Aftermath of a Horror Film; After Warfare; Distortion
By: Anne Kwok
Aftermath of a Horror Film
This scene ends with a woman walking
into the sea & you look sideways
at my reaction– as if I’ve never thought
about the water filling my lungs, throat
seizing up like a spring-trap. Once there were
mice that ran headfirst into a lake
while the last notes of a flute crooned underwater.
I’ve thrilled myself seeing their tiny bodies float.
I can’t help but think of all the dead hikers
preserved on Everest, their ears fallen
from their heads, deaf to the mock
& wind-shriek. Perhaps I’m thinking of my own
dead body, mouth open now & filling with snow.
This movie needs a miracle in it, you say.
I confess: I saw a miracle once in the form
of a two-headed doe born when the world
was heavy with rain, fetus emptied from their mother
with a sigh. I’ve forgotten how this poem moves,
like a horror scene or a fairytale. The way I tell it,
I once held a girl between my legs, our spines
twisting into something more intimate
than a body. To you, our faces must be as haunting
as a two-headed doe. This poem is not about
the way water yearns for any animal. It is not about
how I want to be the girl who powders her skin
with lemon-icing, who sings pretty for the neighbours.
Forget the flute’s fateful tinnitus & the woman
waiting below the surface. I’ll live strange
as a mouse face-down in the water, as the body
you’ll discover when you turn on the lights.
– from the legend of Hou Yi
The closest thing to love was when an ancient people
shot down nine suns and spared the last one—
nine ripped holes with air rushing in to fill the spaces.
Don’t worry, Ma, this thunder is merely the sky
finding its own emptiness so unbearable it fills
the air with music. A chord-struck arrow
curving through the burning air past the slaughterhouse
past our bodies. For a while the earth was light-veined,
every palm pressed to the ground in prayer
for a gentler world to die in. Wouldn’t
you remember, Ma– that morning you saw them,
before they gathered to wage war on the sky. Your
was so shell-bright it sounded like you were
about to cry. Wouldn’t you know? How the sun
is a perfect bullseye until you shoot a gun
underwater, until you let the bullet pass through
a floating body the way a song singes
through an instrument. Something violent
is on its way, or something beautiful. I’m caught
between the two when I see you watering roses.
I once told you I was drowning alive. How much
sea is needed for drowning? A bathtub, you say,
a sink. No, a teacup full of old plant water.
We are two lost mouths in a dark room,
two cupped palms spilling rivers. We hold
each other as if we know the parts of ourselves
that sunlight will warm in the morning.
The hour always leaving, always mourning
the sweat dripping down our faceless
walls, blood-warm & sweet as a pear,
slipping down our arms all lovely.
There is no one left in this room.
In every version of my life
I am ending. I’m trying to melt through a mirror
but my fingers are touching
my fingers, my body yearning for air pressing
down the other side of this door . When I was four
my brother locked me in a closet with a dead moth
& turned off the lights. I’ve told this memory
in all its translations, the way a story is only as true
as what you want people to fear. I dream of cracking
a sunrise on my knee
& picking out shells from my skin. When I was four my brother shut
me up in a cellar next to a rotting corpse
& shattered the lightbulb with a broom. I’ve loved this tale
from its ending, how at the close of every myth
I lift up a silk cloth & a million doves burst into feathers.
I rewind: when I was four an enemy soldier
bound me in rope & laid me amongst my dead. He emptied
my body into a potato sack
& sank it in a river. Someone said that pain is really a sign of life.
Maybe I’ve been breaking my fingers
in the wrong light. I collapse
lightbulbs in my hands until I electrify.
The way I tell it I’m still a body
of glass listening for time ticking into dusk, each note
bold as a breath. In another world
darkness is forest-haunted with life. In another world
I watch moths glitch into alleyways,
burn their small wings in the shadows.
Anne Kwok is a National Student Poet Semifinalist and a Foyle Young Poet. She has been honored by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, National Poetry Quarterly, Smith College, and the Apprentice Writer, among others. Her work is published or forthcoming in Hyphen Magazine, Oberon Poetry, Eunoia Review, and Half Mystic.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I’ve been writing poems ever since I found my love for words in grade school.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
So clearly! I read “Empress Dowager Boogies” by Tina Chang after sneaking into one of her presentations in high school. For me, she was the poet whose work first pried open the incredible world of Asian-American poetry.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I’m in love with Ocean Vuong’s poem “Aubade with Burning City”, Tina Chang’s “Of Gods and Strangers” collection, Mary Szybist’s “Incarnadine” collection, Franny Choi’s “Soft Science”, and so many more incredible works.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Since I live in a bustling metropolitan, I only write at night when the city holds its breath for a few glorious hours. I love playing Lofi music to fill the silence. Music serves to focus my ideas on the page– without it, my thoughts would scatter in my mind like a screensaver. I also heat up a mug of milk for sips in-between lines.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
In my first draft of a poem, I find that using a block form allows me to focus simply on my words and images. I decide on a form for my poems later on in the revision process, since many of the lines are subject to change, and I want to find a shape that amplifies the images in a poem instead of limiting it.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
It’s hard for me to say with certainty that I’ve found my voice! I think that poetry allows for so much flexibility and diversity that poets’ voices change constantly throughout their career and with every poem they read or write. I would strongly suggest finding poets whose work you keep coming back to (poems that live rent-free in your mind, in a way). I started out imitating the work of my favorite writers in private; then, I wrote poems inspired by their voices, and finally learned to enjoy my own work. I’ve made peace with the fact that the process of finding one’s voice is a neverending one, and a fascinating journey every artist must embark on.
What is your editing process like?
I believe in letting words stew for half a day before the first revision. This time period allows me to 1) forget to some extent what I’ve written so I can look at my work with fresh eyes, and 2) remove some of that coddling attachment I have towards a first draft, so that I can revise lines mercilessly.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
When I’ve exhausted the lines, and when I feel ready to start a new document