In the kitchen, Umma listens
to the mother who smirks,
then says her daughter studies
twelve hours a day. Umma nods,
lips pursed as she slices
a speckled radish. Years ago,
my harabeoji* followed
night, wandering untethered
through the dregs of the city. He was
thirteen, an inkling of a star.
as the shadow of a farm
glazed over his eyes.
A crimson train fled the countryside.
His pocket was picked, unprayed.
He reached the fluorescent open of a hotel,
a counterfeit heaven
like the lamp-lit room
of a studying daughter. She wanders
through textbooks, wondering
where school leads. To an open refuge,
she thinks, studying, in mothered
yet motherless light.
*My harabeoji (grandfather) left his family’s farm to go to school in the city.
with this spirit and this mind, give all loyalty—
two boys steal their betrayed anthem back
with their mouths. a day ago:
the softened skins of persimmons, the flood
of khaki uniforms pillaging Seoul, a sea away
from home. they pull
ripe laughter right out of their neighbors,
then swallow them whole.
now, the boys offer their tune
to their gods, gods who transpose
forsythias and rice cakes
into resistance, into gold
prayers for independence. in the black hours
of february, as the boys bury
their prayers, they take root.
then, another flood of khaki
claims the littered town,
the littered homes filled with littered books
the boys once read together—
young faces streaked red and gold,
overripe persimmons. have the gods
across the East Sea ever cut
a persimmon seed open? inside,
a millennium of white hunger, a monsoon.
Esther Kim is a Korean-American writer from Potomac, Maryland. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in SOFTBLOW, Crashtest Magazine, and Lunch Ticket, among others. In the summer of 2019, she participated in the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. A high school junior, she has been recognized by the Library of Congress, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards as a National Gold Medalist, the Atlantic, and the Poetry Society of the UK.