Cartography: A Folktale
A skull gave me a poem in a dream
after I pulled a root from its nose
that kept it sneezing below the dirt.
From its nostrils I spilled the earth
and gathered teeth and pebbles
resembling them into my palm.
I cleaned the skull in water and rinsed
his mouth as it chattered in my hands,
soil dispersing from grooves of bone.
It took a new place on a hillside, buried
in a map I used to discover where my
family had lived – South or North.
I performed jesa and tabled foods
and makgeolli, soon placing a spoon
in a bowl of rice after bowing.
Permitting I found my past in bone,
the rigidness of my last name, I prayed
that this spirit could rest.
The poem was in a language heard
through gaps and lines, a new map
in shapes for me to follow.
The skull at its beginning, the face
of my josang, gestured for me
to find a place to bury myself.
With legs crossed
unused limb acting
grandfather’s right hand
curled, striving to roll
back into wrist,
his body figured
into a rotting stump.
I wrapped around
his frame, wanting
to blanket him
like podaegi around
my back, sling
his weight to
the way mothers
with children –
so they may decipher
thunder in life
I will carry grandfather
as he listens
to my breath
while I bend –
so he may hover
what it means to
stand with me again.
His thin shirt grafted
like second skin.
Hooks angling him
like wind chimes.
I could have
been in class,
grandmother at work,
against his own
humiliation, an old
on the cold dock.
My fingers pinch the shot glass
bucket waiting for its fill. A thumbprint
winks when caught by light.
This is how we glisten:
when an opaque green neck meets
the edge of his cup as it pours.
My head cranes forward with respect.
We toast to the first time father and
I share a drink. When our lips greet
glass, men and their sons around
the world share their only kiss.