509 Caskets

by Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai

“blame Blagoevich…Barack’s Obama’s blessing…
burst basement pipes…murder vigil candelight.”

i make these tongue twisters of my old reports (even
my student ones) to get my speed, my agility faster.

i’m at the point where i have to
decide whether i want to go national
or stay local. they’re two totally
different tracks you know. i went to
journalism school at northwestern and
unlike a lot of my classmates i started
working right away. i’m still living
with my parents in deerfield, but i’m
going to move to the city as soon as i can.

it is honestly a lot of work.

i got this lavender suit over at bloomie’s,
and i can’t remember the last time i left
the house without concealer on. you know,
you always have to be camera-ready.

it’ll be nice one day, when i can finally
sit behind that newsdesk and read from
a teleprompter. lucky me, i’ll probably
have to wait for linda yu or nesita kwan
to die off. can’t have too many of them
telling the news all at once you know. in
rotation, in succession, you have to wait your
turn, you know.

i never wanted to be a newscaster.

what i really wanted to be was a veterinarian instead,
giving heartworm pills to dogs, sticking iv’s into dead cats.
to be able to go home, since there really
are no major emergencies with golden retrievers.

but as they say, the news never stops. and i’m
getting better on-camera, more confident.
i kept slurring my s’s and l’s when i first
started. “There have been six slayings on the
the South…like last losing season of the White Sox…
Bulls leap large…scaffolding swings off skyscrapers.”

always have to keep smiling, in a serious way though.

most of my assignments now are shootings, it’s really
depressing. sometimes, i get there fast enough to see
the body. sometimes, it’s just cops, family, friends, people
on the block who want to get on camera. englewood.
little village. garfield.

if i told you what i see on an average week, it’d probably
make you want to throw up right here on the spot.

even it’s a cold summer or a hot summer, a freezing winter
or a mild one, i will still be there in my pantyhose, like
the postal service, through rain, sleet, or snow, with my hair
done, make-up, ready to report for you.

in a way that you can handle it: face smashed down in asphalt,
boys killed execution-style and thrown in a garbage can, mother
and child offed by an ex-ex boyfriend.

509 caskets in Chicago this year, and i feel like i saw them all.
limp, waiting to be carried off. the cops who don’t know anything,
don’t find anything. everyone on the street: curious, but close-lipped.
until i and the cameras are gone. lucky for you, you get to watch it
from your living room. that is, if it’s not outside your window.

oop, gotta run — duty calls.

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai’s website

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