Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CHASM, by SUJI KWOCK KIM

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THE CHASM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: In the dream vultures circle above my mother's cousin
Alternate Author Name(s): Kim, Sue Kwock
Subject(s): Korea; Korean War, 1950-1953; Soldiers

(August, 1950)

In the dream vultures circle above my mother's cousin.
Eye the gash blown in his belly

by Soviet T-34 tanks or U.S. rocket launchers
shooting at each other blind across the Naktong River—

a million refugees caught in the crossfire,
crossing far as the eye can see.

Vultures smell the kill.
My mother screams when one drops

on his chest, thrashing for foothold,
his small body shaking beneath its wings,

talons ripping away strips
of flesh like bandages.

She beats it with her walking stick
until it flies hissing to another corpse.

Then another one lands, then another, then another,
her beating the stick until they fly away too,

although not for good, swarming again and again to his half-gnawed body,
wave after wave.

Her mother shouts at her to leave him.
Digs her nails into her arm and drags her on.

My mother can't see his face anymore
for their jaws, chewing on twisted entrails,

insides pulled out like ropes unlashed from the mast of the spine,
all the bleeding sinews and nerves, strange jellies,

all the hieroglyphs of generation.
Why won't they speak.

I know you were real, even if I can only see you
in dreams, I see

we'll never meet.
It's humiliating to wake up

alive, fifty years later, when I couldn't have saved you.
I couldn't have saved a dog.

For the birds change their faces
and wear the faces of soldiers.

First published in The Kenyon Review, Volume 25 #3/4 Summer/Fall 2003.

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