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When I wander into the forest for a wash,
I hear the noise required to find silence.

The sun sieves through the canopy—
rivers are relenting. My soul seats itself

for the first time. Where it is quiet, it becomes cold.
There is nothing I must do but die—

what joy to let go of all things—what ease to give up.
When you ask me the question your life was born

to answer, I point to the sky we depend on—
for its blue face to turn when you turn into silence.


Led by a soldier at four o’clock in the morning,
we rode a train that stopped at a military tent.

Twenty soldiers back from the battlefield, drunk with knives, entered my tent.

I was eighteen when I lost my womb.
The smaller girls cried, Mommy, it hurts!

After the medics left us,
the wounded soldiers needed morphine.

They grabbed my clothes, and cried, Sister, please give me a shot!

I was sorry for them.
I injected their bodies and they fell asleep.

Before they died, the soldiers said,
My wife, my mother, let’s meet again at that shrine.

After the war ended,
I visited the famous shrine but there was nothing, only white pigeons.


You are a bouquet of roses, astonished to see me.
You turn your face away—towards modesty.

You could say, Stop writing poems about me.
But, you leave twice, something that rises slowly.

If I can own anyone I ask for none
unlike orchids that cannot grow unless paired.

Orchids choose to be plural. What to be told—
I don’t know. I remember you loved to swim.

I have come to find everything I am as water.
My eyes become lakes and lakes somewhere gather.

The sun jumps into the gorge. God knows best.
Grief washes through me, this over-calm.

E. J. Koh 's writing has appeared in numerous publications, including World Literature Today, TriQuarterly, Southeast Review, and Columbia Review. She is the recipient of the 2016 Pleiades Press Editors Prize and has received fellowships from Kundiman and The MacDowell Colony, among others. She holds a Creative Writing MFA from Columbia University and has been a visiting scholar at the University of Washington, Seattle University, and Portland Community College. Her poetry collection A Lesser Love is forthcoming in September 2017.

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