When I realized I could be a victim of an active shooter, I asked my partner to accompany me when walking the dog. Even though the dark was not the darkest yet, I wanted comfort, protection, safety in numbers—an additional target. When I trusted my body more, I often practiced sitting at the bottom of our pool. The body would fall a slow death, bouncing once at the bottom. The more I relinquished, the more bubbles banked the surface, the sound of dimes passing out on a table. Step one says, Prepare an exit just in case. I call my family. Say quickened I love you’s. Send the article I’ve just read so they can be ready as well. Nowadays I window shop for backdoors and onlookers, strays and the not normal. There’s no expected language between who’s held under and outside. A few bubbles escape, egg upwards, break glass: the sound of a fallen penny. I swirl my hands as if preparing to make racism disappear, a magic trick. I tell myself, There’s nothing sexy about extremities. I tell myself, These are my feet, not a fetish. My feet will run the math: how many seconds to the nearest exit, and what are the odds of being attacked here, mid-morning in the grocery store or at a subway? Step two recommends, Move off the kill zone as soon as it’s safely possible. Do I surgically remove myself from my country? Do I... a. never b. rarely c. sometimes or d. always...feel ashamed of my fear? Because I’d grown fluent in water’s language, I advanced to the dead man’s float. Stretching out my arms, I’d curl in my dread, allow little my legs to spread apart. Face down, I concave over lungs until my mother reacts. I bend in half, shoot my toes through my arms. Do you think it’s better to leave my skin behind? Beneath all that water, I have no choice but to push myself down in order to get up. “DON’T DO THAT! YOU SCARED ME!” She yells with the voice of all mothers. We tread in place, going nowhere. Will anyone recognize me, alive or dead? Who have I become except scared and ridiculed? As if there’s never enough surface tension to absorb all voices, I raise my head, become a target in sight. Knowing I should apologize, in advance, for scaring her to death.
Shareen K. Murayama
3 Questions for Shareen
What was your process for creating these pieces?
Part of the urgency spilled out from the #StopAsianHate movement and last month's Asian American/Pacific Islander #AAPI awareness of systemic racism and inequities. Living in Hawai'i, water is the center of my upbringing: a safe and potentially dangerous place, so marrying my fears seemed a fresh place to unpack my survivalist need for information. Last, I've been haunted by Sarah Jane Cody's microflash, "We are Preparing to Die Everyday," which imagines the unimaginable world where adults have become proficient at active shooter drills in schools. The concept floors me and has me asking, "What are we doing to ourselves? Is this madness the best we can strive for?"
The photo was taken during my first trip to Tokyo at a digital tech museum in Toyosu in 2019. A lucky shot, out of 40 or so, while experimenting with aperture and shutter speed.
What is the significance of the form/genre/medium you chose for these pieces?
I've been experimenting with the cnf or more prose-y pieces with juxtaposition as vertical leaps. When I'm reading fiction, I love getting lost in the linear, but when I'm writing with the intention to connect with others, I try to imagine myself on the other side of the screen. Is this interesting or compelling enough to hold my very, very, very short attention span? Maybe that's where poetry kicks in, trying to make every word count.
What is the significance of this work to you?
I think this piece is tragic and honest about the fears of living in one's country, unfairly targeted because of one's age, color, or religious beliefs. Ultimately, I'm a humanist wishing everyone to have access to move about freely and joyfully, but I'm also a realist and understand the unearned privileges of being educated and self-identifying with one of the major ethnic groups in my state, so I appreciate the platform to air out my fears, and perhaps, maybe, others can relate and not feel so isolated, insulated by their fears.
Shareen K. Murayama is a Japanese American, Okinawan American poet and educator. She’s a 2021 Best Microfiction winner as well as a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal. Her art is published or forthcoming in Pilgrimage Press, 433, MORIA, SWWIM Every Day, Juked, BambooRidge, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. You can find her on IG & Twitter @ambusypoeming.