READ LOCAL FIRST is your glimpse into the working minds and hearts of Utah’s literary writers. 15 Bytes regularly offers works-in-progress and/or recently published work by some of the state’s most celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction and memoir.
Today, we feature Salt Lake City-based Michael Mejia and an excerpt from his forthcoming book TOKYO. In an interview with The Collagist Mejia explains that TOKYO (Fiction Collective 2) is a nonfiction-fiction hybrid (more the latter than the former) in which he travels to Tokyo, to visit Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world, and other places that appear in the first two of three novellas that make up the book. His experience there becomes an “opportunity to reflect on lingering questions about authenticity and appropriation, about the very different aesthetics of the first two novellas, and about my long-term preoccupation with Japan.”
So grab your favorite cup of joe and enjoy the work of Michael Mejia!
Excerpt from TOKYO
by Michael Mejia
A slit in the body—passage for the experienced hand—her father’s hand—
Are they male or female—these fish—bellies sliced open—gills cut out with a short sword—on the deck of whatever ship landed them—in whatever sea—harvested—fins and tails sliced away—sometimes also heads—
Bodies sheathed in frost—mist curling around them—arranged orderly across the auction floor—these tuna—
Buyers huddle with auctioneers—her father explains—inquiring about each one’s provenance—asking for a little more—a hint—a tip—any signs of trouble—
Reaching into that wound—that unctuous slit—to touch the fat—examining the surface for flaws—signs of a damaging struggle—hints of the internal burn that turns the thick flesh soft—watery—white—excavating the tail end with his hand tool—his single-clawed tekagi—
He extracts a chunk of flesh—rolls it between thumb and forefinger—performing for her—shines his flashlight on her face to make her smile—then on the meat—pops the scrap in his mouth—makes some notes about color—oil—translucence—
The girl—ten—maybe eleven—wearing galoshes like everyone else—standing in the wet—scuffing through blood—pink galoshes—free from school because it’s Friday—the day before Children’s Day—
Because he wants her to see this—or she wants to see this—or they have no choice—no other option—because school is out—and her mother is—where?
At work—home—away—gone—gone back to America—lost—just another body—
They wanted her—the girl—to see—to show her these bodies—to show her what takes her father away while she’s sleeping—the source—or one source—of their food—of her home—her comfort—of all that she knows—all they share as a family—all her life—for as long as she remembers—since before she was born—the watery—the bloody—
Could she know this?—the moment of her beginning?
To imagine home as a body—this maimed, half-frozen body on the floor—at her feet—to equate them—for the first time—this is that—
The dirty—the sordid—this world of buying and selling—this is home, she thinks—this fish—this body—this is my jacket—this fish—my galoshes—doll—bed—book—this is me—us—
Around noon is when it gives him back—this world—when it relinquishes him—back into light—into air—his bedtime the same as hers—even earlier—for now—for a few more years, he says—before you’re up all night with me—with a tutor—cramming—
She doesn’t want to think about it—
To imagine herself inside—at home in there—this fish—as it had been—at the beginning—
Is it male or female—this slit-open body?
Working her way out—into air—burrowing—oh—eating her way through the soft flesh—its translucence—otoro—otoro—the snap of its skin—opening its scaled surface for her—from the inside—
To imagine herself in another—as she was in Mother—the watery world—the bloody—
Little fish, they say they called her—before she was born—
Did he see her—see her coming—naked—face almost entirely covered with blood?
Or was he here—at Tsukiji—one hand inside—
Can she—could she remember it—if she tried?—that memory of being born—stored somewhere in her—in her flesh—a little fish—
Now here in pink galoshes—standing again in water and blood—
What her father knows about them—these bodies—how he sees them—as potential and defect—kilos of valuable flesh—translucent—the thing that precedes food—the perfect fish—the perfect shape—the perfect—flashing through his head—information in flesh—his strange power—strange sight—
And how he looks at her sometimes—little fish—
But also taste and texture—that fish in him—that flesh—in every part—is him—and her, too—this is that—that flesh is mine—that translucence—the underneath—
This room will be empty, he says—every body sold in seconds—gone—wheeled away—then back again tomorrow—but new—the same but different—kilos and kilos of flesh—
Still his little fish—for a while longer—for a few more years—until she loses her tail, he says—becomes fully herself—a young woman—ippanjin—an ordinary person—an outsider—like any other visitor—gaijin, he calls that woman—gaikokujin—not his but another man’s—not Tsukiji’s—not anymore—
She doesn’t want to think about it—
Handbells ringing—the auctioneers step onto their footstools chanting what’ll you pay what’ll you pay—each in his own manner—the buyers—her father—making laconic gestures—the same every day—index finger and thumb—claw—fist—wagging hand—
The winning bid written right on the tuna’s skin—in black ink—as if on mulberry paper—
More than ten years ago Sadohara saw that girl—
Back in early Heisei—the day before Children’s Day—the first time—he’s sure—that he saw himself in another—as another—not dressed in her skin—as if it were a costume—but in the very flesh—a young woman emerging unsteadily—
This is that—
And then catching his father’s dark eye—Serizawa Sensei watching him watching the girl—as if making the same calculations—connecting the same points with the same lines—as if completing some complex equation in his head—
Michael Mejia is the author of the novels TOKYO (forthcoming 2018) and Forgetfulness (both published by Fiction Collective 2), and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including AGNI, DIAGRAM, Notre Dame Review, Angels of the Americlypse, and My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. He has received a Literature Fellowship in Prose from the NEA and a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. Editor-in-Chief of Western Humanities Review and co-founding editor of Ninebark Press, he teaches creative writing at the University of Utah. You can read a second interview of Mejia here.