My old love called me at midnight
and asked if I ever masturbate.
I said I do sometimes.
He asked who I think about when I do it.
“No one,” I said,
though I asked, “Does a flower open
its buds only when it thinks of butterflies and bees?”
He couldn’t understand my words.
The dogtooth violet…
the flower raising a feeble stalk
through hard-packed soil and unmelted snow
on a hill below Namhaekeumsan came to ming.
The feel of sunlight on the stalk
and the old longing of moisture to tickle rootlets
at the start of the thaw made my breasts swell.
“In the language of flowers dogtooth violet means wanton woman.
Do you think the wind shakes the stalk?
It’s the passion within the stalk that produces the wind.
See how its two legs lie down like grass.”
Even with no one to knock it down,
a dogtooth violet is a dogtooth violet.
It burns hot as hardwood charcoal.
From If my tongue refuses to remain in my mouth (Autumn Hill Books, 2018)
Translated by Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill