Read guest editor Joanna Klink's introduction.

 


Means of Entering the Swarm

It's striking how being in the bottom rank
affects your moral sense.

Or we might never shake our tendency to live
straddling the faultline, knelt within
the dipped spoon washed
clean by flood, or drought's knuckled seizing, or
the ice suddenly breaking

under a bear too tired
to swim any longer. The warlord
galloping by, a rolling twitch
in his left eye.

Or maybe we follow, panting after,
in a fever to be told which animals
we yet can't do without.
                                   Or landmasses.
Perhaps Africa. Continents
forlorn, orphans in a snowstorm,

pearly grains smaller than
the smallest white dot, outlined
in white.
                  Or take the optimistic view,
conjure the busy convoy of
trucks, laden with grain, crossing
a desert. Or lately two men,

holding hands, and walking,
in the evening, during famine.

 


Animal Life

1

When we argued about animals we said
                                          political not lingual and
            opened the closet door kept usually
                       closed. Inside the animals
              were clothed in their narrows, answering to
                     he and she—what
        difference what name? What name could be so wrong
           so as to render creature other
                     than its memory of self?—males spilling
     eels and the females in the parlour,
                    grinding salt. The animals may despise
     the way we try so hard, if they possess
                                          the caudal fin which is devised
        to despise—An eye for an eye
        says the elephant, in the dream we have
              of elephants—yet, flying
we keep low
              and swooping
over faraway countries
                        of which we know nothing, dropping
feed to fatten rosebuds, or else babies
            on the vine. Animal, let me come for you. Another day
        I will come for you. I will be
     stuffed with feeling, flung
                                      open like the daylily cluster, petals
               crushed to tropical powder.


2

The animals wait in the field,
                                         horns unlocked. When
            the brown bear sinks it is
        against expectation and the physical heart
that runs
              a hundred miles
     to the river recently
swollen with flood
                           and the physical heart unbuttoning
           year after year, waiting for sun to assume its position.


3

               Fat drops of black like ink
     spread on the surface of stones. Elsewhere
              lichen is green as seedlings and interrupted
                  by moss. If you could make what is quick
   even quicker and with a pin thrust out
                 the petals of a thousand cherry blossoms all at once
                 like frantic tossing blooms
                 from the back of a truck, you could also see
                        with this type of quickness
           petals gather force
                                    then shoot out like a shout.
              Then the easy wither on branches,
                     hundreds of heart attacks contained in twine.


4

               When fat tomatoes ripen
in a cluster too fat and run-over with pulp,
                          it is too much to hold in the hand or not
waste. If you seize the thin gland between male spilling
                                       flanks, you may make

         perfume with it. Is this not more
     than the sum of parts? Is this not more than knowing
                     which heartpart to swallow, chew and eat?
                                      The doe's eye glossy not
needing light,
                     I would that its eye
           come close to mine, fire-
  worked of vine, blistering skin,
              long-leaping as a creature, real creature,
outside. How else can a leap be
            but outside? Its redness a color unseen in the dark.


5

Imagine
     waiting only for the sun to assume its position.
Don't imagine, cool out quick, empty like
            a bleached bone, sky drained towards the edge
                 of no color, when later, there is working,
         and the purse zippered and the willful waiting and coffee spilling, and then
               the deer. The deer
      trying to tell but she was not. The deer
        making sound but it was not. Its rolled
     eye sideways not looking. The real heart
              loud pump sounding and viscous-eared.
                       Accord of time and space
           but no amity.
                        How to address it. Deer, deer

     but to whom else shall I speak? Not
                                                you which brings us too close
        for mud, for shale roofs and damaged houses—not thou,
and then again

            high on the ridge of stunted junipers,
the rocks are dipped
        with fat black drops. Even lichen cannot recall
                           a color outside the palette of decay. Rocks in slow decay,
                 sore skin friction. Give me
   the moment before,
                              the intensity of its not looking.
                     Look
      in the river and along the banks
and buried afloat above its silty bottom are creatures
               you never dream of
and have never seen.

 


The Physical Heart

Bring me your earliest hunger
wrapped in paper. I too
am lost from my tribe.

                 One day you had
     one handful
               to eat.

               Now
            you are assembled

in bird cages, typewriters, dentists' chairs,
baby spoons, mannequins, thimbles and
expensive silver earrings
thin as needles and when I lose one,
   you buy me more.

        Swallowing
the physical heart
it enters hard
           wanting graft
                 to the hidden chamber,

so every breath entering
                     must tread
around its mass
                     observe its face

like a husk
                  undigested.
                                 In the kidneys
I remember,
                 in the liver,

in the sponge bore of stomach
encrusted with scarlet,

                 in vertebrae's thick knotting, the fat penguin rosary
           of the spleen, its ruminating
ink blotting, I
                 remember, in the dark holy impress
of the lungs,
      in the choked-weed dreaming
of the genitals that grow woolen,
dream latest, I remember

                     your earliest hunger, wrapped
in paper
            and brought
            to the famish of adulthood. And there was
all during those days
                    one moment when
you were nothing to me. One
                  moment. Nothing
more than what you are now.

 


Would That No One Could Refuse Me

Thrusting past
The obdurate soil. Caged

In the henhouse, subject
To avian diseases. Would I feel

The corrugated flush of fruit flies
Swarming, would I wait for

The gate to close again, with
A pockmarked boy

Wearing guilt like a trench-coat.
Would I have taught you

Nothing, would I tell you put a cloth
On the pillow, or pillow on the floor

To mask the odorous imprint, would I trim
You with the tiniest blade, so you may fully

Heed my wettest lip, have you
Sprawl the coat on the bathroom floor,

Door that locks, the undone button. Would
I fix your eye on the distant

Jewel, hidden under skirts. Or let me
To love as a cow

At the slaughterhouse gate, let
Me keen for the hook,

Steely and skyward, as a child
Whose dazzling array of

Teeth dropping, dream of
The flowering

Grave, shallow where new teeth are
Born, then bones, then souls,

Then animals, without souls, pecking.

 


Before We Came the Kingdom

            Outside the green enclosure
where birds and foxes are taken
for food,
                 there is no food.
The ostrich is first
to prolong its bristled taper towards
the dirt. Black-winged stilt and marble teal tip
their cawing beaks in. Meanwhile, indigenous antelope

makes its cross-legged bow. Meanwhile, ruby pike
dwindles, with large-mouthed erosions.

Sarcophagus flower
trampled in sand. Dark velvet petals

and scarletted under. A copia
of elephants and how they sink
and will not trample. Giraffe crumbling,

the arboreated cricket plies
a long green scatter
into song. Now exit baboon,
peacock, ocelot. Blackbucks and jackals sniff
for grubs. You should

hear them, see
white-hoofed llama before the kick
and fall. See
white-throated dipper heft

a broken foot under. Next the heavenly-
belted rhinoceros makes dry arc
of breathing. Then the heavy roll
in grass slick
with feces. Next the pilot
shunts the gear lever hard
and ignites. Next a yellow car to carry
all the corpses. Next Arabian horses
flick thin hooves and
are no more. Next
the water
runs red then black then stops
running. Demoiselle
crane
in flames. Brown bear flexing

for the flesh of once Dalmatian pelicans.

Even zebras
do roam.

            Pygmy cormorants also rustling
like a paper cone of peanuts
clasped and eaten. Next the lion
lays his shaggy brow

upon the rock. It weeps
into his eye.

 

 


Youna Kwak was born in Seoul, Korea. She has lived in Manhattan, Maryland, Missoula, Providence, Paris and Brooklyn, New York. Her poems and translations have appeared in journals including The Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cerise Press, The Horizon Review, Left-Facing Bird, Muthafucka, Neo, and Po&sie.

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