S&R Literature

S&R Poetry: Three Poems, by Arhm Choi

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.

Categories: S&R Literature, S&R Poetry

3 replies »

  1. Arhm Choi’s poetry is quite remarkable and powerful! I have been a professor, dean, and president of different colleges, Her work is quite superlative.

    Bill Dunifon

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