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The Elephants

Five Poems

Eddie Kim


Grandfather wears two watches.
One keeps track of the present,
the other maintains what’s past.
One strap scarred into gunmetal,
one ticking toward convalescence.

Grandfather wears two watches.
They eye me through ticking faces,
the cracks etched from pride.
Between sips of scotch,
his maniac breathes laughter.

Two watches clutch grandfather’s hands.
They are unwilling to let go.
He scratches skate-fish scars with worm gut nails,
and I have lost the language to his stories.
He sneaks me shots of my inheritance
and tells me lies about a car accident and my uncle.

Grandfather, wearing one watch,
could hear nothing as a sweaty toe inched
up the stock of his hunting rifle to relieve his son.
Sitting next to him, his crew socks
stuffed neatly inside a pair of sneakers.

From Up River

The first caribou I ever saw
were dead.
Seven of them splayed
out on the floor of our neighbor’s shop.
Each looked as if he were still trying
to run away.

Tongues dangling, antlers growing
even in death. The neighbor boy, Howard,
showed me bullet holes belonging
to his .22. Flies blurred the air,
a bustling pulse.
The scent of steaks and stew present
in absence. I was afraid to eat them.

Calloused hands, oil, grease,
and tools, blood-musk.
This was the smell of a man,
and it was foreign to me. Not because —
but because I was unfamiliar
with seeing my meat fully clothed.
I can’t say I felt sorry for the caribou,
I could do little more than prod them
with my boot.

The Man Who Chopped Down a Forest

- Kotzebue’s National Forest consisted of a single tree.

Maybe it was a man you knew.
Someone you saw knocking melons at the grocery.
He may have said, hi, you may have nodded.
Perhaps his lover left him, maybe his dog died,
or an ingrown toenail dug deep.

How were you to know the defiance
of a tree spawned into malice? How smells
of pine jabbed him, making oxygen
look easy. At night he took his ax.
He coddled and whetted it with a fine stone

until its edge smiled back. No snow fell
as muffled crunches of powder castles
crumbled under his feet. His breath
blew whiskey rings for the moon
and he skipped his way to the tree,

quivering in wind-chill. His ax, awake
now, danced, sap and leaf rustled to bed
on adulterated snow while the town-folk flinched.
Finished, he smiled once more at his blade,
but it would no longer smile back.

Celestial Navigation

There are no shy stars in Joshua Tree.
As such, there’s no choice but to make love
as they watch. How else to compete
with heavenly beings as they fall for grace,
but to create a spectacle of your own?

I look up at constellations as you begin
at my ear and slowly work down,
taking me. I remember wishing
I knew more. My back arches at the touch
of your mouth, and I can hear everything.

Neighbors rustling in their tents,
spiders bounding home from midnight
marauding, and trees that look like large stalks
of broccoli whispering incantations into the desert.

I taste the dirt on your skin mix with the soju
stains in my mouth as our stomachs dance, gently
at first. You delight at the sight of another
falling star and my knees burn with rivalry.

You ask me if I am familiar with the vanity
of Cassiopeia.

Sitting In the Office Waiting for Lunch

The wasp I left for dead on my office floor,
bisected at its thorax, is still twitching its leg at me
a day later. I swatted it with my textbook out of fear,
its skulking figure dawdling its way towards me
in midair, and garroted it with some gratuitous computer cable.
I don’t have the indifference to stomp it,
nor the compassion. I let it lie there, desperate for life,
with the hope that maybe we can become friends.
Maybe it will listen to my problems
and offer a wisdom coming only in near-death.

I know it’s useless, but I want to be more
than what I am so I occasionally look down
from my work to see if it waves.
I imagine it enraged. I imagine it nonplussed.
I imagine it growing.
It is forming once more, like Voltron.
I consider giving it a name.
I don’t stand a chance.

I’m reading Murakami again.
I feel a detached warmth living in his world.
A desolate hope for something I don’t know I want
or need, just within my grasp, but see I’ll never quite find.
Somehow, it gives me confidence.
Danny jokingly asks me to write him into my poem.
He gets excited when I tell him what I’m reading.
We’ve both lived in forsaken space before,
but we never talk about it.
Typically, we discuss baseball.

My room has an inexplicable green light in it.
I use it frequently, though I don’t know what it’s for.
I once read somewhere that green is a soothing color,
but I can’t tell if it’s working.
The wasp has stopped signaling.
It has gone in search of another planet.
Did I misjudge its intent?
It was solitary, like me.
Maybe it was coming home.

Eddie Kim received his MFA in Poetry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is a Kundiman fellow from Seattle who served as the inaugural Pacific Northwest Kundiman Regional Chair. His poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, The Margins, The Collagist, and others. He currently lives in Seoul, South Korea and teaches at Yonsei University's Underwood International College.

This originally appeared on June 21, 2017