On an island in the disputed region
of the Yellow Sea, blooms of smoke
from the shelling of the garrison
weave into one bloom, one force of nature
so thick, they say, you cannot see your hands.
The planet, we know, tilts on its axis
like a man contemplating a problem,
spun toward the horizon of another
year, always forward, across a winter
where we celebrate an advent so long
past it could have been most any season.
Islanders will tell you, the farther back
you go the more it dims into a future,
the one we carry like a grudge or gift
to lay at the threshold of a child’s bed.
Nights when the cold draws its curtain
on our homes, we turn to the windows
of TVs and stare, alone with the war
and its commercials, the firestorm
that breaks a motherland in two like bread.
We too break, each year a little more
divided at heart as we cough by the fire,
still and sleepy as cows in the crèche,
thinking it is one thing for a king
to kneel, another for him to seek advice.
The modern kings do not wander far
into the desert, but tend to sit and watch
the monitors fill up with falling lights.
Facts are hard, like the man who buries
his hatchet in the turkey he shares
with a neighbor, with talk that turns bitter
as it grows more national in scope.
Say I am the offspring of the thought
I just had, flesh of its flesh, and so
different, in some measure culpable, free,
as anything alive. A child is born,
crowned in blood, and we lighten up.
Sure, we see it every day, and yet
this day, tradition says, is unlike any,
which is true. It has never happened,
and never will again, over and over
the will to be reborn, to gasp and cry
forgiveness, that is, like birth, difficult,
scared, insurgent, brave with the stranger,
the winter child, that blossoms through the wound.
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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.