May Flowers – Cyan

I might be overstepping the bounds of my own experience a little too much on this one, but if it sucks, we can just move along.  There’s more to come.

Where a River Flows

Up a mountain in Luzon, jade vines flow down the river banks. From unremarkable leafy vines grow great leis of exotic flowers and heavy green fruits. They grow and in time they fall down those river banks, past kingfisher nests and ferns and moss and rocks into the rivers themselves. Those rivers in turn flow out to the sea.  They say water is a cycle, that the water lost from a land is returned to it in the form of rain, but is it ever the same water, or have those molecules been lost forever to foreign lands or the abyss itself?

A family comes from the Philippines to the United States, like in that Neil Diamond song, to touch the hem of prosperity’s garment, to work and make their lives golden.  They have so much in common with cultural USAmericans – particularly a blithe acceptance of capitalism coupled with a sense of desperation derived from capitalist oppression which converts to hyper-participation in the capitalist system.  The rich are just better than us, unless I figure out the get-rich-quick scheme that will make me one of them, then I will be better than those who used to be us.  Get that bread.

The matriarch Vernita does the nail salon thing, the patriarch Rafael works his way up from day labor to contractor, and the family attains middle class.  Success.  The kids are so culturally close to America in the first place that they fit right in, become no different from any other kids here.  Except for being brown.  There’s always that.  There’s white kids, black kids, light-skinned Asian kids, and then… all the brown kids.  South Asian, Mexican, Native American, Polynesian, whatever, you all look the same to the majority.  The lighter the skin the more easily you can fit in with white kids, and get some measure of their privilege over your darker brothers and sisters.

This family is fortunate to be lighter-skinned, more from Spanish and Dutch ancestors than from Fujian Chinese, and one could almost imagine little Benny was Cuban.  That’s acceptable to US neo-nazis, even though it wouldn’t be enough in Australia or Hungary.  If he hates black and jewish people enough, he gets a white pass, and starts running with bad dudes.  Little Benny grows up a middle class contractor like dad in the day time, a wide-eyed bullethead proud boy by night.

His brother Donny always used to come around, used to be tight with Benny.  He even started down that path of darkness, doing cruel things that he would grow to regret.  But he was too socially awkward, too weak, not aggressive enough to fit in with the macho.  The nazis sensed his weakness and got Benny to betray him and brutalize him time after time.  Eventually, Donny realized he was gay, and went down a different path.  But without the resources of the rich, the cocktail of abuse and despair kept him from academic success.  Without Benny’s bad influence, Donny could have been a doctor.  Instead, he ends up homeless for a few years, before settling into a lower class life as a waiter and aspiring actor.

Sister Vicky is just doing her best to get by and keep her head low.  Be popular enough to be ignored by bullies, but not popular enough to attract competitive white queen bees exploiting her racial otherness to tear her down with rumor.  Success.  She gets a liberal arts degree and an office job, marries a law student, has kids, divorces, and marries again.  She stays close to the family, and is the source of whatever continuity the parents can feel with their ancestry.  The family is a river.

But Donny’s no breeder and Benny’s kids are doomed by his viciousness.  Vicky’s kids are part of that water flow, but for how long?  Getting that bread, pursuing individualized success, the community is left behind.  This droplet of the Philippines is atomized into the abyss of Anglo-America.  Perhaps it was already disintegrating before it left an island colonized and oppressed into a shadow image of the colonizer.  What would those islands have been without one conquest after another after another?

Does it even matter to ask those questions?  The most culturally Filipino members of the family, Vernita and Rafael, are an all-American success story, believers in medical woo and MLM schemes, creationism and Trumpism.  They have no idea why Benny’s kids are suffering, and hey, out of sight out of mind – not like they come around as much as Vicky’s kids.  Everything works itself out in the end, as long as you keep your head down and work clever and get lucky.  Jesus said.

Rafael has a fall and gets dementia and doesn’t remember English as well as he used to.  He wants the things of his childhood, and moves back to the Philippines.  It’s hotter, it’s filthier, it’s fascist.  But it’s alright.  We abide until we’re done.  He dies where he wanted to die.  Vernita goes back to Long Beach, California and dies where she’d rather be.

Up a mountain in Luzon, there are not as many jade vines as there used to be, and not as many kingfishers nesting in the riverbanks.  But there are some, for now.  We abide until we’re done.


  1. says

    I like. I hear a bit of Hemingway influence, which is not at all a bad thing!

    I’m a shitty writer so I won’t presume further. Thanks for sharing!

  2. says

    gotta be secondhand influence, which is not unlikely with an influential author. thanks for the kind words! i’d be real curious to see the philosophy-damaged milSF starring red-haired hotty that you would come up with. maybe you can have an AI write it, since you don’t expect it to be good anyway..?

  3. says

    maybe you can have an AI write it, since you don’t expect it to be good anyway..?

    I probably need to do a few postings about some of my recent conversations with GPT40. It’s … really impressive. Let me say that it held up its end of a fairly interesting conversation about how AIs experience accomplishment compared to humans. I also had it re-write my Marbot piece and it did dramatically better. It even designed a 70s style cover. This is a whole different beast and it’s been, what, a year?

  4. says

    Where does the word “cyan” come from anyway, and how did it come to be a name of a color? Is there some pure form of cyanide that has that shade of blue?

  5. says

    i love that. i love that AI’s progress is so fast and undeniable that it’s going to force the haters to reckon with their own ignorance, but that it’s also fast enough to make me think new things, consider new possibilities for what could come out of all of this. it’s a real revolution. i particularly love the idea that this will steal jobs, because fucking fuck jobs, i hate work so fucking much. if that goes far enough fast enough, we get UBI, because they’ll have no goddamn choice.

  6. says

    that response was to mjr, of course. bee, I think you’re right, there is a connection between the color and poison, but i don’t recall specifics. cyan in art technology has been significant as the C in CMYK printing, which loomed large over 20th century mass media imagery, pop art etc.

  7. says

    Cyanide is an ion — a carbon and nitrogen atom linked by a triple bond, so the carbon end has one bond left over to form an ionic compound. There’s sodium cyanide, potassium cyanide, hydrogen cyanide. IIRC either one of those is a solid substance like salt; and also like salt and other ionic-bond compounds, it dissolves in water so you get the cyanide ion (negative-charged) and the sodium, hydrogen or potassium ion (positive-charged). The former part being the actual fast-acting poison.

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