National Poetry Monday Day 30: Emily Jungmin Yoon






            One evening the summer sun isn’t enough

We, poets from the South & West, in the US sense of the words,
and the East, in the global sense, walked through a blade of Vermont,
in sunglasses, in lace-up boots, in zigzag, in jeans, commenting on

            a beauty so murderous and magical it emancipated
some of us hundreds of years ago, for us to hear, You should feel lucky
to be in this country. One of us looks out at the rows of yellow flowers 
and says, Can you imagine arriving at land like this, thinking, How beautiful—

I’m going to take it? Which reminded me of another friend, this time in Paris,
looking around its gilded splendor to say, Look what Empire is capable of.

Which reminded me of another friend, this one from Paris, looking down 
at Seoul from a gold observatory to say, It’s kind of ugly. & it felt as if he had said I am. 

One evening of summer in Vermont, 
we are beauty in sunglasses and embroidery and flower crown and plaid, cocktails, 
our languages in our hands. Delicious & loud. We are at a gala 
for writers. What does “gala” even mean, one of us asks, 
to which another one says, I think it’s a kind of party, to which 
the first one says, No, motherfucker, I want the etymology. & we flare in laughter. 

Two years later I consult The Online Etymology Dictionary to see gala (n.) 
1620s, “festive dress or attire” (obsolete), from French en gala, 
perhaps from Old French gale “merriment,” from galer “rejoice, make merry” (see gallant). 

See, gallant, in our festive red dresses and snapbacks and public merriment 
and skins, razing through this country on the hayride, some of us standing
through the turbulence of it all, touching the berried shrubbery and August dirt, 
indulging in a gala. See here, party of us, siblings—
            what did we sing in our hot breath?

One evening, we looked up the sky and I asked about the man-given names 
of its elements, Is it Andromeda? Is it Venus? 
None of us knew shit. We asked anyway. 

One evening we saw small wings
glittering over the same yellow flowers,
& knowing they were butterflies in hundreds to repopulate the land, sat astounded. 

We had only days ourselves to fly
back to the South & the Midwest & the West, in the US sense of the words. 
The summer sun went promptly. Fastidious with its red folds over the sky.

            We lit the candles anyway.
            We passed the bread. We passed the wine.

            If the only world is a Hell with my siblings,
I thought, I should feel lucky to call this world home. 


I am here. 
I walk with you. I walk with you.



Note: The indented lines are borrowed and adapted from these poets, in order of appearance: Michael Torres, Paul Tran, Sebastián Hasani Páramo, Michael Shewmaker (couplet), Dustin Pearson.

Author photo courtesy of author

Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species, winner of the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award and finalist for the 2020 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Ordinary Misfortunes, winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize. She has also translated and edited a chapbook of poems, Against Healing: Nine Korean Poets. Individual poems and translations have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Poetry, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She has accepted awards and fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest, AWP’s WC&C Scholarship Competition, the Aspen Institute, and elsewhere. Yoon currently serves as the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the digital magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and is a PhD candidate in Korean literature at the University of Chicago. More from this author →