Steve Chang ~The Plague Book of Prayers


Where did this heli­copter think it was head­ed? To a protest. Wildfire. High-speed pur­suit. This is New Los Angeles. I almost wrote wildlife for wild­fire. That’s where I’m head­ed, I think, soon. Back from Desk to Patrol. To the pur­suit of liv­ing things.

In a desert, for any inva­sive species, there is always the fear of removal. The fear of being removed. Something must hap­pen. And only force effects change.

The chop­per keeps cir­cling, its spot­light track­ing blurs beyond its vision as if, through want­i­ng, any­thing could stay.



The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Which would not be so bad if he did not giveth to oth­ers what he taketh from us. I am think­ing that this soil is not so good. I am think­ing that noth­ing grows here.

Why were we giv­en this land? says Sister. Why do we till this sand and dust?

We are cursed.

Well, if we are, by whom?

At night the winds blow so the lanterns rat­tle and the shad­ows are crazed. Lord, says Sister, on her knees. How have we offend­ed thee? Run aground on our ghost ship, our sor­row a sea of gray sands. Deliver us from Evil, she prays.

The winds moan.

We will work this land until it is dark and rich with all we have to give. And then we will see what grows.



Look at Eileen. Does she get upset when she pol­ish­es her wood­en claw? No. She pops it right out and cleans it. Even the sock­et which nobody sees. Not even You. It’s not about appear­ances. It’s the principle.

Do you under­stand us now? Are You listening?



Who can say these days what they tru­ly believe?

One can no more map the paths of the City than one can the log­ic of His truths. Trace a spi­ral of wings, all dot­ted with eyes. This is a sym­bol. Behind it there is only will. It is beyond our mor­tal comprehension.

Through our inter­faced avatars, we are recast in His image. Purged of “is” to become more pure­ly “what if.”

The old sage Escher, walk­ing along his stairs, under­stood this. Better to trust in the des­ti­na­tion. This is the only way to arrive.



Monday. The CFO of Respiratory Solutions is tak­ing us through our morn­ing stretch­es. Some crap about cor­po­rate cul­ture he learned in “Old Nippon.” He drags us up to the rooftop—the roof!—in our track­suits to say, These are not stretch­es! This is a con­tem­pla­tive dance!

He peers into his lift­ed palm like it’s a mirror.

I bet he sniffs his own dumps.

The bad air, he says. Breathe it in. Now bow.



Up in front, Bobby M. keeps bow­ing the low­est. He’s got­ten so into this crap. Like he’s nev­er been hurt in his life. Who’s still falling for this? Who hasn’t lost a kid? Like he can sharp­en a pen­cil with­out crying.

The CFO is danc­ing in place, a lit­tle thumbs-up cha-cha, and yelling, Sickness is a state of mind! Are you victims?!

Bobby M. keeps look­ing back at us. Doing that hand thing like, Come on. Come ON!

Burn the fat! says the CFO. Feel how stream­lined we can travel!

He coughs into a fold­ed white han­ky and dabs at his brow.

Feel, he says, the pull of Demand.


Steve Chang is a Taiwanese writer and edu­ca­tor from the San Gabriel Valley, California. His work appears in Epiphany, Guernica, J Journal, The Normal School, North American Review, The Southampton Review, and else­where. Find him at and @stevexisxok