inheritances from gyeongsangdo (after OceanVuong’s “Aubade with Burning City”) | Erin Kong

3 mins read

i. soojung, 2001

if any memories remain,
let bruise and laughter blur.

somewhere by a sea,
a child forces broken stars
into their mouth, slivering
paled enamel above barely-there
buckteeth. five years old and
every care beyond.

fingertips stained
with blood (un)belonging to them,
stunning enough to refract
some unnamed glow.

in another time,
whole cities are mythed.
deluded diffractions
dressed in blackened rice
for burial.

the child’s canary skin itches.
they hear their grandmother’s record player
moaning from the house with a tune
too-familiar for comfort.

they dig their toes deeper
into the dirt.

ii. kwangsu, 1969

lost: that jet black of his hair,
silver cross around his neck,
the kind of smirk that converts
every pained spirit into martyrdom.
bad-boy, cigar-mouthed
holiest of swagger
pastor / soldier’s son, bored and belligerent
and terrified of the woman
he is with / will
leave behind.
but only when
the tradition of slaughter
becomes too tempting,
hands too trembling,
red knuckles / bleared violence,
unnegotiated lust.

what is more tenderly divined
than a drunk man with a gun
shaking the bonewhite of his
index finger, bang / bang!
at the quiet moon hanging,
its lonely trenches gasping
for light.

iii. jungsoon, 1978 – 1998

the sun waned from her eyes
long before he left.

uncruel midwest sleet shrouded
the sputtering reel of his shrinking back

she was grateful for heaven’s
small mercy.

when her first grandchild was born,
jinhee wept enough tears
to darken the sky.
there was so little light to inherit
she stuck her hand inside of her caving chest
and scraped out the reflections she could.
spooned her lungs into the child’s mouth
and prayed something could still
nourish life.

when the child could walk,
jinhee moved to the sea in hopes
the tide would be enough to trick
a child with crater eyes:
round, black, and impressed,
no flag or man or gun
to be found,

just unconquered stone
where the pull of gravity was different.

iv. gyeongsangdo (republic of korea), 1951

the earth puckers
and spits up ghostflame.

there is no music during wartime
but the scratched records
pulsing from the u.s. army base.
somewhere, miles from science and
gods scheming in the soil,
mario lanza croons,

            When you are in love
           It’s the loveliest night of the year

the american flag peels and
mends itself in the ashed wind
above a mud-colored tarp.
turned, fleshed ground ignites
and the spirits wail beside
lanza’s swollen tenor.
no one can name
what this does
to the living.

everyone is yellowed by undressed bones
and unrecovered temple, damned to be
a wandering spirit trilling along
to songs it does not know
the language of,
waiting to be washed
and mourned.