Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Christine Kwon





Not for Pleasure Alone

When I’m anxious
I like to think of my friend in Paris, 
he must be drinking wine, or knowing him, a Negroni,
or I think of my friend in Los Angeles,
memorizing her lines, and there it’s not dark yet,
the sky a lavender field,
she’s running her hands through it,
the sky blooming blood, but they haven’t had rain
in months, she’s said, and I like to think of a boy
I know in Annapolis, where he teaches at the naval academy,
and takes sailing lessons for free.
A Japanese grandfather teaches me the Japanese tea ceremony
for free too. When the lesson is finished
he bows and sneaks back to the shadow of the palm.
I’ve told you I’m nervous, 
sometimes imagining my beautiful friends 
does not help, it would not be enough 
for all of them to fly straight to me
and hold me in their slender folding arms,
there aren’t enough arms in the world
to hold me, not when a great dark cage 
has broken up in my chest, freeing I think,
about a thousand marathon runners,
racing towards what I don’t know,
maybe we’re racing the wrong way
and though I am a shrinking violet
in a meat suit working a little black mouth, 
I still like to imagine pleasure, if not
a chocolate and orange bon bon
then the idea of it, wrapped in a lavender box
nestled in tissue paper
and tied with a black velvet ribbon,
something for me to open later—




How lovely to have a grandma
from whom to steal an extremely large
rug. A step-grandma at that.
Twombly, the cat who needs me 
the least, tightropes the sofa ledge
behind me to attack our new investment
lamp and I forget how profoundly 
tired I am, then listing the objects
in the room, I forgot a little too.
But even forgetting I knew.
Recently I read one of my favorite poets
and was disappointed, 
he, so languid, so emotional, and plain,
suddenly hyper masculine
and sharp big words, like
all the love had been cut out of him.
The carnations I bought two weekends ago
still look good, the secret is snipping
their soggy bottoms. There’s the children’s 
craft I had to buy after breaking 
another in a Berlin art market.
The fragile lacquer black whatever
from Iowa. I probably stole it,
like everything else good,
and it’s horrible really, when people
don’t understand my references
it becomes plagiarism. Or maybe that happens
when I read my poem in my strident
woman voice. In recordings I sound so girly
like I am thirteen. I can’t bear to listen
to how I really sound. I’ve lied—
the carnations are drooping now—
or at least thinking about it.
All January night has been a tomb.
I pace the house, I brood.
I stole the carnations from a grave.
I’ve scared my doctor
into prescribing me benzo upon
benzo. I’m a poet, I say, finally, 
throwing up my hands, 
but she just sits there with this look.




Author photo courtesy of author

Christine Kwon is the author of A Ribbon the Most Perfect Blue (Southeast Missouri State University Press 2023), which won the Cowles Poetry Book Prize. Her poems are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Tupelo Quarterly, and Annulet. She lives in New Orleans, in a yellow shotgun house. Find her on Instagram @theschooloflonging. More from this author →