Monologue for an Onion

I don't mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not kept you
From peeling away my body, layer by layer,

The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.

Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mine
Lies another skin: I am pure onion--pure union
Of outside and in, surface and secret core.

Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot.
Is this the way you go through life, your mind
A stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth,

Of lasting union--slashing away skin after skin
From things, ruin and tears your only signs
Of progress? Enough is enough.

You must not grieve that the world is glimpsed
Through veils. How else can it be seen?
How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veil

That you are, you who want to grasp the heart
Of things, hungry to know where meaning
Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,

Yellow peels, my stinging shreds. You are the one
In pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to
You changed yourself: you are not who you are,

Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade
Of fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.
And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is

Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.


Out of albumen and blood, out of amniotic brine,
placental sea-swell, trough, salt-spume and foam,
you came to us infinitely far, little traveler, from the other world—
skull-keel and heel-hull socketed to pelvic cradle,
rib-rigging, bowsprit-spine, driftwood-bone,
the ship of you scudding wave after wave of what-might-never-have-been.
Memory, stay faithful to this moment, which will never return: 
may I never forget when we first saw you, there on the other side,
still fish-gilled, water-lunged,
your eelgrass-hair and seahorse-skeleton floating in the sonogram screen
like a ghost from tomorrow,
moth-breath quicksilver in snowy pixels, fists in sleep-twitch,
not yet alive but not not, 
you who were and were not,
a thunder of bloodbeats sutured in green jags on the ultrasound machine
like hooves galloping from eternity to time,
feet kicking bone-creel and womb-wall,
while we waited, never to waken in that world again, 
the world without the shadow of your death,
with no you or not-you, no is or was or might-have-been or never-were.
May I never forget when we first saw you in your afterlife
which was life,
soaked otter-pelt and swan-down crowning,
face cauled in blood and mucus-mud, eyes soldered shut,
wet birth-cord rooting you from one world to the next,
you who might not have lived, might never have been born, like all the others,
as we looked at every pock and crook of your skull,
every clotted hair, seal-slick on your blue-black scalp,
every lash, every nail, every pore, every breath,
with so much wonder that wonder is not the word—

Search Engine: Notes from the North Korean-Chinese-Russian Border

By which a strip of land became a hole in time
            —Durs Grünbein

Grandfather I cannot find,
flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone,
what country do you belong to:

where is your body buried,
where did your soul go
when the road led nowhere?

Grandfather I’ll never know,
the moment father last saw you
rips open a wormhole

that has no end: the hours
became years, the years
forever: and on the other side

lies a memory of a memory
or a dream of a dream of a dream
of another life, where what happened

never happened, what cannot come true
comes true: and neither erases
the other, or the other others,

world after world, to infinity—
If only I could cross the border
and find you there,

find you anywhere,
as if you could tell me who he is, or was, 
or might have become: 

no bloodshot eyes, or broken
bottles, or praying with cracked lips
because the past is past and was is not is

Grandfather, stranger,
give me back my father—
or not back, not back, give me the father

I might have had:                                 
there, in the country that no longer exists,
on the other side of the war—

from “Disorient: Children of the Revolution”

for my cousins


                      “First the meat disappeared from our rations,
                      then the rice, then the barley and millet,
                      then the rations vanished.




                      “We caught croakers, cuttlefish,
                      hauled creels of eelgrass and whip-wrack
                      until soldiers fired warning shots to keep us from the sea:

                      trapped squirrels, snapped sparrows’ necks,
                      stoned snakes if we were quick, dug mud
                      for frogs, dragged dogs from their holes:

                      and when they were wiped out, gnawed rats raw—
                      until they seemed to grow thinner,
                      the parasites in our guts wither, the lice on our scalps




                                                   하루 두 끼만 먹자!
                                                   [LET’S EAT TWO MEALS A DAY!]




                      “We boiled bracken, ground flour for noodles
                      from bean-stalks, stretched it with sawdust,
                      cooked gruel from grass or moss:

                      stripped pine-trees to chew the green inner bark,
                      picked pigweed, hogweed, horseweed, wort,
                      pounded acorns into a pulp—




                                        고난의 행군에서 승리한 기세로 새
                                                   세기의 진격로를 열어나가자!
                                        [LET’S CHARGE FORWARD INTO THE NEW
                                                        OF THE ARDUOUS MARCH!]




                      “Hunt for spilled grain near shipyards and train stations.
                      Poke through cow-shit for corn.
                      Wash well.




                      “Crush grubs.  Suck leeches.  Swallow
                      the worms that would swallow you.
                      Eat anything alive to stay alive.




                     “Snatch scraps of black-market meat.
                      Mother-meat, father-meat, meat of wandering swallows,
                  meat of tomorrow—?
                      Is-Was.   Eat-Eaten.




                                    오늘을 위해 살지 말고 내일을 위해 살자!
                                    [LET US NOT LIVE FOR TODAY,
                  BUT FOR TOMORROW!]




                      “The children’s skulls swelled, their bellies bloated,
                       their nails fell off,
                       their faces leathered, flesh blackened with infection,

                       hair rusted, eyes ringed with wrinkles
                       as if steel spectacles had been soldered into skin,
                       but what was there to see?




                      “Faster, dig faster! Save face, the aid workers are coming!
                       Hide them, the rotted bodies, lives heaped high as leaves—
                       There is hardly earth enough to bury all the dead.