Grey Matter by Roy Kamada

Grey Matter

From SIGN: A collection of stories by the members of Seventeen Syllables, curated by Guest Editor, Grace Loh Prasad (introduced here)


A weakened wall, we’re told, a thinning in the Circle of Willis, a ring of conjoined arteries at the brain’s base, an aneurysm in the anterior communicating artery.

The waiting room at UCSF is bland and anxious like all waiting rooms in all hospitals. The same announcements, the same private fears worn like badges marking mothers and children and distant cousins unpacking containers of food, fuel for the long days and nights.

We’ve come for my mother’s endovascular coiling, where thrombogenic material is threaded through the brain’s arteries and coiled into the inflated flesh of the aneurysm. The thread bonds with the body’s blood and seals up the aneurysm like Styrofoam inflating a balloon, the threat of stroke turned into a polystyrene peanut.

But after an exam, her radiologist tells us that the procedure isn’t possible, that her aneurysm is too complex for coiling, the base too wide, that we’ll have to opt for neurosurgery: a shave, an incision, a bone cutter, and a flap of bone lifted as one might lift a bit of orange rind from the fruit’s flesh; a clipping, a pinning of the neck of the blood vessel, metal pincers choking the bird’s throat of the aneurysm.

In recovery, she looks like a prizefighter, eye blackened by blood pooling beneath the skin, worn weary by drugs and surgery, shaken by what lies ahead.

In the waiting room, I run into old friends who have brought their son for brain surgery, a resection they hope will steady his mind, wracked by hundreds of micro-seizures each minute. We’ll go our separate ways later, leave the hospital and return to our lives, but for a moment we sit together, share a meal and cup hope between our hands like a hungry animal begging to be fed.



Ralph and Elton arrive in a Grand Caravan owned in succession by a teenager, a florist, and now a funeral home. My father stands in the doorway, shoulders slumped, resting his closed eyes for a moment.

The van coughs exhaust as they reverse into my father’s garage. It’s only his now that she’s left us this morning. The singular of ownership, the widower in the morning, the solitude of being left. They’ve come for her body.

At first, I think they are too unserious, with their local gruffness, too unshaven, too clothed in torn t-shirts and ratty cargo shorts. But once in the room, once they roll her body from side to side, once they hide her decay from our sight, once they gently lift and bear her like delicate cargo, I find I love them.

Ralph and Elton hold my mother’s body between them, a heavy weight that sags and drops in the mortuary’s cloth. Ralph and Elton become solemn penitents carrying signs of grace, poised like priests during the moment of transubstantiation as bread and wine are transformed into God’s body and blood.

And I think about how my father washed her body all these years, how he rocked her back and forth on the bed, changing her bedding, changing her diapers, cleaning her skin, so pale and frail in the yellow light of the lamp. How even then, her luminous self shone through the rough matter of the body.

Later, when we run into them at Jane’s Fountain in Kalihi ordering saimin and burgers, they come to us as we’re huddled over pictures of funeral flowers watching brocades of lilies gesture toward an afterlife. They tell us that my mother arrived safely, that she would be taken care of, and we shake their hands hewn rough and tender from carrying the bodies of our dead into their afterlives. Our faces shine as the images of tiger lilies, chrysanthemums, tuberoses, and orange-lipped orchids spill off the page onto the lunch counter, as their scent swirls around us, and the quiet of mourning’s grace binds us together for a moment.


Grey Matter 2


Roy Osamu Kamada is currently Chair and an Associate Professor in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department at Emerson College in Boston. Originally from Honolulu, he received his PhD in English literature from the University of California, Davis and MFA from the University of Virginia. He has taught literature and creative writing at Emerson College, the University of Virginia, the University of California, Davis, and Kearny Street Workshop. His work has appeared in The Asian American Literary Review, Ecological Poetry: A Critical Introduction, and Bamboo Ridge. His book, Postcolonial Romanticisms: Landscape and the Possibilities of Inheritance, appeared in 2010.


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