Elly Filho

the open mind, they fall in — the star chasers, the stars —

there is no music in this place, a small, quiet beachside town abandoned decades ago, these are Instamatic echoes of my childhood, strangers, friends of friends, my parents’ conquests… Stephen King rejects, I suppose

rain as I walk through them into this empty room, a pocket of complete understanding

his shadow stands over me, across the expanse of offices in this warehouse from hell, the same empty basement basketball court school auditorium I once found myself in after Britney Spears 5150’d

I can’t read him, he’s as empty as this room overlooking a graying beach outside these smudged picture windows

bin laden hitler miscavige madness

he’s coming closer

my mother’s old Toyota, the one that ran out of gas in 1983, starts immediately, taking me out of this dusty old town in the nick of time

I pass these tourists with their tinsel hats and greasy faces running for shelter, none the wiser

flee from the dark ones


“My Life Through a Lens,” Unsplash

Hummingbird, it was. I will touch you, wing to flesh. See my inner world in your outer.

A moment’s hesitation but brief respite from the inevitable climax, as if a curtain parted somewhere in the vicinity of heaven and earthly bliss. I am your safe lens. You won’t be harmed.

My quiet, unspoken assent, its descent on my shoulderarm, the small of my cheek, the side I favor when I run through countryside. Barely a brush, a whisper — the feel of rain on an empty shore — as if it belonged there all along, before languages, fatal hand to an angry dirty girl.

The moment we touched, the world opened up, a magical world of log people and superlative infinity sky. A brief second in life’s history books. Then, gone, as if in a dream. Because it was.

I am back in an empty hollow of my childhood. The children have grown and moved away, stationed elsewhere, in pieces on a pillar to American freedom, spokes on a sea. It is black and white, infinitely lonely — the home of the damned.

There are no birds.

when we walk

“Bottled Up” by Andrew Bui, Unsplash

suddenly, you wait for me just outside Mrs. Hao’s door — a rewrite in your best English Honors (even though you never took the class) —

you, Michael… take my hand, and we walk toward the glimmering dimming light of the 1,000th high school reunion but this time, together, this time, I float on a shimmering glittery path

we pause as I look up into your incredulous face, a beam of yesterday’s sunshine between us, a what-if before our lips meet and the stars align

you linger on the corner of my mouth, and I smell spaghetti Wednesdays, pikake and maile lei proms (I never attended), the puff of soft linen snow on your New England winter coat — the one before business

“Why are we together now?”

“I always wished I had the courage to say yes to you.”

as I look away, two others gather behind the one, as bashful as hormonal freshmen on a Dungeons & Dragon late-night bender

“Did you ever go to a dance?”

“No,” I tell him, holding his hand a little longer.


“—and Bullies.” They’re dead now.

Michael Iwatake, come home.

Rabbit Hole

“Man in Cafe by Neon Lights” by Clem Onojeghuo, Unsplash

Where does this dream end, and where do I begin?

I practice string theory while walking briskly through the middle of what is now a very nice, modern fusion Mexican restaurant. The knives and forks, chocolate lava cake that glowed, the strange imitation of tacos resonated with my middle-aged childhood, the four years I walked these hallways from English Honors to Algebra.

My short life in layers, the past and the present superimposed, save for this young girl’s voice telling me I am her hero. I should know her as she knows of me, yet dementia takes holds.

I should’ve interviewed my grandparents, beyond their aches and pains. They probably saw what was unspoken, in the gist of their laundry list of physical ailments, doctor’s appointments, talk of Medicare and the current President. Maybe they were too far gone to notice.

Maybe, I am not a ghost or a time traveler, but a cog in a machine. A very big machine.

lights from towels


In the dream, these strangers ask me to decorate a Christmas tree in their office. The boss says, “You must use two words to sum up our existence and encourage our production.”

I sing, “Oh Holy Night.” I don’t know why. But I can feel conversations stop, as these strangers surround me, feeling an unearthly voice go through them like glass. 

I can’t wait to slip my hand under this dirty hotel mattress and fetch my blue vibrating dildo, as the minions surround the tree and the boss, oohing and aahing over my towel tinsel and my cinder block lettering in the midst of the blinking lights and the sagging garland: “Work Smart.”

Beautiful Kathleen leads a choir far away in a festive carol. The church is packed.


The friendly faces disappear into midnight mass. Twinkling stars aligning, one by one, where two or more are gathered — a familiar scenario playing over and over in my mind. The lonely are departed momentarily, this I know, but I play along, as if we are star-crossed lovers, or bosom buddies, partners in crime forever intertwined. I am, after all, the player and the playwright.

As the dust of their company settles, their stories etched in the smallest, furthest corners of my mind and of my soul, I remember their solemn vows, their declarations of love, the startled look in their eyes — the fade of a particularly moving sonnet in D-minor, perhaps — as once upon a time I broke up the monotony of their unwilling solitude with my clumsy attempts at conversation, my earnest, heartfelt confessions, a rant that slipped into debauchery.

I basked a little longer than I should in their laughter, a returned smile, the touch of rain on a summer day in the middle of this gladiator heat wave. I’m a part of them, for as long as this flat white lasts.

They always leave. Every last one. Always.

I used to cry for days, pounding my fists against these four walls, pounding pounding till they bled from the inside out.

Now, I know better. I am not here for love, a Friends marathon, Oprah, and forever after.

I’m here to tell their stories, until they move on.



Church in a Mall

PHOTO: Shravan Vijayabaskaran, Unsplash

I think he begged, or I called. I can’t remember.

But the worship team arrived, putting on their service smiles and filling up the awkward silence with their white man bullshit, the gardening stuff ordinary people say to ward off evil spirits.

I couldn’t. Two more days, so I told them off. I said all of the things I could not say. I looked the paper pastor dead in the eyes, the one who seemed to want me inside of him, and denied his church three times, just to be clear. His wife looked away, glancing down at her 1,904 friends — an arm’s length away from redemption.

The rage shook until I freed it with my verbal dagger aimed straight into their hearts. I remember clenching so hard one of my teeth broke free, then I left them with their shock and outrage, and him to make his polite apologies. Such a familiar story.

I walked into a random not-so-random store where Christina showed me around the Pandora’s box. She took the trinket I not-so-accidentally held onto.

None of it mattered. They’re currently on a boat, bathed in the glorious light of His unconditional conditional love.



PHOTO: Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash

Boots on the ground. Someone asks for breakfast. All I can find are one or two eggs sitting on the counter at this favorite diner in the middle of Tokyo Town in the Mid-West. I look down on my eggs frying in an ashtray, as the old Japanese lady lay dying by the open window 12 feet away.

She ran the diner with a firm, gentle hand, singing out her bento orders, surrounded by the small talk of young people ready for bigger things. Small and frail, she would always make room for me, saying my name in Broken English, “Ca-dole” very carefully.

On Fridays, I’d find pink, heart-shaped mochi in my pocket on the way out.

I could feel her last breath fill the room as the sound of those boots pounded in my head, surrounded by the love of the weak and the helpless, drained by compassion. I am sickened by my servile design, desperately searching for another egg that will not crack the yolk. I am running out of time.

(But I only wanted to sit quietly by her makeshift bed, with a handful of the others, waiting to die.)