Tricolor in Monochrome: How to Bury a Body
This piece is a reflection on estrangement from one’s culture while being a person of mixed race.
For some fifteen years, I couldn’t find my pulse— with index and middle fingers pressed firmly against my wrist, I waited and waited and waited. For some fifteen years, I wished and wished and wished and often wondered if I was living at all. I wished for the drum of my kumu’s ipu heke to replace an unfound heartbeat. I wished for the perfect pronunciation of my French rs to be enough to resuscitate something long-dead inside me. But how long do you wait before burying the body?
Maybe I was meant to be a stillborn, static, nothing. And yet I live—only as proof of my mother’s assimilation while my tongue swirls in a colonizer’s tongue—only, the tongue of the wrong colonizer. In French it’s called une vide, but I have no words for this emptiness in Japanese, the language of my family, or Arabic, the mother of my misspelled last name. Kinuyo is my middle name, but so is Kaleilehuamakamae, and as the sacred syllables stumble out of mouths and fall, fall, fall upon deaf ears, I sift through their letters to find a girl and her culture drowned in the Pacific.
And now her reincarnation haunts me, stalks me, and as she scares me to sleep at night, she asks for her pulse back. I have no pulse to give. Yet I forge my futile search, folding rice into nori to silence the Indian girl who never learned to speak. My hands prune and shrivel and suffer as I drench them in the holy rice wine vinegar. I’m cleansed of my impurities as I learn to be less white. I slice the rolled nori, puncturing a skin other than my own to cut out the immiscible interlopers in my identity. How I wish for a surgeon’s precision as I preside over my genetic makeup. How I wish to segregate yellow from brown from white, how I wish to cut out all but one. But as I cut into the skin to carve out an identity, I bleed red nonetheless.
And I bleed and bleed and bleed until the worlds blur together, confused colors converging, misstepping over boundary lines that cease to exist. The color of my silk kimono spills from my skin onto my bedsheets, my curtains, my floor until I’ve lost the color of my skin in the sea of my body. Maybe the sporadic dripping of blood on the carpet is the pulse I’ve been searching for, maybe it’s the pounding in my head, maybe it’s the throb of my dying, dismembered body on the floor. No matter. Whatever silent metronome drives my body forward will cease to exist in a matter of seconds, like a ritardando dragging its nails into the dirt, begging, slow down, slow down, slow down. Begging, bury the body, bury the body, bury the body.
Before you bury the body, please slice me in half, and half again. Remember to sail my right arm back to Trinidad before landing in India. Remember to throw my head to Japan and apologize for her war crimes on my behalf. Remember to let Europe ravage my legs like it ravaged the world. Maybe then, I will finally be whole. Divide and
conquer let me be whole.
I began writing this piece during a visit with my extended family, after which I realized how little heritage we have.
Jessica Bakar is a young writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has found a home in creative nonfiction and edits for Polyphony Lit. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Blue Marble Review, Apprentice Writer, Ice Lolly Review, Paper Crane Journal, Aster Lit, Pile Press, and Seaglass Lit, among others. When she isn't writing, Jessica enjoys practicing photography, participating in the "We the People" competitive civics program, and interning at the Asian Art Museum. Jessica hopes to one day move to Lahaina, Hawaiʻi.