My roommate gave me a storybook with penciled notes
in Chinese. Its just a kids storybook,
Cinderella. Inside the front cover she drew
a picture of herself on the toilet with the IV in
her arm. She used to read the book while the medicine
dripped. The book reminded her of the first time she
read it, on the plane. She said she had a bad time
on the ground, but in the air between Kwangtung and
San Francisco she was happy. Today her bones are flying
back there for burial. Im going to read the
book today. Her trip back will have the most important
parts of the first trip: flying bones and her story.
The first was the happiest day of her life. This will
be the first day of her happiness dead.
On the title page she underlined Cinder and
wrote a list of words. I look up cinder in
the Chinese dictionary and find the first word she
wrote: ash. The other words are grey
and white and fire. Ashes are the cold
remains of a fire. There are more words. At first
I cant find them, but then I look up the Chinese
for ash. The dictionary has synonyms: a tree
and a color of hair. Grey and white and hair; I find
two more of the pencilled words: old mother.
Cinderella, born to a mother with hair white as ash.
There is a pencilled word in English: Ashen.
The dictionary says pale as ashes, usu. from
illness or emotional distress. One of the words she
wrote is tree. Ash, a tree that springs up quickly
in ground bared by fire. Ash: that which fire cannot
burn. She wrote in English: Ash Princess.
Once upon a time is underlined. She circled
once and time. Upon time, in the dictionary, is removed
from time, on top of it. She wrote in the margin on
time, at the right time. She was always on time. When
we used to clean rooms, she finished every one ahead
of schedule but she wouldnt start the next until
it was time. Once upon a time: the story happens when
the story decides to take place. Once upon a time
is a sound of power.
Beside stepmother she wrote two ideograms I
know: not mother. The girl that fire cannot
burn has a not-mother and two not-sisters. Not-mother:
get on the plane and go, send home money, more money,
more than that. Two sets of clothes, every night washing,
every day wearing clothes not yet dry. One damp twin
sister always clinging to the body, a second always
dripping by the bed.
She thought wicked stepmother meant the past
tense of wick. She wrote: to absorb, and then
more in Chinese. I look up the word for evil. Soaked
in the evils of the past. That must be the meaning
of the word she wrote, but I cant find it. What
she wrote has a radical for speed. Speed to work crops
all day and night while the season and the jobs last
in Kwangtung, speed to work two ten-hour jobs in San
Francisco. On a hunch, I look up counter-revolutionary.
She said her mother learned words like that in school.
Her mother went to her grandmother to ask for money.
The grandmother made her sit on a bench outside the
house like a beggar. I look up grandmother. Thats
the word she wrote.
Next to Cinderella tending the fire in the kitchen,
she wrote a word I know. She used to point to the
cardboard signs in dirty restaurant windows: kitchen
work. Free food, she read to me, and she would
laugh, its like a slogan, liberate food! Liberate
all you can eat! On the plane, she drew a little pencil
picture labeled wick: a burning heart. Cinderella,
the burning heart of the family fire.
The wicked not-relatives beat Cinderella. Under
beat she wrote abuse and then heart.
In English the heart beats itself to make the
body live. If the heart stops beating itself for a
moment, that is death. In California to say myself,
you point to that violent beating heart. In China
they point to the nose. We laughed about that. Home
is where the nose is. Absence makes the nose grow
fonder. Quit poking your heart in my business. Heart
out of joint. Can you die of a broken nose.
At invitation to a royal ball she wrote down
a lot of words that are easy guesses. Ball is a toy,
a game, a testicle, a sexual act. She wasnt
allowed to look at a male then, but she wrote all
the possibilities calmly. Working the street she told
me was royal business; no nation accords privacy to
the sex of monarchs. She wrote virgins dance ball
under the picture of girls coming one after another
to the handsome prince. She wrote: handy? Big
hands? Many hands? They used to warn her about the
boys in the new country and their hands. But she must
have been astonished, she copied it right out of the
dictionary: beautiful, of a male. The hands
of a man are his greatest beauty. Or he attracts the
hand, so people want to touch. She wanted a man like
that. She would bring back a man to walk through her
grandmothers house and drag her out with her
hands stuck to the soles of his feet.
Fairy godmother must have been a goddess. She
wrote next to fairy in English lesser god.
She wrote Mary Mother of God, children without
men. Fairy Godmother disrupts the marriage plans
of the prince, using magic. Cinderella dances on his
ball. She laughed in Alameda when I told her a fairy
is a man who has sex with men. She said the Mother
of God must be a fairy-wifes goddess. Wives
of fairies practice Mother of God magic to free their
husbands from the obligation to have sex. We played
fairy wives circling her altars chanting, and swooned
into one anothers arms to conceive.
The stroke of midnight is the end of the ball.
I search a long time for what she wrote there: apoplexy.
A blood vessel explodes in the brain. Also brush
on paper. What is written may explode in the brain.
And stroke is a motion of the hand expressing love,
and the motion of a brush through the hair. A woman
brushing her hair can make the heart explode. A motion
of love at the wrong instant can shake down generations.
She touched dangerously handsome princes in Alameda.
Cinderella flees the ball, leaving a shoe of glass.
The shoe will fit only Cinderella. The picture in
the book is supposed to be funny, but she didnt
get the joke. She wrote riot under the crowd
of women trampling each other to put hands on the
prince, not to touch him but to become the queen.
In the picture one is cutting off her toes to fit
the shoe. Another one is cutting off her heel. She
didnt recognize them, the two step-sisters who
will never step again. She saw a crowd of mutilated
women in the streets, hobbling towards the palace.
The word she wrote is footbinding.
In Alameda girls wait in tight dresses by the curb.
The doors to shiny cars open and the girls step in
awkwardly on their high heels. Dates pay more
in a night than the fastest worker can earn in a week
of dirty offices. Cinderellas date is
a prince. She placed her foot in the shoe of glass
and stepped out to earn a kingdom.
Resident is a San Francisco
marketing object, of whom the 776,733 counted by the last
US Census said they were: 50% European-American, 31% Asian-American,
14% Latino, 11% mix/other, 8% African-American, 1% Native
American; 51% male, 49% female; median age 36.5, average
household size 2.3. Personally 2% more female and 10 years
older than the profile, Resident received an MFA in Writing
from the University of San Francisco.