“One Ton Prop”

Christopher Kang

November 15, 2018 
The following story is from the Fall/Winter 208 issue of Epiphany Magazine. Christopher Kang has an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His first book of stories was selected by Sarah Manguso for the 2016 GMR Book Prize. His writing has appeared in jubilat, Massachusetts Review, Gulf Coast, and Open City, among others. Christopher Kang's website is www.christopherkang.com.


My plays have nothing to do with performance. The stage is just a place. I do not have actors. I have strangers who collaborate with me to make a new confusion in harsh light while other strangers hide in the pitch-black darkness. When I do not have strangers to help me do this, I go at it alone. That is when I become a stranger to myself. That is when I start to consider the color of the curtains rather than the size of the stage. I try to convince an actor in one of my plays to actually fall asleep on stage. He wants to know if it will better convince the audience that he is asleep. I tell him I do not know the reason why I want him to do this. I just do not think it has been done before.


Six years ago, my mother lost her memory and moved into a nursing home. The sterile structure, slipped into the center of a busy city block, could be mistaken for an office building. They held a singing competition there that she won. I never asked her what song she sang. Although I was a part of the memories she lost, the song remained. Maybe she learned the song after she lost her memory. Maybe she can learn me again. The problem is, I do not know how to rebuild myself precisely the way I was within her before she lost me. I could make something new and better. To do this seems wrong, even if it is good. Often, when I visit, she is lying on her bed with her hands placed lightly on her stomach, staring at the ceiling as if a movie were being projected on it. Smiling.


I read the sentence “I am better” in an old diary entry, written years ago. I am convinced I meant to write, “I am bitter,” but that I was thinking, “I am better.” I do not know if I am better since that time. I do know that I am bitter. Or do I have that the other way around? A dream that separates in the center. The two parts turn to each other. Why do they not turn to me?


A play with a garden placed in the center of a stage. A single flower seed in the soil is watered regularly. When the seed blossoms and then withers, the play is over. The rental of the space nearly bankrupts me.


A play with an actor trying to leap up and grab a small red ball hanging above him. The small red ball is nearly fifty feet above. Most audience members do not see the small red ball. Most people do not see the play. A critic describes my plays as an “assault on entertainment.”


The work is about the impossible recovery of a new way to undermine rather than refuse. To define an impulse so as to eliminate another. To wash away guilt and reveal the older guilt beneath it. To live again or to live against. To feel very sad in front of people who are very sad, too.


I have a nightmare that resembles a dream I had a week ago. I do not know the differences that make it suddenly terrifying. I conclude it has something to do with the truncated end. Only later do I realize the nightmare may have been a perfect repetition of the dream. And that is what made it a nightmare. I talk in my sleep. I am unclear whether it is dialogue in my dream or commentary about the dream.


I am skeptical of any dream that ends too neatly. That having been said, I feel as if every dream offers up several ends I pass over before my waking interrupts what seems like a beginning. My waking never seems to offer ends. Nor beginnings.


When I was a child, my mother used to wake me up in the morning for school by standing in the doorframe of my bedroom and staring at me. She would walk away when I opened my eyes abruptly and sharply. I have always woken up that way. A woman once said it looked as if on the other end, in my dream, I had just been shot. It was clear my mother did not want to wake me but was trying to see something. I never asked her what she was looking for. My mother once told me that she did not worry about dying. She just did not want to see others do it. I wonder if seeing me wake up was her way of overcoming this. Witnessing a body, every day, begin rather than end. I visit her one morning and wake her up when I walk in the room. I have never seen my mother wake up before. Her eyes open slowly but surely. As if she had been feigning sleep. She looks as if she is feigning being awake. She asks me who I am and I tell her. A new way for her to begin and overcome a fear that she may not have anymore. But I have it. There is a framed photograph of a white flower falling in a black void above her bed. Weeks later, I find a white flower resting on top of the frame. It feels like the definition of a word I do not yet know.


“Every scene must seem combustible,” I said once, when I was younger. I do not use words like “scene” anymore. I wish I did. I do use the word “every” every so often. I do not know what to think of that.


I have an interest in unexplainable sightings. They insist that the world is perpetually beyond us in a way that I myself cannot insist. I am bothered when the world seems blunt, standing still in front of me without conversation or doubt. There are a dozen sightings of a bear with a human head. Eyewitnesses describe how it persistently overturns rocks and wears a “terrifying grimace.”


A sign in front of a church requesting donations to fix its recently battered roof brandishes an error. “You Can,” it says, “Make A Deference.”


I did not start out writing plays. I wrote poems. Long poems that despaired in their length and insisted on meaning they did not have. The problem was that the words were always chiseled on the page. Each sentence turned its head away from me. Commanding marble, uneasy weight, persistent surface. When I wrote my first play, at the age of thirty-two, I was liberated. Each word ticked off the seconds, although the language on the page was light. And when the play was performed, the words fled. And I would trace their path away from me. My signature.


I once wrote a forty-page poem about a pigeon. I thought it would be clever to rhyme the first word of the poem with the last. But no one noticed. I did not have a specific pigeon in mind. If I had, I think it would have been a shorter poem. Equally bad.


I am unsure if I am anything other than an awkward machine manufacturing defective memories that belong to some stranger who resembles me so strongly that he resents me. When I first meet a person, I try to find qualities in their personality that resemble my own. I never realized this presupposes that I know myself well enough to recognize my qualities in another. I do not think I do. So what am I recognizing in that stranger? My name rhymes with my favorite word. I hate to think that is why it is my favorite word.


How do they do that? Sit still and only speak to me in applause, yet still dictate so much of the play. Once an audience member walked up to me after play, said nothing, then walked away.


I start a play not with characters or narrative, but with two affects. Anger and ecstasy, for instance. Distress and admiration. Shame and curiosity. From between these abstractions something faint springs out. Like a breath unburdened by a mouth. Then the breath becomes a voice that builds a mouth from scratch. And I transcribe.


A play that ends with a twenty-minute monologue. The microphone volume is progressively reduced, along with the stage lights, until everything is steadily, almost unnoticeably swallowed into the void. A critic says of the play, “It is a play.” When I read the comment, I realize this may be the end for me. Reclining on my achievements rather than being pushed forward by an electric uneasiness that made me blankly desperate for public approval. I bring my mother to this play, accompanied by a bright nurse who never seems to blink but appears desperate. After, my mother asks me who I am, and I say, “The person who wrote the play.” Neither good nor bad that this is all she knows about me. That I am the person who wrote that play.


While at dinner with friends, I am introduced to a woman wearing an absurdly long dress. It remains in part in the previous room even though she has moved into the next one. “You don’t remember me,” she says, “do you?” That I did but treated her as if I did not unifies me enough to feel as if the future resembles the past so well that the present moment is predictable. That night, she invites me into her apartment. On her wall is an abstract painting consisting only of a fat red brushstroke that slashes from the center of the canvas down to the edge and onto the wall. She tells me she loves it because she knows the painting cannot be moved without it no longer being itself. I tell her that is what worries me most about the painting. I wake up with her night-colored blanket coiled around my body. She stands at the foot of the bed, embracing an enormous potted plant. Its desiccated branches impersonate a pointing finger. “What,” she says, “are you doing?”


Nothing inspires me more than darkness rudely interrupted by harsh light.


The work is about the careless clarity that descends on us when ambition is swept aside. The waking up from a dream that does not seem our own. The end of something that included too much of us.


The work is about the refusal of the simplest answer that aspires to be the simplest question. The metaphor that insists on the loneliness of the literal. The disapproving look of your father in a mirror that hangs from a nail that once hung up your portrait. The framed photograph of the moon flung across the room. The stained glass window of the cathedral open just enough to see the desiccated branch of a tree reaching through. The sliver of a view through a half-open door, before your father’s wake, of a woman frantically trying to find something to wipe the surface of the closed casket and taking her shirt off to polish it down.


The work is killing me but will never kill me. This does not make me feel any stronger. The work, on the other hand, does feel much stronger.


When I am at a play I am not enjoying, I try to keep my eyes open for as long as I can. The relief of a blink is wonderful. It distracts me from irritation. I have probably seen more of bad plays than good ones. The last play I saw was delicately designed to induce a very particular kind of applause. In one scene, a man comes to a costume party dressed like a door. I do not remember what my eyes did.


If my dreams ever resembled the clarity of my waking hours, I would not trust my eyes as much as I do now. I think the correspondence would irreversibly improve me. The longest dream I have had was of an enormous tower of fire in a field, as wide and tall as a mountain, burning for what seemed like days.


I inquire about the possibility of setting off fireworks above the audience in the theatre.  The director does not even answer me. Some things will always be impossible. I want to be reminded of that. It delivers me from the kind of self-effacing ambition that makes it hard for me to muster up empathy for complete strangers. He returns back to me weeks later and proposes that we set off fireworks outside of the theatre during the performance. When I complain that the audience will never see them, he says they will have to blindly trust they are being set off. “Why,” I say, “even bother doing it then?” “Isn’t there,” the director says, “enough dishonesty in the play?”


A sighting of a man opening his mouth painfully wide to plume out black smoke that curls, expands, then solidifies into a man opening his mouth painfully wide to plume out black smoke that curls, expands, then solidifies into the shape of a man opening his mouth painfully wide, and so on and so forth into the easy horizon shaped like a blunt line in a fraction.


My mother wants me to bring her a basket. I do not ask her why. I only ask her what kind of basket. When I bring it to her, she asks me why I brought her a basket. In the attic of my childhood home there was a box as big as an oven. Inside was a smaller box and inside that one was an even smaller box. I never opened more boxes beyond that. I assumed it was boxes all the way down. At some point, I hoped, there was something in an atom-sized box that was not a box. Too lonely for a thing to only hold versions of itself.


The self is made of a series of loops. These circuits, embedded in different parts of the body, are difficult to leave. A loop in the palm of my hand concerns my inability to breathe properly when I attempt to recover any particularities of my father and only hear him soundlessly opening the front door, loudly stamping his feet, and saying to himself that it is not snowing. A loop in the soles of my feet concerns my mother not letting me in the house, standing at the door and waving her hands to scurry me away, and seeing through her legs my father slumped in a rocking chair staring stiffly at the ceiling with a wall clock hovering over his head like the bottom of an exclamation point. A loop in the back of my eyes concerns the properties of an apologetic breeze at night, a frigidity that does not make me cold, that invariably reminds me of the past without recovering a particular moment within it. The loops sometimes link to one another and make a little chain that manacles me to a feeling. That I miss my father. The way one misses a train headed toward but not to one’s home. I have my father’s hair, I have my mother’s eyes. My hands, though, are my own. I am grateful they have each other.


A brisk wind between my breath and hers. It reminds me that distances do what objects do, but with more ease. She is sitting across from me at a restaurant table. Wearing a black dress that is not as long as the one she wore when I first met her. She does not notice that the leg of her chair is pinning it down to the ground. When she stands up, she will know. The tall, thin candle produces a flame that obstructs her mouth as she speaks. “Do you,” she says, “think about me the way I think about you?” “How,” I say, “do you think about me?” “I,” she says, “can’t believe you would ask me that.”


“I am thoroughly diffused,” someone says to me in a misdelivered letter.


A thought experiment from a friend over dinner, during a lull that followed our failure to solve from where his wife’s new affectless demeanor sprang. He asked, if I could go back in time and change an event, but the repercussions of that change would exist in a parallel universe and I would return to a present unchanged, would I still do it? My answer changed three times before I gave up finding a good one.


A play about the everlasting continuities that break us apart. Every five minutes of the play, the actors pause in place for two seconds. I have not decided what the characters are doing. It almost does not matter. Almost.


The work is furnished with a supreme confidence that in its future, a clarifying interpretation will simplify it into an easy purpose.


A sighting of a miniature, transparent landscape covering the president’s eyes during a speech. Like a blindfold. A forest with scant trees swaying, a cluster of birds passing across the bright sky, and a single circular cloud hovering beside the sun as if impersonating it. Multiple reports encourage us to dismiss it as an error at the television station. Tapes indicate otherwise.


Power is not a performance. It merely relies on performance to sustain itself.


I turn down an invitation to stage one of my plays in a prison. When I was asked to pick a play that would “make the walls disappear,” I could not think of any of my works that did this. There is no way I can make the walls disappear. I could make them fade or recede, but not without spending an obscene amount of money. Months later the solution comes to me. A play with many walls in it. It would make the prisoners feel as if they were outside of it.


I am close to the work. I close myself off to the work.


I visit my mother, but before walking into her room, I stand at the door and listen in. I hear a chair shift in place, a window opening, and a laugh that indicates light amusement. When I knock, I hear what sounds like a jewelry box sharply snapping shut. She opens the door and I see no box in her room. “Can I,” she says, “help you?”


There are three things. The first forecasts the second so thoroughly the second seems like a repetition of the first. The second admires the first so excessively it becomes indistinguishable from the first. The third separates from the other two and resists its own status as a number then drifts away, exactly like a child growing up.


A play where characters frantically build an iron gate on the stage. They do not ever mention the gate or any difficulties concerning the building of the gate. They are reciting lines from another play I wrote about domestic bliss, tragedy, and disorientation. In one of the performances, a deranged audience member runs out onto the stage, grabs the gate, and furiously shakes it. For a brief moment, before he is pulled off the stage, all of the actors turn and look at him, then the gate. Hoisting himself up to press his feet against the bars. Shaking the entire structure until it trembles like a plucked string. It is not perfect but so against perfection I almost feel as if I had written him into the performance.


The work is about the larger beginning burdened by no end. The muffled memory of walking out into a humid night with your mother, after being taken to your first play, and her asking you if you enjoyed yourself. When you try to explain you enjoyed it because when the curtain dropped, you felt as if it were a curtain dropping on a window, but that you were not inside of the house but outside of it, she says, “Whose house?”


A photograph of a statue. A statue of a painting. A painting of a painting.


“I want,” she says, “to build a time machine, turn it off, and sob inside of it.” Her dress is hanging in my closet and she lies on my bed, staring at it from across the room. The long dress made it extraordinarily difficult to close the door, so I had to knot the end. She exists in the dress inside the closet more than in the body on the bed. I am unsure where I more stubbornly reside.


When I first saw her at that restaurant, before she was introduced to me, she was sitting at a table in an adjacent room. She turned around to look at me, and I abruptly understood how she was brightly empty of any ideas I had of what I wanted from another life I almost lived. I ask her to turn around to me now and imagine she is turning around to look at her past self who is turning around to look back. She says she can live without me. What enduring defect within me convinces me that this sentiment in a partner is essential in a lasting union?


A play that opens with a young woman lying in a field with her eyes half closed. The curtain opens and shuts so quickly, like a blink of an eye, the audience barely registers the scene. The young woman never appears in the rest of the play, nor is there any mention of her.


A sighting of a completely blue woman pacing around a lake before evaporating into thin air. “She was,” a witness said, “holding something.” It is unclear if she was dropping it somewhere, holding it the whole time, or picking it up. I prefer to think that she was not holding anything. What does this say about the things I hold?


A dream in which I am trying to write a play. But every time my pen flourishes the page to write a word, I can only write my name. Over and over again. I am sitting in a room with a single window in the far wall. As if keeping time, a hand periodically appears and presses itself loudly against the glass. I woke up wondering what would have happened if I had tried to write my name. If maybe I would have been denied that once intention aligned. I also think the hand was not mine. At least not the one that I have now. That it may have been my hand when I was exactly five years younger. Which feels further away than any other hand I know.


“It’s impossible,” I said in an unrecorded interview that vanished into a continuous passage of time, “to move someone with a metaphor of the moon.” I thought later how I did not specify whether the moon was being compared to something or something was being compared to the moon. I believe it makes all the difference.


I walk into and then out of a fog shaped like my mother. A long stretch of open land that funnels toward a path that stops abruptly with a stone shaped like the world. A tree to the right, unreachable by high grass. My mother and I each climbed it, on separate occasions. It grows brown fruit that seems to spring already rotten, dropping on the ground when a light wind passes. My memories sink into the night sky that will not offer a single star for me to compare to a period. When she got to the top of the tree, she pointed in the distance at something I could not see. I wish it were that way now.


For three straight nights, I have a dream that my mother is not my mother but a stranger who bumps into me in the middle of the street, apologizes, walks on. I am unsure why I do not categorize this as a nightmare. It barely even feels like a dream. And that should be enough to make it a nightmare.


My mother sometimes references her husband. I do not think she is referencing my father. I  do not know how I know that, but I have a sense her “husband” is an absence that she gestures to periodically. The way a child would an imaginary friend. That having been said, my father was an absence for all of my life. A placeholder indistinguishable from a void. In this sense, my mother’s husband is more my father than anyone else.


An enormous black balloon is released into the atmosphere. Lifted up to symbolically represent the liberation following two or three laws that made each human see their intelligence as an extension of their emotions. The crowd cheers without knowing that there are more cheers coming out of loudspeakers. I understand why the celebration must be amplified when the balloon lifts, but I do not understand why the celebration must be amplified even more when the balloon drifts back down to the ground. The noise is so overwhelming, I find it hard to even remember there was ever a balloon. A year after my father’s death, my mother took me to visit him. A tombstone lying firmly in the shadow of a thin tree. Although the shadow undulated uncomfortably like a candle’s flame, the tree was motionless. From a spigot that squealed like a caught mouse, she poured water into a basil plant left by his tombstone and then she picked a few leaves she cooked with later that day. A year after that we visited the grave again. I was sure it had moved. There was no tree or spigot. We never went back to the grave together, but I assumed each year he roamed to another position. A constellation of sites that traced an outline of my father’s profile from that one night he told me about his own father. How his father never looked into a camera when his photograph was taken. How his father always looked up and to his right. How he finds himself doing the same sometimes. Even when he is not being photographed. Yet, in that moment, I was the one being photographed. I look at that photograph now, then look up and to my right at my mother. She is sitting up in bed, undoing a knot. I wonder if she remembers she was the one who made it.


A knife flying out of a second story window. Landing beside a photograph of the sun. This is what made me want to write one of my earliest plays about family and technology. A critic describes it as a “confusion built for two.” I hope I am one of those two. I suppose it is a problem that I do not care who the other is.


The oldest woman in the world is asked to sing at the televised parade. She wears a dress custom-made for her by a well-known designer and glides down the street on a float decorated to appear like a cloudy sky. It looks as if her body is being assailed by geometric shapes. Her voice reminds me how preliminary our own voices are. How they are waiting to be irreversibly changed. But we do not think of what we will say once they are.


The metronome that once sat on my mother’s piano now sits on my bookshelf. On more than one occasion, I have wound it up and adjusted the tempo so it syncopated with the second hand of the wall clock. The wall clock belongs solely to me. The only object in my home that does not belong to me or my mother is the piano stool abandoned in the center of my bedroom. After my mother poked a few notes on the piano, singing a small section of a song over and over again as if stuck in it, she would gather her sheet music and slip it into the piano stool. The opening of the piano stool resembled the opening of a casket. For that reason, the piano stool belongs to my father. I stand on it now to reach for something I cannot touch on my own.


I cannot bear a burden without a name.


The momentum of a scream in the middle of a scene. The definitiveness of a scream at the end of a scene. The formality of a scream in the beginning of a scene.


When I say I like a play because it is “dark,” I do not mean to say it is strange or blankly terrifying. I mean to say it is dark, the way looking down a well is dark. Some suggestion of depth.


A sighting of a torn piece of red cloth hovering between two skyscrapers for several minutes before disappearing with a shout tethered to no body. The red cloth appears in six other cities at approximately the same time. One religious group sees it as a sign that the impending apocalypse they had been waiting for is now much further off than they thought. Their primary belief is that the world is an experiment and that we must prove something good to their god. Only then will we be invited into a real existence, one built on the findings we helped reveal. If my father’s death were an experiment and my life after him were the collected data, what kind of new death would their god design to make a life like mine no longer seem like mine? Only a few years ago, my mother donated all my father’s books, except a science fiction book as thin as a blank canvas. I was named after the time-traveling protagonist. She showed me an early page of the book where the completely naked protagonist shoots across space like an arrow, away from his dying planet. “How,” he thinks, as the space-time continuum warps around his glowing body, “can I begin?”


A play where all the actors’ lines are stage directions.


A play where the seats are two hundred feet away from the stage.


The work wants me to be happy but it offers nothing to support that desire. I want the work to be happy but I do not care if it actually is. Even more, I do not think it knows itself well enough to know what it feels. In this way, the work and I find a common ground and begin talking. About happiness, and how we have it but do not have it. How this is true of everything else, too.


I believe my plays are engines of contradiction. They do not have wheels to get anywhere. They were made to make noise.


I am credited with making hovering orbs in plays fashionable.


When I visit my mother, she calls me by her name. She does not know it is her name and does not know it is not my name. But it becomes my name, and I take it. The window in her bedroom cannot open but it closes so easily. For a moment, the busy city block outside does not seem busy. There is a podium on the sidewalk and a man is walking around it. For some reason, there is a wooden ruler placed on the window sill.


I am grateful for the inherent inaccuracy of names. I have a name that belongs to me, but because others have my same name, my name does not belong to me. If everyone had the same name, it would be harder to mistreat others. An innovative way of finally making good use of our egos.


A play with a series of mural-sized photographs and a voice-over. No actors. Critics describe it as “insistent on its novel architecture.” I have never seen the word “why” used so much.


Nostalgia is an abbreviation of a few concrete sensations. A hand obscuring the moon. The moon making a sound like a broken machine before slipping behind clouds. A cloud reflected in a mirror that feels like my skin when I was unfeasibly young. In this way, it is the most efficient kind of thinking I know how to access. The first girl I kissed looked straight into my eyes as it happened. It taught me how one can look at something without ever seeing anything. I learned this quickly and closed my eyes. I wonder if she closed her eyes, too. I also wonder what everyone in the audience was doing with their eyes in that moment and why, in my memory, the stage lifts one inch higher with each passing year.


Something is stolen from me. I see it appear in my dreams a week later. Is that where it is now? Yet, I was not the one who put it there.


A play done in intense, almost laborious slow-motion.


A play about history and pleasure. The opening scene involves nearly a hundred actors. None of them reappear beyond that scene. Too many critics describe the work as “liminal.” I do not think they are inaccurate. Nor accurate. I just am tired of hearing it.


The moment when the audience separates itself from the performance at the abrupt eruption of polite applause. I patiently wait for it. Once an audience member walked up to me after play, said nothing, then came closer to me. That was when he said something I had never heard before. Never needed to hear before. “Who,” I said, “do you think you are?” What I said to him was not far off from what he said to me.


A play with the audience’s backs turned to the performance. They must watch it through small vanity mirrors.


A dream of a blue veil hovering in a black void. Floating, curling, before abruptly dropping out of view. I wake up and sift through my diaries and try to uncover what the blue veil means. I find an entry, over a decade old, where I recover a childhood memory of my mother painting the blue walls in my bedroom white. The paint did not sufficiently cover the blue and only lightened it. What once made me feel as if I were underwater now made it seem as if I were perpetually suspended in the sky. At night, I felt as if I were imprisoned in a dream of morning. I do not think this has a thing to do with the blue veil, and consider that the blue veil has no relation to anything in my life. Which is maybe what makes it more meaningful than anything else. I do not investigate what the black void means. I do not think it means what it seems to mean. It means what it wants to mean. I do not know what all of that means.


The work is about an argument that makes distances mean. The memory of our mothers waiting in the cold during the apogee of a blizzard for no reason we can discern. The location of ourselves when we are just beginning to depart our easiest selves. The difference in inches between our height now and our father’s height when he was just a child. The moon.


Much is made of the abstract painting hung up in the living room during the final act of a play. I do not have the bravery to say this was an accidental addition that a stagehand’s daughter produced and hung up there at the last minute without my consent. I could not get mad. It was her birthday and she was in the audience. When I asked her how old she was, she shook her head.


I had a nightmare a few nights ago. When I recounted it to a friend today, I realized it was not a nightmare at all. It was just an ordinary dream.


She says she cannot live without me. I tell her I feel the same but she misunderstands. I meant to say I cannot live without myself. What was meant as a joke to diffuse the seriousness of the moment made the moment more serious than I could tolerate. She is a perfect emptiness for two more months until she reveals a sliver of who she is one night. She shows me photographs of herself barely dressed, when she was much younger, and insists that we make love on top of them. I realize later she gave me a sliver of what she can be rather than what she was. Her brother often locked her in a closet, and she stayed there. She wanted someone to find her.


She often walks in and out of the room so quickly I am unsure if she was ever in the room. This uncertainty builds until I am sure she is in the room even when I do not see her in it. It continues to build until I am sure she is not in the room when she is in it. I ask her to make a little noise. She tells me I am so motionless when she walks in and out of the room, she is both sure and unsure of the same things too. I respond by telling her about a sighting of an enormous bucket, as large as a mountain, appearing briefly in an open field deep in a largely unpopulated region of the countryside. A farmer claimed it was an enormous replica of one commonly found in local hardware stores, and that, although it appeared empty, it did appear as if it was once full and had recently been emptied out. The bucket was seen again, years later, streaking across the sky over a city like an impatient cloud. What was terrifying, I try to explain to her, was not the bucket’s size or recontextualization, but how soundless each sighting was. Even the sound of the handle’s dull ring against the bucket would have alleviated the fear. The next day she walks into the room sarcastically applauding.


The distance between myself and the previous version of myself I most admired is greater than the distance between myself and other people.


Whatever the “it” is, it is here. Yet the more we recognize this, the more it seems elsewhere. It is sometimes over there but it does not seem, in those moments, capable of ever being here. I am here but I do not think it is here with me. It is but I do not know for sure.


I walk into the empty theatre and take a bow. My back is turned away from the seats. The seats are empty. For a while. Until I walk down and sit in one.


A knock on my door. When I open it, a body slumps down at my feet. It is my mother. She walked from the nursing home to my house. Over twenty miles away. An empty basket is hanging around her neck. She is taken to the hospital where a doctor shows me an image of her skeleton. Our faces weakly lit as if we were outside at night facing the moon. To see the skeleton of one’s mother is an innovative way to be re-acquainted with the idea of having a mother. He points to a screw in a small bone in her leg and squints at me. Long after nothing of my mother remains in the ground, there will still be a single screw in the soil. It will outlast me and anyone else I know. I sit by her bed and know she does not know who I am. I say things to her that would make it even harder to recognize who I am. “What,” I say, “are you doing?” I know they are good things to say to her because they are things I say to myself that I cannot easily answer.


I washed away my expertise in broken things and finally saw each thing for what it once was. Rather than what it is. I cannot care what it will be.


The dress in her closet increasingly looks like a torn portion of a much larger dress. She stands in front of the painting covered in glass reflecting the two of us. The painting is merely a line of text. She looks at it and says, “The text is cutting me at my throat.”


She leaves me but not before leaving behind a letter. “You function better when you are alone,” she writes in sentences that collide then burrow below the lines on the page, “I learned from you how to do this myself.” She had a way with words that made me think words were breaking ideas open rather than opening them up. She has a child who hates her. I would very much like to know him without ever having to meet him.


A sighting of a rambling head growing out of a branch of an apple tree. Reciting what sounded like transcripts of news radio broadcasts. I admire how all witnesses ruminate on the content of these news radio broadcasts but never on the features of the head.


A play about a couple in a tense domestic situation. For no apparent reason a man walks onto the stage, unacknowledged, and rearranges furniture. If I had to say what this means, I would say it does not mean a thing. It only means to distract you from the lines I am least proud of.


Our privileged flaws. They are who we are when we are not ourselves. They are all we see.


I have lunch with an actor who ends up being an imposter. I meet with the actor a week later. I prefer the imposter. Not for my play, but as a friend.


A “painting” at the top of a platform nearly two hundred feet high. A staircase leading up to it. It is a hole in the platform with a framed piece of glass. One looks down through it, down at it, then, later, when one descends down the stairs, one looks up at it. It is one of my favorites. Because I do not know any other work of art that can make one experience it in that particular order. If I were to pick another painting that comes close, it would be the painting that was hung up in the kitchen of my childhood home. A simple still-life of fruit and a recently blown-out candle. The smoke curls up past the top edge of the painting. When I would ask my mother who painted it, she would say my father did. When I would ask my father who painted it, he would say my mother did. I believe them both.


The last time I sobbed, I was headed anywhere away from home. The last time I was home, I was trying to get away from someone sobbing. I am the only person in these scenes.


I am better.


A play about the pointless endurance of man. In the opening scene, a man’s portrait is being painted. Well, let us just make that the entire play. At least then I will know how it ends.


A play with no actors in it. Only audience members who read the unrehearsed lines from sheets of paper. I am the only person in the room who knows the truth. That I never understood my plays enough to call them my own. A critic attends the play and becomes a part of the performance. He does not write a thing.


The work is washing up on a shore. Fully formed, bright, and too stubborn to transform. I walk up to it and it only wants to affix my name to itself. I give it my name. The problem is, I do not feel like my name was affixed to me very well. I do not know what I am giving it, I do not know what I have.


I am measuring the distance between two objects. To see if a third object can fit between them without touching the other two objects. Suddenly, a knock on my door that sounds like the faint memory of a real knock. I walk up to the door that looks like the faint memory of a real door. When I open it, my mother is standing there.


A stage so small barely one person can fit on it.


From Epiphany: Fall/Winter 2018. Used with permission of Epiphany. Copyright © 2018 by Christopher Kang.

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