Suji Kwock Kim
The Korean Community Garden
In the vacant lot nobody else bothered to rebuild,
dirt scumbled for years with syringes and dead
week-husks, tire-shreds and smashed beer bottles,
the first green shoots of spring spike through—
bullbrier, redroot, pokeweed, sowthistle,
an uprising of grasses whose only weapons are themselves.
Blades slit through scurf. Spear-tips spit dust
as if thrust from the other side. They spar and glint.
How far will they climb, grappling for light?
Inside I see coils of fern-bracken called kosari,
bellflower cuts named toraji in the old country.
Knuckles of ginger and mugwort dig upward,
shoving through mulched soil until they break
the surface. Planted by immigrants they survive,
like their gardeners, ripped from their native
plot. What is it they want, driving and driving
toward a foreign sky? How not to mind the end
we'll come to. I imagine the garden underground,
where gingko and ailanthus grub cement rubble.
They tunnel slag for foothold. Wring crumbs of rot
for water. Of shadows, seeds foresung as Tree
of Heaven & Silver Apricot in ancient Mandarin,
their roots tangle now with plum or weeping willow,
their branches mingling with tamarack or oak.
I love how nothing in these furrows grows unsnarled,
nothing stays unscathed. How last year's fallen stalks,
withered to pith, cleave to this year's crocus bulbs,
each infant knot blurred with bits of garbage or tar.
Fist to fist with tulips, iris, selving and unselving
glads, they work their metamorphoses in loam
pocked with rust-flints, splinters of rodent-skull—
a ground so mixed, so various that everything
is born of what it's not. Who wouldn't want
to flower like this? How strangely they become
themselves, this gnarl of azaleas and roses of Sharon,
native to both countries, blooming as if drunk
with blossoming. Green buds suck and bulge.
Stem-nubs thicken. Sepals swell and crack their cauls.
Lately every time I walk down this street to look
through the fence, I'm surprised by something new.
Yesterday hydrangea and chrysanthemums burst
their calyxes, corolla-skins blistering into welts.
Today jonquils slit blue shoots from their sheaths.
Tomorrow day-lilies and wild-asters will flame petals,
each incandescent color unlike: sulfur, blood, ice,
coral, fire-gold, violet the hue of shaman robes—
every flower with its unique glint or slant, faithful
to each particular. All things lit by what they neighbor
but are not, each tint flaring without a human soul,
without human rage at its passing. In the summer
there will be scallions, mung-beans, black sesame,
muskmelons, to be harvested into buckets and sold
at market. How do they live without wanting to live
forever? May I, and their gardeners in the old world,
who kill for warring dreams and warring heavens,
who stop at nothing, say life and paradise are one.
Suji Kwock Kim, Notes from the Divided Country, Louisiana State University Press, 2003.