Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Christine No





To Do List
Unpacking my failings upon realizing that the dog is old and will die one day—


You’ve weathered worse.
Perhaps you’ve forgotten that living is more than a survival—

Your grandmother in her empty room talking to ghosts and
Smoke alarms

Call your mother

The dead rat collapsed, edging
Gardens you’d meant to plant
Tomatoes on a dying vine

—More than an accumulation of
regrets at summer’s end

Why entertain ghosts, unbegun? She’s here
sniffing the breeze— fall is coming
turning thrice before laying in the sunshine

Elation on her face.   Contentment.

Which is more than you’ve been allowed
these long days, alone. Someone to say:
It’s alright; wherever you’re headed,
keep going

And who else but the dog loved you without a list?
Conditions, assurances—of course you met them; worked hard

They say it happens quick

The death of what you love is never timely
Always inconvenient; but it isn’t her fault
You lost a job. No, not her fault
He waited five years to unmask a monster.

He never liked her, anyway.

Monday your mother
offers to speak to him on your behalf
to take you back

Meaning: your parents are old

Still don’t understand
what to do with you

Mom, no need
Love is not a temple built of knees

So you haven’t made the
Short drive home
Scared of what other silence she’s
Tucked in the lines on her forehead,
Gathered around her mouth:

—You are too old to be wanted

And yours:

—are no more than a failed decade,

a few poems—

Call your mother slips
Further down your life
as told in to-do list

So you named a man Home
Forgot that home is a construct

—like Love. Still, you stayed while he took mallet to foundation
Renamed you: Rubble, Heap, Broken Tile Girl

Did you let her age before she was due?
You, too busy being wanted, to throw the ball a little longer?
Ignore his protests—

Isn’t it time to face those you’ve let down, help them fade?
Mourn the slow whither of their respite:

Your mother’s aging hands
The way your grandmother sang your name

is Home

You sought in other bodies
in him

Isn’t it time to face your failure with some dignity?

All that you’ve neglected? This to-do list:
32 years of misplaced construct
The punctured disappearances
Your empty hands

Wipe their eyes clean; change soiled clothing, sheets. Spoon feed, play airplane
Restore what vision you can: yours of them, theirs of you—Is this a selfish act?

Could you see them off one by one?
Stop avoiding this question

Could you stay this time, stick around?
Wait for the first goodbye, the next?

Beg the way your mother taught you, Pray like grandma does
—Their forgiveness: the quick and loving pardon

is Home

You’ve weathered much
Perhaps you’ve forgotten—

This is what it means to have love
This is what matters



Take your time

Not a single bee sting or petal
disturbed—the just-peaked bloom

and snip:  a centerpiece.

Her pretty head, severed—one deft pinch
Remember your mother’s adage:

______We hurt to be beautiful
______But the beautiful, survive—

One must only prune the node

Delta where esophagus meets / two fingers  kiss
Sternum collars, shoulders gather,
indent — there

______—Like a broken arm; like
______Being stripped

Quickly, before sunrise
Before the urge to greet her maker—phototaxis
Un-kinds this act

______Pray, resplendent flower,

a hymn: a ritual for rain; hum air into
Notes she cannot hit              She clips

Carry the blossom, proud       A warrior’s head pegged,

______a sacrifice most exemplary

Display the swan necked stem

a squat vase all ready
dying—Chin up, Blossom!

______A brilliant cease
______A centerpiece

The devotees, marvel:

______How long her neck
______Her throat undulates!

How they peel open her lips, slip trinkets
past her teeth—the roll and tumble

Each gasp and murmur:

______A grimace
______An apology
______A choke
______A smile
______An eruption
______An applause

Such perfection—

Once, I
Face toward the sun, swallowed a
stone. The nicked, sliced
zippered esophagus a
Cascade of red ribbon, unfurled—

A most exquisite display:       Remembered my mother’s adage

It was giddying:
Plucked a bird from thin air
Denied it flight

Ripped its feathers clean, fistful
by fist

Stole its plumage, wore it bloody scalped

Promised it a different brilliance:

Survival, Sacrifice, a Cunning Shine

Like the time you lied: said Love
Got under her skin,
Undressed her—

Put her on display

Christine is a first-generation Korean American writer and filmmaker. She believes in the power of Radical Vulnerability and that Magic exists in all strange places. Christine is an advocate for ridding the stigma surrounding mental health; and creating education and dialogue in its place. She is a Sundance Alum, VONA Fellow, two-time Pushcart Prize nominee [2015 & 2017] and Best of the Net 2017 nominee. Her work can be found in The Rumpus, sPARKLE+bLINK, Columbia Journal, Story Online, Apogee, Atlas and Alice, Vagabond Lit, The Brooklyn Quarterly, and various anthologies. She is a cohort of the Winter Tangerine Workshop, the Kearny Street Workshop Interdisciplinary Writer’s Lab, and sits on the board of Quiet Lightning, a literary non-profit based in San Francisco. Christine is an Assistant Features Editor at The Rumpus. More from this author →