Rigorous
Volume Five, Issue 1



Celestine Woo


Dog Days and California Dreaming

It was time to exit the doghouse for dinner.
Rachelle was hunched by the door,
so she simply rolled out
like the dormouse in Wonderland.
Nancy and I together heaved the hinged roof, climbing
our eight-year-old bodies out
of the Snoopy-like structure, crafted of pine remnants
by her carpenter father.

Pandy, the fat black poodle mix, wagged
his piggy tail and bounded back into his
palatial digs. The turtle needed his dinner too,
so Nancy’s brother Mark fanned some lettuce onto the patio.

Mrs. Brandt had made another mysterious scrumptious
American dish: she just called it “casserole.”
It was yellow, brown, and orange,
and the cheese and macaroni were beautifully
burnt and crisp in their Corningware bed.

I savored anything not cooked by Mom.
Anything with cheese—unknown in our home.
Dad inhaled it. Mom and Rachelle sniffed dubiously
and said polite things.

In school, Nancy and I were studying the election,
learning about political parties and debates
in this historic bicentennial year.

We ignored the adults talking politics
until Mrs. Brandt exclaimed disgustedly,
“Ah’m votin’ f’Cahtah!”
She pronounced “for Carter” like focaccia,
not that I had any clue back then what focaccia was.

I was shocked. My parents had taught me
Republicans were good, Democrats bad.
But I loved the Brandts for all the ways they
shocked us, with their food, humor, pets,
knick-knacks, and lackadaisical
white American ways.

Their cuckoo clock trilled the hour
and we girls didn’t even have to clean up.
We got to watch “Gilligan’s Island,”
make forts from bedsheets, stay overnight!

Three decades later, the aftermath of divorce
drove me back to Santa Barbara,
sifting through old stories.
Their olive-green bungalow still beckoned,
Mr. Brandt’s faded green pickup still reposed
on the shady concrete, and that brown dusty nameless turtle
was still crawling in slothlike peace.

Five decades later, I still have their address
and even phone number emblazoned on the Rolodex
of memory. Our first whole-family friends who weren’t
Chinese Baptists with a Hong Kong connection.
(They were Lutheran.) My first glimpse
of a happy, loving family.

My own American Dream
--adopted like both Mark and Nancy--
was hatched on North Kellogg Avenue,
under bottlebrush and sycamores.




Unbarred

Sprung floors repopulate as we rediscover
the studio, safety, communal rhythm.

We reactivate our ten-class cards, reopen
lockers, retread balletic boards in static hold.
They creak to our jetés, sliced slick once more with sweat.

Language of muscle and movement
retongues our relevés              we prance         and        piqué                  downstage left
rays of energy connecting elbow to opposite knee                      collarbone paralleling toes
we chainé in canon                   post-pandemic explosion                         awhirl in unison

A year of dancing in our living rooms now catapults
us toward connection. Ballroom dance enrollment rockets.
Amateur dance companies light up audition boards – fireflies winking out of the dark.
Everyone discovers contact improvisation, pas de deux morphs
to pas de dix -- we circle up into horas at any opportunity.
Site-specific choreography even becomes cliché.

You ricochet off my hip
             I tumble and somersault

she races, arms trailing like wings
he captures her cartwheel, flips her on his shoulder

                          she jacknifes her hips, the two monkey-roll
                                       into our wavy caterpillar. We shoulder-roll into

                                       half-splits, pull each other up
                                                    stag leaps and starfish
             fall-and-recover
                                                                              suspend and release
                                                    sternum and heart open
                                                                 turned out

                                                                              the reopened world
                                                                                                        tracing our contacts
                                                                                                                     appreciatively.




Zuihitsu: Ferment

The only reason people claim to like cold pizza is memory. Conviviality congealed.

Mozzarella lies like pancake makeup, flat and matte, dead heavy, not pore-ous. Tiny zits of oil on the pepperoni. Shriveled pepper snakes, flaccid slugs, too tired to slither alongside the translucent onions of lost redolence.

O to be a preacher of pickles, complexion smooth and rich and rosy like a pale apple. Rich lips and rosy tan, strapping and stocky. His eyes alight as he perorates on the virtues of sauerkraut juice. At home among his barrels, vending pickle-yune wares.

He has the face of Mehmet, the Turkish trickster. Cousin of Tyl Uilenspiegel, the German trickster. Who is more likely to love pickles.

We give each other sicknames. My cute little moldy cheeseball. My baby slime.

The Californian mentality of everything being a joke until it’s time to get reflective and profound.

Cantonese has more words for suffering than English: Tsaam. Yum goong. Sun fu. Ngai duk.
Our Chinese church on Hazard Avenue, behind the Orange Curtain. Our potluck kitchen: vats of dumplings and the purring sounds of their bubbling. Noodles interwoven with celery, carrots, pork slivers, bamboo shoots, green onions, glistening with sesame oil and soy--a rainbow of Mandarin, Toisan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and at its end, a bucket of fried chicken from Churchs Chicken, no pun intended and no apostrophe.

Matzo balls and mozza balls. Pesach caprese. Peace capricious.




Disagreeable Things from my Yee Sook
A zuihitsu for my late uncle.

PDA.
The ungrammatical.
Late-night events. Any of them. Late-night being defined as after 9 pm.
Weddings in boring locales.
Democrats who are ignorant of history.
Orange cars.
Dark business suits.
Personal questions from straight people.
Anti-Chinese test bias.
Rock music.
My brother.
Assumptions that all blacks are poor.
Leftist rioters.
Musicals.
Simplified Chinese characters.
The concrete jungle.
Crowds.
Enjambment.
Christian praise songs from the 1970s.
MSG.



Celestine Woo: "I am an English professor at Bard High School Early College - Newark, and a modern dancer. I have published a chapbook, and last year, a full-length poetry collection called Frost Fair Dance (Clare Songbirds Publishing)."




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