“american threnody” By Jungmin Bae

I—an existential antimony of meatballs, kimchi on the side.

The man in front of me is American, open-faced & blue-blooded. Seoul is so strident,
he says of the weather. I abstain from dimples because of too much practice; besides,
niceties are servile. His eyes are green like money and cannabis. He wants to touch my
face and check my china stillness, concentric circles in otherwise lotus pond.

This man is spelled in artless rhymes. But I’m the magician. Sleight-of-hand,
sleight-of-speech, sleighter. Last vowels curve en boca like apples as I homage prostrate
before earlier immigrants. He talks about art you become one with once you lose sense
of the tableau, which I take to be losing one’s way in the looking glass of another.

“How’s your wife” he asks, out of the blue and into expiation. Absolut corking
marvelous, really brill maybe even pregnant. I wouldn’t know anymore:

I think back to the times our bodies used to pendulum until we matter oscillate into
energy waves. Cooling together inside the blue gaze of lone star, wherein fusion was no
more, nuclei slapping together backforth but still no warmth nor life pushing way into
existence.

He nods a familiar question of blame. You wouldn’t know, he concedes. Like so
much supernovae, or candle, we flickered then went out.

Since separated from her I lurch but remain imperturbable as suburban housing
complex. Yet pressing my hands to my knees I am alarmed by the giving way. Suppose
I am not made of fine china—would I have any takers then, this I would ask if I were
not afraid of selling my body, tongue and all, my life chronicles of keeping things
inside.

But now I speak. May not I tell you why I hate negative statements? My voice too
grating, he touches his ears imploring me to regress to coquetry. Nuzzling his lapel
albeit resignedly, yes you may.

Here is the rub: yes I may tell you, your ears privy by spoken consent. But had I asked
the same to Wife she would have said no not because she did not love me (do you love
me?) but because she is Korean, listening to the point of submersion. You affirm your independent willingness to hear me out from where you sit—facing me, your left my
right & vice versa—an entity worlds apart, the vacuum between our bodies—at odds,
parallel forever, never meeting. But she says no because in Korean things go together
(as we once went together) and two negatives make a positive: No you may the
corollary to may not I. All her no was yes. I realized too late.

Belatedly I’d like to cut my tongue square, rare and starry cuts of me. Find a way—I’d
drink Korean from a straw, anything. But I see you don’t want to hear me after all. So
I give you alternate ending: I Asian. I cripple my speech preemptively, sometimes
losing’s preferable to fight. Therefore I ching-chong-chink.


Jungmin Bae is a senior in the international course at Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies. Her prose was recognized by the 2018 OddContest and her poetry published by Aerie International and Poached Hare. She is founder and editor of Mirinae, her school’s literary magazine.

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