Maybe Later on This Summer Thanks

August 30, 2013 11:06 AM
Hi Yee Jan,
I’ve missed talking to you. Are you still teaching at CCA?

I’m writing because I’ve started an art and literary magazine that is both online and in print and would love to feature an image by you.
Hope all is well with you. What are you reading these days?
Best wishes,

August 30, 2013 4:19 PM
thnkas i am at home recupaeint from surgery and wll contact you in 3-4 weeks

March 17, 2014 9:03 PM
Dear Yee Jan,
I hope you have recovered and that your semester is going well.

Anyway, I just wanted to check back in with you, see how you are, and see if you would be interested in contributing to Star 82 Review. I’d love to feature a painting of yours in it!
Warm regards,

March 17, 2014 9:15 PM
not now maybe later on this summer thanks.

He left no will. He left no wife. Closest next-of-kin was his 96-year-old mother who no longer spoke. Decisions were left by default to his nephew, who lived nearby and closed his accounts. His niece flew down from Portland to clear out his apartment.

He often sat on benches under trees on campus, surrounded by students, he and they smoking together. I last saw him on a bench alone, thin and pale, so unlike the stocky and colorful person I was used to talking to that I wasn’t even sure it was he. “How are you?” I asked quietly, slowing down. He shook his head. Not wanting to intrude, I kept walking. I knew something was wrong, but I did not know what.

A few of his paintings hung on the walls of an old friend’s studio, the paintings brought in a box for the occasion by his niece and nephew. Two tables of fruit and cheese, bread, pretzels, water, and wine welcomed us. Daniel, the nephew, pointed to a black box of ashes, which he said was heavy. He showed us a few black and white photographs of Yee Jan Bao as a child, probably from the 1950s. On the back of one, the inscription to “Tommy” ended, “How are you? I am unhappy. Love, Mother.” Daniel told us to take art books that had been Uncle’s and took our pictures with a Looney Toons Tasmanian Devil Polaroid camera that he had once given Yee Jan. The film was so old that a greenish-tan shape masked our bodies. We looked hidden, fragmented, shy. I found myself wanting to know just how heavy the ashes were, but I didn’t have the nerve to pick up the box.

By the end of the scheduled gathering, the room had filled. When I mentioned that he liked to read, that he had recommended Roberto Bolaño to me, people looked at me blankly. He had advised a photography professor which photo shows to see. He had advised a painter and colleague how to write a grant proposal. I realized then that Yee Jan was curious and opinionated and had a little knowledge in many areas. For whatever area you were interested in, he had a suggestion. I remembered he read The New Yorker.

Stories were shared: He loved the races—He loved cheap breakfasts—He always told you how to drive—He said he would buy me a car when he won the lottery—He always had to bring a gift when he was invited to dinner and always explained it was from opening a bank account—If he laughed, you knew he meant it.

The room vibrated with his recreated presence. I sensed muted grief, some sadness, but mostly collective memory. As we left, he too would disperse, but continue, in some way, to live.

November 29, 2014

Alisa Golden writes, makes art, and teaches bookmaking at California College of the Arts. Her writing has appeared in Diagram, 100 Word Story, NANO Fiction and others, and she is the author of Making Handmade Books. She produces Star 82 Review in the one-square-mile city of Albany, CA.

You can see three of Yee Jan Bao's paintings in this issue: here and here and here.