poem index

For Sewol

by Joseph Han
 

I. rescue
 
A helicopter pretends to be 
a bird entranced by wreckage, 
wondering how the sky is 
askew with the ferry’s deck. 
The bird drops men tasked
 
to scold the sea through masks
and breath. They carry gifts
of oxygen on their backs, 
and bubbles nestle prayers
for hundreds to hear in blue.
 
The divers grope water, 
clawing it behind them until
the sea corrects itself to match 
the bottom of the ferry, to 
carry, not take. Hands search
 
for hands, chance meetings
in corridors and cabin mazes. 
Bunk beds in rooms pretend 
to be cages. Students bow for 
elders until they are found.
 
 
II. stillness
 
The curtain leans, straight from
its perspective as it follows 
the rest. A box asks children
to move less, while they joke
Titanic, draft last words 
 
on Facebook, voicemails
for parents. How many ways
can apologies take? Selfies 
become souvenirs, videos
document fear in questions
 
like, are we really going to 
die? A zipper groans as each
side longs to embrace. Teeth
clench in silencing. Listen
to the window, how water
 
can scratch. Fingers lock among
hands. A kid gives his own life-
jacket for the chest of breath
refusing to close over. Open
mouths kiss the roof for air.
 
 
III.  salt
 
The sea rises, answering 
the children who wondered 
if crying underwater was
possible. A father fasts
for forty-six days on salt
 
and water alone to restore
tired glands. The final tear
smothered a vigil’s candle,
hardening on his face
as permanent wax. 
 
 
IV. room
 
A mother opens a door. 
Memory whispers, her son will 
be there. The chair knows
otherwise. The desk longs for
the weight of his elbows.