Hangul Abecedarian

Gathering sounds from each provincial
Nook and hilly village, the scholars
Discerned differences between
Long and short vowels, which phonemes,
Mumbled or dipthonged, would become
Brethren, linguistically speaking.
Speaking of taxonomy,
I’ve been busy categorizing what’s
Joseon, what’s American about each
Choice of diction or hill I might die on.
Killing my accent was only ever half the
Task, is what I mean. Q: When grief
Pushes its wet moons from me, is the sound
Historically accurate? or just a bit of feedback?

Quarantine

Because I did not have to smell the cow’s fear,
because I did not have to pin the man, watch his eyes
go feral, because I did not have to drag the stones
that formed in the child’s body, because I did not sheathe
my hands in dank soil, or skirt the machine’s battering, the needles
knitting my lower back, because when the factory collapsed
I smelled no smoke, and no one made me kneel at the cop’s boots
and count the pulse slowing beside me as every sound
soured, because my hands have never had to resist being comforted
by the warmth of blood, because the plastic-
wrapped meat and the mousetraps, because my job
was to stay clean and thankful and mostly imaginary, I have been stealing
what little I can:
                           onions. sandpaper. handfuls of skin.
the dumpster’s metal groan. hurried breath. hot knives.

Related Poems

Ghareeb

Meaning: stranger, one without a home and thus, deserving of pity. Also: westerner.

on visits back your english sticks to everything.
your own auntie calls you ghareeb. stranger

in your family’s house, you: runaway dog turned wild.
like your little cousin who pops gum & wears bras now: a stranger.

black grass swaying in the field, glint of gold in her nose.
they say it so often, it must be your name now, stranger.

when’d the west set in your bones? you survive
each winter like you were made for snow, a stranger

to each ancestor who lights your past. your parents,
dead, never taught you their language—stranger

to everything that tries to bring you home. a silver sun
& blood-soaked leaves, everything a little strange

& a little the same—like the hump of a deer on the busy
road, headless, chest propped up as the cars fly by. strange

no one bats an eye. you should pray but you’re a bad muslim
everyone says. the Qur’an you memorized turns stranger

in your mouth, sand that quakes your throat. gag & ache
even your body wants nothing to do with you, stranger.

how many poems must you write to convince yourself
you have a family? everyone leaves & you end up the stranger.

Mexican American Sonnet

with gratitude to Wanda Coleman & Terrance Hayes

We have the same ankles, hips, nipples, knees—
our bodies bore the forks/tenedors
we use to eat. What do we eat? Darkness
from cathedral floors,

the heart’s woe in abundance. Please let us
go through the world touching what we want,
knock things over. Slap & kick & punch
until we get something right. ¿Verdad?

Isn’t it true, my father always asks.
Your father is the ghost of mine & vice
versa. & when did our pasts
stop recognizing themselves? It was always like

us to first person: yo. To disrupt a hurricane’s
path with our own inwardness.
C’mon huracán, you watery migraine,
prove us wrong for once. This sadness

lasts/esta tristeza perdura. Say it both ways
so language doesn’t bite back, but stays.

                                          for Kristen

Smuggling Cherokee

1.
I unroll my map
And a photocopy
Of the palm of my left hand,
Weigh down the corners with
A fist sized chunk of peach colored flint, a
Barite rose
Some gypsum and
A piece of ruby jack
Then set in to work.

2.
There is a certain art
To a good mistranslation.

3.
I remember rage and impatient violence.
These days
I’m more likely
To pile river rocks in the bathtub
For love of smooth things
Things as edgeless as I can have them.

4.
The man asks me
“Do you speak Cherokee”
But it’s all I ever speak
The end goal of several generations of a
Smuggling project.
We’ve slipped the barriers
Evaded border guards.
I smile,
“Always.”