Wavelength // Waveless
By Jessica Kim
Yesterday, eomma called from halfway across
the world with news
that she has cancer.
It’s supposed to be a secret, she whispered
into the phone, her voice quivering like a sparrow—
its earthquake-shaken wings wired into the telephone buzz.
Earlier, eomma left for Korea
in search of a new apartment. Yesterday, she delayed
her flight home by one more month.
In our Californian house, the unwashed spoons
in the left sink float around
like corpses at sea.
I scavenge for eomma’s silver-soft body
in the pot of abalone porridge, in the reflections
of rusted silverware, unable to find her thumbprints anywhere.
the dead will live in the waves of your palms,
the hollow of your mouth,
but I don’t want her to shrink into low-tide scraps
of flesh that cannot echo my name.
When my brother calls her,
she’s at the hospital waiting for the chemotherapist.
She tells him, I’m at the beauty salon,
as if cosmetics can erase islands of tears
from her face.
I grew up by the sea,
witnessing death after death
as mackerels perish with the flick of a knife.
At the wet market,
the fishmongers fillet the fish without ever looking down
at their upturned lifelines, without ever
exhaling psalms of rebirth. Even then, eomma was immune
to decay, stringing shells into necklaces—
leashes to hold onto bodies
of water. Water remembers most, she would preach,
her feet baptized in the hush of the waves.
Overhead, planes would wheeze past our heads,
caught in asphyxiation. Eomma would laugh with eyes
unweathered by age, shouting,
I will never leave my country, my ocean, my daughter,
wrapping me in the briny lyrics of the foaming tides.
Even now, with eomma in Korea, I ask for comfort
in the waves that have carried her over to America—
waves bleached white with fatigue, a receding
hairline. How her skin yellows into wallpapers
at the hospital ward. At night,
I can’t help but stare at the goosebumps on the ceiling
that resemble a sea of faces
disfigured by the gravitational pull of time, of moonless nights.
The nightmares about eomma metamorphose into
a reality—sweat pooling around her body
in the middle of the night, her face shrinking into medicine pills,
her throat unable to swallow back her saltwater tears,
stinging and wearing away her skin.
In our house, we mention surgery
more frequently than survival,
unaccustomed to the language of loss.
From halfway across the world,
I hear the rupture in eomma’s voice,
split open like the red sea. Outside, the sky bloodied
by eomma’s spasms—the sky raining teeth.
For the first time,
I notice death in the negative space behind my body—
and not just in the imaginary universes in my poems.
The mirrors grayed at their corners
and mold bloating into malignant tumors on the bedroom walls.
Day by day, eomma masters the art of falling—
teeth, hair, obsidian tears. I am yearning for a surgeon
who can stitch back the wounds of this world,
yearning for a miracle
that will never wash up on our shore.
See, only the formless bodies are attracted to the ocean,
the ones wrinkled by imminent death.
In the end, eomma was wrong:
water does not remember,
nor does it heal.
Water hungers, draining her life out in metastasis.