over two weeks ago, i crossed the desert with a friend. the start of the day was silly. with 80s and 90s tune. the middle contained some exploding mustard and delish sandwiches and sinful chips and candy. the end was rounding the 40 with a landscape that made my heart ache more than a little. it was another southwestern version of where i grew up.

we rolled up on her brother’s house and awaited the arrival of her abuela and poppa. they were busily winning rounds of bingo at the indian casino as we were frantically calling pizza deliveries for caloric replenishment. the quick days were filled with visiting places where she grew up: churches, schools, rivers, creeks, nooks, and crannies.

fast forward a night full of mo’ drama for your mama and an equally annoying morning- the last day we were there, we decided to take a short hike along the mountainside with the grande finale of dinner with her cousins, brother, father, and grandmother. as we were hiking up further up into the atmosphere, the air thinned. we quickly turned around because we were on a deadline for dinner (and bingo). and quite frankly, the weeks and weeks of not working out made a sow of me. as i was climbing down, i started getting a powerful sense of déjà vu. while everything was interesting on the hike up, the climb down was like the slow creeping of gravity, memories, and feelings. i kept thinking that i’ve seen this before. i’ve seen these colors and this landscape before. that dancing across the rocks were the colors of my desert dreams. that in fact, these were reds, oranges, and golds of my insistent dreams.

the funny thing is, i had no plans of going with her to her hometown. i figured somewhere down the line, i would see it. but i had plans to head to death valley or perhaps to nevada- red rock- to chase after my colors and taste the acridness of the desert.

what i actually realized was that it wasn’t the colors i was after but the feeling of home that made me longing. in fact, what it turned out to be was not big money. big money…big money…big money. i got the whammy bar, punched in the gut by overwhelming emotion. what i needed to see was not the desert but who was in it. i got to see for the first time in a long time, a family. a family that loved each other. they laughed, cried, disfunctioned, criticized, judged, loved, loved, loved on each other with a ferocity and protectiveness that i have not seen in a long time.

i was not looking for the colors or even a place to see those hues, i was longing for family. i was the outsider with a brother, sister, and cousin climbing a desert mountain. and the missing part of me came gushing out in waves of jealousy, longing, and desire for what i was witnessing among them along the mountainside and later on what they were when they were all together. i got what made my friend who she was. it was the place, the people, and the food that filled her up and molded her like clay. on that day, climbing down the mountain- i came to many conclusions. how sad it makes me to witness their togetherness and bondedness. how hungry i am for more of those colors that create the prisms of a desert i keep longing for.

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what do a ruined bengali merchant, an orphaned english woman, a semi-chinese prostitute/boatwoman, and a mestizo gay painter have in common? the world of canton in the mid-1800’s, before the opium wars, before the historical amnesia that brought all these people under the guise of ‘free trade,’ and before the shadow of the world wars that made nations out of the complicated borders that preceded it. it is in river of smoke (continuation of sea of poppies) that ghosh weaves a fantastic world of pidgin english, bengali, cantonese, and portuguese in a compelling story about the events that led to the destruction of the canton harbor and ceding of hong kong to the british empire and other european colonists. this is so beautifully written that I wonder if ghosh has remembered from multiple incarnations of the people he now writes about to speak pirate in this beautiful second installation. i am so impressed by not just how easily he crafts all these multiple narratives from so many perspectives but the language. the language!! as someone who understands cantonese, mandarin, english, portuguese, spanish, and smatterings of bengali- i am stunned by how seamlessly this is pulled off.

i am eating up all his words and the history that he so seductively unfolds as the drama of merchants, empires, and lowly pirates. he has written such a magnificent story about how the world has also been, but more so with the advent of colonialism, a place in which all of us come from a history that is complicated, complex, and nuanced. i am so lulled by the ease in which his narrative moves from the foreignor section of ‘fanqui’ town in canton in which people speak equal in pidgin to the jabbings of boat people who are at once worldly sailors of a global commerce that crisscross the ocean worlds/pathways that connect india, china, africa, europe, and the americas and ordinary individuals of modest means that dish up the food of their childhoods. such is one cantonese boat woman (asha-didi) whose family moved to calcutta due to her father’s work as a porter on foreign boats. she is fluent in ‘accha’ (bengali), cantonese, english, and pidgin. when she returns to canton, she misses bengali fare and words. it is her houseboat that then becomes the hub of other ‘acchas’ who have moved to canton as boat workers, merchants, sailors, and pirates. and she’s just a minor character in his book! let’s not forget also that it is not just race, religion, and gender he deals with. he has written about the world of homosocial relationships between men in canton (in which foreign women are excluded). while he does not explicitly mention homosexuality, the ‘friendships’ of men find a place of acceptance and acknowledged reality. it is not the castro district, it’s the foreign district of canton that men of various backgrounds form the kinds of ‘friendships’ that are unacceptable in their home societies. moreover, it is also here in fanqui town that these relationships traverse not just gender/sexual norms but racial separations. wow.

canton was, and continues to be now, a cosmopolitan glut of cultures, people, and trade. this book needed to be written. ghosh has done a fatastical job of pulling out nuance and beauty to this history, giving testimony that despite the parsimony of acknowledgements of our complicated past, one such place for this mixing was the canton port.

bravo bravo bravo to this new book.

angry teeth chatter
treacherous ears never close
select mouths to words

stand softly my friend
among roses with sharp thorns
putrid sweet fragrance

i didn’t know that i’d be saying goodbye to a beloved pet today. i’m on a farm right now, middle of no where. today it would seem is the day that this pet was put down, old school style by the owner, just as i was cooking lunch. i kinda knew it was coming. we dug a hole and waited as the owner was ready to put him down. the weird thing is i didn’t have much of a reaction to it. i wasn’t particularly upset. it didn’t bring me to tears to know he was gonna be shot and i would eventually bury the dog. in some ways it comforted me to know that bc the dog was suffering from a bad hip, the inability to eat, and oldness that the owners would take the kind of responsibility to put it down rather than drive 40 km to a city to be put down by a vet in a sterile environment. the dog was led to the garden, comforted, and then put down. i hurriedly rushed down and started covering the hole with dirt just as the woman owner places him in the grave i helped dig. i covered him all by myself. and with each shovel of dirt i wondered what it was like to be the man who had to be the heavy.
he’s old school style. he never helps with the cooking, does all the work around the farm, and is the man of the house. i often despaired of his ways, thinking that somehow or another- the modern ethics of gender parity in the domicile evaded his notice. but even as that’s part of my thinking of him, i also realize he carries a different kind of burden. the kind that makes him the person who puts down his own dog so it doesn’t suffer and the man others call when there is a sick horse or cow that also needs to be put down. i forget that he doesn’t pick up his own dishes or lifts a finger to help with household chores when i see him wipe his eyes, nod at the dog, and slowly walks away back into the house that he never helps clean.

i’m nurturing lies
breast feeding bad decisions
pet tiger suckling

the only thing we have in common is my body.

actually this, is no longer true. before that, we had a shared love of our martial arts, a passion for passion, and an undercurrent of smart desire that that made friends of us. it saddens me and pisses me the fuck off that sex always seems the clackety key to opening the door of anxiety, unsuredness, and unfriendship. and that everything after is tainted with the slight stench of awkwardness. and everything, everything is read into. the singularity of words, actions, and gestures contains the unmaking of him and myself. offhand comments – like. this. that. or. this. and. uh – elicits a what the fuck? a fb comment that may or maynot – or may – but probably – maynot – be about regret that he slept with me gets read into a multitude of ways and demands derrida-style deconstruction of his shit and ultimately what it means about our friendship and out future possibilities. the lack of mentioning, the lack of anything is also indicative of how our friendship and relationship is falling apart. because then i wonder about how little i mean to him that he no longer even thinks of me in any way. friend. lover. not.

because after you have sex- and-that-shit-doesn’t-work-out- you lose access. *access* you lose access to easy communication, your friendship, and the ability to fucking reason. the hesitation to saying a quick hello is what kills me the most. before sex, saying hello-how was your day-whatcha doing-how’s your night going-where you at-where you been-who ya seen-what’s up- are handshakes and hugs across time and space that is easy. it is easy to call, it is easy to text, it is easy to reach out. the ease of this, that, that, or the other is now labored silences.