Poems

Showtime

 

Something I say beforehand:
Jal butak hapnida.

This translates into, Please be kind to me,
but it suggests:

Even if I shame myself,
please be kind to me.

In the mirror, it means:
Even inside my greatcoat

of conscience, drunk and white,
please be kind to me.

 

 

To My Mother Kneeling in the Cactus Garden

 

For a month I tried to think of what to say.
How many times you’ve swept a kitchen knife
across your neckline and said, This is how
you end a marriage. How many more wicks you light
for God. I could tell by your eyes you’ve never

seen him. What would you call the feeling
of abandon and caution and relief that keeps me
tethered to you? Let me be the husband
you prayed for, the son you wanted, or mother
who held you. I’ll build your new patio swing

and fold your coffee linens, wash your hardened
feet in warm water. To me you have become a prison
of its own light. I’ll grow greens and the parsley
you love and wrap them into cold sandwiches.
I will place them where you can reach with ease.

 

 

Ingredients for Memories That Can Be Used As Explosives

 

I am not sad anymore; I am on the rooftop of my life
cheering until my body of hallways opens, jade and steaming.

When a pope dies tradition says to hit his head with a silver
hammer 3 times to see if he’s alive: koong koong koong koong.

I’ve been so many popes. The shells of laughing are cooked.
Open the door and let them know I am not sad anymore.

Not once carrying my lunch pail soul with bright green fingernails—
Can a soul be excited to tears? That’s the one time a soul is excited.

I am together – feel my forehead – I am young
but I always forget what I meant to say; except I am alive!

And I will not jump from here because the wind is coming.
It has a beak and a tooth and has heard I am not sad anymore.

 

 

Korean War

 

You are the North and I am the South.
My tanks aim for you. I shoot you a thousand times.

Your missiles launch into my oceans. You raise monuments to scorn me.
You eat clams cooked in gasoline.

I drink milk and cider. I raise skyscrapers of businessmen.
You build towers of empty rooms. You refuse me from where I am most loved.

I clean a wintermelon of its guts and seeds cling to my wet fingers.
Aren’t you the North, and I the South?

Phantom, disease, you’re trembling. There is no patience in my country.
There is no safest place in yours.

The heart stiffens at the sound of church bells. I wonder where you sleep now.
You are the North and I am the South.

I cannot see the sky beyond the ceiling.
I cannot forgive you for cutting me out.

I see all my ground, and you, walking over me—before you were
the North and I was the South.

A photographer captures a mass execution on film.
Men and women tied to posts, blindfolded—Korean spies.

The man nearest to the camera fiddles with his blindfold
until it rests comfortably over his eyes.

 

 

Testimony Over Tape Recorder

 

I am the youngest. I am 85 and yesterday,
I was 15 in a military station;
my friends each dying, one by one;
and now I am old and I will die, too.
Today, the military gave me money.
But I ripped it apart and ate it up.
The president said, I’m sorry. That was
war. I stuffed my ears with cotton
and plastered my breasts with gruel.
The historian said, it was necessary,
girls like me, for war, girls for war,
girls for boys dying in war, girls must die
for boys dying in war, we cannot be
sorry for girls dying for boys dying
in a war of dying, girls for war, girls for
winning the war. Is it true? Girls, with
dug-up bellies, told they won the war!

 

 

Pledge of Allegiance

 

I am the country of myself, liberty and justice
for all, and my country cannot apologize anymore.

When my mother tells me, under allegiance:

Be happy! When you smile happiness is chase you
her language is a hand she lays on my head.

Time swings by the front of our lives and doesn’t undress itself,
will not bathe itself. You cannot pity a baby for which it cannot stand

one nation, under god. The type of people I am,
300 million times over:

I pledge to the flag just-wet with jet fuel
from the Hubblescope of the United States of America.

Read the news: Protestor dies from fumes of burning flag.
Pistachios undergo spontaneous combustion. The grenade

hand-made from YouTube comments to the republic
for which it stands, Jurassic Park, under god,

indivisible. Pick one for all. God is 65 million years away.
Looking into a telescope at Earth,

he sees dinosaurs. We stare at Mayan temples
and they are giant loudspeakers.

 

 

6CO2 + 6H2O light→ C6H12O6 + 6O2

 

I am trying to make an equation to convert light
into reasonable dioxide.

Put your fist like a rock over your chest, say:
I am ahead of the future if I am a kind tiger
swimming underwater. I’ll live in a little river
house because I am really a scientist.

If I am an alien, then families surprise me most.
Biological lottery: staying with whoever bore you
or whoever was born of you. Primate: hoping
you don’t dislike those you meet/are lucky not to.

Person depressive + Person angry → Person suppressive
Person suppressive + Person happy → Person liar

You’ve ruined it Mom and Dad. You’ve evolved
humankind into liars. 4 billion years should have
photosynthesized reason and your crapulous genes
to liberate a good person. Good people:

when you see one, then see them everywhere
it’s called the Baader Meinhof phenomenon. Sounds
like a baseball player with a gun; or a dead person
the color of cooked chicken; or quicksilver.

I don’t want happiness to chase me: I want metallic
blues in miscellany. You don’t want to calculate
your molecular life: You want to be overwhelmed.

 

 

My Father in His Old Age

 

There is a Korean belief that you are born
the parent of the one you hurt most. Watching
my father use chopsticks to split chicken katsu,
he confesses that I may be the reincarnation
of his own father. We finished our waters in silence
and walked home chatting about who to blame
for where we are. He says, The present is the revenge
of the past. Revenge goes too far, I argue. And
in our unhappiness, we both want to know
we cannot pay enough. Pain becomes meaning.
After this life, I fear I’ll never meet him again.

 

 

Tiger Balm

 

Yellow pears, basketfuls, relate to distance
between the you and the me – mu.

Startling up as you walk goosefooted
through my door. I am heavy.

I feel the continent under me. I am 99
percent hydrocarbon.

Through me, the cosmos can look at itself.
Come to the sink. Let me wash your feet.

Why do you call me embalmer
when my job is time mechanic?

Come with me. I know which home takes the turning,
which mind washes in hot water.

I am the shelter you need –
needle-threaded with the truth of dark wood.

 

 

The Mountain

 

She protects silence. She communes with it by sitting.
She holds onto it by giving up endlessly.

She gets bigger, smaller. She feels burdened by effort
—by distance crossed by the dark.

She takes comfort in doing nothing.
She loses her own importance. She believes in defenselessness,

then lightness. Deep in her heart, she waits for the end.
She tows in time; earns her breaking.

No one knows why she weeps as bright as memory.
When asked, she says, the end must come first.