The Difference Between an Arm and a Wing

Sunny Chan





















Sunday is the first day of the week on the calendar but the last day of the week in Chinese. On Sundays we go to 沙田中央公園 where artists assemble by the fountains sketching the curves of children’s faces for twenty dollars a sitting. In the summer sunshine dragonflies come out like a gentle rain of crimson confetti and it feels like someone tapping your skin with sticky fingers where they land before instantly taking off again. Dad works out of town and I wonder if I’ll forget his face but on Sundays we go to 沙田中央公園 and I’m attached by a finger around his belt loop while he points out these are land slugs these are Mimosa pudica that fold away their leaves when caressed these are red dragonflies they are our friends. He pinches one out of the air with pointer finger and thumb on its wings and it’s relaxed in his hold because he has a magic touch. Its legs wave when he holds it out to me and I’d rather hang on to him but he says it won’t hurt if I hold the wings. The transfer is delicate and the wings feel like the rough tulle on my ballet skirt scratchy and trembling against the pads of my fingers so I let it go. When it flies away I can tell it apart from the hundreds of other dragonflies in the air the one I touched. There’s a playground in the middle of 沙田中央公園 where the other children climb and swing but I don’t want to play anymore I want to know how my dad can tell me apart from the others when I fly off.

The difference between an arm and a wing is expressed as follows:
tangential angle to the curve
labour and power
visible veins
sunshine through webbed netting
when I write I grip the pen with three phalanges
attached proximally to flexors and abductors
muscles a hidden woven lattice
when it flies it hangs in the air with unreal physics
creating vortexes at each wing to change direction
scraps of tulle at 35 mph
mimic its flight for armed forces vehicles
pluck childhood and hold at arm’s length
Insect wings are not modified appendages
larvae and nymphs have no wings
like children only sprouting hands at the age of consent

Sunny Chan studied creative writing at the University of Alberta, Canada, and has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia, also Canada. She is currently in the English Ph.D. program at UW-Madison. Her current favourite reptile is the New Mexico whiptail, which reproduces only through parthenogenesis. She is part of the Wisconsin-based theory collective Working Theory.

[Sunny wants the words “Working Theory” to link here:]