The Flood

Cathy Park Hong

1.

Hell is not a pit of fire but the icy shell of a town after

the demonic tide recedes.

Mud gluts out of the windows, mud in sinks, in beds,

in every hole and crack.

Sleet and snow feather the mud, and yes, that’s an arm, a hand,

a head, and snow furling the ear,

vacated by confused spirits who flap wildly in this town

like pigeons freed from coops.

I want to go home, cries the soul who pierced a bystander

her mother found her

in the gym among rows and rows of muddy bodies in tarp

mother wiped mud

from daughter’s face with towels but when all the towels

were filthy

mother wiped mud from daughter’s face with her own shirt

when her shirt was filthy

mother licked mud from daughter’s face, prying open

her eyelids with her tongue

to suck clean her eyes so they weren’t two slits brimmed

in mud but spotless and white

looking nowhere nowards—let me see you, let me see

you let me see you let me

join you let

me

walk into the sea swarming with lionfish in the

starless sable night.

But I am scared; I

fail. I cough back to shore.

2.

But she lives on I visit her I see her

I see her I visit I see her

frail in the starless black night

I see her, I am none wiser

I am none wiser for it

Breath on my neck breath on my

neck hers

I see her I do I

drop the acacia bark I pound to powder

go back back in time to sentinels

where lynx collared guards

stand while the bells ring and ring

Courtiers tending to her like sparrows

There she is the king yes

she

is the king

enrobed in wild red

silk.


3.

What people don’t tell you is that the ghosts outnumber

the living. They refuse to leave us, they are stuck, they cannot go

forth into the light because they cannot get over

their unjust deaths

What sadistic god chooses to condemn victims

to this purgatory

while remorseless predators

slip into his eternal white light.

Unwanted newborn girls

are no more than a breath of cold air

sometimes a song

in the windchimes

I smell their fontanelle their pink

armpits

My daughter at least darts back and forth across time

like a mysterious silver aircraft

She writes me letters constellated

in phosphenes

I am here before humans walked

the Earth and

I am so happy I am at peace.


4.

I have forgotten my body.

I have forgotten my darkened labia.

The grey tufts that surround my labia.

My long nipples. I have forgotten my body.

The crust in my eyes, the rings I count around my neck.

The hair I no longer darken.

I have forgotten the moles on my neck.

I have forgotten to tie a hair follicle around each mole

till it chokes & falls off.

I have forgotten all parts of my body, the gaps

in my teeth, my greying receding gums, I have

forgotten love, touching—

what is touching

but the sour rage that scrapes through me

like a whistling wind through caves

stirring nothing, I feel nothing

but the sag

of my jowls hinting at what will be

a jawbone left on the sand,

the incisors missing, fossilizing not my

soul, my grief, nothing at all

but my pathetic diet.

I am old, I am old

My knees clack when I run—look at that old freak run

look at her stumble

away from the forgotten who drift toward her like fog

and the bed shakes, and it shakes, and the moon’s ivory sickle

bloodies the sky.

Cathy Park Hong is the author of three poetry collections and a book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings. A recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award, she is the poetry editor of The New Republic. @cathyparkhong
Originally published:
December 6, 2022

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