Poem of the Week | April 27, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Perhaps Only At The Place Where River Joins Sea” by Joseph Gunho Jang!

Joseph Gunho Jang has received fellowship and support from the University of Pittsburgh and the Heinz Endowments. He is currently an intern for the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics and a Poetry Editor for Hot Metal Bridge. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, Blood Orange Review, The Margins, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. Recently, his manuscript was a finalist for the 2020 APR/Honickman First Book Prize, judged by Li-Young Lee. His chapbook was a finalist for the 2019-2020 New Delta Review Chapbook contest, judged by Jos Charles.


Perhaps Only At The Place Where River Joins Sea

You want to know what it tastes like
the rake you use to unsettle language

into being—the ushered pull pull pull
that imitates the Pacific’s stretch and yawn

daily. So you clench and dive,
eyes closed, in search

of your father, whom, in the fickle fissure
of the morning hour, is weeping

in the manner of a monsoon
at summer’s end on the sun-brushed petals

of lavender hydrangeas he planted
days ago. He’s in his worn, blue tank top

and drenched in sweat. Fresh mulch on his knees.
He massages his back as his lips swim through the air

with the grace of a thousand cranes
homebound. A prayer of mapped longing,

you suppose, watching his eyes close harder
against the sun. The fallen petals are arranged

like a wall and you float in front of them
and begin weeping too on behalf of the abyss

that grows between with ease. What would it be like
to enter this space, through the angle of unfettered love?


Author’s Note

The estuary of the Han river is barred from entry because of its position between the two Korean borders. In this poem, I’m linking this locked-off space with the concept of “han” itself, an untranslatable, collective sorrow or grief, and the developing and complicated relationship of the speaker and the speaker’s father. There are so many different types of reachings occurring in this poem from content to language to form. Within the hypothetical, perhaps what’s most important is the attempt in itself.