BY SOPHIA TERAZAWA
This is a series of confessionals about the intersection of Asia America and feminism in desperately melancholic times. Asian American women are committing suicide. The number of us with depression is rising at an alarming rate. It is my hope to illuminate the will to live in a radical spirit of exile. Welcome to PHANTASMAGORIA!
Mrs. Booth, my high school orchestra teacher, distributes the sheet music for Un Bel Dì, Vedremo, the stringed accompaniment to Butterfly’s hopeful vision in Giacomo Puccini’s opera. In perhaps one of the most famous arias about a teenager pining for a grown white man, the girl, otherwise known as Cio-Cio San―chōchō meaning butterfly in Japanese―fantasizes about the return of her American lover.
The man eventually arrives, yes, but with a white American wife.
With this revelation of betrayal in the final act, Cio-Cio San plunges her father’s knife into her stomach, thereby ending her heartbreak and―con onor muore―"to die with honor."
If there were magic in despair,
if there were arias resurrected,
the cold and dark, the blade and bride,
Madame, you’d be a cross.
I flip from page to page of sheet music with the tip of my violin bow, as my stand partner silently fingers the notes on her instrument.
Chiamerà Butterfly dalla lontana.
Io senza dar risposta
me ne starò nascosta
un po' per celia, un po' per non morire
al primo incontro, ed egli alquanto in pena
"Piccina – mogliettina
olezzo di verbena"
i nomi che mi dava al suo venire.
He will call "Butterfly" from the distance.
I, without answering,
Hold myself quietly concealed,
A bit to tease him, and a bit so as not to die
At our first meeting; and then, a little troubled,
He will call, he will call:
"Dear baby-wife of mine, dear little
The names he used to call me when he came here.
The girl as creature, her wings the silk of kimono sleeves, Madame Butterfly is destined to die like an exotic specimen tacked to the wall when the white man first discovers her and then abandons her.
The audience lusts for an "Oriental tragedy," especially if she is young, especially if she is docile, extra docile, like an Asian, especially, and especially if the passion overtakes her.
Yellow thing as passion on the cross. Yellow thing thrusts the blade into her belly, her lips part over Puccini’s staff, her suicide equated to orgasm. Arms flung like the cross. On the cross.
The audience, moved to tears.
Asian girl in pain as fantasy, Asian girl on stage, her pain as passion, passion, the missionary grieves. He weeps because his chōchō has seduced her self to death. The missionary comes at once. He comes. He comes. But it is too late. She’s dead.
Yellow thing, always dead.
Madame Butterfly is a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl whose destruction is the climax of Western fantasy. She simply cannot go on without the white man’s love. Her body trembles above the gaping mouth of an orchestra pit. Her body, impaled against mountains, a tea garden, that awful gossamer shore, her face squeezed shut becomes a category all by itself.
Japan as porn.
The audience lusts for her downward gaze because she is not supposed to cry out―the assumption being easy to fuck and easy to leave―country as fetish.
The girl as resurrection.
White soprano dressed in gauze, her eyes taped back and earnest, her face powdered to highlight not her Yellow costume, rather, to accentuate her whiteness becoming beast, just like death. White as death. White soprano plays a dead girl. White soprano plays me.
Sophia Terazawa is the author of I AM NOT A WAR, winner of the 2015 Essay Press Chapbook contest (forthcoming publication). As a Vietnamese-Japanese poet and performer working with ghosts, her work has been featured in places like The James Franco Review, Project As[I]Am, The Fem, and elsewhere. Currently, Terazawa is a columnist for THE DECOLONIZER, where she writes about love and intimacy as radical healing practice. You can visit her site at: www.sophiaterazawa.com