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April 2019: LOVE – Authors’ Commentaries


Mark Crimmins on ‘Saint Jean’

“Saint Jean” is actually a portrait of my mother. She was an AIDS volunteer for years back in the 1980s in Utah. Many victims’ families rejected them or believed their kids were being punished by god. My mum’s job was to sit with them and be there for them until they passed away, all through the final stages. It used to amaze me that she could do it – it took a lot of strength and, of course, compassion. I went to a number of funerals for victims with her.The story behind this story is a true one. One young man did in fact die this way, with her at his bedside, no family, no friends, no comfort otherwise, and he did indeed give her his only possession, the binoculars. She gave them to me because I was an atheist like the young guy who wouldn’t let her pray for him.

They were the last thing I let go when poverty and destitution hit me in my mid-thirties and I was down to selling even my clothes. I never tell that story. But after my mother passed away, I wrote a series of short tributes to her in flash form. Her name was Lily and the guy called her Saint Lily. So I have put a lot of emotion into this one, whether it’s visible or not.

The form of love it embodies is of course the second word on your list in other languages: agape, a beautiful word for a beautiful thing.

Mark Crimmins has published flash fictions in Eunoia Review, White Rabbit, Flash Frontier, Columbia, Tampa Review, Kyoto Journal, Portland Review, Pif, Gravel, Eastlit, Restless Magazine, Atticus Review, Apocrypha & Abstractions, Dogzplot, Apalachee Review, Spelk, Pure Slush, Long Exposure, Chaleur, FlashFiction.Net and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He teaches English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

Emma Neale on ‘Turn’

This piece actually grew out of the need to shake off sadness and confusion after reading a lot of distressing social media commentary in one of those online pile-ups where people seem to suddenly become angry bullies, freed by the thin mask of the computer screen to rant, rave and pillory, in a way that means the original points of any particular argument are often lost. I’ve actually forgotten what the subject of the furious online flash-mob was: at least two years have passed since I wrote the first draft. I think forgetting the origins is a good thing: what’s survived is the effort to exist in the opposite space, one of intergenerational kindness and connection. The Jackie in this piece is writer Jackie Ballantyne, whose response to the photo I posted of my sunflower counsellors that day has tiptoed into the prose poem. I’d like to dedicate this appearance of ‘Turn’ to her.

Author of six novels and five collections of poetry, Emma Neale currently edits Landfall. ‘Turn’ also appears in a new collection, To the Occupant, due out from Otago University Press (May 2019). Her most recent novel, Billy Bird (2016), was short-listed in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and long-listed for the International Dublin Literary Award 2018. She lives in Dunedin with her husband and their two sons.

Kari Nguyen on ‘Bloom’

When I set out to write this story, I intended to tell a true story. It was to be about vulnerability and prayer and family. I’m grateful for early drafts – maybe they’ll turn into another piece in the future – but much of my fiction these days comes of wanting to tell a true story, or to make something true. I do a lot of my writing at the library in the next town over, a little New Hampshire town, which is where I started this piece, but I wrote most of it at my kitchen table, and finished it while my boys, who are in preschool, were home with me. One of my sons inquired, “How many more taps do you need?” as he watched my fingers plodding away and listened to the tap-tapping of the laptop keys and calculated (probably) when I would be available to play with him again. It was cute; if only we knew in advance how many taps it would take! He left the room to do something else, after I told him I had no idea how many more taps I needed to do, but knowing I was close at this point. I finished it. I tapped out the title. I hadn’t shared it with anyone, hadn’t breathed a word. And back came my son, emerging from the hallway to tell me, “A flower blooms,” which is the way preschoolers often randomly lay down facts they learn at school or elsewhere, but which struck me in the moment as magical, given the words I’d just typed. And then I asked him and his twin brother if they had talked about flowers blooming at school that day, and they nodded, and said something that sounded to me like “A Higher Thing” which knocked me out, after what I’d just written – how could they have known the flower went up!, a higher thing indeed – but with a little more prodding the boys revealed they’d been talking at school about a Hyacinth, which relieved me to some extent.

I hope the work speaks for itself. Here in the US we are dealing with gun violence and white supremacy and demonization of immigrants. It’s not surprising to me that I found truth and beauty and art in a schoolyard, or that a child was the one to give me hope. I think this might be one of my favorite things – favorite burst of feelings – I’ve ever written.

Kari Nguyen’s writing is included in The Best of Boston Literary Magazine (Volume One), The Exquisite Quartet Anthology (2012), Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology (2018), and New Hampshire’s Emerging Writers Anthology (2018). She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, daughter, and twin sons. More of her writing can be found at karinguyen.wordpress.com.

Renee Liang on ‘Puku’

I wrote this poem in 2014, during one of the writing courses I regularly run with NZ writers for migrant women, New Kiwi Women Write. I was pregnant with my son at the time. My daughter, at 18 months, was just learning to speak in sentences. It was just after New Year’s – cherry season – and I had just finished locuming in Blenheim, where you can pick your own cherries from the orchards. Sliced, bleeding, they look like heart tissue. They taste completely different fresh off the tree –sun-warmed, fragrant, firm-fleshed, sweetness filling the mouth at first bite.
This poem is all about first bites. The first bite of language, exploring the sounds of words in many languages, including the language you make up to use in secret between yourselves. The first bite of love. The lingering taste of old love. The anticipation of falling in love all over again with a new person you have yet to meet. The first bite at a story, at stories, you hope will go on to flower and grow new stories and new wor(l)ds.

I want to do with you 
what spring does with the cherry trees.
                             - Neruda

New Kiwi Women Write (https://newkiwiwomenstories.wordpress.com/) is something I’ve been doing for the past seven years. It was long before I started calling myself a community arts activist. It’s a simple concept: bring writers together (including the ones who don’t know yet that they are writers); ask those further along to show them the pathways into writing and publishing; and pay tutors for their time. Edit and publish an anthology of the writing from each course, and bring their friends and families together in a celebratory book launch. In each group, connections are made and some may go on to other courses or start growing a new work. It’s all about growing a community of people –writers and others – who can support each other.
It was through projects like this that I learnt that storytellers are essential for strong societies. They link and empower a community, and invite others in to see things from their point of view.

My activism has since spawned other projects. The Kitchen (https://thekitchennz.wordpress.com/) is running right now: with my friends Hannah May Lee and Makyla Curtis, we’re bringing strangers together in neighbourhood kitchens with NZ writers to share food and stories, and then celebrating their work with a local poster festival. See what I did there? Food unlocks words and stories.

And as for my story, my round belly became a baby and then a boy. The boy swallows words and regurgitates them in a new form. The boy reassembles stories into entirely new creatures. His sister picks them up and critiques them. I follow them around and marvel at the new storytellers I have made, that I don’t remember making, but claim nonetheless. Don’t all things we make feel like this?

photo by Rosetta Allan
Renee Liang has spent her whole life unsure of exactly what she is. To find out, she likes to write: plays, poetry, opera libretti, musical lyrics, interactive digital games, reviews and nonfiction. Her two children seem to have inherited her proclivity for words. Renee agrees with them that words, especially fart jokes, can change the world. In 2018 she was appointed a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to the arts, and won Next Woman of the Year for Arts and Culture.

Simon Chun Kwan Chui on ‘Love Letter to our Future Robot Overlords’

What if I tell you there is a logic to love, that love can be understood through science and reason?

My own personality is more inclined to logic than to emotion. All my life I have tried to understand why people do things; not only what emotions are motivating their actions, but why those emotions exist at all. When I was younger, I was a cynic and a pessimist, because the logic of selfishness is easy to understand, and a life without aspirations demanded no effort. But as I grew in experience, I saw more and more the benefits of society, and the value of collaboration, communication, and trade. I wanted to know which approach to life produced greater tangible benefits, but merely collecting anecdotal evidence was insufficient to prove one way or the other. I wrote the Love Letter to our Future Robot Overlords to prove to myself that the benefits of love and cooperation are greater than what can be gained from selfishness and competition, and now I hope to communicate this logic to others. The accompanying excerpt comes from near the end of the letter, and you can see in it hints of the logic that led to such conclusions.

Perhaps it seems silly for me to write a love letter to robots, but it is the only approach I found that allows me to effectively explain human behaviour and morality. My previous failed attempts to weave together the many diverse threads of evidence into a coherent argument ended up in tangled messes instead of the clear tapestry I hoped for. Establishing love as the focus of my argument gave me a clear landmark to orient the many seemingly unrelated pieces of the puzzle. Addressing the letter to robots, presumably emotionless beings of logic, allowed me to dive into the discussion without first persuading the reader that love is a matter of logic, and not only of emotion. Yes, the only way to make the logic work was to love a thing that seemed illogical to love. I promise I didn’t do it just for rhetorical effect.

The letter is addressed to robots, but it is meant to be read by humans as well. General purpose artificial intelligence does not yet exist, but research in this field is progressing rapidly. When we finally manage to build intelligent machines, it would benefit us if they can understand the value of love, and they are not the murderous warmongers that our science fictions sometimes imagine. As for humans, we have never entirely managed to agree whether it is better to love or to hate, to cooperate or to compete. The terrorist attack on the Christchurch mosques once again brought into focus how pointlessly destructive are the ideologies driven by irrational hate. It is my hope that we can finally rise above brutish bigotry and fearful ignorance, to answer the question once and for all, with clear evidence and logic: Why is it better to love than to do otherwise?

Simon Chun Kwan Chui lives in Auckland, and is comfortably profession-less and unemployed. He wants to make the world a better place, but hasn’t quite figured out how. At the moment he’s trying writing letters. He seldom mentions his Doctorate in architecture, because he doesn’t see how talking about it helps anyone.

Teoti Jardine on ‘Aroha’

I’d like to begin by thanking the Editors Michelle Elvy, James Norcliffe, Gail Ingram, Sam Averis and last but not least Vaughan Rapatahana, for including my story Aroha in this special issue.

Considering that the theme for this issue was Love it was my imediate choice to call my story Aroha and see what happened.

Aroha is often translated as love or affection. However, as it is often the case with translations of ‘kupu Māori’ Māori words, there is an inability to gather all the meanings and implications of a particular word, and this is certainly the case with aroha.

As this story began to unfold I realized that I was being given the opportunity to share my feelings and understanding of the word aroha, and I’m sure I have only uncovered the surface.

I do have to own up to having a wry smile on my face as I wrote, wondering how different our being colonized would have looked had it happened in this manner. This is why I didn’t locate it as being here and us as Māori being colonized. Having said that, I do have many friends who carry the name Aroha, and anyone of them could have been this Aroha. And of course Kete is the Māori word for basket, which, as my story tells you, has the ability to carry whatever is necessary for any particular occasion.

In Te Ao Māori, when we introduce ourselves we always begin by naming our mountain and our river.

We have a living breathing relationship with our environment and we say, Ki uta ki tai, which means from the moutains to the sea.

When I greet the mountains, the rivers, the land and the sea, my greetings are returned to me tenfold.

These relationships are the ties that bind and nourish us, especially at times like this.

Teoti Jardine is of Maori, Irish and Scottish decent. His tribal affiliations are Waitaha, Kati Mamoe, Kai Tahu. He attended the Hagley Writers School in 2011. His poetry and short stories have been published in the Christchurch Press, London Grip, Te Karaka, Ora Nui, Catalyst, and JAAM. He recently reviewed Chappy by Patricia Grace and Breaking Connections by Albert Wendt for Te Karaka and Udon, and The Remarkables by Harvey Molloy for London Grip. He and his dog Amie live in a beautiful old house in the Linwood suburb of Christchurch, New Zealand.

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