2016 NonFiction

Eric Tran


Australian Man Wakes From Coma Speaking Fluent Mandarin
Proving Again the Brain is a Wondrous Thing –


A stroke survivor makes his living touring schools with the story of his recovery. He told me he could only remember some words; for the rest he thought in rhymes: for this and there, he pictured kiss and bear, maybe piss and hair, mist and snare.


Sometimes the brain is the weakest link, the first chain to snap under duress. Insomnia, UTI, too few leafy greens can remove the names in your family, make you think the neighbor is being kidnapped, erase the ability to know if the cats around your feet are real or imagined.


My friend says that when on molly, whomever you’re with becomes family. But it’s all real, she insisted, you’re still close when you’re sober again. In high school, they told us MDMA burned holes in your brain, Swiss cheese in your skull. New studies show it still may cause neurodamage, but may also treat PTSD, may delete neurons but maybe the ones that hold onto violence, reflexes for balling your hands into fists.


I’ve stopped watching TV shows with violence, where characters are slammed against walls, knocked unconscious to remove them from fight scenes. I flinched each time, wondering how many concussions a person can get before they leave the scene permanently.


In sundowning, patients depend on the light to right themselves. They get confused by lengthening shadows, begin to shake and pace aimlessly, as if there wasn’t enough light to remind them how to put one foot in front of the other.


Imagine finding your son awake from a coma, returned after months of silence. Would you cry that he talked again, or that you didn’t know what he meant by jia, home, or jia ting, family?


Alien hand syndrome can occur after surgery to cure epilepsy. The hand can feel foreign, autonomous. It can be bratty and push away a chair you mean to pull close, or naughty and creep up your thigh while you sleep. Some patients give the hand a name and when it throws away their microwave burrito say, Oh Henry doesn’t like it when I don’t eat well.


A neuroprofessor once told me that time moves faster as you age because kids stuff boxes with toys spilling out the top and adults fold and tuck into suitcases. The brain improves with packaging, learns how to speed towards those last few days.

I spend a lot of time in my head thinking of synonyms, slant-definitions, things that slip around the edges. For wondrous, maybe miraculous like God, staggering like one drink too many. Precious like crystal glasses, sublime like looking from a mountaintop, unclear how deep the valley is below.

I once worked in a hospice where a husband moved in with his dying wife. He told me sometimes he stayed awake with his finger under her nose to know she was breathing. He was developing dementia himself, told me: I just couldn’t live without my wife, I mean son, no I mean my wife. My wife.


Eric Tran is a medical student at the University of North Carolina and holds an MFA from UNCW. He is the winner of the 2015 New Delta Review Matt Clark Prose Award and was a finalist in the 2015 Indiana Review 1/2K Prize and the Tinderbox Poetry Prize. His work appears in or is forthcoming in Best of the Net, Diagram, Indiana Review, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. For more, visit

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