TRIGGER HAPPY BY KAYLA BACKER 34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 46
He is sitting crisscross-applesauce on the floor beside my bed, eyes wide and innocent and the gun that he is pointing at my head.
“Matthew, where did you get that?” I know that he found it between my mattress and the bed frame. “Matthew, put it down. It’s not a toy.”
His grip tightens around the gun until his knuckles turn white, and he laughs so I feel it all the way down in my bones.
“Matthew, put the goddamn gun down.”
He pulls the trigger. There’s a dull thud in my chest and I can’t breathe.
“I want to be just like you, Eric.”
I blink, and faded black ink stretches across his forehead in elaborate lettering that spells KOREAN KILLERS.
He pulls the trigger again and there’s another thud just below my throat.
“Eric, I want to be like you.” Another shot. “I want to be a part of your family.” Shot. “I want to be like you.” Shot. “Why don’t you love me?”
I am Korean-American but I have never stepped on soil that doesn’t belong to the United States of America. Both of my parents were born in South Korea. My Mom and my Dad immigrated to the States before they were teenagers and yet they spent a good chunk of their lives immersed in the Korean culture and society in Los Angeles, California.
Something that you must understand about Korean culture is that it is very different from almost any other culture in the world. I say this because there are some elements in Korean society that you will not be able to truly comprehend unless you have been a part of it. Now, while I have not genuinely been a part of Korean society, I still have had experience with the finer details of its dynamic.
The appeal of gang life to young Korean boys is rooted in the fact that their immigrant parents are oftentimes focused more on providing for the physical needs of the family than the emotional needs. The children may have all that is expected for a “happy” life and yet they grow up feeling neglected or abandoned by parents who are too busy with a job to give the necessary attention to their kids. This cultivates an attitude of insecurity within the children that can push them to seek out other means of affection—street gangs included.
On another note, I was largely inspired to write this story because I wanted to put myself in the point of view of a character that I would normally never sympathize with. I wanted to write a story that, in both its entirety and its creation, would teach me to widen my worldview beyond my own ideas of morality and right and wrong. Every abuser has at some point been a victim, which does not excuse their abuse of others but helps outsiders to see the humanity in both the abuser and themselves. I wanted my story to be a constant reminder to myself to always check my own heart before judging the hearts of others. What better way to do that than to force myself to step into the shoes of someone I’d usually hate?
I began to turn towards writing literary science fiction because it provided me with a framework for considering those almost ungraspable questions. I began with a novel entitled Janet Planet, which was an attempt to rewrite the life of Carlos Castaneda, the once-famous American “shaman”, a fraud whose writings nevertheless continue to captivate those interested in spiritual teachings. I then went on to write Radiomen (The Permanent Press, 2015) and, most recently, The Stargazer’s Embassy (Mayapple Press, 2017) both explorations of how little both humans—and, perhaps even more importantly, aliens—if they are indeed visiting us—know about God and death.
So, as I keep moving towards that edge—the far horizon—the question remains whether I, or any of us, especially as we get older (I’m 65 now), are still strong enough to make it there and courageous enough to step over. Both my fiction and my poetry, now, are always trying to approach that far horizon and guess at what might be waiting to greet us when we get there. Maybe nothing. Maybe no-one. Maybe something worth having stumbled and struggled through life and all its suffering for. (And for a writer, maybe worth all the years of rejections, all the blank pages that defeated you, and all the mornings you woke up and decided to keep working because the private dialogue with yourself that has been going on since childhood drives you to write what you think about and sometimes nothing else matters and nothing else ever will.)
But wherever it is we human beings are going, we have no choice but to keep moving on, and so we do. One step after another, still hoping for happiness. Still hoping for meaning. Still believing we’ll find it somewhere along the way.
I write between wake and dreams, I write of the past and of what is yet to be. I pull from someone’s pain and siphon from my heart. I’m a broken romantic, hopeless writer of happenings, events, confessions perhaps.
Over the years I’ve been deeply moved and inspired by Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath, Allan Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Jayne Anne Phillips, Mary Karr, Denis Johnson, to name a few. In their raw honesty and bare bones I completely connect and I have been inspired over and over again to continue to seek out my voice. Over the years I’ve documented lives growing up poor, witnessing drugs, prostitution, overdoses, and death, stories of lives that fell apart in front of me or with me.
I studied Creative Writing and Philosophy at NYU’s Gallatin School. I became a successful businesswoman, wife, and mother of two beautiful children. I’ve been published in Mud Fish, Nocturnal Lyric, The Café Review and The New York Quarterly, 34thParallel, Anti-Heroin Chic, Vending Machine, The Opiate, Quail Bell Magazine, Public Pool, and Beautiful Losers.
I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. I like words. I like the way they can tell a story. Or tear one apart.
This poem comes from a news report about death penalty cases in which, I noticed, even numbers kept popping up. Everyone and everything seemed to be in multiples of two. So I played with the notion of getting even and with the fact that the story was so much about numbers. The victims were numbers. The inmates were numbers. It was dehumanizing.
My poems have been published in Feminine Collective, Post Road, Lake Effect, Stone River Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems (Negative Capability Press), Flycatcher, Diagram, Quill’s Edge Press, River Styx, Atlanta Review, New Millennium Writings, The Inflectionist Review, and North Atlantic Review.
ANNETTA DEXTER SAWYER
I really did leave my home & family in Italy—headed out for my American Dream—with my guitar, portable typewriter (in those days) & red suitcase set in tow! By the time I wrote this piece I was teaching Fine Arts at Trinity College in DC (now Trinity Washington University where I still teach) when our NAACP Chapter invited me to read some of my poetry. This is what I chose. That experience gave me courage to do my first open mike at the original Bus Boys & Poets Slam!
My work in theatre, dance, visual art, or writing seems to echo some existential observation of myself & my place in this world sometimes connected, oftentimes seeing from the inside out or even the outside in—howling for our humanity.
I wrote my first story in kindergarten when I was five. My teacher loved it so much, she had the “novel” bound in cereal-box cardboard with a jacket of vintage floral wallpaper and made me read it to the first-grade class. I was terrified, and hooked.
Ever since then, I’ve been writing. I attempted a number of college majors and a variety of jobs. I was satisfied with none of the majors and failed at nearly all the jobs. Through it all I wrote stories and essays (and notes and lists and phrases and—) until I finally stumbled upon freelance and technical writing.
I began working full time during the day and freelancing as a writer/editor/trainer, and amassed enough college credits to graduate with my BA in liberal arts, English psychology minors.
In hindsight, I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that writing was what I wanted to do, especially since I was doing it all the time anyway. Perhaps it’s because as I was growing up, my family seemed convinced that a writer was damned to the “starving artist” lifestyle. Or perhaps it was because writing was so close to me, such a part of me, that by proximity I just couldn’t see it.
Anyway, I became recommitted to my purpose as a writer and enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Southern Maine, Stonecoast. I’ve had two short stories published in the UMA Scholar and am hard at work on my first novel and several more short stories and articles. I’m a member of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
LISA MARIE PEREZ
As a Cuban-American, I find myself constantly gravitating towards Cuban poetry. The inspiration for Dominoes came from spendingSaturdaynights at myAbuelo’shouse. The dominoes would come out andAbuelawould be making espresso. It was an honor for me to deliver un cafecitoto such intense-looking men. They reminded me of cavemen no longer concerned about everything they left behind in Cuba, but instead focusing all their attention on winning at dominoes. A couple of years ago, when I won a domino tournament, everyone knew me as “Enrique’s granddaughter”. They warned everyone I was a force to be reckoned with, all because of him. I felt the only way I could share such a special time with my Abuelo was to write a poem about it.