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Maria Yeonhee Ji


His father flies planes for a living. He was taught all there is to know of bad weather: how to navigate turbulence; how to deal with unexpected falls from great heights; and how, when the situation commands, a single cloud can seize the sky with a specialty brew of thunder.

I stand by the window, head turned towards the moon as though it is a place where fears can be buried. There was a time when I could recite the names of all its seas, but that was before all of this. The syllables seem so close, but then they float away at the very last second. Perhaps this feeling I’ve carried these last few months has changed me in a way that makes me hard to recognise?

He tells me I look no different. He pulls me to the sofa and cradles me in his arms, holds his hand to my cheek. He talks to me of meteorology while he strokes my hair. He tells me we are in a place where they build bridges out of milk teeth. I must cross these bridges with him and set them on fire. Only then can we move forward in safety. He tells me in our situation there are some things one must do, even if it kills you. Even if it makes you harden to a shine. 


If eyes are the windows to the soul, then ears surely facilitate the formation of it. Through the cochlea swirl: the hum of human compassion and suffering; compositions of the great musicians; and the call of your name. What to make, then, of the troubled painter who severed his own ear, wrapped it in newspaper, and offered it to a woman with no complete appellation in public record?


I waited to get my ears pierced until I was twenty-two years old. Having studied anatomy by dissecting cadavers from the age of nineteen, there was some part of me that assigned immense value to the intact human body. To pierce an earlobe – however small and inconsequential a part of the body it may be – felt like a breach of that wholeness. When I did finally get it done, I wanted it to be a considered act; I wanted to be sure of what exactly I was paying for in that small piercing and tattoo studio in New Market, a fifteen-minute walk from the university campus.


The doctor removed the dressing to check the wound. He had learned this skill over many years, this ability to look at an injury and see the future, like an old woman clasping a cup, peering at a configuration of tea leaves. From the stained, chapped lips of the laceration poured out purulent waters in which he would search, diligently, for the beginnings of a changing tide.


The first boy I ever loved discovered that gently biting my ear would cause goosebumps to appear all over my body on the ipsilateral side. He would delightedly observe the hairs on my arm and leg saluting some phantom captain. The hairs did this obediently, without fail, each time my ear was stimulated by touch or breath. I always wondered how this was possible, though my curiosity didn’t subtend the daring to ask a lecturer about the particulars of this phenomenon. There isn’t a lot of research on this matter – piloerection is largely understood as our sympathetic nervous system’s reaction to cold temperatures. But it is also known to occur in response to the sublime. 

Maria Yeonhee Ji is an Auckland-based writer, illustrator, and medical student. Her poetry and prose have appeared in various publications including New Zealand Poetry Society anthologies, PotroastSignals, and Tearaway.