So, so honored to be nominated by Sangu Iyer (fellow Hunter MFA Memoir alumna!) and chosen for the Emerging Writer Fellowship at Aspen Word in June!
I am BEYOND thrilled and humbled that Roxane Gay chose my creative nonfiction essay! Ms. Gay called The Vengeance of Elephants:
“a beautifully structured and layered essay that manages to feel both sweeping and intimate in scope. The writer explores identity, family, her people’s history and how narrative is a complex, unwieldy thing in both right and wrong hands.”
Thank you december magazine! The elephants are rejoicing. 🐘 🐘 🐘 🐘 🐘
It wound in my back like a screw grinding metal threads. Face down, I felt one foot then two as my ribs angled into the floor through thin foam. Michelle said this was dangerous. I said I’d be fine. My brain was on a slow smolder.
“Alriiight,” she said, curling the word out of blame. I couldn’t fathom a better idea at the moment. I couldn’t fathom much of anything. We were in the guest room of my distant cousin’s apartment in Brasilia. Michelle took the bed. I chose the foam mattress on the floor, craving a plank to stretch the pain balling like hard fruit along my spine.
I was grateful for a bed after forty hours cramped on a freezing bus that cut the ceaseless horizon of Brazil’s pampas like a cold bullet. Michelle and I had taken bus after bus, holed up in hostel after hostel, for the last thirty-five hundred miles since flying from Costa Rica to Caracas a month ago. She was my closest friend, Oregonian, inimitable travel buddy. We had become experts on maximizing travel on a less-than-meager budget, caterpillers in sleeping bags while we hurtled past anonymous stretches of land. We paid for comfier buses with nicer bathrooms, forgoing a real bed for a mobile hostel. Plush seats and air-conditioning hadn’t helped however. My head spinning and back aching, sleep had eluded me for over a week.
See more of this brilliant anthology, Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland, by ordering directly from Demeter Press!
(Published originally on Spoonwiz.com — a literary food blog that has unfortunately shuttered.)
Aug 2, 2013
Editor: Elizabeth McKenzie
My sister gingerly sprinkled tiny globs on her plate of rice, ground chicken and vegetables. She was careful not to look too close. I dropped a larger spoonful of hăng hơdŏm sao onto mine, and inspected until I was satisfied: the reddish, itty-bitty tri-sections were visible, ground with a coating of oil and chopped red and green chili peppers.
“Eww — you’re eating ants!” our cousin Lap teased. The eleven of us passed a small bowl of the paste-like mixture around a crowded kitchen table. A spread of six different dishes lay before us, including a plate of tăng liang, a bitter, leafy green that grows wild in Vietnam’s central western mountains. Its leaves were dried over a flame and then ground with dried fish, salt and chili pepper in a mortar.
My mother sat across from my sister and me. In the corner was a stuffed teddy — the vessel used to smuggle the silver vacuum-sealable bags of tăng liang and hăng hơdŏm sao from Vietnam to North Carolina.
In Jarai, my mother’s dialect, hăng means hot pepper or spicy. Hơdŏm sao means “red tree ants that have sour taste.” Lap, a linguistic anthropologist, helped me with the words and the accents because I don’t know Jarai. We met him for the first time a few days earlier. My sister and I had never seen, eaten or heard of hăng hơdŏm sao until this trip to North Carolina in 2007, where we had the unique experience of meeting Dega-Montagnard relatives. Dega-Montagnards are ethnic minorities from the central highlands of Vietnam, near the Cambodian border. My mother came to the US in 1975, and my sister and I were born and raised in New England — without a Dega-Montagnard community. This was the first time we saw our mother surrounded by her clan. We were witnessing the dialect return to her slowly. With a small video camera at the table, I attempted to document this momentous meal. And, the ants.