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Joan Kwon Glass: Three Poems

Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor

Cartouche

When you died,
mom insisted we remove
every photo from the walls.
Not just the ones with you in them,
but also of me and my children.

And your children.

Next, she invited friends
to take your belongings:
a new set of dishes, your perfume,
a book you inscribed in high school,
the little “a” at the end of “Julia,”
tender and intact.

Ancient Egyptians believed
that to cross over into the Land of Two Fields,
your heart must be light as a feather,
and your name cast onto stone,
for this means you are loved.
I practice writing your name,
leaving it anywhere
that feels permanent.
I press your handwriting
into papyrus wings.

Mom motions toward me
with outstretched hands,
offering up a handful of your jewelry
as if to say, take these
before they break
or are stolen from us.
Hold them in your hands.
Pretend that something,
anything
other than her absence
can endure.

*

Questions For My Mother

I want to ask
              when he questioned you about heaven
                            why did you choose angels?
              you could have pointed
                            to the tulips opening

              why didn’t you call for help
                            as soon as you heard the gunshot?
              I mean how can a gunshot in the next room
                            sound like anything other than a gunshot?

              what if we’d written his obituary to say
                            who he might have been
              and instead of naming his survivors
                            listed those who failed him?

              how can you still spend every Sunday
                            reading those stories about men
              who give up their firstborn
                            to prove their love for God?

Instead I ask
              why do you keep buying orange juice
                            for my children when it has so much sugar?
              their adult teeth have grown in already
                            they still have their whole lives
              ahead of them.

*

Chuseok 추석

Today my uncle and his wife will visit
my grandparents’ tomb in Korea
the way they do every year.
They will leave trays stacked high
with persimmons and powdered tteok
then say a Christian prayer as the wind
stirs everything into wakefulness.
On 추석 we remember the rise of the Silla,
kingdom of gold crowns with jade
carved and dangling like grapes.
We celebrate three centuries of unity,
North and South, dead and living together.
We salute the rising moon.
I think of my nephew’s grave in Troy, Michigan,
7,400 miles from my grandparents’ tomb,
his headstone flush to the ground.
Every time it rains the water floats trash
down from the street nearby:
a cigarette box, crumpled Burger King cups,
plastic bags torn like the skin of ravaged prey.
If I could go back I would claim a summit
and build him a tomb.
I would set a Silla crown upon his head.
Every year, I’d bring gifts and invite the wind
into the tomb where his skeletal jaws
hang wide open forever
trying to say one last thing.

*

Purchase HOW TO MAKE PANCAKES FOR A DEAD BOY by Joan Kwon Glass

Purchase NIGHT SWIM by Joan Kwon Glass

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