Issue 29 poetry

What Not to Expect at a Korean Supermarket

by Jessica Kim

purple, blue, and green toned image
Level & Oblique Tones (1) by Charles Chau

Now watch me strangle the neck of the apricot tree,
watch me grab a back of green onions and cage it

in the rusty supermarket cart. Like the flight here
from California, confined in the small body of

an aircraft. The Korean peninsula devours my body
and swallows. I wonder why I am so welcomed

but there’s no time to think. I scan the grocery list:
garlic cloves, jujubes, ginseng roots, anything exotic

for an American tongue. What can I do, except
circle the labyrinth’s endless aisles of packaged

heartbreaks? I walk around until my soles become
flaps of rice paper and I tape them back onto my shoes

with sticky plastic wrappers so that no one will think
of me as an intruder. I throw a pack of ginseng into

the cart, then run into a cul-de-sac of fermented fish
bodies. The corner smells like ammonia, but what

can I do, except blockade my nostrils? What can I do,
but slab the dead meat on the cashier just to look

Korean enough? All eyes turn to the repulsive dead-
ness. I barely have enough money from the last

time I visited the country and the coupons in my wallet
have expired the year before. The cashier plastic-wraps

the fish thrice to preserve my decision and I scurry
out to the back parking lot, burning red like chili,

only to remember that I forgot to buy the jujubes.
I do nothing, except fabricate an excuse.

I tell myself I’m still a good person, and every good
person returns home. What can I do anyways?

I do nothing, except gallop across potholes on
charred pavement, ignore the whiff of sweet Korean

pancakes frosting in my mouth? What could I be,
a suppressed version of American? I should be—

Jessica Kim is the 2021-22 Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate. Her work has appeared in Wildness, Diode, F(r)iction, and more. She is the editor in chief of The Lumiere Review and Polyphony Lit. Find her on Twitter: @jessiicable.

Charles Chau is a Hong Kong born contemporary artist currently residing in Canada. In 2019, he was commissioned for a mural project to depict the Chinese history in downtown Kelowna, BC, Canada. Charles has held solo exhibitions in Hong Kong, Beijing and Vancouver, with an upcoming exhibition scheduled for 2022 in Tokyo.