Chin Chin Chan. Fiction by Robert Olen Butler

Butler author photo

Chin Chin Chan 

student, beheaded by Chinese authorities for maintaining a romantic correspondence with an American girl he met while studying in the U.S.A., 1882

moon no longer a blossom a pearl a lantern in a lover’s door but a bodiless face, mine, in a train window, she on the platform trying not to look at me directly, as if she were there for someone else, and the train hurtles in the dark and I stare into the stars and not even a poet could find the moon in this sky not even Li Po in a boat with quill and ink in hand he searches this night sky and then looks at me from across the water and shrugs and I am the cicada, seventeen at last, my skin splits open and I emerge a perfect man ready to sing but there is so little time and the song I hear in return fades in the grind of these engines, I sit with my own quill and ink, the cicadas singing in the courtyard outside, my dear Elizabeth my love these words I write blur before my eyes even as she draws near, the smell of lavender the low trill of her laughter and then a sigh you sweet boy what are we to do she says and I put my hand on hers and I float above in the dark and I see Li Po in his boat and he leans far out over the water opening his arms to embrace the severed head of a moon and he tips forward and vanishes


From Severance by Robert Olen Butler

After careful study and due deliberation, it is my opinion the head remains conscious for one minute and a half after decapitation.
—Dr. Dassy d’Estaing, 1883

In a heightened state of emotion, we speak at the rate of 160 words per minute. —Dr. Emily Reasoner, A Sourcebook of Speech, 1975


Robert Olen Butler has published eighteen novels and six volumes of short stories, one of which, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. He has also published a widely influential volume of his lectures on the creative process, From Where You Dream. His latest novel is Late City, which takes place in the nanosecond of the death of the last living World War I veteran. Among his many other awards, in 2013 he became the sixteenth recipient of the career-spanning F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie is now completing her first novel where, for a family with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Mennonite mother, the End Times are just around the corner. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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