Jennifer Hayashida was born in Oakland, California, and grew up in the suburbs of Stockholm and San Francisco. She is the recipient of a PEN Translation Fund Grant, a Witter Bynner Poetry Translator Residency, a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, and has been a MacDowell Colony fellow. She is the translator of Fredrik Nyberg’s A Different Practice (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2007), and Eva Sjödin’s Inner China (Litmus Press, 2005). She received an M.F.A. in writing from Bard College. She lives in Brooklyn, and is Director of the Asian American Studies Program at Hunter College.
Excerpt from The Autonomic System:
The color of the waiting room chairs: deep orange. The framed prints: watercolor landscapes. The flooring: brown carpet. The color of the walls: what do you think? The light: early afternoon in California.
If someone dies on a Sunday, it is like your car breaking down by the side of the highway after business hours. Given my father’s interest in the notion of progress, he had repeatedly expressed a desire to donate his brain to science, and then specifically to the Mayo Clinic. When I think of the Mayo Clinic, I think of a scene from the movie Airplane! in which, during a split-screen phone conversation between two characters, the Mayo Clinic is depicted as a place where the walls are lined with shelves holding jar upon jar of mayonnaise. Neither my father, my mother, nor I had thoroughly considered the logistics of this donation, and so, although I had been the one to fax the necessary forms to the clinic only a few weeks earlier, I found myself dumbstruck when the moment came to articulate my father’s final wish to the nurse who was on duty in the E.R.
The hospital had a separate windowless room where I assume they delivered bad news to next of kin. My mother and I sat in that room with the nurse, and I slowly explained my father’s situation, his desire to see his brain analyzed by scientists, our confusion about how to proceed. My belief that hospitals operated according to a clear protocol was immediately dispelled: in the end, it came down to favors and convenience. The pathologist on duty did us the favor of removing my father’s brain from his dead body, putting it on ice in a styrofoam box, and shipping it by Federal Express to the Mayo Clinic, with Dr. Dickson on the receiving end. If I tell the story for shock value, I usually begin by saying that I had to Fed-Ex my father’s brain to the Mayo Clinic, but the story is then instantly a lie: I did none of the Fed-Exing myself, and although it did go to the Mayo Clinic, it went to the Florida outpost, not the iconic midwestern beacon that has cared for the likes of John F. Kennedy, King Hussein, and Eddie Van Halen. I did not handle my father’s brain, did not even see him once he was dead (my mother and I automatically refused the nurse’s offer to let us view the body), and the Mayo Clinic footed the bill for shipping. My involvement in my father’s death consisted of looking around the room, taking in colors and degrees of light, observing the nurse’s gestures and the phenomenon of climate control: refrigerated air coursing through space like so many streams of spilled water, the hair on my arms standing up despite the knowledge that it was in the high 90s beyond the tinted glass doors of the emergency room entrance.