We Outlast Empire is a recurring series which aims to highlight poetry that explores the many angles of our current global and political situation. With words, we hope, we may transmute a part of ourselves—a part however small or large—that can exist without drawn borders, without violence, without injustice.
The weather in Seoul in October is bright and balmy.
All the hospital beds are full, and women with thick arms
and bent knees, feet in the stirrups, scream in an echoing
symphony. A woman with small ankles can’t see
beyond her bloated stomach. She keeps her eyes shut
as forceps dig, doctors’ hands twisting between her legs
like a corkscrew pulling out the plug.
It’s been a busy morning, and between heaving breaths
she wonders how much longer? First the head,
then the shriveled body, bright as a small sun.
For the first time in her life she sighs and means it.
That’s how it happens in my fantasy, the movie I watch
on repeat, re-imagined myth of my birth. No. I emerged
from seafoam flapping my tailfins in the Pacific froth.
I washed ashore encased in a mermaid purse, crawled on all fours
and learned the power of breath. No. I was stardust,
an accumulation of space matter falling to earth in tiny pieces.
I’m still gathering my limbs. They’re scattered all over the planet.
None of that is true. I was born in the airport, propelled
through the gaping mouth of sliding glass doors.
My father’s second cousin ferried me down the stairs,
my mouth bubbling with Korean consonants, eyes still wary
of sight. In the video recording of my arrival, the airport light
burns everything so yellow it’s purple. My grandfather’s cheeks
behind his glasses glow like round speckled eggs. I’ve watched
the video so many times it’s etched like a scar. I can feel
my mother’s yellow tears fall purple on my cheek. My father
tucks his upper lip inside his tongue. Years later I will learn
why he does this: searching for words when the mouth is lacking,
soft tears cradled in the pockets of his open eyes. What’s
the difference between memory told and memory burned?
I was born in the womb of a stranger, my face a reflection
of somebody else’s shadow. If I told you that I missed you,
would you believe me? Would I?