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Issue 18

Poetry » Jonathan Treece »

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A Song for Park Young-Su

It’s very cold,
but better cold than hot. Well, no, perhaps
not. Either way, to be lugging

cartloads of dirt, making small piles
big, and deep pits deeper at his age
is a trial.

Yes, work is good. No man should live
without it. He has worked hard all his life,
but it never ends, not even for age.

All hands hold up this
People’s Republic, and heaven
is glory; or at least better than starvation.

He can tell stories
of a father eating the flesh
of his children in Hwanghae province.

They shot the man.
Rightfully so.
It chills him to think of it.

His own children are home
      with a warm blanket to lay over
his aching back.

But there is an airport to build;
a monument to continued progress.
He will move a mountain with the pain in his back

spreading to his chest.
This moment, he wonders, will I die?
Not yet. Not until spring.

Then the ground will be soft, and there is music again.
Then he will go,
accompanied by the applause of butterflies.

The Marsh That Would Be His Heart

Put it here – he said and touched it
to the wound of his mouth. It felt like trust
with the firm pressure of lust against his lips.
But staring dizzily at the froth of stars,
he felt no more grown up than when they had started.
No impression was kept by the grass as he stood
and the other boy stuttered with his zipper
and excuses. He had to get home.
They both did.

Sliding between the sill and the pane
of his window, touching his tongue to his lips,
he lay in bed grateful to sleep with the moon’s light.

He knew there would be no calls.
The glances would all be fearful.
Only one of them would dream about it.
So love he broke off at the root and tossed it
into the loft with the rest of his misspent time.

If the heart can be a cage, and not some soggy waste,
he would make his from hemp and shells
where a sparrow peers out curiously
between the twine. He calls its name and for himself
coaxes it to sing.

Bringing Up the Dead

My head against her stomach, I listened to her tides,
looking up, counting and then losing count of the foil stars
she had folded and cut by hand,
hung from the ceiling on spidery filaments.

I was aware of myself in the shadow
of my mother’s breasts for a short time
before cancer blossomed inside them.

As she got sicker, fear was a monster
panting against my neck, wearing my life
for its face. At her funeral,
I felt naked among the whispers
drifting like snow inside my ears.

My father was a wounded animal
surrounded by his herd, and unreachable to me
as my eyes fell from starshine to dimness.

I came to realize that years drop behind us
like bread crumbs giving us a way back
into memories, but they don’t always resemble the days
we knew each other, and things are just like that.