This is summer closing: sweet aloe drink and linger.
Plexiglass floors suspended over the wreckage
of some ancient neighborhood in what is now Mapo.
An archaeological treasure, to be so preserved despite fire.
Say one spark off a coal briquette kisses what it should not,
an arm of dried wood, the lattice hem of a girl’s dress,
and hypothetically we are all engulfed in flames.
Halmeoni kisses me temple to temple, eager to introduce me
to her country but like a woman of my blood,
she leads me back to ruin. And here is where the fire
could not be contained. See where the frameworks still stand.
These were homes. These were not excavated until after war.
Thirty years after her war, she left this country. Thirty years
after that, she is returned to nothing familiar but the tongue
stunned with striving. But unmaking is what she knows,
and so can best convey: The fire, she reads, the fire.
The plexiglass beckons evening by illuminating what is left,
the landmark placards commemorate the blaze
and all it failed to spare: livelihoods, lives, the bodies
which vesseled them, shimmering their vanish in white-light
relief. It is all very glamorous the way only memorials
for tragedy can be. Above us, locusts make themselves known,
blow open August with their stutter and trill. A student lights up a smoke,
taps ash over the excavated remains of a city forever
ablaze in history, and I remember across the sea, my home California‘s
dry brush is burning. On television, we hear threats of whole countries
blazed to pre-conception and if the fires we tend end up taking us all
who will write our eulogy? So much is changed I can hardly bear it,
Halmeoni says as the day yields. Where there was nothing,
a mall. Where there were shanties, a bar. Not far from here,
I fell in love with a cigar factory heir. The building was
gray and huge. It covered everything in soot. Even our hair,
even the trees. We’d sit under the wax-wing leaves
and listen to the cigar rolling machines— In dreams, I can see them
adoring the day closed with their hands of ceaseless light.
They could have been anyone. Dear lovers, dear moment in time,
inevitably you will burn, as all living things do.
But there are things even fire fails to eviscerate: morning’s onset,
the suggestion of a woman unearthed among ash, all her lived loves
large or small, sewn within the hems of a charred girl’s dress.
For Now, Nothing Burns
“Stir the root life of a withered people. Call them from their houses, and teach them to dream"
-Cane, Jean Toomer
Say our bodies can forget
Say jet plane thunder is merely a reminder
The people strewn around us are not
people only reservoirs
pumping into one great vein
What’s spilled is a river
we must follow
Safety is not far
The dust plumes can block light
but not the morning’s arrival
Sister I believe we will never die
the bright lamps of our whole bodies
Call it sanctuary
call us lotus
we bloom in rot
When we get there
I will beg for rations
feed you syrup
spoonful after sweet
Jihyun Yun is a Korean-American poet from California, currently residing in South Korea on a Fulbright grant. She received her MFA from New York University in 2016. Her work can be found in Narrative, Fugue, River Styx and elsewhere.