Three Poems by Eric Pak

Like My Father

 

When you told me I acted just like my father, I thought it meant I sported veins deflated by tar, scavenged for some twenties to fuel hunger, prayed to the toilet every night just to collapse on ceramic tiles.

 

When you told me you took care of me like my father, I thought you would have to scrape me off the floor of a gas station bathroom behind the Indianapolis Zoo, listen to the fading oscillations of heartbeat monitors, and bite your nails until four in the morning as the doctors fumbled through the halls.

 

When you told me I looked just like my father, I didn’t know I collected abscesses injected with abyssopelagic ecstasy, studied the mazes of flushed skin for the next needle, and balanced upon thinning marrows.

 

When you told me I lied just like my father, I didn’t know I sold the family ring for another hit, sifted through the crowds of junkies at the corner street, or told myself “just one more.”

 

If you tell me I will be just like my father, my veins will siphon until the ends tie shut and the pallor in my forearms begins to frost the skin like the sleet coating the chrysanthemums behind the Indianapolis Zoo.

 

 

Broken Tides

 

When it’s Monday morning, you will walk out the house and invent new features that you do not dare show at home: gentle hands, a painted smile, anything to abandon your true self. You will think about our walks on the Santa Barbara coast. The way the grains seep through your boned toes or how the waves beat at your ankles because you cannot stand on your own. You will clutch that flask in one hand, the one rinsed by war, the one trapping your wife’s pleas. In the other, expired meds you were supposed to take. You will try to keep the flask closed ‘cause you know Mother’s cries fill dead space. But when the day grows old, you will take a swig, the sleight of hand will chip away your soul and the ferments will bloom from your mouth. You will not recognize his sunken eyes and the red florid off skin, his weighted gait or legato’d words. When he fades, you will think about how Mother abandoned you. Perhaps you will wonder why you chose her like how a farmer picks their favorite hog or how a soldier aims at free will. Maybe, you will even think about the waves on the beach, glazing her wounds as she walks away.

 

 

Heirloom Recipe

 

  1. Visit the market past the bamboo stalks where azaleas cling to thin air and swindlers grift the crowd.
  2. Among the distant chatters and leaking floors, pick out the Napa from the vendor with calloused hands.
  3. When you reach home, wash the Napa with water, careful not to let any leaves drift to the mud.
  4. In the kitchen, fan out the leaves so they resemble the crescent moon the day Appa fled the village on his tricycle.
  5. Flick the salt in the veins like how the dirt spiraled in the air as his rubber tires carved the road.
  6. When the skin around your nails begins to shrivel, imagine they are Ginseng roots: Health, Luck, Prosperity.
  7. Mix the shards of Gochugaru from the hills of Jeolla-do with the ingredients from Halmeoni’s garden, where the back gate lay open: ginger, garlic, fish sauce, shrimp paste
  8. Knead the ingredients into each leaf so they turn crimson like the hibiscus fields that Eomma fled from.
  9. Fold each leaf into the clay pot behind the Mugunghwa trees.
  10. Bury the pot in the ground and sit by the window, watching the swallows flit by and the firs flutter while you wait and wait and wait.

 

 

Eric Pak is a 17-year-old Korean-American living in Thailand. He has lived in diverse countries around the world and aims to share his experiences through his writing. His works have previously been published in K’in Literary Journal, The Paper Crane Journal and The Cathartic Literary Magazine. In his free time, he likes running and eating enchiladas.

Visual Art by Nahyun Sung
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Unpublished

Our heads were meant to be upside down 
but instead, we published our brains to the moon.
I rejected the softness
of blonde moss sprouting from my scalp,
let it land like drizzle
upon my warped toes. 
I was the clock as your shell developed
inside our reddish walls, the way they stirred us
into each other. Into ourselves. 
My fingers like beheaded worms
newly learning to squirm on their own, 
trying to stay alive 
when they cannot yet live –
We scolded my morphing body
for I was not ready to be upside down.

We are no longer in the womb 
I am reminded daily. 
My head is now buried in blue moss
like a weighted saddle on my spine,
as I emboss my teeth into my knees
spitting myself into puddles, enough blood to breed mosquitoes.
Your shell sighs as you hobble beside me
under the moon who’s still editing our brains. 
The moon who critiques our fetal language,
the slouching of our sentences,
the wasting of our words.
We have permission to squirm slowly now
and remain blissfully unpublished. 

 

Hazel is a sophomore in creative writing at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. They have work published in Synchronized Chaos, The Weight Journal, and Tiny Day, the smallest ever newspaper, and have performed their poetry at the Youth Art Summit in San Francisco. When Hazel is not writing, they can be spotted cuddling their three cats, holding their python, feeding their tarantula, or rescuing insects from being squashed. 

Visual Art By Victoria Han Nguyen

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Migraine anti-lamentation

Something here will not survive. Yet somehow I feel like
I’m going to live forever. A gentle tingle pulses in my skull
letting me know I’m swaying through a moment of diseased
euphoria. Have I fallen? Do I remain standing? My feet seem
to float above the ground. Ache in the back of my head like an
axe signaling my death throes. I don’t know what I did, God,
but for Your forgiveness I extend my eternal gratitude as I falter
with my knees readying themselves, bending toward the ground
like sunflowers that face their master, the sun, my knees, my knees
just knowing, knowing, knowing they’re going to collapse any moment.
My lips are the purple of a rare, majestic butterfly I’ve only
seen in stock photos. My bare toes are soaked in foamy water I
can’t see as I trip over wooden chairs that deteriorate on the
floor with a spectacle of clangs. Yet somehow I feel like I’m
going to die today, right now, immediately. I don’t know where my
bed is and the columns of light that filter in through the blinds
never seem to be enough through the blunt force trauma that
comes solely from within. Mother would be proud of my ability
to describe my pain, boycotting the scale of one to ten. My next
reunion with her will likely have me under a white sheet the entire
time. I think I’ve found the bed through the confusion and apparent
darkness in the confusing space between blurry vision and seeing
nothing at all. Wounds speckle themselves on my body like a toss
of dizzying turpentine on a perfectly pastel wall. And when the abysmal
joy subsides I notice that when the sunlight strokes the floral
bedsheet at the golden hours of the day, the butterflies tiptoe through
the window. If only a butterfly could ask my mother to help me stand.
I am stuck on the floor with my knees bleeding and perhaps broken in
an orchestra of convulsive agony. Something here has refused to survive.

 

CA Russegger is a high school student from OB Montessori. CA loves visual art, writing, history, and literature very much, and spends all day with these things. Can be found with many, many stacks of books of many, many genres—Shakespeare is always a guilty pleasure.

Art by Lee Jessica 
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Witching Hour

The ceiling smelled like old lace and the sigh of a dying star. Hovering there, I peered at the nun who glowered at me the same way an ancient, grizzled tiger eyes a young hyena. I threw my head back and cackled with the lubricated mirth of my cynical father’s lauder. My gaze travels to the lush forest of palms and cedars on my desk. Beneath their foliage of entwined fingertips and toes, a meticulously groomed garden of doorknobs, seashells, and Abbey Roads overthrows its gardeners and cracks beneath the pressure of a violet spotlight. A city, bedecked in the afternoon-kissed tears of ancient pearls, rises from tangled vines. The gates at Babylon Fall to children with water pistols and all around them, the baseball stadium erupts in a chorus of that forgotten anthem of constellations exchanging words in passing. The crowd departs, babbling beneath the sea of dried rose petal confetti. They return to homes of spun sugar and formaldehyde. They fill their goblets with diet pineapple juice and something from an angel-shaped bottle. Everyone is more palatable when they are sedated, and I am no different.

 

Caroline Adams is an eighteen-year-old high school student living in New Jersey and going to school in New York City. She’s studied creative writing at Columbia University over the summer of her sophomore year and is currently finishing her senior year at Loyola School.

Visual Art by Yuga 

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this is summer

the lady has the rugged streets of my mother’s
          hometown and my hometown carved
in her skin. arteries drawn across generations
          and people spilling like seas. imprint
the curve of my shoulder to theirs. mouths match
          rhythms of inheritance. glow like
manmade moonlight. thick oil slick against
          the ridges of my patchwork tongue.
we eat bingsu and i taste shavings of the city
          and sand slipping through my shoelaces.
we bury ourselves at haeundae fossilized into
          scratch marks. my father prays
hamburgers from the grill burnt just right
          with redwhiteandblue.
we plant flags in our backyard and they
          whisper to the wind words of
belonging. firework shadows curling
          behind us. pulsing sea pulsing salt
in my neck in my crumbling wrists. paper
          wrapping my bones. humidity
like my first skin. fingers linked we sink
          together into grass we grew. we let
ice cream carve seasons into our throats.
          tattoo the sun into my inner thighs.
every year i shed on the last day of may.
          my cousin trips on the sidewalk
buried in my pores in the grooves of my
          orchid veins i follow. we do not
hold hands. this is summer to me. this
          is summer. this is my egg yolk
sun. this is my peeling white paint. this is
          my dear halmeoni and grandpa.
this is my two-faced heart. this is summer. what is
          this.

 

bingsu (Korean) – shaved ice
haeundae (Korean) – a beach in the Haeundae district of Busan, South Korea
halmeoni (Korean) – grandma

 

Jeannie Kim is a high school junior from Chicago with a love for poetry, reading, and playing the flute. She is a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards gold medalist, and her writing has also been recognized by the Genius Olympiad and the It’s All Write Teen Writing Contest. In her free time, she is usually editing submissions as an editor for Polyphony Lit or listening to music.

Art by Saki

 

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Three Poems By Caroline Rubin

Superstition

 

Because I am young

I secure a mirror tightly to my bedroom wall

 

But I still see shadows cut fragments,

Fractures form in the dark of twilight, where stars hide

 

Themselves beneath this cloth we call universe.

 

Through heavy eyes, the glass begins to sway like

A grandfather clock, my restless mind begs for sleep,

 

Or begs for dreams, or begs for dreams to bleed

Into reality, to wake once more in a better dream.

 

I’d like to say I trust the universe. I hold her hand

 

Like my own mother’s. My age holds no

Significance. I am afraid of separation, drifting

 

Somewhere lonely, in some empty sea.

Destiny is seductive.

 

It points to a place and commands you go there.

And so, you do.

 

My life-line diverts as I wake, wandering

Towards some heaven I can’t pronounce.

 

Illumination

 

Vermeer, did you fall in love with the woman or the painting of her?
Amongst your subjects’ delicate features lay softened shadows.

 

I see a spirit in every fierce brow, in every blotted complexion. An imprint:
your life in those malachite paints and burnt sienna shadows.

 

Your reflection mirrors in every brushstroke, every gentle unfurled curl.
Did you desire the sun for warmth or required light to erase the shadows?

 

We share common ground: art is our oxygen. Without it, we wither and wilt.
Teach me how to uncover the beauty of a world stained with shadows.

 

I wish you could paint me. I cannot think of a lovelier way to be memorialized
than living through a masterpiece. Fragment my soul, remnants of past lives shadowed.

 

If you could paint me, Vermeer, leave the title anonymous, I don’t want them to
know my name, but the woman I could have been.

 

The Poet Warrior
an ode to Garcilaso de la Vega

 

You listen to the music of your own beating heart underneath
medals and insignias. Hear the swelter of the lyre trapped in the heavy breath

 

of war, watch your men fall and pray for mercy.

 

Between the rush of blood and anguish,
you whisper verses
through
trembling lips
as you draw your sword.

 

A fragile balance between two souls:
grounded by the cold reality of death, eternalized by the fire of poetry.

 

There is a fiercer battle persisting in your heart.

 

Fate always seems to take the ones who
understand too much: the tapestry of the man you were,
unraveling at your feet as you fall into the arms of a saint.

 

Holy, holy like the strum of your lyre, silk chords settling

 

into your veins. They fade out into silence against the toll
of church bells.

 

Caroline Rubin is a 16-year-old poet from Naples, Florida who is currently attending the Community School of Naples. She has been published in the American High School Poets National Poetry Quarterly and has been recognized by the Scholastic National Art and Writing Awards. Through her poetry, Caroline aims to explore the existential questions that keep her awake at night.
Visual Art by: John Michael Dee
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An Elegy, Aided By 20th Century Japanese Literature

        i.        Night on the Galactic Railroad — Miyazawa Kenji

 

grandfather is rushed to the hospital

                as I wait for him to awaken

        I sit on a leather stool beside a window overlooking

        a soulless city of iridescent noise and raucous cars

on my phone, I read the book—

        the kanji are simple, easy for one like me who speaks

        broken

        Japanese

                to understand

its themes of death,

        the endless sky,

                and liberation of true heaven

make me whisper to my unconscious grandfather, fresh from a stroke,

“this book reminded me of you.”

 

        ii.        Naomi — Tanizaki Jun’ichirō

 

we know with some degree of certainty that

he will die

                within the next few days

and I go out to a nearby mall

        and buy a book— Naomi,   Naomi,        Naomi!

it is disgustingly raunchy

        borders on the pathologically inappropriate

the English translation, though, is lyrical

        yet still so hilarious.

                I can nonetheless tell how badly

        its salaryman protagonist would love

        to live again

        to begin again

        to love again

I tell grandfather over his

                wire-tangled

        bed

                in the ICU,

“you would be so disappointed if you knew

I was reading this.”

        he’s brain-dead, he won’t care what I read

 

        iii.        Dogra Magra — Yumeno Kyūsaku

 

once his body has died with his brain

        I return to the grotesque, surrealist comforts

of eclectic creatures like Yumeno

reading it online on my phone during his

fluorescent, Sprite-filled funeral with

                hopelessly slow internet

through    my   tears, barely comprehending    complex kanji

and incomplete, aberrant

        sentences that   repeat in 

        ludicrous loops

        ludicrous loops

        ludicrous loops

presenting its message of parlous life and rebirth,   the insanity of

being       alive      and being      dead      and being in the      womb

that motivate me to lean against a

                stretcher-like thing, not quite a coffin

and screech ugly, incomprehensible sounds to match Yumeno’s

        meaningless, yet so unbelievably integral, onomatopoeia

before the memory sprints away and

        all I know is the silver-scarred dust you

        return to

        you

        return to the womb

 

now I remember what to say

        “in another life,” I tell you, “we’ll meet again.”

 

CA Russegger is a high school student from OB Montessori. CA loves visual art, writing, history, and literature very much, and spends all day with these things. Can be found with many, many stacks of books of many, many genres—Shakespeare is always a guilty pleasure.

Visual Art by: Dawn Jooste

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To Fit The Part

 

Japanese square watermelons glisten in edges

a perfectly rounded cube, never sharp enough to draw blood

but shaved into beauty, enough corners to stay in place.

 

I wonder what came first, did an abnormal watermelon

happen to grow into a square that happened to be the shape of its cage

     or did the cage halt the fruit’s breath

     just early enough to fill

 

\\

 

I am quiet at first glance, five foot two, a fan of sweet earl grey tea,

a thin girl who likes to cook, Asian, a writer, not necessarily

     in that order, but then again, who decides this order?

 

Did I grow into a stereotype because that was all that was expected

of me in the country that once deemed me

unassimilable, then exceptional

 

A dirty carrier of the kung flu, spit on and cursed at then scrubbed clean

of color on a Washington performance report

 

     in the same breath

     in a matter of weeks

 

When I am white wiped of color, am I catered enough for you?

 

Does my neutralness signal lack of trauma

and does that sit well with you?

 

Will washing me colorless ease the white guilt that you so despise?

 

Or did I grow up with autonomy,

rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”,

to be as Asian as whoever I want to be?

 

     Hanbok trailing in watercolor silk and silver threads

     Midnight squid ink yielding thick Korean calligraphy

     Bullet-paced bargaining at traditional Sijangs

     Red hot rice cakes coated in Gochujang on winter nights

 

I look back at Seoul with my almond eyes

when it calls out to me, hands outstretched,

and know that I fit yet another mold here,

 

one that I am learning to describe. Forgive me, the privilege

of fitting in makes it hard to see what exactly you fit into.

 

and because of the way both halves of my life

have carved cages that seem to meld into my body

 

I may fit the part, but only by my will

     is what I repeat to set myself free.

 

Elina is a highschool junior from Seoul, South Korea. She attends Phillips Academy and is a graduate of the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. She is the executive poetry editor for The Qualia Review and loves to draw in her free time.

 

Visual Art by: Woohyung “Garfield” Jung

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Daughter

my mother is cursed. she sprouted from evil roots, gnarled and marred by the sour sting of expired love.

when her tendril emerged from wicked soil she was all bones, disjointed, already a skeleton.

leaf and leaf grew between paper cut parents, their verbal scissors poised to sever every smile.

she was five when she split her skull on the couch corner. hairline fractures blossomed with her stolen screams.

no blood, no telltale thorn, no silent sign of something. only a pain she forgot as swift as her mind shattered.

her branches were born from nothing, a lucid stalk scarred and sallow. the bark scratched like her fathers hands,

calloused and cracked and freshly rotten. every edge seemed wrong, too much like a memory.

she choked on sun, on this dewy fear of growing too cruel. her bike leapt over crumbling asphalt and her foot fell apart.

she didn’t realize for two days. the ache felt mute, dull, all too small to mean a piece of her was broken.

wearing her cast, toes sticking out the front how she hated, she still rode her bike into the wilting sun each night.

her stem ascended when foot touched frozen plane, a tangle of bloodstained vine. she never bloomed.

now she stumbles over her road blocked dreams. her palms kiss clouds. she tastes her own spoiled history.

steady as red ribbons, she laces her child with venom. poisoned daughter poisons family. she waters another cypress tree.

she is absolutely cursed. cursed to a life she has watched unfold. one shriveled, withered, ready to crumple.

she is a life sick mother. she is lonely. she screams until her throat is raw and her lungs weep and breath becomes a gift.

she still has not flowered. so far from the earth that gave her life, she feels it splintering her evergreen skin.

and unraveled from wish corpses and rusted hearts, dressed in fool’s gold, locked inside another woman’s mirror,

my mother believes she’s a lovely ghost.

Gia Bharadwaj is a dedicated young writer hoping to share her work with others. To enrich her craft over the summer, she was selected from a large pool of applicants to participate in GrubStreet’s YAWP Fellowship for emerging teen writers. Her poetry has previously been published in the Blue Marble Review. 
Art by Yuga
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Woman

for the love of god

dig your feet into the earth and sing of cellulite

of the thicket of gnarled shadow at the apex of thigh

of the sweet tart smell of you pooling under your arms on a summer day

of muffin top and peach fuzz and caesarian scar

because in all this is woman

 

for the love of god

grind your toes into the grass

and sing in her name

of the painful jut of hipbone and shoulder blade

of the line of the spine and the bend of a hip

of crows feet and laugh lines and all the creases

because in all of them is woman

 

for the love of god

wade into the surf

and sing of stretch marks

blooming wine purple

of chipped nails and chipped teeth

and knobbly knuckles and bony knees

and yes, of Adam’s apple bobbing in the throat of Eve

in that too is woman

 

for the love of god

let the sun deep into your flesh

turn blood into golden ichor

and sing of rose bleeding past binary

of throats raw and voices hoarse

with the work of declaring our presence

sing of belly laugh and groan and sob and scream

sing of hurricane and wildfire

orchid bloom and bee sting

of mama bear and mother hen

of being and breathing and seeing and living

because in all this is woman

all of it is woman

 

Dia Bhojwani is a 15-year-old student, writer and self-professed nerd born and raised in Mumbai, India. The chief editor of her school magazine, she’s previously been published by Beetle Literary Magazine and The Punch Magazine, amongst other publications, and has won awards from Lune Spark and the WingWord Poetry Prize. Her first book, The Pandemic Diaries, was published in January 2021. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sketching, or watching cartoons – a guilty pleasure. 
Visual Art by: Maisie Yixuan Luo
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