I read top-down / I read bottom-up
The fragments
Author: Dao Strom
Published on: 9/6/2016 3:12:25 PM


The fragments are neither here nor there, boy nor girl, naked nor clothed,

Sharp nor dull, happy nor sad.

The fragments don’t agree, with each other or you or themselves, much of the time.

The fragments will not explain themselves to you.

They turn innocent shining faces toward you, you think them guileless.

Other times they are restless, impatient, paradoxical.

They talk then fall terrifying silent.

The narrative pattern they seem to like to follow: dodge and weave.

Sometimes they catch a fish, then run.

When they tire they sleep wherever they land.

They will tell you: we came first in two big waves, then in recurrent smaller waves, lapping at shores. Hungry.

The fragments hand you pebbles from the sea, a tactile way of telling you,

Because inherent in those objects is the truth about themselves: how they have been tumbled, pummeled, over and over, by their mother the water.

Hence they present themselves with due caution.

Fragments learn early on how to stifle their own cries of ecstasy.

They leave so much out.

This one fragment I know. Had a mother.

This fragment also had three fathers. Not all at the same time, of course.

Fragments don’t trust easily. For they understand the unreliability of paternity and of history.

The fragments will haunt you—remember us, don’t remember us—but when you try to point them out, when you try to grab them by the shoulders and look them in the eye and say I see you— they fall back quickly.

Into the woodwork.

Or sometimes they scream, like knots in the wood.


So I learned my own history in fragments.

Fragments on t.v., in school, at home.

Fragments of a former country.

I absorbed fragments in black-and-white grainy images and overwrought cinema, and via my mother’s emotional overreaction to assorted inexplicable things,

like the argument with her husband that ensued after we watched the movie version of the musical, Hair.

I lived with—in my mind—a dead “real” father for most of the years of my childhood, until suddenly, when I was 13, he was brought back to life.

The miracle, not of resurrection, but of the rewrite.


There was a road that ran the length of the country the fragments originated from.

The fragments, many of them, first became fragments on that road.

Once they stepped onto that road, in hope or desperation, with echoes of love or thunder in their chests, they had made fragmentation their calling, their children’s and grandchildren’s, too. Many things trafficked that road, dropping down on it from above, assaulting it from all sides. Fragments were crushed underfoot, by tanks, fire, foods of oncoming other fleeing fragments. A great number dove off the road, and beat fast trails into forests and jungle to both sides. Some burrowed down deep and made tunnels. Some grappled with leaves, turned them to paper, fashioned quick wings; and few.


Some fragments, after the debacle on the road, and after gathering elsewhere in new enclaves, began to rank themselves: survivors.

Forgetting, or thinking themselves now the only ones remaining, thinking themselves whole in fact, some began to call themselves stories.

[[ at some point I could no longer write stories ]]

Fragments can be very constructive at being self-destructive.


They taunt you that you thought you knew the shape of things, that you thought you could know them, that you thought you understood the world. They won’t tell you directly that you don’t.

- Dao Strom
Excerpt from We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People)