The Self Reads You & Other Poems [+ Web Exclusive]
- onSeptember 4, 2018
- Vol.41 Autumn 2018
- byKim Min Jeong
The Self Reads You
Let’s convene in secret and then
we fly flyers in the middle of Gwanghwamun.
We can just hand out leaflets
to motivate people to read.
Why fly flyers from the sky?
Unless it says DOWN WITH THE GOVERNMENT
in gigantic letters.
Anyways, you don’t even have the guts.
I just can’t stand the sight of that Park Geun-hye, that’s what.
Are you enjoying the sight of her, Miss Kim?
The owner of the printing house
asked to meet up, said it was important.
He’s swollen up to his eyes like he’s got a toothache.
He says the bank rejected his loan
but to talk to me about it
would be a waste of his breath.
But he wouldn’t stop cursing the banker
Motherfucking son of a bitch.
What the hell, I filled my prescription today.
I’ll give you five of the weak ones.
The clinic is across Famous Healing Hands
on the 3rd floor of that sushi place.
I pick out only the 0.25 mg pills of zolmin1
from the prescription packet and hand them to him.
How flexible yet slender, these pills.
So these are Miss Kim’s vitamins, huh?
The owner slips five pills
the shade of deep sea in his suit pocket.
Do you happen to have hard-frozen Chinese meatballs in your fridge?
If you do, throw them out, first thing.
I’m the one who woke up still drugged,
tried to heat them up
and ended up setting everything on fire
even the caldron lid.
The whole house was up in smoke.
A fire truck was dispatched.
I was in my underwear, braless.
I picked up the lid with my bare hands, lost grip.
The bones in my right foot were shattered like sesame.
I just wanted to eat meat
but all I got was charcoal to chew on
so it got me wondering:
who was it that first put meat over charcoal?
Did they even know the whole story?
Turning into flesh turning into charcoal, you know.
When you set fire to the end of a sentence
you end up setting your ass on fire.
Anyways, meat turning into charcoal is like chewing gum
but charcoal turning into meat is like ironing
gum already chewed up.
I don’t know which tongs turned me over
but I guess it wasn’t time to flip the meat
When the backs of hands slap or get slapped above a grill
at that moment, why do we slap? Why do we get slapped?
None of us know but actually, you can tell by a glance, you know?
It’s undercooked so let’s wait and see,
that kind of attitude is so . . .
Yo, yo, focus! Focus!
1. A short-term cure for insomnia. Reported side-effects include anxiety, restlessness, hallucination, depersonalization, and suicidal impulses.
From Let It Be Beautiful and Useless, Munhakdongne, 2016
Ruse Named Pubes
The day I paid to open my legs for the first time in my life since hair grew out my head, Precious You Gynecology had just two female doctors. Thank God. Let’s take a look, shall we? On the ultrasound screening for cervical cancer a close-up of the fishy red of ripe tomato flesh filled the screen. It’s clean, but your uterus has an interesting shape. You could call it pointy. The day I looked at my baby house for the first time since I had pubes, I somehow became “Pointy Womb.” I imagined a conehead baby, poking at my belly with the tip of its party hat head. I feel the pricks just by thinking about it. If it was a baby I was about to snip its bad manners from the start but How about a Brazilian? the female doctor asked in the middle of scouting my crotch, lifting her head and adjusting her glasses, which had slipped to the tip of her nose. We just got a new laser machine, we’re having a promotion. Take our armpit package deal. It’s summer, you should take care of your bikini line. The day I’m headed all the way to Geochang to offer my condolences at a funeral, I’m peeing, crouched at the Anseong Rest Stop toilet, but who plastered all these stickers all over the door? Good news for women, you can be beautiful too! Female hairlessness and baldness can be completely cured without surgery! 02-969-6688 Even Marx wouldn’t have expected this inequality.
A Certain Despair1
At the Shiseido store on the first floor of Shinsegae Department Store, Gangnam, a monk is picking out some cosmetics. Okay, sure, she can ask for all the wrinkle-care products and the moisturizing masks and sure, she can spread them out all over the place, but how will she deal with the UV protection cream? Where does the forehead end and where does the rearhead begin? As the monk is consumed in self-inspection the employee’s gone red all by herself. She starts applying the cream on the monk’s head, but wait, she brought a wooden fish here? That clack, clack beat is so fine, my laugh disguised as a cough mixes into it. At that moment, my eyes meet the monk’s. Miss, have you tried this? Does it really slim your figure? Sure, she can clutch the Body Creator and her credit card and make sure she receives a coupon for a 5% discount at the mall, but the moment she leaves for the event station where they hand out gift cards according to the purchase amount, her back smells not of incense but of Chanel No. 5. The poet in me starts taking some shoddy notes but there, behind the monk who rises on the escalator, women with bags upon bags start lining up like chatter they don’t know when to stop . . . As the mold does not repent its molding, as cowardice and disgrace do not repent themselves—Oh, actually, Mister Kim Su-Young, he already did it all and ran off 44 years ago.
1. “Despair.” A poem by Kim Su-Young, recorded August 28, 1965.
From She Began to Feel - for the First Time, Moonji, 2009
Landscape in Which I Am Cutting and Cooking Me
Come midnight, all of you play the crying into my ear, the cry of pain when the feet are pierced by broken porcelain dishes. I try picking at the volume button with an ear swab thicker than my fingers but the heart of the speaker makes a sound like chewing millstones. Earwax hard like dry grains of rice crumble as they grind. I take the ground-up earwax that blows like dust in water. My eardrums bloat up. The decibel rises through my eardrums taut like the swollen tits of a cow about to be milked, quickly, a quick leg, high heels with icicles hammered into them chase the cry and ride the monkey bars that walk down, down under the ground. In the tip with its mouth puckered into a trapezoid, a frog lies stretched out with a belly like a peeled onion. The frogs’ hiccups beat in whimorirhythm. You are hiding in their vocal sacs, crying. I burn a candle and melt my heels so I don’t step on you. It melts, bubbles flow, egg whites that crochet the bubbles into lace fry into a silky cashmere blanket that covers the frogs. I can’t hear it, I won’t hear it anymore . . . But the fine tremble of the Adam’s apple that tickles bare feet, your cry that never seems to boil down . . . We’re hungry. We’re crying because we are hungry.
When I pull down the zipper to shake my rattle for you the frog’s belly splits with a cross screwdriver. I wind a shoveling wax figure and push it into the intestines covered with pitch-black silt. The wound-up wax figure shovels the mud out of its belly. With each shovel comes, one after another, the wisdom tooth I pulled out and hid away, the fingernails and toenails I cut away, the dandruff I scratched away, the dead skin I scrubbed away, the blood and eggs I flushed away . . . they,
As I dress you in your outlines, I jump in surprise. All of you drop my name tags you’ve been wearing. These are all mine. I pick up all the name tags that I had lost and put them back on the cracks in the warped shapes here and there on my body. Like a bubble in a spiderweb, your flesh won’t ball together. They’re shaken, dusted off, and rubbed all over mud. Shit lumped together like fingerprinted M&Ms fall from all sides and tumble around. Gravedigger beetles squirm out of my body and each takes a shit one by one, bites down, crunching. The wound-up wax figure’s shovel hooks up bones like Jenga blocks picked clean of flesh. The hooked up bones ask for their lost pants sizes back. They wrench their bones and wring out tears like broth. Yes . . . We’re hungry. We stole them because we are so hungry.
I scrub every corner of my body with a heavily salted toilet brush. In one mouth, in one bellybutton, in one clitoris, in two eyes, in two ears, in two nostrils, in two nipples, in two ovaries, I ram in a flower shovel to decorate myself. I lace my waist so hard my pleura bursts. I fix my neck on a metal hook for meat and hang like a coat. I pinch and pick myself until my flesh puffs up like a rubber glove gagged with a burst pipe. I sharpen a scythe as big as a hockey stick and swing down a straight line on a ruler from the back of my head to my ass. I take a kitchen knife to the middle of my lung and peel the skin off completely. I flay myself. Quickly, I start the heat and set my whole self sizzling on the grate. When the smell of grilling myself rises the skeletons and unidentifiable bones scramble to eat. The blood that had welled on the grate was sautéed like meatballs rolled in clotted blood. I become chewy and cut myself into bite-sized bits with meat shears. I feed the slices of my burnt flesh that I cut and cooked myself to the skeletons who stretch their jaws so wide they might break. As if they’re pain relief patches, I paste the slices of my flesh I cut and cooked onto the skeletons who are smooth and slick like greased ivory. The skeletons and bones gathered around the fire eat and wear the slices of my flesh I cut and cooked. They grow fat, into Me. Seven, fourteen, twenty, twenty-seven Me’s look to me, waving, It’s me, it’s me. You burp all the slices of my flesh I cut and cooked. You’ve all grown into a Me. You walk into the frames in every room and take celebratory photos. On the hot grate where I cut and cooked and ate myself, only thirteen flower shovels lie, roasting like crabs.
But Death Only Opens the Door Exactly at the Promised Hour
Again, Father ran wild today like a dog on rat poison. Mother’s forehead shattered the ashtray and out of it licked and licked a sticky tongue. Mother quickly locked the door and us inside the room. Please, please be still, don’t even breathe too loudly . . . In the darkness, as if we had planned it together, we kneeled and begged, rubbing our hands. Slip. Slip. We waxed the floor, scrubbing night and day. We brushed wax onto the heels of Father’s shoes and even his socks. We all promised to tread carefully. Father doesn’t know. I really hope Father doesn’t know.
In the end, Father brought out the axe from the attic. He swung down at the locked door with his two hands. Get out! All of you, you fucking bitches! We shed tears like candle drippings. Oh fuck, I told you to stop crying. Candle drippings flew off in all directions and hardened there. Scraping off each one, Onni glared with her bloody eyes, red like plums. Through the crack that opened up above her head, a beam of light had perched. Onni, I think there’s a fire somewhere, my nose stings . . .
On the flowerbed I made with Father, we dug a hole with a flower shovel. We dug so hard, stopping only to eat. In the hole, we buried a large jar. We placed Father’s pillow in the jar. Father doesn’t know. I really hope Father doesn’t know.
Father’s medical reports are like yesterday’s newspaper shoved in the trash. You don’t have to read it to know it’s boring.
Isn’t there anything exciting going on?
From Flying Porcupine Maiden, Munhakdongne, 2016
A Study of Poetry
It’s a story from back when Mister Park Sang Ryung, who lives in Canada, would stay at Gwanghwamun whenever he visited South Korea; I was invited to an early lunch on Saturday for which Mrs. Park served us spaghetti and we drank enough to make anyone with two legs crawl on all fours—the bottles we drank were countless, what a sight—so even before the sun set I rushed to put on my shoes at the door, and I tried and tried but my feet wouldn’t fit, my heels kept crumpling my shoes, and in the end I shoved them in and stood up as best as I could but Mister Park, with a cigarette between his lips, stood right in front of me and I don’t know why his face randomly reminded me of Japanese yam but he puffed smoke like Japanese yam bubbles and all of a sudden he made me promise not to write poetry like On that majestic green field the pine stands ever green so I was able to develop enough patience to listen to the national anthem through to the end before the stations go off the air but if you ask me if that’s paradoxical I don’t really know but they say great poets think alike so I searched “poetics” at the used bookstore Aladdin’s website and I did come up with 1,332 results to begin with
Black Nana1 Falls Asleep, Wakes Up In the Mirror
Like breast cramps before your period, the night wrenches its body with a shudder that only my blood and I can recognize. From its cracks, the breathing of the freezer that ices the gums and scraps of protein stuck in a cavity, a tongue that is fluffy like a comforter at times. They linger in the atmosphere. The tangled lines with scratchy outlines, gnawing away all its punctuation, stitching tails to tails. The breaths pumped into shriveled up guts, like a spin, spinning swivel chair, the spawning vase inflates its already bloated curves. With my chopsticks I poke around inside that black jar of soy sauce. The gooey tar flows onto my hair, sticks like burns on a pan. The smell of molten rubber burning . . . There are shadows I can’t dig out even when I climb a ladder to scratch at them. They walk over to my brittle cast.
A child was crying.
Child, why are you crying?
My bones say they’re hurting.
Yes, my bones. Bones don’t have tears, so they asked me, Onni, cry me some tears.
I don’t know, why are the bones hurting?
They say the clothes are so scratchy.
Scratchy, the clothes?
You know, the silver-grey steel scrubbers, they say it’s as if they rolled around in a slip lined with it. The nipples are all scraped. It stings so much. No matter how many pins I tack on, the clothes are experts at coming undone and every time I pull up the loosened straps, the cogwheel with its mouth ripped wide open pricks up its whetted teeth so straight, it’s like clawing your entire body with an edged fork and that’s not all . . .
There are dozens and thousands of hands hiding in my underwear, pinching. Every night they wring out my coochie and won’t let me sleep. Magenta grains like pomegranate seeds pop, pop their heads out, they bite and rip and suck, and have a fucking fit. The shoes won’t fit so my hind sole is all scraped. I can’t live like this, I won’t live like this. The drops of blood, too, have started climbing off the visceral muscles, gripping on the tail of exhales, but whatever. I can’t cry for them anymore. I have to save my bone marrow to brew it again and again. If it dries up how will I live? I’ll starve. Either I dress the bones in new clothes or I pick them clean of flesh and chase them out. I think I’ve come to the wrong shop. I don’t think these are my insides.
Mom, Mom, a balloon came to play with me on a pogo stick. It’s this big, THIS big, it’s a really large balloon, and every time it hopped the two eyes stuck on its butt jingled and rang like a rattle. It sounded so cute I ran after it with my duck-headed floatie around my waist. I swam the ground panting huff, puff. It was right in front of my eyes so I thought if I stretched it far enough my arm would be longer but I couldn’t reach the rattle, it just went up the stairs jingling, ringing. My feet hurt so I looked down and found kitchen knives plastered onto the edge of every stair. Give me the rattle, I said. Then will you follow me? No, tomorrow’s the first day of school. The rattle lifted my skirt and pulled out my backpack. I yelled, No, I’ve never even worn it yet. I snatched my bag away and ran back. I rolled and rolled down the knife-plastered stairs. The blades went swish swish, piercing through my feet, kneecaps, pelvis, skull, and said, Bonjour. Really, Mom, it didn’t hurt at all. Because Mom will come get me, Mom will give me a piggyback ride and sing me a lullaby, even if I disappear, Mom will give birth to only me, me, again and again, because Mom can only remember my face, nothing else.
As soon as I see the seaweed soup for my birthday on the table where I have to sit face to face, I vomit again. At midnight on my birthday the firm shoulder that propped me up again and again as I fell was a shapeless laundry pole patting my backside. Its entire body pasted with thin skin like cellophane, one ball, two balls, each and every ball that looks like me rolled out of my mouth, plump plump. Oh, here you were, I was here too . . . Then what about that one, and the one next to it, the one next next to it, the one next next next to it, all of them . . . who are you?
the onnis who bang the front door nightly / get out, get out, get the hell out of our house / the onnis that pick their bellybuttons nightly / get out, get out, get your things out of our nostrils right now / but the onnis / come to my bedside and complain / we’re hungry, we came because we’re hungry / with soaking lips like dusky labia bloated with carbon monoxide gas / onnis, nightly / cling to me like chestnut honey
A bedroom slipper on one foot,
and a silver-scaled heel on one foot,
all this time, this is how
I have been running.
The corn planted in my pinky toe has been
after my roots this whole time but I
do not fall. Sticking their heads between my crotch,
my hairs have still been growing, spearing,
So far . . .
1. Translator’s notes: In Korean, “na” is a word that refers to oneself, like “I” or “Me.”
Translated by SoeunSeo
Kim Min Jeong entered the South Korean literary scene in 1999 when she won the Munye Joongang Literary Award for Best First Poem. Her poetry collections include Flying Porcupine Maiden, She Began to Feel - for the First Time, and Let It Be Beautiful and Useless. She has received the Pak In-hwan Literary Award, the Contemporary Poetry Prize, and, more recently in 2018, the Yi Sang-hwa Poetry Award. Her poetry has appeared in English in Poems of Kim Yideum, Kim Haengsook & Kim Min Jeong (2017).