Chiwan Choi
Further resources on Chiwan Choi
6 poems
this time the winter of 74, a year before we left. / it was always winter in that place i can’t quite recall. / but i have spoken of this before, / of the time i wandered through the nameless streets / in seoul, paper money crumpled tight in my right hand, / the tips of the fingers of my left hand sliding on the surface / of walls and steel gates; trying not to lose contact / because it is this thing that touches my skin in daylight / that guides me home, this surface until the end / where i lost myself at the fallen snow. / the point is not that my mother found me, / as i cried in the alley behind the house, / but the details i have so far left out—that my father / was at work again, building a ramp up to the church / a cab ride away, where grandmother would later / plant rosebushes and name them after her grandsons, / my namesake the one second to the left— / my brother and i would run to them each sunday morning, / up the zig-zag of the concrete ramp that father would / eventually finish, to stand in front of them, comparing / the growth, how i waited for my name to grow taller / than the world as i pulled at the sleeve of mother’s blouse. / nor is the point the cracks on the asphalt that appeared / after the snow to swallow the regrets of a city in january / as a voice abducted me around the bends. / this is not the lie i expected— / an attempt to put into words / the sparrow that kept returning each morning / to our balcony and our sunlight, / promising us a child, a daughter, / leaving a note with the name we were to give her. / how do i speak of these things? / i am now what remains of the details i choose to cherish / as i join my family once a month / and we do what we always have done to bare it, / tell each other new stories of ghosts / and shadows that we can’t explain, / as mother entwines her short fingers / and tells us that one, that story, / about the ocean and the waves rising like cypresses / and the spaceship that has come for her since she was a child. / when it is my turn, / i tell them i have been staying up nights, / my wife asleep next to me with her arms above her head, / and i tell them about all the UFOs over argentina / until he smiles, his mouth smaller now over his dentures. / “did i tell you about the chilean soldiers who witnessed / the spaceships before the war with argentina broke out?” he asks. / “yes, about the invisible dragons,” i say. / he nods, happy that i have once again embraced / the unseen guides that lead me to rapture. / but see, even here, it’s those things i leave out— / i don’t even begin to tell them about that sunday / at the emergency room, / walking through the hallways, / my fingers touching the surface of things, / of tables and curtains, of walls and telephones, / to find her there, sitting on a metal bed, / somewhere between laughing and crying, / the sparrow having come and gone with what it had gifted, / my left hand on her thigh covered in worn denim, / my right one in a fist around a crumpled name.
her journey
at the emergency room, / they kept using the word ‘spontaneous’ / and as i held her hand, / trying to stop myself from shaking, / i almost told her everything. / i got as far as saying that i was to blame / and staring at the floor. / but she said / i was being ridiculous, / that these things couldn’t be my fault, / as my fingers gripped the steering wheel / of our car that wouldn’t move / in the hospital garage, / calling my mother to tell her / and listening to her say nothing back. / it began with her / as the war broke out in korea, / the abductions. / she first saw the lights above her / as she hid in a row board, / lying still and quiet on her back, / smiling at the way the colors in the sky moved, / and days later, when her father tied her to a chair / in the back room because he had to save his family / from the communist invasion / and one more girl was too much of a burden. / he told her to be quiet / but she wouldn’t. / she screamed and she cried there alone. / they came, the ones from the lights in the sky, / untying her / and taking her over the ocean. / dad says it started for him around the same time / during the war that divided our homeland. / his father, my grandpa, the one with the belly / and the first one of us that made contact, / how he tried to buy time for his family / with a handshake deal while / my father, his second son, / carried his little sister / across the border in the night / to hide from the lights above. / sometimes i hear him angry / that we have been stuck in this life of running, / of hiding in the jungle in paraguay / as the invisible dragons circled / the air above chile, / of accepting our ability to sacrifice / friends and lovers to save ourselves. / it is strange. / the first they told me this / was on gramercy drive, / the living room with the gray carpet / of unit six, 950 gramercy drive, / my parents sitting on the couch, / how he leaned forward and tapped / mindlessly on the coffee table with his paint / caked fingers while my mother / started adding the pink yarn to the blanket— / standing in front of them / with my arms straight down to my sides / as he said, / son, in this life, you can’t have friends / because you will have to lose them. / he never warned me about what happens / to our children, / how sometimes they are taken / before we can even know their skin, / or maybe i just hoped it would be different for mine. / it’s been over two years now / since she’s been gone, / taken on her journey from judy’s womb. / spontaneous. / but last night, / she was here. / i rolled over to my left / and in my half sleep / saw her standing five feet away. / she had grown, / in a pale dress and boots, / a jacket hugging tight around her shoulders. / she looked to be around ten years old / and in that moment i couldn’t remember / how long ago was that day / that i can never escape. / she smiled, standing in a beam of light, / her hand lifting into the air, / to say hello, to say stop, to say stay, / and i bolted up, / waking up screaming, / hand reaching out across my wife’s body, / to the light that filtered in through the window, / judy startled / wrapping her arms around me through instinct / as i began to wail at the fading light, / telling her / that i thought i heard / our baby say / goodbye.
if 100, then 150
on a bus / we head for the waterfalls / falling in and out of sleep / i look out the window into the dark night / and fall in love / with everything / i cannot see / i don’t know what time it is / but it’s late / and most everyone is asleep / or at least quiet / but my father stands up / from his seat at the very front / and turns to face the rest of us / he is a silhouette / a shadow that i can love / as his shadow arm raises / and his shadow finger points / toward / a place in the blackness / that we are supposed to remember / * / my parents were gone / and i hid in the bush in front of our house / while the other boys lured all the stray dogs / up our driveway and into our back yard / when there were enough / of the dogs / of us / we chased them back out / and i jumped out of the bush / with a broomstick / and swung it at the dogs’ legs / tripping them / making them fly / tumble / break / down the steep driveway / there and watched / as the dogs lifted themselves up / whimpering / frightened / and limped and ran away / i was 9 and there was something that i wanted / and it was growing inside of me / and there was nothing i could do / to stop / * / my mother excitedly urges us / to join her on the rooftop / the moon, she says, the moon is huge tonight. / the biggest of the year. / i ask her / when she first embraced magic / and she reaches for her keys / and shakes her head at father / his jaws clenched tight / on the couch in front of the tv / what is magic when there is faith, she says / on the rooftop / she embraces the light / and offers me her god / and i say / no this needs to be magic / and i say / no this needs to be time / * / we touch down on US soil / we are taken to Santa Monica beach / I don’t remember having seen the ocean before / there is the touch of sand at the bottom of my feet / I look up at the sun / and suddenly I can’t remember my name. / a hand pulls at my arm / this is skin on my skin / he wants me to run against him / I tumble into the sand / he pulls away toward the finish line / and stops to tell me to keep running / but i don’t rise into the air / and instead watch him cry / as he promises to make me whole
when the cold came / I walked into the forest to die / because winter was always the season / I knew how to love / there was once a tribe / that was turned into a river / of blood, the current soaking my feet / until i chose to walk again hidden from the sun. / it seems like so many years ago / that my father told me / one day i would learn to accept / loneliness and that there was a place for me where fruits ripen / on the branches that also hold up the sky / in anger. / there comes a day / when your eyes can no longer / stare at your brother at your sister / burying teeth into their own skin / to find a chance to escape the curse / of their bodies / maybe we don't realize we have / walked away from our lives until / we are standing in snow falling / like childhood and front yards and your / first broken bone / white was always the color of death. / * / in the air / you can't breathe without / shelter, without prison / without another kind / of living. / i am a shadow / over broken terrain / on surface like skin / that taught itself / to heal too much. / on the 13th of this month / they will tell my father / to split open his chest / and watch death arriving / and somewhere across / this country i will / catch a moment / where a yellow flower / braces itself from winter / by opening. / * / i held my arms out in front of me / (the way we practiced in elementary school / before i could even learn this language) / my hands on the shoulders of the kid ahead of me / measuring the distance to keep from each other / arm length, the impossible distance of the air in reaching / the snow then fell remaking my skin / into a winter river a month from thaw / from exposing the heart that has never stopped murmuring / time long ago untracked until we can’t know / whether it’s the fire or the drowning that will greet us / when i was a child father would point at every person / in the room and tell me to learn to identify the ones / that were there to kill me, but now he is small / and full of bread and is only afraid / that i’ll speak too much / this is the forest / that much i know / because my bones remember / how to be scared among the trees / because remember / they gave the history of our skin to jesus / so we would choose to erase our own names / selah / this is where i have come to pretend / these bare branches are shadows of my mother / shuffling across the front yard, the dog close by / following, her gloved hands tending to the rose bushes / that she’d hoped would bloom something more than grief / * / this forest will be the room / with the white walls / in which i could break / like daylight / like silence / like promise / * / is it here, i ask the forest, / where everything changes / where the light touches my heart / in the cold night shifting / and she says, open your mouth / to what you know of as god / there are so many voices / within you that want / to be saved.
we are only aware it’s winter
i drop the sesame oil stained chopsticks / to use my hand, half hidden in a black brace, / to stop them / from dying / but my father turns his face to mom / his mouth full of spinach / and tells her / that she is again wrong / * / she sent me a photo from connecticut / of a tumbler full of ice and whiskey / this is not a shot glass, she writes / to explain how her night is going / there are four days in the palm of her hands / and we are both wishing that they will not rot / i am tired, she says / i am tired too, i say / * / we are looking for a place for fire / but all we find are the bones / we used to frame that life we’d wanted: / house / baby / influence / we are only aware it’s winter / because we are standing in the middle of it / an unlit match between us / so many things that we can’t say like / i am hurting / * / the dog is asleep next to my bed / i tore the sheet in my sleep last night / outside the neighbors are drinking / beer, i think, or that’s what they said / i am staring at my toes above and past the horizon / of this computer screen / each day i worry that i will lose my legs / i don’t know what i’m supposed to do right now / there is loneliness, i think, but whatever / i yelled at my father tonight over dinner / because he is getting old and i don’t know what to do / so i do what he’s taught me over the years / yell at people, at things, until something happens / now it’s past 8pm / tomorrow is friday / in a little bit it will be June and we’ll all wonder / where the year has gone / i want to remember something important / but all i can think of is riding in george’s camaro / top down / somewhere in torrance / it was around 1am / there was nowhere we were trying to get to / we were just waiting / for our skin / to burn.