Train Flowers - for my father
Flowers are the only things we can cut away from a body, put in water, and watch open slowly. Today the subway is blasted full by bouquets smearing their tongues on cheeks and brushing against buttons to be pushed only in emergency. Imagine the vases, the arms, crooked, black, yellow, young, they are going to. The man in line in front of me at the flower shop is also on my train home. I envy the two dozen bouquets he pays for with a shiny card, almost dropping his coffee in the exchange. His calla lilies bumping along to the bass notes of the F train could be for the daughter he’s meeting for the first time. Maybe he’ll say “you won’t remember me, but these flowers have known how to love you for their entire life.” He might be a man who borrows wing-tip shoes for the night he brings his children vases full of these white dresses on stems. He needs to fill the stark apartment with the smell of mouths widening into a boat he can crawl into. The irises are going to a widow who is learning to cook at age fifty-two. The daffodils are to say “I want you” to a man who has forgotten how to hear such things. The teacher carrying two fists of alstroemerias shakes like a tambourine in the church choir of the woman he wishes to open into. The bird of paradise bounces in the hands of the doctor waiting all day to soak in his wife’s river and let her call him earth. This one orchid is for my father, to say I relieve him of the hopes he will become like the men in this poem. The scent of flowers is making my head ache and I swear there are lilies dancing on the rails. Crushed poppies dye hands orange enough to paint a lover’s body. The train flowers have broken out of their glass meant to keep them safe until an emergency, opening even though their roots have been cut away, loving while they have only a week in that vase, their home. _____
Built For Silence When the muscles of the jaw atrophy, the mouth can hang like the melted rim of a cannon: when grandmother blames mom for having three daughters, it is for the silence she’ll fold like a coin into our hands. A good woman, she says, doesn’t make her work seen: blood beaten out of white sheets, cups washed right after use so no one knows she needs drink. Us three girls born and raised here flood the ocean with our voices, losing sight of family shores when we call the police on our father running around the house pock-marking the walls with fists and spit, when we let the lights of the cop car shine into the windows of neighbors without turning our faces down. We deny great-grandmothers sailing for our open canons when we recount to the judge the fifths of vodka disappearing and the bruises that raise up in its place, the smolder of boats burning make hazy both coasts— Ancestors, forgive me for remembering you only in the black cave of my dream. I don’t know how to defend my family in my mother tongue. _____ It Starts By Giving Something Up My father was the first man she ever kissed. She tells my sister now that she has too many boyfriends, which makes them not talk for weeks. I inherited my father’s romantic imagination, perhaps the only good gene. He showed up in Vienna where my mother in grad school had already found what she loved, warming up her throat with scales that cut the grip of cold, asking favors for keys to tiny rooms so she could practice at night. This is before the frowns she let climb onto her face mark their territory with greedy fists. Back then, she ate only rice and seaweed to save for new songbooks and private lessons. He ate in small hotels walking the city everyday, keeping his ears open for the soprano he heard only once in the church choir back in Seoul. Every morning he bought flowers that wilted to bent necks by the afternoon roast. He found her at lunch walking between classes, missing the heat just by a tendril. How could she refuse a man who had traveled to a country that didn’t understand his questions? Back home he yanked her mouth round into screams, burned her vocal cords to sing the real blues of men who can’t stand to be exposed so stare the world down in rage and slash red, not the toothbrush too hard red but the red of knuckles busted by teeth teeth ground down into grit, eardrums that vomit sticky one note dirges red she left her nightingales stranded in the winter of his cold cocktail gins, giving up her songs to bend her neck, bruises a darker green as the skin rushed together in his fist, a bouquet crumbling to brown in the relentless boil of a man never satisfied by just one song. When my mother sings now, people close their eyes. After, she lets her mouth fall back to its frown like an upended cup. If I fail my mouth this story plays again- can’t close, closest, cease. I am the skip in the disk. Grab the songs before they disappear into the grooves and are covered by dust. Pick up dust, and shape it into anything but this. _____
Arhm Choi is a MFA poetry student at Sarah Lawrence College. She believes in the power of the spoken word and is working to bridge academic and performance poetry. Her work has been featured in Peal, No Comment, and Otoliths, and she competed in the National Youth Poetry Slam in 2004. She is currently working on a book about the inheritance of cultural alienation, divided identities, and allegiances to ideas both traditional and radical.