by Kim Gek Lin Short
Tarpaulin Sky Press, June 2012
132 pages / $14 Buy from Tarpaulin Sky
I read China Cowboy under the most perfect of circumstances: in a garden a few hundred feet from the Pacific Ocean, perched on the Ring of Fire that fuses San Francisco to Hong Kong. The voices of Chinese daytime television descended from my neighbor’s second floor window onto the pages of the safety-yellow book, which had arrived via USPS in a rough condition apropos of its protagonist. Like the abused and well-traveled La La of Kim Gek Lin Short’s second full-length collection, the bubble mailer was practically clawed open, the book so scuffed that its soft outer layer was worn to the quick, almost see-through.
The ocean echoed the book’s evocative opening line: “A bluegrass of fogging.” And the last place I’d been before here was Nashville, where any nobody can twang out a couple tunes at an open mic and even the weak-stomached can’t turn down a shot of 35-year-old well whiskey from a commemorative porcelain decanter in the shape of Elvis’ head, forged on the occasion of his majesty’s death in 1977—also the year of La La’s birth (“Y’all, I would’ve been out of your league at 12. I’m only tattlin’ now, cause I would’ve been 20 today,” she boasts from an eternally-pubescent afterlife hellishly specified as 1997).
It’s with such brash spunkiness that La La—a poor kid in Hong Kong with aspirations of American country singer celebrity—tells the story of her brief life and violent death, including the glamour she imagines for herself, the many small deaths along the way and her songwriting star that keeps ascending from beyond the grave.