KOREAN AND ENGLISH
English and Korean are two lovers who unclothe me on different days.
English leads me through an overgrown garden of artificial lights, eclipses caught on the branches of
silver trees. Over the quiet crackling of broken leaves and snapped twigs, I talk, and English listens.
My voice grows tangled and flourishes, climbing up the walls of the English language like vines in
the blue night. In English, my teeth sparkle in the dark with laughter.
Korean presses its lips to mine, swallowing my heart alive. Korean is the forest, and spills a blaze
of pine needles, lotus flowers, pools bright as pearls down my throat. Korean whispers,
You could say more
If you used fewer words.
Korean doesn’t wait for a reply.
SPRING IN SOUTH KOREA
And again, in Korea, spring. With bent head, I brush my hair behind my ears, my hair swirling like
the black heart of pale sakuras. Ears white tinged with pink, like a halved unripe peach. Peaches
bruise easily. And are sweeter for their bruises. Girlhood sweet only until it’s eaten, as eaten it always
is. By time, by men, by ourselves. I swallow sweet ice in Korea until my mouth becomes a raw
cavern of cold pink. It is easier to love cherry blossoms than my native roses of sharon, so infested
with bugs, so hidden between the jagged green leaves. I catch sakura petals in my palms and release
them like snowflakes. Snowflakes melt on my flesh. My flesh tinged with pink. Every man wants
nothing but flesh. So goes the conventional wisdom: Every man only waiting to eat you up. Eat what? These
breasts clustered heavy as fruit, these legs still waiting to be halved. People walk down the streets, their lips
stained with pink and their eyes artificially large. Fine dust emergency warning: citizens stay inside. Fine dust
so small it remains invisible: seeping layer by layer into our lungs, crumpling stained smiles with
delicate coughs. Suicide rates and diseases quadruple as dust drifts sakura-like in the air. I once
walked through the dust to visit a friend in the army, but left my passport at home and was turned
back at the gate. Forgive me, I said, flushing scarlet with shame, and he bent his shaved head in regret.
His base was awash in cherry blossoms, petals brushing gently across steel spikes and barbed wire.
How do you send a message across barbed wire? Across the sea? Back in England I dreamed of a
flood of sakuras. I folded the white petals like envelopes and licked every blossom shut. On each
petal I wrote, with love, with love, with love. Sent them drifting over barbed-wire gates that papers
unlock, over oceans and countries uncrossed. For spring, after all, has no borders. Spring, even in
Korea, never dies.
Esther Ra is the author of book of untranslatable things (Grayson Books, 2018), which won first prize in the Grayson Books Chapbook Contest. Her work has been published in blue moon, The Scriblerus, and Consequence Magazine, where her poetry has received the 2017 Women Writing War Poetry Award. She is deeply interested in grappling with the quiet beauty in the ordinary, the price of courage, and the space of ambiguity between different cultures.