Harmony – ice water
Fracture – coldness – moon
I fell into the poems. Kim has created such intricate weaving between these poems—they reach back and through and echo one another thus creating a feeling of familiarity. These poems communicate something like a folded paper fan that has been repeatedly opened and closed—while closed strings of DNA/RNA seep and travel through and when it is opened again those threads of genomic material have spread through the book—opening and closing, opening and closing like tides:
Like the inside of a sheer underskirt this night is so thin
all my flesh is thin and Monday and Wednesday fold into themselves
and snow-white rabbits blindly hop across days without break
today into tomorrow
into the day after tomorrow back to today
and locked in those snow flurries is a certain thing that is your body
but perhaps I’m too hot to embrace
even one flake of you
–from “Blizzard” (translated by Laura Albin)
These poems feel so deeply female/feminine/feminist. The objects and settings become precious occult items—something potent of an origin or birthing. Reading these poems feels like tides that lap a shore—a circular with nature-based relationships that feel witchy—in that they become of woman . . . of tides/sand/upwellings—natural destructions like quakes and storms blackholes volcanoes—roiling that slowly comes to the surface and explodes.
Are a thousand layers of eardrums roiling?
Is this a metaphor for creation and destruction?
The water beats out tens of thousands of messages in Morse code
It’s like a chapel during common prayer
A condor slowly circling and then diving
It soars up into the sky thrusting through the turbulent atmosphere
From up there I might even look down on the throbbing water
Again from the faraway place the sound of the forest trees roaring
Thousands of red wires plugged only in the body
start releasing electricity inside inside
This isn’t a sensation it’s an ultrasound it’s a wave
–from “Boil” (translated by Nicole Lindell, Sue Hyon Bae)
Through this roiling, the poems journey with a sense of survival but also thrive in a wildness and wilderness wrapping around nature and natural things but also like meteorites into cities, sometimes breaking glass, setting off car alarms, and stealing bicycles. It is both an earthquake and an invasion of the unnatural, which is what we perhaps experience as people who live in suburbs and cities—these natural phenomena have now become foreign to us because we are so removed from this natural world. And when she (nature) shows her power to us it is born of her grief and anger and we’re either humbled or destroyed. An electricity—a wave coming and coming—shocking and drowning.
The woman in the picture wails
In the depths of the faraway sea the woman who hasn’t been born
cries and her child cries with her
I haven’t even opened my eyes to see you
But I’m already crying
Tonight that woman
the woman whose body has never been touched by sunlight
who shields herself from the sun with a sketch like a leaf
seems to be shaking her wet hair
The forest without a single leaf cries with her
and from somewhere large snowflakes echo Want to see you, see you
–from ‘She, Jonah” (translated by Sue Hyon Bae, Dakota Hale, Kevin Salter)
She is not only nature but of nature—she is woman. Jonah is she. She has given birth in the whale and is birthed from the whale; the whale is created from her and she is created from the whale. It becomes a feminist story. As she is trapped, nature mourns with her, but also when she comes through birth and the natural world senses an emergence and urgently needs her.
The rhythm of nature and the feminine is also a rhythm of life and death. It is not only life and death, but creates both life and death. It resembles the motion of a tsunami coming to shore traveling thousands of miles to reach shore, but what is not seen are the small deaths that are happening in the tsunami’s fleshed undercurrent. It’s of an occult essence that embodies both natural and unnatural things—influencing, throbbing, and shedding its cells. It is a cyclic rhythm where giving to/of life is also taking life away thus birth and death become the same thing in which mother’s body is a zombie repository of the baby’s life hatch which is also a kind of trauma.
The waves sloshing and wrinkling
The waves preparing to give birth to an ocean in the ocean
Mom’s sleep gives birth to my body like high tide
then embraces like ebb tide then embraces like high tide again
My body will be wrapped in red amniotic fluid
when Mr. Sun rises in the morning
The waves of moms and moms and moms
caress me all night
when I lie down and put my head down on the soft pillow
–from “Dream in a Dream in a Dream” (translated by Sue Hyon Bae, Nicole Lindell)
Moving through the interior of the body and person through to an extreme exterior and back again. The tsunami is a wave, is physical and nourishing but also creates an abstract feeling of horror for its destructive potential. The waves of mothers creating natural, celestial objects. The form of the wave is not only force but also a grasping at the way it flows. Kim keeps this rhythmic body undulating throughout these poems:
They say after taking a lap around this snowfield
a red infant becomes a white grandmother
and a white grandmother becomes a red infant
A bloodshot eye awakening somewhere deep underground
That hot thing jumped out of my open womb
A pencil breaks with a snap
-from “Hundred-Year-Old Fox” (translated by Rebecca Teague)
The undulations both express a sense of life, but also express the trauma that has survived in and is trying to exit the body. The voice becomes not just singular but multiple of ghosts that speak into & through the bodies’ trauma.
When I was reading this book I took pause from writing and watched HBO’s Sharp Objects and started thinking more deeply about the relationship between trauma and love—the loops around them and through the many lives in this book. In watching it again I felt the depths of pain and trauma of many of the characters, especially the main character Camille Preaker—a person stuck in loops of pain and love and trauma.
The bodies in these poems become injured:
Oh, you fool, there’s dew on your forehead
I push at your razor-sharp forehead with my fingertips
Your body’s so sharp there isn’t a single wound I can lean on
Your cold body passing through like a single bolt of lightning
Your kiss leaves cold burn scars on my body
– from “Knife Lips” (translated by Sue Hyon Bae)
but they also create as in “She, Jonah.” Trauma may happen to these bodies, but there is also a deep layer of occultish love that quietly bursts and bubbles beneath. The bodies circle around and curl in on themselves and become whole holes and repeatedly fall down each other.
In all of the loops in the story of Sharp Objects—there is pain—vestigial pain from generations before that never died and a desperate need to be loved. The deeply dysfunctional intimacy that is born of trauma—which creates new dimensions of death and loss and mental illness in the face of whatever life can be/is or both. These loops of pain and love reminded me of this depth of love that I felt while reading Kim’s poems. I felt the language/expressions of the poems had many echoes of women’s relationships—women and love but not necessarily romantic love but a different kind of love that resembles a bond. I hesitate to say ‘sisterhood’ because the word feels so quaint. It is a much deeper current. I want to say it’s more like an occult-love-bond—an unrecognizable depth and within that beautiful, clean bond is a kind of shared vestigial pain and an echo throughout. I am thinking of “Boil and Blizzard” which I mentioned earlier.
What forms a loop also forms a hole in the middle existent and nonexistent. They are beautiful holes. The loops in these characters form holes and the holes are feminine too. The holes not only for absence but also familiarity as they are echoes of trauma-loop that forms the body.
Do people know that the hole also wears makeup
That it cries when struck by lightning
That inside the hole’s mouth
a red tongue that can’t endure it
hides and knows how to make a dough of sound, oh oh oh
If the hole lies in bed too long it worsens
In other words the hole gets infinitely deeper
Getting up in the morning little stains spread on the pillow
like tears shed by the hole
-from “Hole” (translated by Sierra Hamel, Sue Hyon Bae)
The loops of trauma in Sharp Objects’ characters also made me think of the way these poems reach around with threads to other poems. Boil has created its own pain in my memory and Blizzard later sparked my mind and put it back into the groove of another memory as my eyes moved over and through the words on the page. The poems that echo and loop back to earlier poems create holes, but also stents in the book where the reader is pulled into a hole of another poem while reading a poem. In this way these poems become arteried bodies. It is an absolutely glorious experience—much in the same way loops are created through familial relationships in Sharp Objects. Camille Preaker lives and survives in a loop of the present and also the hole of memory. The hole in the loop forms a passage between the poems, a passage between different places in time and connects them. Each word, each poem is a splinter, a loop, a hole. Places that hold strong associations for us often operate in this mode of placing us in the past while we are simultaneously operating in the present. Which create a kind of fade and close of the folds of time in between so that they can be the same things as once.
Kim has so many echoes back to the earlier poems creating loops and echoes in the reader’s mind which create a strange mental déjà vu but also some kind of investigation into the echo if the reader can indeed find it—and thus allows the readers to fall into holes.
While there is a level of connection and pain there is also a deep and forceful and fiery love all throughout the book even in the poems that seem sad or melancholy on some level there is an enormous ferocity of love throughout. Perhaps some of the love that I feel is all of the hands and brains that touched these poems? It is not only love that there is to feel in the poems but also a presence of beauty in all of the strange landscapes that we visit. And while there is great beauty, there is still the vestigial trauma. Much like the fictional town of Wind Gap in which Sharp Objects exists among overgrown horrendously verdant woods contending with horrific crimes and abuses, the words in the poems create strikingly stark images in the loops and holes and tell us stories of trauma too.
“… Every time Father’s drum booms the soldiers inside my body go to battle. From my body, an endless torrent of knives bursts forth, shouting like a brook. She calls me. Her sore bare feet drum on my empty chest. The well inside me overflows. Oh, Father, I will tear this drum and meet him. She weeps and comes.“
-from “Princess Nanglang” (translated by Sue Hyon Bae)
The notes tell the story of Princess Nanglang—she is murdered by her father for tearing up a magical drum that warned of approaching enemies. I wonder how this punishment and betrayal builds and breaks into feminism. I have been trying to form my thoughts around this but I find myself asking questions. How does she seep into skin as a readers’ eyes uncover her story? How does the material of her skin and story become our skin as well? This poem appears in the second section of the book which feels deeply steeped in the story of women. Does Kim’s telling resurrect her? I feel like the pain that undulates and fights in her body is a piece of vestigial trauma that has passed through the body into generations of women. Trauma and vestigial pain cause splinters of self allowing for leaks into other worlds—another feature of translation in which the voice becomes multiple rays streaking into the reader’s soft spots. Kim’s body becomes a vessel for Princess Nanglang’s ever-living trauma which is passed into other bodies as vestigial trauma. Likewise Princess Nanglang’s body is a repository for pain but her shell (and these poems) carry exceptional beauty. These too are pieces of the vestigial pains of women.
These repositories of pain are shown in both Camille Preaker’s physical beauty even though her body is covered in scars of trauma, the lush verdantness of Wind Gap, while it’s economically desolate and the site of violations and horrifying crimes. And this is where A Drink of Red Mirror and Sharp Object diverge. While both are steeped in deep layers of beauty and love and loops and holes and trauma they both find different endings for enfolding those layers. In terms of the idea of the villain infecting others, Kim seems to be able to encapsulate the pain or enfold/enclose it so it does not become a wild infection on the loose but it still exists in spots – perhaps a kind of silent violence. Although echoes of Sharp Objects exist it would be a mistake to think that either one of these—especially Kim’s work—has even an ounce of desolation. It is rather the opposite in its uncanny and delectable lushness—a strange affirmation in the sense that the word affirmation can carry the meaning of verdant lands and remnants of new water and beauty of a future death that is the release from a broken body that can no longer serve you.
That thing which was driven out of the ocean
and wandered the earth and sky and cliffs
for billions of years changing bodies
When I meet you who still remembers
when you breathed with gills
remembers how the land sucked
the essence out of my body dried my gills shut
and made me thrash around
I want to drink the ocean in you
What is inside me that makes me run without pause
what makes me run faster than a clock’s second hand
what makes me pant from the moment my eyes open
I AM ALIVE!
Then I thought again it was a fish kicked out of the deep sea
-from “Detective Poem” (translated by Sue Hyon Bae)
Again the poems feel like they are folding back on themselves the way that a paper fan folds – the two inner ends of the fan are not physically touching but they do touch via the paper in between which folds and sends a current, currents—through the fibers to make connections and when the poem folds back on itself whether linguistically or through imagery these folds insist that I return to earlier points in the poem and book and reread them. Or insist that I search for a poem that exists—or I feel exists because what I am reading echoes back to some vague relationship that I feel is present earlier in the book. But the memory function of it can feel like a vague suggestion of water that I am not certain that I can grasp and feel uncertain which way the tide’s moving in.
But the moon keeps pulling in the ellipses throughout and the length of the ellipsis carries the love of folding in waves on water—in water and the delicate balance of nature which is at once natural beauty and deeply disturbing and destructive—closes the gap between the two or the perceived gap between the two and creates a delicate yet resilient fan with which we can fan ourselves and as we inhale the air an infection starts to grow within our lungs—holes and beauty and loops deeply laced with Kim’s inflection and the translators’ determinations/collaborations and culminates into a being much like ourselves but not quite simply folded memories and a graceful and graceless exit of love and connection deeply mired in a world of Kim’s design. A world where two disconnected holes span time & space & break physics to connect to become a world larger and smaller than self—full and lovelier than self. Landscaped and unidentified weeds of hybrid hole babies reshaping the way we think about universal design and over intimate flaws. What degrees of love exist and kinds of bonds to form. What we are creating and leaving behind in the form of skin cell exfoliant exhaustion in its most beautiful and realistic sense of existence, loss, thievery and love.
Kim Koga is the author of Ligature Strain from Tinfish Press. Her work can be found in 1913 a journal of forms, Erotoplasty, and Burning House Press. Since completing an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, her day job has moved from publishing to tech yet she continues to write, make art, and maintains a breadbox in southern California.