This selection is from Jennifer S. Cheng’s chapbook, “Invocation: An Essay,” pp. 4-7
When I speak, bitter molasses drips from my tongue into still water basins.
A sound in water wants to find the surface, but depths of water fill and push down. It happened one day that the body tried to open its wings and found it could not make a noise.
The speech act runs parallel to the act of assertion, of proof. She aligns her feet under the table. Self-portrait entitled How to Part the Seas so the Sun Shines On It. Before moving to Iowa, she was often called Loud Small Girl.
If it is true that the number of sentences coming out of my mouth is in direct relationship to my body in the world, then bones will become smaller, vacant. When I speak to the lady behind the counter or the person sitting next to me, I can never predict how my voice will sound: smooth, abrupt, flat, brittle, lingering. Now, it comes in tiny microscopic knots or large empty spaces, often then followed by Did you say something? or a continued conversation elsewhere around me. So that afterward in the darkness as I am riding home, I am looking out the window, thinking of octopi on the ocean floor and what they see at night.
Jennifer Cheng received her MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Iowa and her BA from Brown University. She is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship, a Kundiman Fellowship, the Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Award, and most recently the Mid-American Review Fineline Prize. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Web Conjunctions, the Collagist, Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, Quarterly West, Seneca Review, and Fifty-Fifty (an anthology of Hong Kong writing). She lives in San Francisco and can be found at jenniferscheng.com.
Meagan Cass is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois Springfield, where she teaches courses in creative writing, independent publishing, and composition, curates the Shelterbelt reading series, and advises the campus literary journal, the Alchemist Review. Her fiction has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Pinch, Hobart Web, PANK, and Puerto del Sol, among other journals. Magic Helicopter Press will publish her first fiction chapbook, Range of Motion, in January 2014. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana Lafayette and an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College.