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“After the Funeral,” “Cold Water,” “Forbidden Peak,” “The Farmhouse”



After the Funeral

                   what we commit to forgetting
we also commit to memory

I chew with soft teeth still living shrimp 
in bright Chinatown while diners karaoke

after your husband found you
under a tree—she was this high only this tall

you left a note to make him feel better
a sheet of pale joy

I recall your altar of paper drawings
thoughtful he says beyond her thirty-one years

what about the time we talked on the bus
and you asked how I could go on living—

I said it’s not a matter of cause or damage 
but practice

and what can hurt us need not—
	        how curious you said how strange

we looked harmless
unaware we were what we refused to let go

                      then like lovely spinning tops 
you and I swiveled off in our own directions


Cold Water


In the ocean three bobbing lights
after an hour I see the third is a seagull

Like the sound of washing clothes in water
a flock molts and flies naked and illuminated

even that is the work of the sun—
                             it holds me in the same light

Only people go looking for themselves 
with the low expectations of an argument

I go looking for each and every one of my lies
plumbing decay deep into an idea

it marches out of my mouth in a single file:
I am everything but I long for everything


Forbidden Peak


At the door they warned me how you looked

Protocol was a breathing tube
every question I asked aged you ten years

The ice broke
			    175 feet

It was forbidden to touch you
since you could see but not feel anything

Each time I entered they reminded me
what not to say

My twin brother
All fear must be the fear of death, a new poverty

We prayed in silence and I was sorry for
my joke about the climber

But you laughed and it exposed you
because you should’ve died

			     I heard it again—
the air puffing, the wingbeats of your lungs

inside your alpine white room


The Farmhouse


I start with the body since I am outside 
	  and must try with all my might to go back in
Now I see the possibility there is a me on the porch
          dragging to the door but without myself

If I can’t tell the difference I recall the terrifying logic
          why in a house on fire a dog will stay

The house is brown. Two windows in the front resemble
          deep eye holes—

I tell my body to go inside so I can know for certain
          when the wind pulled its teeth

I now see how I folded up like a door loose on its hinges
          fixed on home like a dog in the flames

E.J. Koh is the author of the memoir "The Magical Language of Others" (Tin House Books, 2020), Washington State Book Award Winner, Pacific Northwest Book Award Winner, Association of Asian American Studies Book Award Winner, and PEN Open Book Award Longlist. Her debut novel "The Liberators" is forthcoming November 7, 2023.

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