View from a Torn-out Window
Forgive me for my sadness. I was a fool. I sat
at the window for long days and tense nights,
waiting for sunrise from the wrong direction.
I wanted to close my eyes. I wanted to close
all the windows and weep in the darkness. I knew
the river was moving away with a swiftness
unshy and asleep to my grief. O grief, forgive me.
The little bloody-headed animal in my heart
stumped around and around, full of whimper:
Let alone, let me be. Let me say: there are things
in the world I cannot understand, yet the slats
of warm sun every morning…
I can only receive what is given to me:
clouded sky, swerving water, rich rusting,
insidious rot at the roots. And for this let me say
I am grateful. For a year of shut doors
and red eyes. For things granted and taken
away. If you watch the knives flashing
on whetstones of hope, you know sometimes
they look bright as stars. All those nights
thick and wet with alone, full of wordchunk
and wormwood and wail. Forgive me,
I trust in great grace for the future, and yet
I’m still wiping my tears. God knows
I’ve been given so much. One day I’ll know
it was enough. At the end of these bitter
and beheaded nights, I’m still learning
to crawl to the light. Believe it or not,
I know this will pass. I am trying
so hard to be happy.
my mother turns soft in my grandmother’s arms
Jinju, South Korea
i have never seen her body so open.
from stiff border walls
to jellied persimmon,
like rain sliding into the sea.
from the kindling warmth
rising in her face,
a small, suppressed girl
thaws to life.
what survived the violence
and dark of her growth:
this shyness, so tender
i could weep.
she loops her arm
through her mother’s
and walks by the sea:
two women, defensive,
turned strong by their pain,
but soft in their loving,
Snow thaws along the knotted dip in the road.
I squat on the rock bridge, watching the stream
snag like white hair on the edges of stone,
flurry and flock like spring birds.
On the table, my mother has set a soft, golden egg,
quivering warmly over fried rice. It occurs to me
that to give up on hope would be ingratitude
for every morning she has broken open for me.
My friend calls me from across the ocean,
still healing from the coronavirus. Her voice stretches
and lifts like a rope, a bolt of suspended silk.
At night, my father crouches in the dark parking lot,
scraping the frost-frozen floor with his hands.
Ice shavings curl and gleam like shorn fur,
to dissolve and unclench in the sun.
He continues his slow and impractical work
to make sure we all come home alive.
Esther Ra is a bilingual writer from Seoul, South Korea. She is the author of A Glossary of Light and Shadow (Diode Editions, 2023), book of untranslatable things (Grayson Books, 2018) and the founder of The Underwater Railroad, a literary reunification project. Her work has also been published in Boulevard, Rattle, The Rumpus, American Literary Review, PBQ, Twyckenham Notes, and Korea Times, among others. Esther has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Pushcart Prize, the 49th Parallel Award, the Vineyard Literary Award, the Women Writing War Poetry Award, and the Sweet Lit Poetry Prize.