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Undressing an orange from top to bottom, I want another child
—that man’s child. He squats under a tree with a folder, too busy
to tend to anyone but papers, comforted by page after page.
He would discover me washed ashore inside a chest stuffed
with love letters, each one containing a knife with no instructions.
Now I ache for rude, sturdy things like his thick muscled calves.
At night inside a hut, an argument rises between two men
about who will have me first:
I will have her because she doesn’t fear me. I bring her pleasure.
No, I will have her because she depends on me. I lead her.
I will both times, the first for me and you. Because I can.
You do not love her. What is your purpose of lying with her?
We are pretending to be human.
I call out from the earth. My voice—hoarse, crumbling:
It doesn’t matter. I will have monsters, monsters for husbands,
then monsters of our own making.
I give birth to a boy and girl. I don’t know which child
belongs to which man until they are old enough to curse me.
I am the daughter of a demigod and a hunter. They lived
on Jeju Island. I visited once. Trash blown by the wind
through howling cave tunnels, tangerines floating in the bay,
volcanic rock walls shaped as if people were trapped inside.
I am a cave of people—first of husbands, then my children
who fight. I tell them to stop. Fight your fathers instead. Be angry.
It’s unnatural to see the tears of my children, husbands,
and then mine—all collected on the roof of my house.
Give me the shovel. I will go out into the field to bury
what makes us cry. Bring me salted tilefish we can eat.
One husband leaves. He is tired of us. He goes alone.
The other husband is jubilant. He wants another child.
I abandon them and the children. I hike through
a mountain pass and arrive at a German town. A brass band
plays folk music outside. I walk into a mineral store.
The first stone I see is a sheet of basalt. An old man appears.
He turns to me and asks, How much will you pay me to eat this?
I tell him, I don’t have money and I’ve already killed before.
In town, I meet a fox wearing a blue shirt.
He invites me to join him in a hammock
he pitched between two boulders in the forest.
We sway off the boulders jutting off a ledge.
When I leave the hammock, I am pregnant.
The fox asks to take the baby for himself.
When I refuse him, he follows me until I give
birth under the bough of an olive tree.
He takes the baby. For fifteen years, I chase him.
Looking for him, or looking for the baby.
At Icicle Creek, I find the fox dead and gray.
I see a woman standing over his corpse.
Her tail whips behind her, stirring air.
I pray to be harmless.
Looking at the woman, I see all my life as hers.
There is no such thing as alone. I say to her,
One day, you will give up everything. No one will know you
—because of this, how beautiful you ought to be.
She breathes joy and ease, joy and ease.
Everything born is ready to become an answer.
E.J. Koh is the recipient of the 2016 Pleiades Press Editors Prize for her forthcoming collection of poems A Lesser Love. Her poems and translations have appeared in World Literature Today, TriQuarterly, Southeast Review, Columbia Review, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Kundiman, The MacDowell Colony, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and the Jack Straw Writers Program. She lives in Seattle.
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