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all wrath and no god. The kind of look that has no heroes, only martyrs and the things they die for. This is the moment, library of everything you did not escape and one girl ready to destroy it, I’ve wanted this

For the look Sook-hee gave Hideko in the library at one hour and fifty minutes into The Handmaiden

all wrath and no god. The kind of look that has no heroes,
only martyrs and the things they die for. This is the moment,
library of everything you did not escape and one girl ready to destroy it, I’ve wanted this

since twelve years old. Call me a hopeless romantic and I’ll say yes. What else,
when I practiced stillness like it was a starring role.
Could slip out of my body with no help. Nine years

and no, I haven’t unlearned this. Sometimes the past is a basement
you never crawl out of and the look on Sook-hee’s face drowned me back
to childhood. Twelve and I held eyes with my reflection

like only one of us could make it out alive. You don’t understand.
I thought my period was a cherry-blossomed hanging tree.
I thought my body had finally found a way to die

without me making a sound. My mother laughed when I told her.
She was so excited for me, and why not? Every girl is excited about her period
right? The next step towards becoming

a real woman? These are the kinds of things I’m supposed to covet.
How to be robbed of something you don’t even know is yours. My friends dreamed
their first kisses so polaroid, a glossy peach lip and a laugh,

I knew better. I knew what the perfect lover looked like: anyone
willing to burn everything to the ground for me.
Anyone who would open up the book of everything done to my body

and then destroy the library, I thought about this constantly,
what they would look like, my rescuer, my Tamako, my Sook-hee
dreamed about someone wanting to kill God in my name, it took years to realize

they weren’t coming. There was no getaway boat,
and no mercury-blue cigarette. I realized that if I let go of the branch
there would be no one to hold my legs. In the end

it was me who sat in a sweaty seventh grade health class
and sheathed vocabulary into my teeth. I armed
myself. Learned all the words for what had been done. And no,

it’s not over. How difficult to realize you have protected the names of those who hurt you more
than you have protected yourself, and no, I am still not safe enough
to say their names out loud but

I used to think it was optimistic for my body to assume
it lives in a world where someday it will not be harmed. I don’t anymore.
Today, I am watching Sook-hee in the library,

again and again, as if to coil her scream into my throat.
As if I could throw that voice back to twelve years old and say here,
here, here is the hero you’ve been waiting for.

 

CLARA, IF YOU CAN HEAR THIS, I’M GAY

and I’m sorry for all the history I rewrote
to keep you out of my genesis.
All those years telling people I was the only girl
on the kindergarten softball team, or how I didn’t know
I liked anything other than the hard inertia of boys until college, the truth is, it was kindergarten—

it was summer and you were the only girl on the softball team.
It was so warm outside that some days, stationed in the outfield,
we put the brims of our baseball caps over the other to share breath. There,
I could believe God made it warm just for this excuse,
the dandelion of my heart so close to what it wished itself bare for.

I say now that I know nothing about sports but this
was the first game I knew. How to balance girlhood in my lungs
while wanting any other life where I could homerun the love lines on your palm
with my fingers. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the bunker I wanted the easiness of boyhood so bad I could have sinned myself into a new body.

Clara, I wanted to believe in the church. But when I confessed to wanting
the apple of your throat they told me to make a snake’s head out of my wanting
and crush it under my heel meaning girls don’t want things girls are things,
leave the wanting to the boys with bats in their hands. My coach taught me how to sprint

on that field without ever telling me all the things I would eventually use sprinting for.
As if being the fastest base-runner in kindergarten would spare me from this, now,
me, in college, spending every frat party running away from some boy’s alcohol-slick want,
forced to memorize the soft spots on the human body like I once knew gospel. Clara,

don’t you know? Desire is always their excuse and our crime, and I’m scared of how much
I envy this. Everything about growing up a girl was a study in restraint
so why shouldn’t I christen this new hit of freedom by letting my body go up in smoke.
Why should I waste another beat of this song. Why shouldn’t I let
the dog of my desire off the leash and wreak havoc wherever it’s been harmed, this

is a rhetorical question, because I know I don’t want this. My father used to say that
not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die
I still don’t forgive that someone else, but I’m learning to forgive the body
I tried so hard to escape from. I want to bring back
the baby bird heartbeat delicacy of wanting to hold your hand, Clara, or of sharing secrets under the brims of our hats. I want to heal myself of the childhood that told me
I could only be violent or violated. I want to remember that freedom

isn’t a drug, or a commodity, it’s mine. I know I started this poem a love letter,
this can still be a love letter. Clara,

I want you to know that I am learning to unlock all the doors of my wanting. I want you to know
that there were some days where you held the bat like you could hit a fly ball to God
and standing in outfield I believed it. I wished on dandelions for you.
Wanted to risk it all to shout here, I’m HERE
play for my team, swing this way, let all the angels in the stadium boo us if they want to,
you make me think summer is forever,
just look at me like that
for one more season.

middle school economics

mother texts me to work less hours. in exasperation
offers a monthly stipend, in desperation texts me

You never want anything. And for that
I love you. for some reason

this text strips me like an apple to the soft-bruised core of twelve years old,
an economy defined by the scarcity of a square iloveyou,

told that drowning loudly was the only way
to find an open hand these days. starved for what might save me, i whittled a lifeline

out of Corinthians and the kdramas watched by my mother. things that tell you easily
that even if you’re tragic, if you’re a Good Girl, someday you might be loved so

i jostled every woman for a role as a love interest. work-study in the soft curve
of a girl’s jaw. steeped my voice in the lilt from her throat, worshiped the bend

of light in her dark hair. this is how you create currency
from yeppuda, syllables so slippery from the mouth of Korea

you couldn’t bite on it. this competition is called mercantilism in a post-middle-school world,
meaning if you are not getting more than you’re giving

you are dying. Twelve-Year-Old-Me knew what this meant.
Good-Twelve-Year-Old-Girl, love like

your mother like your halmoni like a divided country.
love like a wartime economy, like a capitalist. if the American Dream taught us anything

it’s that the best success stories are full of quiet drownings.
and if economics taught us anything it’s that you can make a graph

prove anything is a sin if you try hard enough and i tried so hard
to build an identity on how much i could go without, on

how a girl should be neither seen nor heard, i’ve never told anyone this before, but
i used to practice quiet so well i stopped seeing my reflection

in mirrors. i still lose sleep burned by the tragedy of a crop top in a storefront, thinking
if my skin was sandpaper, and a short dress the head of a matchstick,

could i make a pyre for the twelve year old i abandoned?
Unbearable isn’t it

watching all those girls so Godless, skintight,
full of Pride, they asked me, Yes I used to say,

watching. Unbearable.

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