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Welcome, David E. Yee!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you David E. Yee, whose short story collection Mongolian Horse is due out next summer.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 

 

The Author

David E. Yee is an Asian American writer whose work has appeared in American Short FictionAGNI Online, Seneca ReviewGulf Coast Online, and elsewhere. In 2017, he won the New Ohio Review Fiction Contest, judged by Colm Tóibín, as well as the Press 53 Flash Contest judged by Jeffrey Condran. He’s a bartender in Columbus, Ohio. 

 

 

 

On Writing Mongolian Horse

I wrote the stories in Mongolian Horse as I settled into a new city. In many ways, the memories that inspired the narratives in this book created a love letter to my home, filtered by the experiences which complicated my time there. When writing, I start with a character or a moment of truth and write one toward the other.

It’s been almost ten years since I started working on these pieces. They encapsulate an exploration of Asian American experience, of life in Maryland, of feelings of estrangement. I could probably write these stories forever.


Excerpt from “Heaven for Your Full Lungs”

 

When I surface, I fold my blazer over the edge of the tank, rip the left sleeve off my dress shirt, and use it to tie the mass of my hair behind my head. The shoulder of the linen had been torn in my fall, so I don’t mind ruining the garment, but I shouldn’t have forgotten my hair ties, not for a formal gig. This is after I’ve coughed the night-thick water from my stomach, that final heave like vomiting. Then I sink, forearms holding me to the lip of the glass walls that form a square around me, ten by ten, transparent but sturdy, like the bulletproof slabs bank tellers work behind. For a moment, I can recall the sensation of being in a pool early in the season, how you have to descend into the water for warmth. I blink my eyelashes dry, and by this time Benji has heaved out his minestrone in the tank adjacent to mine. I stand and say, “Tell me I’m pretty.” And he chuckles, “Tell me I’m fun.”

I climb free of my death and join the others doing the same. Balancing on the edge of the glass as I climb over it, I can see the other vessels—identical to mine except for their contents—stretching out and blurring together in the distance. Before I jump down into the narrow channel of white tile that forms a grid between the tanks, I remember those nights when, as a teenager, I’d sneak out over the backyard fence toward Jerome’s warehouse apartment. I’d learned to play the drums while he figured out his off-brand Telecaster. That memory is so far away now—a song I know half the words to.

I take Benji’s hand, gripping his armpit to help him over. He says, “Thanks, Thump,” as he brushes chunks of pasta and carrot from his tank top and boxers. He died in the Bolton Hill apartment he used to share with his cousin, had a coronary event while eating soup, fell face-first into it, paralyzed. He’ll always be forty-one. He said once, while he rubbed the thin spot on his scalp, “At least I shaved that day. Can you imagine, an eternity of stubble?” We go to my catty-corner neighbor, Roberta, and ease her over, the wet ends of her hair threading the wrinkles on her back. She’d slipped as she settled into the tub at her old folks’ home, has a jagged scar on her temple and a bruise in the shape of a rose on her lower back. Benji cleans himself in her tepid bathwater, lapping it over the glass and onto his limbs.

Usually, Benji and I walk together. Some days we split up. Occasionally, I stay in and list on my back in the water, dark as the sky I drowned under. My first waking, while I was thrashing around, Benji came to the edge of my tank. He said, “It’s okay. You’re okay now.” I must have looked like a swamp creature, the black coils of my hair cascading wet across my face. I was still calling for help. Benji asked where I’d been. My nostrils burned, my throat raw from the coughing. I’d been on a boat—no, a yacht—with strings of lights suspended between lattices on the bow. I remember looking up at them while I played, charmed by the way their yellow glow made the chrome on my drum kit shine, the stripes in the maple darkening in contrast. Jerome had just finished some banter with the audience, and we started “Beast of Burden.” It was Jerome’s idea—playing for a wedding band, earning steadier money—and I went along because I could barely make rent, and it beat waiting tables on the weekend.

After the set, I got too drunk and fell overboard. I don’t know how long I was treading water, shouting, “Wait!” until my throat ached. The chill of the sea wind caught me in the back of the mouth. Twenty feet off, the boat, swollen with light, bobbed with the current. I’d considered myself a capable swimmer, but after ten strokes, I knew I couldn’t match its pace. When I tried to float, panic made my breath unsteady. On the deck, the music had been so loud the cones in the speakers popped with the kick, but from the water, I couldn’t tell the tempo of the song, slurred by the distance. It was hard, wanting the hands of the world to catch me, to slow the ship, to pull my body from the Chesapeake and return it to the party. When the yacht was just a spec, a murmur on the horizon, I was alone with the water. As I kicked off my Oxfords to shed some weight, I knew there was nothing watching over me.

That first time, Benji listened to a less concise retelling, nodding as I described the feeling of slipping under, of reaching above my head and feeling only more of the Bay, the bitter taste of the murky water as it eased past my tongue. Then, the terror of surrender. He’d said, “Well it’s all over. I’m Benji.” Running my fingers over the surface, I was confused by the cube of the Chesapeake that encased me. I reached out to shake his hand, said, “My name is Theodore. Everybody calls me Thump.”

He’d been right—though I was soaked from my scalp to the soles of my feet, I felt calm, restful even. There are no burdens for the dead. Is there a need to fret about what you can’t remedy? Today, like that first day, we greet the people drowned around us in our—for lack of a better term—neighborhood. The language of life falls short here. There are no days. We talk and explore until we wake, again, in the liquid that carried us here. It happens in a moment. Trying to recall something specific, like the smell of your apartment, the tone of the air as cars whip past on the cross street, and when the memory falls away in a laugh at the end of an anecdote, or the eyes-closed exhale punctuating a private thought, there is a lapse, a lightheadedness—a release and submersion—then the sudden desire to breathe.