the corresponding ports, matching the yellows with the yellows, the whites with the whites, the reds with the reds. After everything was set up, Jeremy pushed the power button on his new console. The tiny bulb next to the button remained unlit. He pushed it again. He pushed it and held it. He checked all the connections. The tiny little lightbulb remained unlit, darkened, adamantly refusing even a flicker, red or green.

“Why does this always happen?!” Jeremy threw the console aside and ran into the makeshift study. Through the curtain Nikith could hear him crying. Jeremy’s mother looked at Megan and Josie, indicating that they needed to do something while she went into the study to console the birthday boy.

Megan took the lead. “Alright, boys! We’ve got some fun games planned for you.”

Josie brought out two filled garbage bags from the closet.

Megan continued, “Alright, so these bags are filled with clothes. You know sweatshirts, t shirts, pants, everything. You’re gonna split off into teams and have one person put on as many clothes onto the other person as you can in one minute. After the minute’s up, whichever team manages to put on the most clothes wins.”

Josie called out, “Jeremy, we’re gonna play a game now, but we need you out here or we won’t have even teams.”

“Yeah, come on Jeremy. I already called you for my team. We’re gonna wup these guys,” Tyler added.  

Jeremy came out from behind the curtain, wiping away little snail tracks beneath his eyes. “No, I think I want to play whiffle ball.”

“Ok, sure! I’ll go get the stuff,” Josie said.

“Where are we going to play?” asked Nikith with a hint of surprise. Jeremy’s entire neighborhood was built into a hillside. The backyard was a green slope, and after the house the slope continued down to the bottom of the hill. The only flat standing space outside the house was the street.

“We’ll play in the street,” Jeremy answered.

“Watch out for the cars. And I don’t want you crawling through all those bushes if you hit the ball down the hill,” Jeremy’s mom cautioned.

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Alright, Mom.”

Nikith was first up. He tightened his grip around the yellow, plastic bat and squinted his eyes as Jeremy curled up to pitch.   

“CRACK!” The sweet satisfying sound of contact pierced the air. It was quickly followed by the rustle of leaves and twigs.

“Oh man sorry, I really tried not to hit it into the bushes.”

“Don’t worry about it. My mom always says that. It’s impossible not to hit the ball into the bushes. Just come help me find it.”

Nikith followed Jeremy over to where the ball entered the foliage. As they sifted through the leaves, Nikith spotted a bush in full bloom with little white and yellow flowers sprouting long filaments.

“Hey, looks like you found some honeysuckle.”


“What, you’ve never had honeysuckle? Oh, you’ve gotta try some.” Jeremy proceeded to pluck a blossom. “Now this is the tricky part. You’ve gotta pinch off the bottom here and you get this little string, see how its coming out of the inside, you just pull it all the way through like this. And at the end of the string there’ll be a little drop of sweet.” He stuck his tongue out and licked off the tiny globule of nectar. “Yum! Now you!” Nikith looked at the wildflowers with hesitation.

“Aww, don’t worry about it, I eat these all the time.”

“Ok, I’ll try it.” Nikith plucked a pure white honeysuckle and pinched the end and drew the little string out. Surprisingly, it was the same white as the petals. The syrupy substance at the end was clear and looked like a dewdrop. It seemed harmless enough. Nikith closed his eyes and touched the nectar to his tongue.

“Wow! This is really good, Jeremy.”

“What’d I tell ya?”

Nikith started plucking more flowers, rapidly downing the tiny treasures inside with a determination to drain the whole bush.

“Whoa, man. Slow down,” Jeremy laughed.

“I think I used to try to eat these flowers whole when I was really small. It was so bad my parents had the bushes cleared from the backyard.”

“Well, I bet they taste a lot better this way.”

“Guys, I found the ball!” Harrison said as he emerged from behind a tree, “But I get to bat now since I found it.”

It was already dark outside when Nikith’s mom came to pick him up. Nikith was able to detect the displeased look on his mother’s face as soon as he entered the car. Without giving her a chance to speak, Nikith launched into an account of the day’s activities. “Oh Mummy, it was so much fun! We ate ice cream cake and played Yu Gi Oh and whiffle ball…I really had an awesome time hanging out with Jeremy. I can’t wait to come back!”

His mom’s stern expression softened somewhat. “I’m glad you had fun. And I’m glad you did something active instead of just sitting around all day playing the videogames,” then looking around she added, “but maybe next time I’ll stay for a while, or better yet you can invite Jeremy over to our house!”
“Why, so you can keep an eye on us?” Nikith mumbled.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing! That sounds great!”

Nikith looked out the window as they drove home, but the darkness covered everything. He could no longer see the untrimmed overgrowth of the kudzu onto the road, or the winding curves of the road as it navigated down the hill, or the humble houses that were the only remainders from the town’s coal boom days. All he could see were the few feet ahead that were visible from the car’s headlights. A few feet which to Nikith were indistinguishable from a few feet of anywhere else in the world.

They reached home and Nikith told his mom that he needed to retrieve a soccer ball he had left in the backyard earlier. She told him to hurry in and went into the house. Nikith walked across the lawn, which was completely homogenous without a stray weed anywhere, a result of the gardener’s meticulous care. He saw the soccer ball but walked past it to the back fence. He climbed over and walked into the thick foliage just a few feet away. It was dark but the yellow moon cast a soft glow and the lightening bugs were out that night, prepared to meet Nikith and guide his hand. He felt his fingers close around soft petals. Plucking the blossom, he tenderly drew out the string within. The dewdrop now appeared gold in the light of the fireflies. Nikith gently brought it to his lips. It was sweet, the same sweetness.

“Eulogy (for Jerry Gafio Watts)” by Wally Swist

My first memory of you has to be

that of your hands combing through

the sale books on the cart in front

of the store one autumn afternoon


in 1975, your brown leather brief-

case, with a gold metal latch, your

ce que vous êtes connu par. That

was your first year in New Haven,


having just graduated from Harvard,

and you wearing the poor Ph.D.

student persona as well as you did

that Walt Frazier mustache; although


you never grew an Afro, your hair

was always well groomed, like that

of Malcolm or Stokley Carmichael.

Too poor to buy books, you read


standing up, and if you didn’t finish

you would come back the next day

and pick up where you had left off.

However outspoken you might have


been, you deflected praise for

the street people you would put up

in your small apartment on sub-

zero nights. Your heart always


matching the largesse of your good

Samaritan acts, including the time

I was broken into when I was living

over on the Hill, and you insisted on


accompanying me when I returned

to gather my things. When we

managed the bookstore on Saturday

nights, your students would sit on


the floor below the raised counter,

where you would hold court, lecture

them about American studies and

W.E.B. DuBois. Two decades later,


when we found ourselves both on

another college campus in Hartford,

you included me in the dedication

to your magnum opus, Amiri Baraka :


The Politics of the Black Intellectual,

where you honored our collegiality.

When I found out about your death

last November, on your birthday this


May, I comprehended the synchronicity

to be all about your thinking it was

about time that I should finally know.

How could we realize there might be


forty years ahead of us when we first

met, as you were perusing the titles on

that cart of books I had wheeled out

on the street, knowing as I do now that


I’ll never not stop perceiving your sharp

inflection when I recall hearing

you say, Brothah, how are you doin’,

Brothah, while being aware that we


actually were kinsman of the heart,

and how if we were informed that we

might have had four decades to read

and write we would have smiled and


thought ourselves fortunate, but how

those years have elapsed so quickly

that I would have wanted to share with

you how I believe we just might have


discovered something valuable about

our experience in how the evanescent

is a necessary component in

the divine creation of what is éternité.


“Angel Bestowed” by James Penha

Just as the circle of the sun had risen above the horizon of the Molucca Sea, Ramli waded to the beach with his anchor in his hands and dropped it on the sand next to that of his friend Suleiman who was negotiating with the fat monger for the night’s catch. The dealer was referred to by the fishermen as the fat monger to distinguish him from the bearded monger, the bald monger, and the skinny monger. None of the mongers had earned the appellation sweet or generous or fair. Suleiman pocketed a few Indonesian rupiah notes as the fat monger traded an empty basket for Suleiman’s, barely lined with small tuna. The monger turned to Ramli. “What do you have to sell this morning? I’m still wanting. Don’t offer them to any of the other mongers until you give me a chance.”

Ramli nodded, and the fat monger trotted down to the fisherman’s boat in the bay to size up the inventory. When Suleiman asked his friend what the monger would find, Ramli smiled, spread his arms wide and gave two thumbs up. “Again?” Suleiman asked. Ramli shrugged his shoulders and re-opened his hands as if to ask what else could he do: he just couldn’t help it.

When the monger returned, he ordered his two sons to deliver three empty baskets to Ramli’s boat and collect the three baskets full of tuna and bring them to their small trawler anchored in the bay. “Suleiman, you’re lucky I dealt with you first. Ramli’s tuna are as big as my boys. They would have been enough to satisfy my needs for the day,” said the monger. Suleiman was well aware of the danger and, indeed, had made sure to come to shore before the sun rose for this very reason. On each of three previous days, Ramli had also arrived with his outrigger loaded with the biggest and best-quality tuna. He had been sorely tempted to follow Ramli’s boat last night to see exactly what part of the sea was offering such bounty, but spying would have broken the honor code among the fisherman of this secluded corner of Bangkulu, an island remote even from the rest of the Banggai archipelago. He had been asking Ramli to share the secret, and he did again after the monger had left as the two old friends sat in the sand drinking coffee prepared by the old woman who had just opened her warung on the beach.

“It’s not where I fish, Suleiman. Really. I’ve just been lucky lately. Blessed, I’ll say.” He lit and took a long puff on his clove cigarette.

“You are not doing anything different?” Suleiman asked.

“Not . . . when I’m out on the boat. I fish the same way I have my whole life.”

Suleiman had known Ramli his whole life, forty-two years, long enough to recognize the pause. “But you are doing something different, aren’t you? to have such luck.”

Most of the fishermen remaining on the beach were busy finalizing deals with the mongers for their squid, snapper, grouper, and the odd swordfish or getting ready to leave, the mongers to the hotels and the restaurants of the big island of Sulewesi across the Molucca Sea, the fishermen to their beds. Nonetheless, Ramli looked around to make sure no one but his old friend was near enough to hear his words. “I have a bidadari,” he whispered.

“A bidadari? An angel?”

Ramli nodded.

“What do you mean,” Suleiman grew serious, “have?”

Ramli held up his hands. “Let’s move over there.” He pointed to the shady grove of coconut trees at the back of the beach. On their way, they passed the warung and asked the old woman to refresh their cups of coffee. By the time the two friends settled under the trees, the beach was empty except for children enjoying the surf as their mothers scraped mollusks from the rocks exposed by the low tide and scoured the coral for urchins and other delicacies. Ramli lit another cigarette. “I have a bidadari in my house. She brings me luck.”

Suleiman had to gather his words amidst his confusion. “Where . . . how . . . how long have you been keeping this  . . . her?”

“I found her in the sea almost three weeks ago,” Ramli said.

“But your luck—at least the luck that I have seen—with the tuna—you have only had for a few days.”

“Four nights now, yes. I will tell you the whole story.” Suleiman had given up smoking since he had what the doctor on the mainland of Sulewesi had called a mini-stroke, but he took a cigarette from Ramli’s pack, lit it with a match and leaned forward to listen.

“You recall the Saturday night almost three weeks ago when you didn’t go out?” Ramli asked.

“Yes,” said Suleiman, “that night my wife was so ill and told me I had to stay home with her and the kids.”

“That night, as I was floating in the tuna waters, I saw in the light of the moon some things bobbing near my boat. I laid down my rod and rowed closer to the objects. They weren’t things, I realized, but one connected thing that soon with the wash of the waves trapped itself in the outrigger. It looked like a human body. But although it was facedown and naked, it showed no sign of being attacked by sharks or of rotting in the sea. I brought my lantern closer and touched it with my right hand. It felt warm, warmer than the sea and comforting somehow. Of course, I wouldn’t use the gaff or net to bring it on board, so I set the anchor, took off my clothes, and slipped into the sea to untangle the body and roll it up into the boat. This turned out to be surprisingly easy because the body was so light—not waterlogged, not so heavy even as a living person, Suleiman. But it was a kind of person: a female, not breathing, but beautiful.” As Ramli shook his head, tears appeared in his eyes. “So beautiful. I brought the lantern close and gazed at the whole of her. Perfect. Every part of her, like a dream.

“I am ashamed to say this, but my dick got hard as a priest, Suleiman. It wasn’t intentional. I . . . I just couldn’t help it, and so I dressed and covered her with a tarp up to the neck. I didn’t cover her head because she did not seem dead. Her eyes were wide open and her mouth was neither rigid nor did a swollen tongue stick out of it. She seemed to smile, in fact, Suleiman. Smile. I sat there in the middle of the sea, rocking and staring at her face and realized that, of course, she must be a bidadari.

“You remember those tales we heard when we were children, Suleiman: angels trapped on earth because some human had stolen their gowns while they were bathing. This angel must have fallen to earth having lost whatever gave her power to return to heaven.

“I asked her to speak. I prayed for her to speak, but she remained silent. It must have been two or three o’clock before I decided to up-anchor and motor the boat to shore before any of our friends arrived at the beach. I carried her in the tarp to my bicycle and brought her home.”

“And she has been in your house since then?” Suleiman asked.

“Yes. The only female with whom I have shared my home since my Maslan passed away.”

“You,” Suleiman said, “have lived with this angel for almost three weeks?”


“But your luck didn’t change until four nights ago.”

“True, true.”

“Why,” Suleiman asked, “didn’t she thank you for saving her right away? Why wait more than a fortnight? How did you get her finally to bless you with this good luck with the tuna?”

“I never thought of asking her for anything, Suleiman. Not ever. I just felt blessed having her in my house. I dressed her in Maslan’s headscarf and one of her dresses and set her on the sofa in the parlor. It just felt so good having an angel by my side. I spent most of my days sitting next to her, admiring her. When I tired, I carried her to my bed, dressed her in Maslan’s nightgown, and we slept, side by side. After a few days, we grew comfortable with each other, and I would hold her. I’m telling you, Suleiman, never have I slept so soundly as when I have my arms around my angel.

“And then about a week ago, I awoke next to her in the early afternoon with a erection so big it hurt. Her nightgown was up around her neck and my hands rested on her breasts. Her perfect breasts. I looked into her eyes and saw that she was inviting me to go further. I moved my right hand between her legs. She wasn’t juicy like Maslan, but her flesh there was so smooth she didn’t have to be. I took off my underpants and slid my dick inside her.

“Suleiman, I have never felt anything so . . . so . . . heavenly. If I had ever harbored a doubt that she was a bidadari, the doubt evaporated as I came, I will admit, too quickly. But the next day, I held on, and we made love for more than a half-hour, Suleiman. Made love, Suleiman! Love. I want nothing but her love.”

“But she gave you all these tuna as a reward?”

“As a token of her love, Suleiman.”

Suleiman took another of Ramli’s cigarettes and lay back on the sand, puffing and thinking. When the cigarette was down to the filter, he flicked it far and leaped to his feet.

“You have to let me love her too, Ramli!”

Ramli quickly rose and faced his friend, nose to nose. “What? How can you love her? You haven’t even met her!”

“She’s an angel. I will love her . . . more, I think, than you cared for Jurni. You remember my aunt Jurni. I told you how she gave me a blowjob on my thirteenth birthday, and the next day, I brought you to her for the same present even though you wouldn’t turn thirteen for another month. You didn’t have to ask. We were friends.” Suleiman put his hands on Ramli’s shoulders. “We still are. And your friend needs some good luck too. The fish are few . . . at least for me. I have barely enough money to care for my family.”

“I can offer you money now that I am flush.”

Suleiman shook his head. “It’s not charity I want. Lend me your angel, Ramli.”

“But you are a married man.”

“My wife is a woman. I have never . . . would never be unfaithful. Never!” Suleiman pounded his hands on Ramli’s shoulders. “But communion with an angel, Ramli, is not adultery; it is a . . . a sacrament. Please, old friend, I need this. I need this.”

“Let me ask her.”

“She doesn’t speak.”

“Not as we do. But I can read her expressions, her mind. I will let you know her answer before we go out fishing tonight.”

The angel was waiting for Ramli just where he had left her on the sofa. The talk with Suleiman both depressed Ramli and excited him. He removed his work clothes and left them in a heap in the parlor, and without even bothering to take a shower to rid his body of salt and scales, he turned the angel over, lifted her sarong and took her from behind.

When he awoke from the long sleep that followed, he carried the angel to the bathroom and showered first her and then himself. He dressed her in Maslan’s most beautiful kebaya, the one she had worn to Suleiman’s wedding. They sat on the sofa, and Ramli asked the angel if she would bless his old friend as she had blessed him.

At sunset on the beach, Suleiman awaited his friend. Ramli approached him, nodding, and said the angel would accept him.

“Let’s go!” said a smiling Suleiman and headed for his bike.

“Now? Not now! we shall miss the ebb tide. Tomorrow after we—“

“Ramli, even if we take the boats out at midnight, we will catch more tuna than anyone else if we are blessed.”

Leaving their equipment in their outriggers under the watch of two beach boys to whom Ramli gave a 10,000 rupiah bill, the two bicycled back to Ramli’s house. When Suleiman saw the angel, he knelt before her and touched her hands, saying to his friend, “Oh, yes, she is a miracle.” Slowly, he began to undress her. Ramli said he would be smoking outside the house.

Thirty minutes later, Ramli heard the water running in the bathroom and was heartened that Suleiman was following his instructions to bathe the angel before he left her, again fully dressed, on the sofa. When Suleiman closed the door to the house, he sat next to Ramli on a big rock and embraced him. “Old friend,” he said, “How can I ever thank you for one of the best moments of my life?”

“Let’s catch some fish,” Ramli replied, and the two men biked back to the sea.

When Ramli beached his boat at sunrise, the fat monger approached him, explaining he wanted to see his catch of tuna first.

“Not today,” Ramli replied. “I have nothing. Not one tuna.”

“How can that be?”

“I got a late start.”

“Even so,” the monger wondered aloud. He hailed Suleiman, but he had no tuna to sell either. Shaking his head, the fat monger went about his business with other fishermen down the shore.

Suleiman walked over to Ramli. They sat on his boat and were silent for a while. Finally, Suleiman asked, “You are thinking she is unhappy with us.”

“I am. Or perhaps there is a limit to what an angel will provide to poor fishermen such as we are.”

“In tuna, maybe. But there is still much she can give.”

“What do you mean?”

“She can still give us the pleasure of her body,” said Suleiman, sliding the index finger of his right hand into his left fist.”

“Maybe in a few days some luck with the tuna will return . . . for you or for me.”

“Yes, sure,” said Suleiman, “so let’s go back to your place now and remind the angel how much we adore her.”

Unhappy and confused as he was, Ramli could not deny the desire growing in his heart and in his loins. “Let’s go.”

As they got off their bicycles at his house, Ramli told his friend to wait outside. “I need to look at her face and understand if she still loves me or hates me.”

“Us. Not just you, right?”

“Us. Yes, us.”

“Then let us go in together,” Suleiman urged his friend.

“Okay. Come on.”

They sat on the sofa on either side of the angel studying her visage. “She looks happy to see us,” Suleiman said hopefully.

“Yes, I think so.” Ramli removed the angel’s clothing. “She is not fighting me, that is for sure.”

“So then?”

“I shall take her in the bedroom.” Ramli raised the angel in his arms and started from the sofa. “Wait here, Suleiman.”

Suleiman stood. “But why should I wait? We can love her together!”

Ramli turned his back on his friend and headed for the bedroom. Suleiman followed. “Come on, Ramli. We can prove to her that that we don’t care about tuna. We care about her. Love her. Equally. Together.” Suleiman removed his pants and underwear. His erection flamed. “Hey, Ramli, how many times did we jerk each other off when we were kids? I’m no shyer now. Not with you!” He took the angel from Ramli and laid her on the bed. “And not with her.” Suleiman straddled the angel’s chest and put himself into her mouth. “Oh, my God, these lips are even tighter than those down below! Do you want her mouth, Ramli?”

Ramli, naked now himself, said nothing as he kneeled between the angel’s legs and entered her.

Suleiman swore, as they washed the angel in the bathroom, that all three of them had had an orgasm at exactly the same moment. “Oh, yes, she came with us. You felt it too, didn’t you?”

Ramli wasn’t sure, but he said yes.

The pattern was thus set for the next week: The two friends met at the beach every sunset. They fished until dawn with few if any tuna in their baskets for the fat monger to judge. They biked to Ramli’s house for an angelic ménage à trois. Suleiman went home to his wife and children and let Ramli sleep with the angel.

But at the end of those seven days, Ramli had exhausted the funds his good luck had earned him. “I don’t think,” he said to Suleiman as they bathed the angel, “she is going to grant us good luck any more.”

“Not with the tuna, no,” Suleiman concurred. “But how can you say we don’t have good luck when we are having the best sex of our lives?”

“I didn’t even come today,” Ramli said. “I’m too worried. How shall we feed ourselves? How shall you feed your family?”

Suleiman looked deeply into the angel’s eyes and turned to his friend. “You know the old saying, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I think angels may work the same way.”


‘What if I mention to one of the other fisherman—one-eyed Restu, for instance, whose wife is little more to him than an irritant in his good eye. What if we told him he could make love to an angel . . . for 100,000 rupiah?”

“You would treat her that way?” Ramli was appalled.

“Our rules would be clear. Restu would have to honor the angel like the angel she is!” Suleiman was thinking out loud now. “Admit it, Ramli: She likes men. She likes sex. She is here to help us . . . help ourselves.”

“But what if Restu doesn’t respect her as we demand?”

“Then he shall never be with her again!”

“You mean he would want her again?”

“What man would not?”

“And we would allow it?”

“Of course. Although we might raise the price.”

“But what if word gets out?”

“How? Restu won’t tell anyone for fear his wife finds out and kills him!” Suleiman smiled.

“But you don’t want your wife to know about the angel, and yet you would tell Restu.”

Suleiman’s glibness ebbed. “Okay, I agree there is a small risk. Not for you, widower! But I am willing to take the risk. Men will only talk to other men about something like this. And if Restu spills the beans to the other fishermen . . . despite our pleas for him to keep quiet . . . well, the financial rewards will only increase for us!”

“I don’t like the idea of sharing her, Suleiman.”

Suleiman turned the angel toward his friend. “Does she look distressed? Even though she has heard our plans. We will not . . . we cannot keep secrets from this angel! But does she look unhappy?” Suleiman wrapped one arm around the angel and his other around Ramli. “This, old friend, is why she appeared to you. You are to share her blessings with mankind.”

Ramli was right to think that Restu might not keep the pleasures of an angel to himself. By the end of the next week, the old friends had given up fishing. Restu attended to the angel and to her many gentleman callers. Suleiman oversaw an appointment book and had to limit each fisherman to no more than three visits in a fortnight to make room for all of their clients. Prices were on a sliding scale upward to a maximum after ten visits of 1,000,000 rupiah, and there were days when Ramli and Suleiman would give up their own time with the angel in order to allow the high rollers to tryst.

Early one morning, hours before the day’s first client was due to arrive, a strenuous knocking roused Ramli who untangled himself from the angel in his bed. He switched on the ceiling light and opened the door of his house to find the fat monger in mid-knock. “Ah, Ramli, I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“Not at all,” Ramli lied. “What brings you here . . . to my house? I have nothing to sell.”

“That is not what I have heard.” The monger smirked. “I should like to meet the angel you sell.”

“Oh? No, sell is not the right word. Not the right word at all.”

“Fine. Sorry. I’m not in the market for her anyway. I just want to meet her. I have heard so much from the fishermen.”

“You’ll have to make an appointment with Suleiman. But he’s not here yet.”

“Ramli, I just want to meet her. For a few minutes only. Can’t you accommodate an old partner for just a bit.”

“Very well. Come in. Come in. Have a seat there on the sofa. I shall bring her in.”

Ramli went straight to the bedroom, dressed the angel in a modest housedress, and carried her to the sofa.

“Ah,” exclaimed the monger, “she is as heavenly as all the men say.” The monger made to lift her dress.

“No!” Ramli held back the monger’s hand. “You have met her. That is all for now.”

“May I not touch her?”

“You may touch her face. Gently.”

The monger stroked the angel’s cheeks, and kneeled on the floor to stroke her bare feet. “Lovely. Smooth as silk. Smoother even. Just lovely.” He lifted her right foot a bit. “This tattoo on the sole of her foot . . . lines in a circle. Do you know what it means?”

“Suleiman thinks it’s like a fingerprint for angels since they don’t have real fingerprints of course.”

“Yes, yes. That makes sense. Suleiman is no fool,” the monger said and smiled.

“Thank you for the compliment!” Suleiman stood in the parlor. “I think your sons are waiting for you in your trawler. And we have people waiting for us.”

The monger slapped his thighs and started to stand, but sat back on the sofa. “Speaking of my trawler and people waiting—“

“Yes. Yes. What?” Suleiman did not hide his eagerness to see the monger leave.

“You are providing a wonderful service for the men of your community.”

“Yes, yes. Thank you so much,” Suleiman snapped sarcastically.

“But there is no room for growth here. What if I made my trawler available to you and your . . . this miracle. We could make the rounds of the whole of this archipelago and even Sulewesi itself.”

Ramli looked incredulous. Suleiman wondered, “And why would you do this for us?”

“Well, for a percentage of the profits of course. After expenses, that is: the petrol and so forth.”

Suleiman retorted, “Monger, soon, if we want, we’ll be able to buy a fucking yacht and ply these islands with the kind of luxury our angel deserves. And you would have us stow this angel on your filthy trawler? Ridiculous.”

Swallowing his anger, the monger rose to leave. “Perhaps. Perhaps.” He stopped and turned toward Suleiman and Ramli. “Perhaps I shall return with another proposal.”

“Don’t bother,” said Suleiman, slamming the door behind the monger.

“Suleiman, you shouldn’t anger him. He can make trouble for us,” pleaded Ramli.


“He could tell the women of the village what we do here. He could start with your wife!”

“Ramli, my wife already knows what we do here. I told her myself to explain how I was able to buy her a new wardrobe and even a gold necklace from one of the merchant ships that visited.”

“But other wives are seeing their husbands spending not there, but here.”

“But neither are they screwing around any more with each other’s daughters or with the women who wash up on this shore from God knows where in search of men’s wallets. That must make their wives happy.” Suleiman paused. “I never liked that fat pig of a monger. He is a man with eyes only for money. I like him even less today . . . although . . .”

“Although what?” Ramli asked.

“His idea. It’s a good one. Not a trawler. And we don’t need a yacht, of course. A little cabin cruiser would suffice, wouldn’t take us long to save up—“

“No way! No way! No way!” Ramli screamed. “Enough! Is! Enough!” He fell on the angel and held her. “Leave us alone.”

“But we have our first guest coming soon.”

“Not today. Cancel today. Cancel tomorrow. We have earned enough already. Leave us alone, Suleiman. Just leave us alone.”

“I am sorry, Ramli. That monger got me so upset trying to elbow his way into our friendship. And he succeeded. But only for the moment. I apologize, Ramli. Forget the yacht, the cruiser. And forget the monger. I’ll cancel all today’s appointments. But I’ll look in on you two later. I love you both.” Suleiman opened the door and departed.

Ramli was still holding on to the angel when Suleiman returned with a lunch of rice, fish and vegetables his wife had prepared. Ramli agreed to eat and, over cigarettes and coffee, agreed to continue appointments on the following day. “But, Suleiman, there has to be a limit.”

“We cannot limit the desire of the fishermen here.”

“I am going to take her away.”

“What? Where?”

“Away. On my boat. In one month. That’s the limit.”

“That’s what she wants?”

“It is, Suleiman. She told me. She is tired. ‘Enough,’ she says.”

“Very well then. One month more.”

Every night from then on, Ramli reminded the angel before they slept in bed how many days remained before they would take the money they had made and start a new life on a new island. Or perhaps they would travel from island to island throughout Indonesia, not for commerce, but to see the world through each other’s eyes. “But now, my bidadari,” he said when the countdown reached ten days, “I need to close my eyes.”

Ramli’s eyes flew open long before dawn when he heard a pounding on his front door and a holler: “Open up! This is the police! Open the door!”

Ramli stumbled through the house and saw through the front window a uniformed police officer standing next to the fat monger carrying a lantern.

“I see you there, Bapak Ramli, “said the officer. “I have a warrant. You must open the door, or I shall break it in.”

As soon as Ramli switched on the ceiling light and unlatched the door, the officer and the monger burst into the house. “Not on the sofa,” the monger said to the officer. “It must be in his bed”

The police officer, shook his head and murmured, “Sick, sick,” as the monger disappeared into the bedroom and returned with the angel under his left arm. Ramli tried to free the angel, but the police officer intervened, pushing Ramli away, warning him not to obstruct justice and ordering him to sit on the sofa.

“I have been authorized by the police commissioner on the mainland to confiscate this doll,” the officer said to Ramli. “You can read the warrant . . . if you can read.” The officer threw a paper in Ramli’s lap. “Possession of sex paraphernalia is prohibited in Sulewesi province.”

“Doll? Sex paraffin? What are you talking about? This is a living bidadari!”

The police officer laughed and turned to the monger. “Hard to believe these people down here still believe in such crap.”

“But they treat her more like a whore than an angel, as I told you, Adi.” The monger waved the bottom of the angel’s foot in Ramli’s face. “You are such a fool! Angels need tattoos, you think? This is a manufacturer’s symbol—a logo it’s called—so a buyer knows the doll is authentic! You are an idiot, Ramli, but you did figure out the right way to use a sex toy. To fuck it . . . to invite the whole village to fuck it . . . for a price.”

Ramli cried, admitting that he was wrong to have used a bidadari that way.

“But you did use it that way,” the police officer said, “and I could arrest you and your partner for running a whore house. Give us any trouble and I will!” He turned to the monger and whispered, “And I’ll be a joke for the rest of my career. Let’s get this thing to your trawler, Hasan, and back to the mainland.”

As soon as the pair left with the angel, Ramli ran to Suleiman’s house screaming for his friend to wake up, that the monger had kidnapped the angel, that they had to run to the shore and save her. Suleiman quickly wrapped himself in a sarong, grabbed his sharpest fishing knife, and joined Ramli outside. They rode in tandem on one bike down to the beach, Ramli providing the details of the awful morning. At this hour, the only boats at anchor were Ramli’s and Suleiman’s old fishing outriggers and the monger’s trawler although his sons were preparing for its departure. Ramli could see in the pale light of dawn the monger and the police officer in the stern laughing and poking the naked angel with their fingers. He leaped off the bike, ran up the trawler’s gangplank, and grabbed the angel from the clutches of her assailants. The police officer punched Ramli in the face causing him to fall back and drop the angel on the deck just as Suleiman reached the stern waving his knife and screaming, “You will never have her, you fucking fat bastard.” The monger jumped overboard as the police officer gave way, and Suleiman fell upon the angel, puncturing and slicing in a frenzy until he lay atop a heap of broken metal hinges and silicone rags. The police officer stomped on the hand in which Suleiman held the knife and kicked the blade a meter toward the bow.

A soaking fat monger ran up the gangplank, yelling, “Arrest them, Adi, arrest them!”

“Oh, yes,” the officer said, “for killing a doll.” The police officer had the monger’s sons help him lift first Suleiman and then Ramli from the deck and throw them into the bay. Ramli, his nose aching and bleeding, crawled to Suleiman and dragged him to the shore, away from the propellers pushing the monger’s trawler back toward Sulewesi. Suleiman was breathing and moaning, but Ramli dare not move him farther. He rode the bike to Suleiman’s house and warned his wife that Suleiman had been seriously injured at the shore. She needed to arrange first-aid for her husband and, when the fishermen returned to the island at dawn, to get him to a hospital on the mainland. Ibu Suleiman ran to rouse her neighbors for help. Ramli, his face flattened and scabrous, walked unsteadily to his own empty home where he broke down and blubbered like a baby until exhaustion overcame his despair.

On the morning of the following day, Ramli packed a rucksack with his clothing, necessities, and his share of the funds earned with the angel and hauled it down to his boat. He would stop first in Sulewesi to have a doctor attend to his nose. He didn’t care how it looked, but wanted to make sure he had suffered nothing more serious than a broken bone or two.

He did not plan to visit Suleiman, nor accuse the fat monger and the police officer of brutality. He planned to avoid humanity. He would sail the waters of the strait between Sulewesi and the Banggai archipelago searching for the remains of his angel. Or perhaps he might come upon, since angels were angels after all, his own bidadari restored and beautiful and floating to him purposefully. If not, he was prepared to travel beyond these waters where another angel might want him and find him.


“Reincarnations” by Claire Simpson

1. American girl arrives in port city, China; 2004


I still remember stepping out, clutching

all we owned, inhaling salty air—

air streaked with smells ineffable. And their

eyes and ours brought from so far, now touching.

Windows to the soul. And manmade titans

scrape the sky, and vehicles of every

type you could imagine, packed conjointly

like us in our cab. And red flags, tridents

foreshadowing the mornings in the sun

in line, in uniform, and synchronized

with stiff salutes and voices lifted high

in praises of their country. All as one—

one sea of ebony that tried to shroud

our distinct heads of blonde hair and light brown.


2. American girl on life in Chinese city; 2013


I’ll tell the truth— sometimes I would forget

while riding in a tightly packed subway

that we were more than faces in the waves

despite how we tried to blend with the rest;

felt camouflaged— expression and our dress

now matching theirs. But we were wolves,

devouring their culture. Our own selves

becoming just like sheep to some success.

Their tones of black note musicality

spilled from our lips. We spoke another tongue

some time ago. But now we sing out hymns

unsung in that republic of the free,

that place where my heart used to run; but now

what once I thought was foreign is my home.


3. American? girl returns to the States; 2014-present


They welcomed me home, but didn’t know

my loss. I hadn’t brought back everything

while I was packing. No space enough for something

I’d grown to know so closely. And so

I study all my catalogued traditions

to pick and choose which custom is my own,

or rather, just survive. I’ll find the flow

and I’ll survive the waves. The conditions

demanding of me constant oscillation.

I see what is required for my projection—

I give appearance of full acclimation,

although my heart feels pulled in two directions.

“Where are you from?” the question that I fear;

“Where am I from?” I ask myself, unclear.


“Quality Assurance” by Nick Westfall

“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.”

I had one question and if they cared about quality they’d play New Zealand music during my wait. I switched ears to allow my right one to throb itself back to normal.

“Thank you for holding, your call is very important to us.”


** This paragraph has been cut for better, more efficient storytelling. For information on the missing information please…**


“What is your record locator number?”

I scrambled around for the documents. “STU9560JBL”

“So that’s S as in Steve, T as in Tango, Q as in Queen. Nine. Five. Six. O as in Oscar. K as in Kite. C as in Cat. And L as in Lamb. Is that correct?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Okay please wait.”

No music this time, just waiting which makes me feel better because I know she’s listening to me breathe—

“Okay Mr. Chester, please hold.”

Jon Bon Jovi played over the speaker. My left ear throbbed.

“Mr. Chester,” a male voice this time, “Can I please have your record locator number…”

“It has letters and numbers.”

“Whenever you’re ready sir.”

“Before I attempt this, is it possible to send you a picture of it instead?”

“No sir. We’re on landlines.”

“Landlines… Okay, is it possible to have a guarantee that you won’t place me back on hold should something happen in the misinterpretation of my spelling…”

“I will be able to help you with that sir.”

“Do you have a particular set of responses?”

“Your call is very important to us. Do you have a record locator number with you… If not, say, I don’t know.”

“S as in Stan, T as in Tangerine, U as in unicorns–”
“Please hold and a representative will be right with you.”

Jon Bon Jovi finished his song, which led to Jimmy Buffet.

“How can I help you today Mister Chester?”

“A new playlist.”

“Excuse me?”

“I just have a question about baggage fees for my flight to New Zealand.”

“New Zealand… What a great place. Do you have a record locator number?”

I took a deep breath, “STU9560JBL”

“Great. So let me repeat that back to you. S as in Stan. T as in Tango. Q as in Queen–”

“NO!” I thought I might’ve been in the middle of some sort of stroke I didn’t know I was having.

“I’m sorry we’re having trouble sir, could you please repeat your record locator number?”

“S as in Satan. T as in Transexual. U as in Universe. Nine. Five. Six. Oh. J as in Jack off. B as in Bisexual. L as in Lost at sea.”

There was a pause. “Great, thank you mister Chester. Now is that an O as in Oscar after the six? Or is it an Oh as in zero?”


“Thank you. Okay so I see you have a question about baggage fees.”

“That. Is. Why. I. Called.”

“Great. Thank you for your call. All of our frequently asked questions can be found on our website and Facebook page–”

Speaking of quality, I wonder how we can look at Selfie Sticks in a positive way for humanity. Have all the previous generations of humans been waiting this whole time to find out we’re taking pictures of ourselves? Have they all lived in the hope that we’d understand more about the world and this life through Selfies?

Pictures used to be made for people who can’t remember, just like quality is only for people with an appetite for introspection and a life with the luxury of boredom. An unexamined life isn’t worth living for people like you and me, but what is quality if not as individual as the individual… Where are the holons to compare one holon’s quality over another… Where are the qualifying differences between productive and destructive phone conversations… When is anything worth the wait… It’s in moments like these where my liberal arts education takes over because phone calls like these give me time to think. To assess. To conjure up all the possibilities of what could be true. It takes work because my natural hardwired setting, my unconsciousness, is always pissed off at everything that reminds it that I am not the center of the universe. That my problems aren’t what determines the world’s priorities. I get the opportunity to look at the situation and assess. Maybe the guy on the other end is mentally handicapped and this is one of the highest paying jobs he could ever have. Maybe the guy’s wife just died and he’s having trouble telling his kids and even more trouble concentrating on work when all he thinks about is if the life insurance policy he had for his wife covers suicide. Maybe delusional hypotheticals give everyone a reminder that life is romantic, not empirical. Maybe we live in a culture that influences all the most decadent parts of ourselves… The destructive holons.

While I waited on the phone, I thought of all the terrible things that haven’t happened to me yet, and found my answers on their website.


Coptic Voices #1: Lydia Yousief

It was a Friday, I remember. I was walking back to my dorm room from the college’s common center with food for my brother in a to-go box, ready to travel home with me.

“Lydia, there’s a reporter from The Tennessean who wants to know about the Coptic pope’s visit? Lydia?”

“Yes, I hear you, Stephanie.” I covered my ears from the students hovering about me. “Go on.”

The Tennessean wants to cover the Coptic pope’s visit. When will he be here?”

I hesitated, not knowing who “he” referred to for a moment, since Copts—Middle Easterners, for that matter—rarely use vague pronouns for elders, especially the pope himself. It was also hadriktak or ooddsaq or ya ustaaz.

“Oh, the pope? He’s coming tonight, Stephanie.”

“What! No one told us.”

Her tone sounded accusatory. She was the director of a non-profit I had interned at only a few months before the pope’s visit, and I was probably the only Copt she and the other employees knew well. This was the Coptic nature: while the Somalis and Kurds in Nashville had developed political leverage, the Copts were nestled in their own world, in Antioch—“Saint Paul started each journey in Antioch, and now we will too.” Copts are dreamers, made of larger stuff than most people. They fill their space with their dreams of libraries and scholars and shai; their liturgies draw near the heavenly upon the earth—it’s a presumptuous act, of calling God back to earth and eating Him more than once a week. They are, being dreamers, presumptuous, and being presumptuous, they have no need of this world. So they are isolated here not because they are immigrants (since their habits of isolation are the same in Egypt), but rather because this is their nature.

I wanted to tell Stephanie this, but I didn’t. Instead, I replied, “Yeah, we’re bad with media.” I bit my lip, hoping to take the words back. You don’t mock your family in front of others, Mama says after we come back from dinner at a friends’ house. You always defend your family.

“Okay,” she said. “Here, I’m going to connect him with you. Is it okay if I give him your number?”

“That’s fine.”

My steps in the cold, jolting air were calculated—I needed to make it to my dorm, away from the sounds, before this guy called, and before my dad picked me up to take me home for the weekend.

I made it there without stopping to greet anyone in the lobby, and I passed the bathrooms, holding it in, and managed to unlock and close my door behind. I rested my phone on my desk—I waited.

The call didn’t come, and I began to pace, opened my backpack and skimmed through its content. All my homework was done; I had spent most of the previous night in the library finishing it so that my weekend could be spent on family and Church. Friday nights were for preparing Sunday School lessons (in Nashville, the Copts are so many and can’t stop reproducing that Sunday School occurs on two days, Saturday and Sunday, for lack of space); Saturday mornings were for helping Mom clean, Saturday afternoons were for Sunday School, and Saturday evenings were for Vespers; Sunday mornings, from 7:30-11:30 am, were for Liturgy and then Bible Study, and Sunday nights were for aunts and uncles to visit.

The pope’s visit, though, ruined my schedule. Sunday School was canceled, and no one would be visiting us with the pope in town. This meant I had the weekend to myself—and if I were a good Coptic girl, I would spend it in Church, with my people, crammed, smelling something foul when the women next to me raised their arms to zagharat the pope as he walked down the center aisle of the Church.

The Pope’s visit had been the only subject of discussion among North American Copts in the preceding month, after the priests had finally received permission to disclose the plan for his Holiness’s arrival and appearance in their churches across the States and Canada. On campus, however, no one knew, so no one spoke. At one level it was comforting to find that relief of being unknown, being able to move without recognition, and on another level, it was disheartening to know that if a single tree falls in a forest and no one is around, no one hears it, no one sees it.

I paced in my dorm room, my eyes glazing over the mini-icons I had placed on my air conditioner and the photos of all my cousins I had plastered on the wall. I decided that today I would go home and relax. I deserved that.

My mother had mentioned that she had wanted to go and see Pope Tawadros pray in the Church she’s been a part of for decades since coming to Tennessee, but my father had said, “Mary, I’m not going to a place with a bunch of crazy Egyptians all congregated together. Sunday’s enough for me.” He said this in English.

And she said in Arabic: “Yousief, this is the pope we’re talking about! The pope! He’s come from Egypt! The pope!”

My mother is a religious fanatic. She has over a hundred spiritual books in Arabic, at least twenty of which were written by the previous pope, Pope Shenouda III (may the Lord repose his soul). Pope Shenouda had been ordained in the 1970s, when my mother was about to enter high school; she remembers attending his Wednesday sermons in the Alexandrian Cathedral, remembers his poetry, remembers his exile by President Sadat, the American ally. She cried when she found out, in America, in 2011, that he had passed away. It was a Saturday, our cleaning day, and my sister and I stood on each side of her, not knowing what to say or do as she cried, her breathing heavy, her eyes reddening.

My phone flashed.


“Hey—this is Andy with The Tennessean. Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I’ve been trying to get in contact with someone to cover this story, but haven’t been able to. Thanks so much.”

“No problem. I’m glad The Tennessean is covering this. It’s a great honor for us.”

“Yes—well, I won’t waste your time. Can you tell me a little about the event?”

“It’s today and Saturday. Today the pope will serve in Vespers, and tomorrow, his Holiness will ordain two new priests and consecrate Saint Pishoy Church.” I tried to curb my enthusiasm, but I could hear myself getting really high-pitched.

“That’s great.” His voice paused as though he were not done, didn’t want me to speak as he jotted something down.

But I spoke anyway: “Although, to be honest, I shouldn’t be the point of contact for this event. I’m just a college student. There are plenty of servants in the Church who can get you connected. I’m not even going.”

When I had said those words to my mother, she looked up from slicing wedges of fat from the corners of the beef Baba had brought. “What you mean you don’t want to see the pope? This is the pope, Lydia. The pope.”

“You know, Mom, no matter how many times you say “the pope,” it won’t change my mind.” I paused to eat some celery, waving it around when I came to speak. “And you know, I know that you only want me to come so I can drive you because it’s going to be awful parking.”

“You don’t need the pope. I don’t need you.”

“Sounds good, Mom.”

“Oh, yes, what’s your name and tell me about yourself, so I can tag you.”

“Oh.” My Coptic self-denial kicked in then. “Right—well, I’m just a college student.”

“Like name? Age?” he said instantly.

“Oh. Lydia. College student.”

“Great.” I supposed he decided not to press further. “So tell me about the Copts.”

Our conversation lasted fifteen minutes, and this was the statement–the assertive non-question those in stations of knowledge refuse to ask, believing that questions are merely for those who don’t know. And this was the statement I didn’t know how to answer. At the time, I rattled off some historical and ethnic definition and listened for his next question. I offered him other leaders to contact for more information, but in the end, the pope was given a corner in the magazine with only my quotes to hold up a brief mention of his visit here, among us.. In the end, when thousands of Copts poured into Nashville to see what they couldn’t see now, living in a foreign land, all others remained baffled, wrote a simple article and let the moment pass.

“So tell me about the Copts” is a statement for those who want the job done, those who want to write something sensational and move on like the American Christians who ask my parents to describe persecution in Egypt, how evil Islam is, but never want to hear about the Coptic Church—the Church they deemed heretical.

In the end, I can’t describe who the Copts are. I can only offer a last image of a people hidden from view, shrouded in darkness from centuries of red blood overtaking salty tears. I can only offer an image of what my people are.

“I kissed his hand, you know,” my mother says when she comes back at midnight Saturday morning. She had left the house at five pm to make it in time for Vespers with the Pope. “I kissed his hand, and it was all worth it, Dodi.” She shows me the gift the pope handed to each member, letting the thousands line up for acres to receive his blessing. “He’s larger than you’d expect—his eyes are so soft! Like angels under those glasses!”

“I’m going then,” says my father. He wakes up four am to make it to the Liturgy. He stands in the back, watches the pope walk past him with incense crawling out of the censer in a vapor. The pope is whispering something to God and no one can hear, only marvel.

“I saw him from inside the altar,” my brother says. “He was right there, consecrating the altar in front of me. It’s too bad I was stuck with the little boys.”

And I sit on a couch from five am to ten am, watching the pope hold Liturgy in my Church, the people by the thousands already there, skipping work and sleep and the world for him. He prays in Arabic, and they chant along—no English today.

I watch the two new priests being ordained, beardless now, but donning the royal garments that seem too big for them. The crowd—for it is a crowd—cheers.

No one hears them.

Image design by Megan Wassef
Image design by Megan Wassef

“My Heart Is an Immigrant” by Trevor Scott Barton

My heart is an immigrant.
It loves its home.
The snow like a blanket in winter,
the flowers on the mountain in spring,
the salt in the sea in summer,
the leaves on the trees in fall,
are life for my heart.

Its memories are here.
Its family is here.
Its home is here.

Yet one too many guns have been pointed at it at checkpoints in the street.
One too many clouds have disappointed it by banking up on the horizon but not bringing rain.
One too many coughs have broken it when there was no medicine to give.

So my heart is tired,
and tempest-tost.

It loves its home,
But it is time for it to go.

It pulls on its brown, tattered coat,
its black, holey shoes,
and its red, wool scarf.
With tears in its eyes
it says, “Goodbye,” to its home.

It picks up its battered suitcase,
the one with tape around its ends,
lest it break open and spill out
my fathers favorite shirt,
a love letter from my wife,
and a picture of my children,
all I have in the world,
onto the ground.

It takes its first step toward a new world.

Now it sits silently
back to back and knee to knee
with poor women
and little children
who also have immigrant hearts.

It is deep in the hull of a ship
tossing in a storm on the sea.
It is high on the roof of a train winding down a long, steep hill.
It is walking barefoot on a dusty road.

With each step it whispers, “Thank you.”
With each mile it longs for the words, “I care.”
With each thousandth mile it hopes for kindness.

Will it look into a face and see mild eyes?
Will it find a hand to hold?
Will it be welcomed?

My heart is an immigrant.


“They Brought With Them” by Lydia Yousief

They brought with them Oum Kalthoum on worn tapes—the ones that they had carried there were no use because the Mother of the Arabs was everywhere, but where they were going, their Mother wouldn’t be. Some had to wait, though, to bring her, and instead carried her within their steps to the DMV, to the factory, to the hotel, to their apartments, to the Church. “Oum Kalthoum sang hymns, you know.”

They brought with them God—inshAllah, they would say when their children were born in a foreign land. InshAllah, what I find strange, you will find familiar, yet we will be one— inshAllah. It was the wish they hoped could bind them to their offspring. They carried God in their hearts and said, “Yes, we do not speak the same language, child, nor do we understand each other’s ways—but we love God and inshAllah is always on our lips.” Did you know that the Muslim and Christian says this? But here, in America, no one believes in God.

They brought with them sugar canes long and sweet to remind them, but mostly to teach the babes what they had always known. They brought with them dates so firm, but the children rejected those, asking for chips instead.

During Nairouz, they brought with them yellow dates, but told the children, “In Egypt, they are not so. In Egypt, dates are red on the outside, symbolizing the blood of the martyrs, and white on the inside to show the purity of those who die for Christ. Yet through all their torment, the martyrs, like the dates, are firm with a strong, single pit and that is the Holy Spirit. But in America, these yellow dates are not so.” They will have to do, though. They will have to do.

They brought with them salutations of peace and received howdy in return.

They brought with them tears as they landed on American soil. “I am free, child, I am free.” The customs officer, pale and blond, shoving the immigrant along. “Sankis you,” says the immigrant, dreaming of a fertile land of milk and honey.

They brought with them incense and shoriahs and said, “For God to give me blessing. May the Church grow tenfold.” They drove their children to Church, but would rush to work without praying, bringing home the money for their first house; and when that first house came, they called on the Abouna to bless it before they settled. “This is what is right, so
that my labor is not in vain.” They brought candles and icons to fill these houses to convince themselves this was home.

They brought with them salted fish in barrels to save for six months until Shem el Nesem. “See how resourceful your mother is, Dodi. I am Egyptian.”

They brought with them green Bibles with Arabic calligraphy—a twin to the Quran, so as to mingle—and they opened it to keep pictures of their family back home hidden in the caverns within and newspaper articles of bombings and persecution. “Forgive them,” says the child. “I will not,” says the Egyptian. “They have uprooted me from my land, tossed me in the wind for others to grab and molest. Do you understand? I cannot return to my home.”

They brought with them stories of a life abused and never would they cease to tell. In the market, they would start the tale of the merchant who looked at the butcher’s wife inappropriately, but Americans are not so. At night, when all was quiet in suburbia, they remembered their mothers who cleaned through the night to go to work in the morning while their fathers wept over their fate; tears and dusting, that is what they heard all the way in America before their eyes shut. When their kids climbed the yellow bus to go to school and learn the language of white men, they remembered the cross that they hid underneath their shirts and the Quran classes they were required to take; at the bus stop, they would recite a Quranic verse in memory of a time spent wandering.

They brought with them bridal magazines in Arabic plastered with European models, and diplomas whose value became nothing somewhere over the Atlantic, and brides lusting for American life away from their names back home, and strong coffee in small cups while they played backgammon, and belly dancers to remember home even though Abouna objected, and falafel and mangoes and feta cheese, and money to last only weeks but hope to last another generation of separated souls.

They brought with them gold bracelets laced in diamonds. “It’s cheaper in Egypt.” They put the gold on their sons who came home and said, “Men don’t wear jewelry, Mama” in broken Arabic, and they would frown, placing the gold back in their cases. It’s a different world here, Mama would mutter, hoping for the moment when her kids would return to her and her people.

But they missed something on the way. Of all the things brought with them to make America home, to stabilize themselves, to sedate themselves, they had forgotten to take a step back and say, “I am home.” They forgot their selves who waited on a corner in Egypt, attached to the sea and sand and dust of a land they could now only dream of.