Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

Jul 29

“If Eleanor Marx seems such a modern figure, it is because she strove to unite her political activism with her personal expression in a way that now seems wholly familiar. But we must remember that in Victorian England (as today in many parts of the world), the walls between men and women, between public and private life, were high, and there were risks of disgrace, humiliation, and even incarceration for those who tried to pull them down.” — Kate Webb: The Individual Complexity of Eleanor Marx - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

Xianning

By Sally Wen Mao
Brought to you by the Guernica/PEN Flash Series

Four-year-old Mailin was drawing a picture on the wall of her grandmother’s guest room. First, she drew a profile. It was a man’s face. Then she drew his legs. She skipped the body because that moment she forgot that men had bodies – chests, torsos, bellies and all. She drew a hat to cover the head. She drew a princess in a ballgown—the bride. She drew a kid with a balloon in his hand. She drew a bowl of peaches. Then she drew the apartment complex. Bricks because she was told that wooden houses burn quickly. Stairs because she had never lived in a place with more than one floor.

She used a ballpoint pen and the lines were shaky. She knew she was violating the clean white wall, that her grandmother would discover her soon, see her for the criminal she was.

Footsteps started down the hall. They rang, they thudded, a slow pulse. Her wrists went limp. She wanted to keep drawing the place they could all live in together. One that fit a family. Freaks, sure, with no torsos or bellies or chests. But these freaks had legs and nice shoes. These freaks had a three-story apartment made of bricks and ballpoint ink.

The door clicked open. She had it coming. Her grandmother scanned the walls. Her eyes rolled over the bride, and the kid, and the man with a hat but no body. The walls harbored wishes she could not grant.

Mailin knew she’d be punished. She closed her eyes, waited for the whip of her grandmother’s hand across her face. She thought of the house she lived in with her parents in the city—how the three of them slept together on the floor of the living room, how on the weekends they would gather in the front yard with tiny bowls of fruit and she could hear the laughter over the wall between her family and the next door neighbors. She took a bus to school every day with Susu, the girl who lived beyond that wall. She wished they could all live together in the countryside, they could all drink from the same freshwater well and breathe air as sweet as this, as sweet as the air here, on this porch in Xianning, taste peaches as ripe as the peaches here, the peaches in her drawing, so plump her lines could barely contain them. She closed her eyes and breathed in. Suddenly her drawing dwarfed her tininess. The apartment she drew was big enough to fit her whole body inside.

“Why did you do this?” her grandmother asked slowly, but the next moment, her face softened. “What is this? Why doesn’t this man have a body?”

Mailin answered, “He lost it in an accident. He doesn’t have one.”

Decades later, Mailin returned to Xianning. A bowl of peaches was set beside the gilded picture of her grandmother. Mailin lit incense and thought of the bodiless man in the bowler hat. He would have been directly in front of the bed where her grandmother had died. She wondered if when her grandmother was bedridden, the drawing of the man disturbed her. She imagined her grandmother’s envy. It would be a marvel to rid oneself of a body. Mailin learned this from her mother, who once told her, if I were my mother, I’d love to be dead. Unmoving, in a bed—what kind of life is that? It is no life.

In the future, Mailin would meet a lot of men without bodies. No torsos, no chests, no bellies, just eyes that gazed at her, craved her, carved her into something unnatural, something ugly and immortal. Mailin chased this version of herself in the mirrors. The body always deformed, resembling not a peach, but a stalk—inedible and tough. She loved and despised the weight of the bodies she didn’t know: the torsos, the ribs, the stray hairs above the stomach.

Her grandmother once warned her mother to marry a nearsighted man, for his eyes would not stretch far. He’d keep his peripheral vision inside, the apartment as far as his eyes could look. But Mailin could not imagine a future like that. She had long left the city with the wall between her and SuSu. She had long left California with the date palm and the tiny yard. She had long left the ballpoint apartment complex in Xianning, with the freaks dancing around the dining table, their imaginary laughter spilling onto the streets.

Originally published at Guernica Daily.

Rudy Koshar: What Should Haunt Us About World War I? -

This week marks the 100 year anniversary of WWI. In our pages, historian Rudy Koshar takes a look at the initial enthusiasm that greeted the war — and why we’re still haunted by it.

Jul 28


Like a pair of cats, sexed. Lesbian said everyone but us. We swung Lycra-packed thighs over loaded crossbars. We ferried into America on the pitch of the same folksong.

From You Blast Off, I’ll Drive, by Alison Smith.
Feature image by Chyrum Lambert.

Like a pair of cats, sexed. Lesbian said everyone but us.
We swung Lycra-packed thighs over loaded crossbars.
We ferried into America on the pitch of the same folksong.

From You Blast Off, I’ll Drive, by Alison Smith.

Feature image by Chyrum Lambert.

“Today’s literary professionals are caught between institutional professionalism and the subversive impulse that brought them to literature in the first place. Whereas the mods were defiantly stylish and mildly rebellious while longing for a greater degree of respectability, English professors are respectable and professional while longing for the passion and engagement and excitement of literature, the Thing Itself of reading. This Thing—call it insight, inspiration, or truth—whatever it was at first, it wasn’t about wanting to publish papers. It wasn’t about wanting to be right. It wasn’t about wanting to talk well or talk fast. It wasn’t about wanting an open schedule, praise for one’s own thoughts, or (though I’m not sure about this one) sex with admirers. It was about literature telling us something we weren’t getting anywhere else. We stayed up late thinking about it and it changed the way we saw the world the next morning.” — Going Underground by Raphael Allison - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

In 1978, Bruscky wandered around Recife like a sandwich-board man wearing posters that asked in bold type, “What is art? What is it for?” After strolling across the streets, or merely sitting on plaza benches, Bruscky would stand for hours as a live display, facing pedestrians from the window of a local bookstore. These questions were genuine for Bruscky, who was trying to discover what an artist could do, and what art could do, amid so much repression.The Unlearning by Tatiane Schilaro - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

In 1978, Bruscky wandered around Recife like a sandwich-board man wearing posters that asked in bold type, “What is art? What is it for?” After strolling across the streets, or merely sitting on plaza benches, Bruscky would stand for hours as a live display, facing pedestrians from the window of a local bookstore. These questions were genuine for Bruscky, who was trying to discover what an artist could do, and what art could do, amid so much repression.

The Unlearning by Tatiane Schilaro - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

Jul 25

Join us for our summer benefit!

Got plans this weekend? Now you do. Come join Guernica staff and friends at the Diamond Bar Sunday evening to play shuffleboard, drink, dance, and enter raffles to win book packages and totes from our pals at McSweeney’s, Ecco, Riverhead, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and more…

Tickets are cheaper in advance, so snag some for you and your friends here. You’ll get two drinks on us, so what are you waiting for?

Jul 24

Want to be the proud owner of these great Riverhead books? Come to our summer benefit this Sunday, snag a raffle ticket, and you could win…

Want to be the proud owner of these great Riverhead books? Come to our summer benefit this Sunday, snag a raffle ticket, and you could win…

Jul 23

Jul 22


Georgie’s apartment hovers over the corner of 13th and Spruce like a brick exclamation point, between Pine’s sleepy antique shops and the tattooed disinterest of South. When she bought it, they toasted her new life: the boutique she was about to open, the marriage. The exclamation then was: the world is kind enough to allow all things! The boutique closed after ten months of vacuuming the carpet early. The marriage ended after five months of fretful sex. The exclamation now is: I am petrified!
“To life.” Michael lifts his glass.
To life, the party replies.
Dinner begins. The plate of bread circumnavigates the table. The table is round, so no one sits at the head. Or everyone does, Michael thinks, slicing into the butter. Because it is a good dinner party, food is beside the point. Who cares what Georgie served? Vegetable lasagna and heirloom whatnot. A breathtaking salad.
Sarina taps salt from a reindeer shaker. “Salt,” she says, “is a combination of sodium and chloride. They are considered the bad boys of the periodic table. I learned that from our science teacher.”
“It is also what you give people who’ve recently moved into a house,” Ben says. “For luck in fertility. Or a seasoned life. One of those.”
Claudia gives a clipped ha-ha. “Who can afford a house?”

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
Feature image by Gina Beavers, courtesy Retrospective Gallery.

Georgie’s apartment hovers over the corner of 13th and Spruce like a brick exclamation point, between Pine’s sleepy antique shops and the tattooed disinterest of South. When she bought it, they toasted her new life: the boutique she was about to open, the marriage. The exclamation then was: the world is kind enough to allow all things! The boutique closed after ten months of vacuuming the carpet early. The marriage ended after five months of fretful sex. The exclamation now is: I am petrified!

“To life.” Michael lifts his glass.

To life, the party replies.

Dinner begins. The plate of bread circumnavigates the table. The table is round, so no one sits at the head. Or everyone does, Michael thinks, slicing into the butter. Because it is a good dinner party, food is beside the point. Who cares what Georgie served? Vegetable lasagna and heirloom whatnot. A breathtaking salad.

Sarina taps salt from a reindeer shaker. “Salt,” she says, “is a combination of sodium and chloride. They are considered the bad boys of the periodic table. I learned that from our science teacher.”

“It is also what you give people who’ve recently moved into a house,” Ben says. “For luck in fertility. Or a seasoned life. One of those.”

Claudia gives a clipped ha-ha. “Who can afford a house?”

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

Feature image by Gina Beavers, courtesy Retrospective Gallery.