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Two Poems by Joseph Han | Word Riot

January 15, 2015      

Two Poems by Joseph Han

Geography lesson

Your friends discuss nuclear war
and call you Kim Jong-un.

They ask: Are you North Korean?
You tongue at the boiled roots sticking

earth around your mouth. Is there a difference
between North and South? Where does village

dirt end, skin begin? They fear world war
while families seek suture on the 38th parallel,

but it’s a border to them, the way it seamed.
Are you a citizen? Your organs contract,

mind thinking famine, forgetting fries, drive-thru’s,
frying under field work heat, where water

means to clean or negate dryness. Grass is fast
food, soil is cheap perfume. You smell like earth,

your stomach whispers hunger. They say: you can still
be a spy, defector. You picture your mother

being sawed by a scalpel, jagged carving down
a womb separated to bear children apart.

They will keep asking, and you will never be
able to explain exactly what any of it means.

First taste

Drink up the sight of balcony nights, where he hangs
onto beer cans for balance. Cough against your fist

near glass walls to signal smoke escaping his mouth
into yours. Grandfather gives maekju instead of water

after your maroon medicine coats inside. He’ll learn
one day. The gold river that glints in grandfather’s

daze under eclipsed eyes worms in your stomach,
reserving a spot as a lake that oceans when you

come of age. Soon you choose to taste his liquid
breath in every exhale and challenge the tremors

quieting since the last time a cigarette was lit as
incense to future deaths. Every sip that fed

a world you could hold beneath his chest, arms
equatorial, now nourishes remembrances

you hope to ignore: you realize what it means
to whisper rejections of air that only God could

hear. You will learn to one day keep your ghosts
contained in bottles, filter grandfather through your liver.

DSC_0262-1About the author:

Joseph Han was born in Seoul, Korea and raised in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. His fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Bamboo Ridge Press, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & Action, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Eclectica Magazine, and Hawaiʻi Pacific Review. He is currently a graduate student in English at the University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa.

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