Su Wu

Su Wu is a writer, poet, undocumented immigrant, and editor for n+1 — this year, she moved from Joshua Tree, CA to Mexico City.
website / instagram

01    Nature

Wild tortoises in this part of the desert eat flowers, but for the last few years there was drought and there was Juana, scratching at the door or letting herself in. The first time we met, I tore some kale and served it on the floor. But Juana must make the rounds of the neighborhood because when I made salad again the next week, she was, like, totally over kale. So we had watermelon instead, and then shared a bruised nectarine. He counted her rings and declared she is sixty.

Another time, we lobbed purple grapes to Juana, who lowered her whole head to follow each one, the orbs bursting with skin and juice onto her face. I started working on a poem after she walked back up the hill about what it must be like to heave your shell around for decades in the wrinkling sun until one day, surprise!, the discovery of grapes.

Which is all to say that this year there was rain and a super bloom of flowers, and not only on my social media feed but also in the wash and along the ridge, and Juana hasn’t come around. But maybe I’ll see her again before I’m gone.

02    Object (old)

I’m stubbornly opposed to kitchen objects that are marketed as single purpose— breadmakers and garlic presses and banana-shaped banana containers—which is not entirely sound logic, come to think of it, because everything is always also a pottery tool, I guess. Anyway, I figured I could survive for a while in an empty apartment with a cup and a blade and a spoon. I wrapped a towel around a speckled mug and an old Carl Aubock rattan-handled knife (the one that is probably a fake but has a thicker wrap than the one that is real, which I’ll leave here), and some silverware from the table setting Alma designed anonymously for Esprit in the 1990s. And the rest of my one suitcase, right up to the airline weight limit, was saved for what I do not want to be without, which turns out to be rocks.

03    Object (new)

For nearly a decade, I’ve lived in my childhood dream of a bohemian apartment, everything in piles and no closets in successive lofts and live/work studios, where the only door is to the bathroom. But the new place seems made of corners and crown moulding, and being able to close a door is an adult adjustment, not to take in everything I have with a swivel of my head.

04    Surprise

When did she become so beautiful, and so wise?

05    Encounter

I’m pregnant, my best friend said into the phone without hello, and I yelled, holy fuck, on the street in another country. Some guy turned, rushed over and asked, are you okay?, and it was a new kind of joy for me, a whole joy running headlong into kindness, and I said, I’m okay, and really, more than ever this month, I was.

06    Night Out

The ocean is sparkling, he said from the lookout tower, but it was late and he is sometimes tricking me out of bed to look at the sky through binoculars. We walked down to the shore, and there was a bit, just a hint, of that phytoplankton that emits luminescence on contact. It glowed blue where the waves wedged one another or where bare feet meets wet sand, and I am embarrassed to recount this—the utter loss of critical faculties, the platitude of finding a beautiful thing beautiful, the unearned profundity—but it’s possible I danced on the water line until the moon rose, each step salt-streaked and tracing light.

07    Day Out

I think I need to develop a better working theory of the distinction between in and out that does not depend on the territorial, or perhaps a matter of mannerisms. What is it I am meant to be taking a vacation from? What is it I am meant to be getting out from under?

08    Time Alone

This past month I started to feel strangely as though the parameters of self were expanding, which is disconcerting if you’ve made a lifetime of being as alone as you feel.

Some of that is moving from the edge of a national park to the middle of a foreign city: from not seeing anyone to not understanding anyone, from a incomplete metaphor of blindness to one of deafness. Not speaking the language made me feel helpless but not isolated, which is a good way to exercise empathy, to receive it constantly. I found myself listening carefully and in desperation, weighing every enunciation and gradation of meaning. And I don’t mean to sound anthropological but there’s a whole material semiotics I don’t get, either. Maybe all immigrants have a softness for cliches, that to recognize one means to really be down, and it made me inordinately happy to realize, spending way too long at the market selecting a single piece of fruit, that I haven’t learned yet the small stereotypes of perceptions, whether I should be embarrassed or how else I’m supposed to be.

09    Time With A Friend

She took my pulse and then stuck my body with acupuncture needles before going to brush her teeth. We had not slept side-by-side for nearly two decades, but once the needles were out we slid into bed and it was so easy; we had long ago grooved our sides. And then she reached over and held my hand, and I was my teenage self again. Only now I could see distances and what it means to want to say smart things so someone might love you and how that doesn’t always turn out like this, how I lucked into this person, and I did not wake until morning.

010    Movie / TV / Book

I’m getting to know Mexico City by bookstores, by the guidance of whatever poetry is in translation in dusty stacks of used books. Which means, for now, that I am practicing Spanish through Keats and Blake (oddly finding lots of used Blake) and hopefully honing a high romantic parlance full of “tigers of wrath” and “countenances divine” and less about the practicalities of asking for directions, unless those directions are to “vales of dead maidens” or something.

I also found a sweet little bilingual edition of poems by Michael Hulse, whose work I did not know before, and about six pages in discovered that not all the edges of the book were sliced open, but luckily I had packed one knife (see object, old), and read on about Hulse’s father in a field in England, insisting that chives never die. If they were here centuries ago they will be here now, he says before they find some, and this leads to a reverie on the accommodations of exile. I was eating a dish I never have in my life ever ordered before, of all things a teriyaki chicken bowl, reading of a long-ago Iberian legionnaire que sembraron hierbas del hogar lejos del hogar —who planted herbs of home away from home.

011    Creative Act

I’ve been worrying over an idea for a few weeks now, trying to write through an unexamined belief, about whether the things we make actually benefit from the narratives and visuals we pad around them, or if it’s all, in the end, just branding. I don’t mean so much an artistic judgment, like whether the effort is done poorly or well, but an aesthetic judgment, a personal one that rings true, about what it is for and how it fits into a meaningful existence, and what creative acts we keep for ourselves that are not also, sometimes, a conveyance for sale.

To everyone whom I cornered into conversation this month, and especially as I got more high: I did not mean to accuse you of knowing. I just wanted to say I know: about how this will come back to you a thousand-fold in kindnesses and how get-going finds nurturing here, because that’s how it’s been for me. But I know too that some creative projects become their own distance; how far from any brief freedom from the constant demands of wanting and not enough. And maybe if I am brave enough to sit with my insecurities and think hard about the privileges of earning, too, I’ll get closer to a working theory of whether it matters where we bend our ambitions, and look wide-eyed at what has opened and what has been given up.

 

< back to the lists

 
Mexico City

Mexico City

 
John Ruskin, 1875; Marco Tirelli, 2006

John Ruskin, 1875; Marco Tirelli, 2006

packing

packing

Lola Alvarez Bravo, 1949

Lola Alvarez Bravo, 1949

Unknown source

Unknown source

Victor Hugo, “La Planete (Saturn)”, 1872

Victor Hugo, “La Planete (Saturn)”, 1872

Near Rio Grande

Near Rio Grande

Oaxaca

Oaxaca

J.M.W. Turner, 1824

J.M.W. Turner, 1824

David Horvitz

David Horvitz

Maggie O’Sullivan

Maggie O’Sullivan