Unexpected Vanilla

  • onJune 23, 2019
  • Vol.44 Summer 2019
  • byLee Hyemi
Unexpected Vanilla
Tr. So J. Lee




The ceiling sank when the mouth opened. Water streams surged, and a luminous tunnel appeared on the ground. Where did it go? Murky, dim things filled the water surface.


After sweeping the moon with my hand, I peered into a dizzying flower and found its fearful, crowded core. Lights narrowing toward that single dot. White arrows being shot at the undulating ground.



Can I call them wings? Letters I scribbled while falling, papers peeking from ripped envelopes. Sucked into a bottomless song, time turned its back into the darkest farewell. Can I call it a hole that reflects darkness? Or a well that draws up the moon?


Lying inside a mill and waiting for another light, I felt a stream of water passing through my body. It was the river coursing toward the moon, the inside of a grave turned out and bright.







When Loquat Trees

Light Up


Let’s walk with our fingers laced together when the loquats arrive. Wet trees permeating between each finger. When we become jumbled branches with all the yellow we have, our touching palms become the ripped interior of the world. A tree begins when you break the berry and wet some other flesh. That’s why people who’ve put their palm lines together travel inside the same dream.



As our arms start to fall back to our sides, we rub our outer shells and smell the summer spreading through the air. The vibrations rising brilliantly between each tree. Open the jiggling, fleshy fruits and listen to the sound of countless white bells clanging against each other. While the leaves bite the open air with their new front teeth.


We become newly sprouted string instruments and clear our surroundings. A tree’s determination to empty the space between each branch like a chapped finger touching the world at last. When we produce a single superimposed seed with all the bones we have, we hear the season we left behind arriving inside a luminous yellow.






Arriving Lights


Lights were born as I opened my eyes


Someone fogged up my window last night after leaving their shadow behind That night I unraveled dream-bouquets that died down in a whirlwind The lights headed towards humans must still be lost in a distant light-year because


the twinkle in my eyes tremble with the intuition of an incoming planet When flocks of light flying high on eyelashes find a place to settle, a landscape is born



Like an impulse surging in the dark,


I flipped the shaded room into a bright sphere and found a world reachable by trace alone Just as sleep collects in the corners of closed eyes or distant light travels to sway in front of taut lashlines,


some lights shine more vividly when they’re gone When I washed the dewy planet and set it on a sunny windowsill, a human silhouette swayed above my closed eyes








Banan, with the touch of two gathered hands gripping


the mangled incantations spilled out and parted the lips When soft stems sprout from an abandoned grave, when the hands are buried in soil and stained up to the wrists, the blotted fingers dig into the deepest corners of the body Because the direction of hands determines the whereabouts of a prayer and an earnest plea is the secret crack in the door that redeems the darkness of hands


Where have the foreign fruits spilling unfamiliar scents gone? Or the prayer that created a new species by burying the severed hands of the lover?


Banan, listen to the heart leaking through the clenched hands and pluck the rotting fingers one by one A small, soft bone must be sprouting even from the flowerpot where a person is planted The sensation of this gentle handshake rises into the missing fruit-flesh





I’ve talked about the hand that pushes the head down. The massive body of water, the gaze of the silent deep sea. The floor of the far, far ocean that resolutely spouts darkness wherever it casts its gaze.


The ocean was neither its floor nor the three dimensions of water, but merely the earth’s ceiling. Like a hand far extended to change a light bulb, we lined our bodies abreast and went to find the light said to be the darkest.


Open your mouth wide and kiss the still remaining atmosphere. Humans forget how to speak with only a kiss. Abandon your words and dive into the deep ocean inside the mouth . . . That’s either the ceiling of a person or the floor of an afternoon. The lining of the luminous overcoat worn by the Earth.


About the space where the air bubbles inside the body rapidly expand, where the interior and the exterior invade each other. About the allied forces of color and pressure that a human body must endure.


I’ve talked about them before. We rise to an unfamiliar surface. That was us turning over the ocean cultivated long inside our bodies and offering it to each other.


(Excerpt from pp. 11–13; 16–19.)


Translated by So J. Lee

Author's Profile

Lee Hyemi debuted at age eighteen by winning the JoongAng New Writer’s Award in 2006. She has authored the poetry collections Ultraviolet (2011) and Unexpected Vanilla (2016). Her poems have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, Asymptote, and Words Without Borders.