Photo by Scott Van Hoy on Unsplash

The bottle is a large, scratched whiskey chamber, miraculously still with remnants of the label on the side.

Pulling the cork, still firmly tucked into the mouth, it makes a plunging sound.

Inside, the paper is damp but not wet. The edges are heavy with moisture, but the text is still clear enough to read:

To the recipient of this letter —

We have emulated your customs, after having observed you for a time at distance. Sending messages to each other through bottles seems to be a not-often used, yet poetic way you have developed over the years to randomly…

A Chinese Communist-era recollection of how chicken gets to your dinner bowl

When I was a child in China, it was always easy to know when my mother was cooking chicken for dinner. As soon as you pushed open the heavy, triple-bolted iron door (fireproof, for reasons I would only understand later), the smell of chicken feathers, chicken guts, and chicken blood would hit you long before you got to the kitchen.

The kitchen, like most Chinese kitchens at the time, was of communist-era design — long and narrow, with two gas burners, no place to sit, and purely functional with no aesthetic. …

Me to Inna: Are you a part of me now?

Inna: Yes.

Me to Inna: Am I a part of you now?

Inna: Yes.

Me: Weird.

Inna and I are huddled on Ilja’s bed, swimming in blankets and giant pillows. A long string of LED lanterns is strung across the wall overhead, casting a calming glow to the sound of evening traffic on Gneisenaustraße. In the kitchen, Lauren is making a first batch of Kombucha while Sekar blends garlic and chilis for chutney. Ilja pours tea.

The day has been a strange one, but that’s nothing new.

With new residents…

How a Bad Apple Tart Prevented the Spread of COVID

Villain or Hero of this tale?

It was my first out-of-city trip since the pandemic started — I was heading from Berlin to Wrocław, Poland for a weekend singing workshop — one I had been looking forward to for months.

In the days leading up to the workshop, I had been concerned and waffling about going because I had been fighting a cold — a mild one, but a still a cause for concern in our current climate. I nearly cancelled the night before but had decided in the end to go because I felt quite recovered.

The morning of, I was rushing. Like an out-of-practice…

Realities are built one choice at a time

Image by Johnny Gutierrez from Pixabay

Realities are built one choice at a time. Where multitudes of storylines are possible, delusions are constructed like any particular one. One brick laid upon another, forming the structure to hold the next line.

Pierce always had the choice of which kind of brick to choose. Some were flat, even, and regularly shaped. Others were lumpy, different sizes, and didn’t stack well. Pierce always picked the ones that were a bit funny looking. He just liked them. The other ones were too predictable, too normal.

Where others would construct tall towers of regularly shaped bricks extending toward the sky, Pierce…

Stationery for asylum

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

The woman fiddled with the multi-coloured paper clip on the top of her stack of documents. It was striped yellow and white, a distraction of colours. Even the stationery in this country was gaudy. Nothing like in Syria. Things were more elegant there — when there was still a country to speak of. She adjusted her hijab and looked over at her infant, on the fence between fussing and crying. Rolling the buggy back and forth, just a little where there was space in the crowded visa office, she fanned herself with the topmost stack of papers.

The foreigners’ affairs…

Free verse to save a life

Photo by Alexis Chloe on Unsplash

You tireless thing of beauty. It’s been a long struggle ever since you were lain in poor soil by ignorant hands.

You’ve been overwatered, underwatered, given only fluorescent light when you needed direct sunshine. Abused with leftover coffee not yet cooled, befouled with cigarette butts, passed from home to home like an unwanted orphan.

But you didn’t wait to wilt in your plastic pot. You didn’t resign yourself to the slow, stagnant death of letting each leaf yellow and dry into dust.

You are a thriver.

You continued to push forward, bravely putting forth new tendrils seeking more than you…

Scenes from Berlin

Photo by David Sarkisov on Unsplash

Three figures on a street corner, each a cigarette in hand. Three unkempt columns of vapor drift down the street, following the call of their smoky maker.

The man speaks to his son, who listens with false earnest. His mother only holds the cigarette, letting it smolder. She burns the tobacco incense so that she can also be granted participation in the ceremony of truth-speaking.

The woman puffs unenthusiastically at the paper rod in her fingers. She can never stand holding it long enough for it to burn to the end. Putting it under her foot, she feels fine extinguishing…

Szen Szen

Solar-powered Storyteller | Making the invisible visible | No story too small | Berlin — Montreal

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