and thud and shatter, necklaces heated to white-hot
in the firelight, you and yours/not-yours laughing,
the band in the kitchen, the refrigerators spray-painted
white on move-in opened and closed,
flapping as though trying to fly, the broken light,
sad broccoli behind the boxed wine, always
getting ready to get it, some, someone’s
birthday cake, creepy lukewarm stew, jell-o this
jell-o that, a huge vat of jungle juice, soggy wheels
and wedges of fruit, rummaging for mugs
after the plastic’s gone, tooth-chipping face-smashing
in the corner, inevitably blood, someone getting
the run-around, someone petting the terrified cat,
then coming back again into the steam and haze,
the swimming pool is lit all night, highlighting
discussions about cities never visited, the attracted
one inking a spatial calligraphy from kitchen to hallway
to fire escape to couch. Tie a ribbon around his waist
or your thoughts and they will weave a bright sweater
for Sunday’s clown, shivering, hairs lifting off the plaster
of white face paint, looking for her wallet in a bush.
Behind another door a mirrored squat toilet,
a lady giving out lotion and tissue, next to the zoo
at the edge of the park, its seals swimming circles in the dark.
“Like an ink stick dried to an ink stone the river is frozen.”
–Kim Kyung Ju
You could buy dumpling skins from people
behind a glass partition wearing jumpsuits
and covered evenly in a fine layer of flour.
They appeared to you like scientists who had survived
a lab malfunction but were doing their best to work
past the failure. Or benign ghosts, fully visible to all:
blank pages walking around, hawking their skins.
In other parts you could buy tofu or dvds, a turtle
crawling around in a kiddie pool with crabs foaming
in the face. The vendors put them all in little plastic bags.
You remember seeing people leaving, with all their bags,
some pendulous and shifting with eels.
But this was all a long time ago and you’re tired
of going back when so many other things have happened.
Why then do you insist on returning?
Your friend had North Korean co-workers.
She said they always had sunflower seeds in their pockets,
and offered her a few on the street or when they sat down for tea.
Is it because you were alone there for the first and only time?
Or because it’s yours, your memory remaking it,
like manipulating a wet clay bowl into a pretty little plate;
more exotic. The market, becoming light-less,
the apartment down the street, dimming into a different atmosphere.
It is impossible to preserve something so soft,
secreted deep in the spine of your young self,
a black liquid injected there, but by whom?
You remember reading that in a Pyongyang park,
a bench was encased in glass because that was where, once,
the great leader sat, and this lodges, like a shard, in your memory,
a clean incision: often what is read takes edge, weight,
a ghost with heft, opacity, the power to puncture.
They sell this too, at your market, next to your yellowed undershirts
on wire hangers and the shadow puppets cut in your image, dumb,
but manipulated to pretend to talk in circles, to be alive
for all the children watching.
The Moorish Smoking Room
after Billy Collins’ Osso Buco
and after Donald Trump
Black lacquer paneling, carved glass, gold accent, edge, gilding,
hearth, grate, spark-screen, bellows, ash-brush and shovel
all clean and of the same set, the candelabras on the mantle
have three-stems, two of them, reflected in the mirror,
become twelve. Teacups on the carved, painted table,
nested in saucers, sunburst or sunflower or something
embellished on the chair-backs and seats, the pattern repeats
on the furniture skirts, the couches, and the curtains,
which break up the orange – Spanish Orange –
wall-paper patterned with gilded orbs, this being
the wall’s lower half. The ceiling, painted to look coffered,
and below a seashell-like optical illusion of a portico, allusion
to openness in the oppressive space, a weak, beachy nod
to the Mesquita Cathedral, something lacy about it,
or a prelude to the Chicago Medinah Athletic Club
with its cryptic carvings, fountain of Neptune
in the pool overlooking the lake. Even then it was
doomed. Those people – those men – sitting
surrounded by elm burl paneling, glowing and heavy,
were, even then, looking back at what was.
The white monkey from Indonesia once
snowy-fresh, now aged, a bit mangy in the cage.
The tortoise, a balloon threaded through a drilled hole
in its shell nibbling on chives was a gift for the pretty
girl who turned out dim-witted. The slaughterhouse,
the slum were only memories then. No, a step further,
the slaughterhouse, the slum, the market only existed
in the imaginations of those men, imagined markets,
the animals living in cages. When did guilt become
a social requirement? they wonder. An object’s preciousness
is measured by the amount of pain it takes to procure.
The diamond. The canned ham. The cold wine, the cotton,
the coconuts on ice, the ivory keys. If those men – they –
ever chose to listen, the bones and teeth at the bottom of the ocean
would have nothing to say to them, because they –
the bones – know they hold us up, keep us afloat
from below and we owe them everything and all
our apologies and when they – the men – die,
I will not be surprised if they select to be buried
encased in concrete, sealed so that they – the men,
their bodies, their bones – will not be damaged, vandalized,
a repercussive cause of all the damage they have done,
and also so that they cannot feel the hands holding them
up in the dirt, in death because they don’t understand
this singular tapestry of which they – the bones, the men,
the secret marrow – are all a part.
Sophie Summertown Grimes holds an MFA in Poetry from Boston University and has poems published or forthcoming in The Literary Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Forklift Ohio, and AGNI Online, among others. Author of the chapbook City Structures, she writes poetry reviews for Publishers Weekly. Her website is here.