new issue of boundary2 on race and social difference


I’m really honored to be included in this excellent boundary2 collection interrogating race and social difference, edited by Dawn Lundy Martin. This cohort of writers/thinkers has radically shaped my own sense of poetics. My work in this collection examines the psychological effect of globalized geopolitics: I write through the annual spring “Joint Military Exercises” held by South Korea and the US Government in which they “pretend” to siege North Korea. The journal is behind a paywall, but you can order print copies if you don’t have scholarly access. Click on the image to go to Duke University’s (the publisher) website for the journal. 

Other contributors include Douglas Kearney, Ronaldo Wilson, Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, Cathy Hong, Bhanu Jacasta Kapil, Tonya M. Foster, Shane McRae, Hoa Nguyen, John Keene, Evie Shockley, Daniel Borzutzky,Vanessa Place, Fred Moten, Lauren Russell, Farid Matuk, Daniel Tiffany,Duriel Estelle Harris, Prageeta Sharma, Jayson Smith, Simone White, Lucas de Lima, Tyrone Williams, Erica Hunt, Zhihui Ang, Lindsay Waters, Eli Friedlander, and Joseph Massad.

Lastly, just wanted to note that the cover image was created by Ronaldo Wilson!


North Korean propaganda reveals “the orphan to be the national symbol of North Korea, the figure, it seems, most capable of being revolutionary.  After all, just as the orphan is a broken link in a chain, so revolutions seek to create a radical break with history.”
Clare Callahan, Duke U. Human Rights Archive

This pains me to read. My father, my mother, the various people I loved — they have had written into their spirits this un-requitable break. Reft from ancestors, family, homelands, and languages, these orphans have populated my spirit. They have cut and swung out at each other, at themselves, in the way they reached for that space inside them which caved in. I swell with their novel vacuity, their bright, mourning eyes of impenetrable isolation.

There’s nothing romantic about an orphan. They are quiet — yes — because they no longer hunger; they dwell interminably at a loss. They move but everywhere they go remains for them the same. An isolation. A dystrophy.

Where’s the whip that lashes at this throat of history? The torn throat that fails to sing. To break from, to swallow without enunciating. To turn aside in the dust and moan.

I am going to have terrible, consequential dreams.


am I prepared

No beginnings as all beginnings. The greatest beginnings. To sow in flames.

How the body bleeds. To staunch a wound — is fire the only salve?

When you burn yourself, the body holds the heat inside for days. Oh that blistersome heat. It scorches, even after the ice packs, cold compresses, the gauzy salves or pursed lips in their loving, cooing administrations. To feel a sun press through you in the middle of the night. To have it murmur against your body while you turn in your sheets, the windows wide open and crickets churning in the grass. Let. Me. Sleep.

to ride a hysterical horse into the sea

He lifted up his shirt. Fat, bubbly blisters like plastic packaging populated and pocked his back. You need to go the hospital immediately. The largest were as big as quarters. I don’t know how it happened. I want to cry at how they softly–so quietly–cling like gossamer barnacles to his skin. My hand coils tight against my side. Suddenly, I can’t breathe.

Daybook: tracing global reverberations

Since February, I’ve been trying to track how the circulating rhetoric between North Korea, the US, and South Korea echoes across the globe to shake even my spirit. Back in February, the DPRK tested another nuclear device and started “saber rattling” in preparation for the ROK/US joint military exercises scheduled in March. I find so many intriguing circuits in this love/longing/fear dance between North/South // East/West. In Underground National, I likened this dance to a dysfunctional love affair.

This new effort, tentatively called Daybook, extends and explores this psychological framework for thinking about these geopolitics. It’s very personal writing, though others may not see it as such. I’m not certain what to call this mode. Perhaps a psycho-geopolitical poetics. Personally, I situate my failed marriage, so many domestic troubles I’ve seen and lived through, in these geopolitical cross-currents, the multi-generational legacies of cultural traumas. I’m trying to understand this dilemma — of bodies and landscapes — through my body. Through language. I’m trying to set myself free. An impossibility. Can I enumerate.

Be black light, Juliette. Furling.
Be a rupture, no cirrus.
Be that torn antler stranded in the snow,
bony finger pointing to the sky. See.
Be that word. Be elsewhere, a presence.
Magnanimous and difficult.
Can you remain.

This writing is a challenge for me, since I’ve never had anything like a “daily” practice.

I don’t know what I’m making. It often aches in the center of my body, where my stomach nestles up against my spine, like a coal there. This project makes me feel small and strangely diaphanous, overwritten, consumed.


from the salient fact repeated early (4/19

We never respond as we should
with comical results
explain educate acknowledge ((frequently
inaction // action

I don’t know for sure
that lack of knowledge
has         “low reliability”
no one agrees


already the end?
did it ever begin?

pass on
pass over
pass by
pass the time away
so much to be done
not all of it interesting

rain on lens drab & gray pine barren & downs


To take seriously, from isolation

Are you capable of riding that hysterical horse into the sea?

Can you drink an entire ocean when that ocean burns with hot blue fire?

I say and say it again. Such blue fires may burn. And towards heaven whose words will ascend.

(All I want is to see your face)

This failing detente between North and South Korea, the high pitched rhetoric of fire storms and hell…where most see a potential holocaust or madness, I see an isolated figure that desperately wants to be touched.

How long can a body live in the shade of one nude tree.

My body wants to lay down in sand, how it holds me but leaves no trace.

Who is to say withholding, or clinging so, isn’t its own form of love.

Light is a container full of noise

I was looking at this picture of the Cygnus cluster earlier this week. Nasa Spitzer Space Telescope image of Cygnus Whenever I look at satellite images of deep space that have been re-rendered to highlight their anatomy, I’m struck by how much data is carried in light. This image has been processed in order to make infrared information visible to us. From light, we can determine the composition of these celestial bodies, their rotation and movement, their age…we can even predict their futures.

When I think of radiation as light, when I think of heat as light, when I think of vibration as light, I am moved by the notion that all things in the universe transmit. Communicate. Cast informational streams from themselves. What does the heat generated from my body say? What am I broadcasting at every quivering instant?

And the light that reaches me and interacts with my body, my perceptions, my ideas… what information is being so blindly delivered into me?

Our bodies require light.

I seek the opening of an understanding.

What is being said and said again with me. What am I now saying, too. If my skin were composed of eyes, what would it see. If my body were a gigantic listening drum, what would I perceive.

A still from Hardcash production's documentary, "Children of the Secret State."
A still from Hardcash production’s documentary, “Children of the Secret State.”

When I was working on what later turned into my second book, Underground National, I was watching several documentaries about North Korea. I watched these documentaries with a grain of salt, of course, but the images were arresting. I was particularly moved by the plight of orphaned children in North Korea, many of whom are starving and live by begging or picking out scraps. There was one orphan, a boy, who was in clear distress. His face was contorted with pain. No one stopped to even look at him. He walked about, holding his clasped hands up to his chest. I am not sure how old he was. Perhaps 8 or 9. He was very small. The documentary was made over ten years ago. My spirit tells me this young boy did not survive. And when I think of this, I realize that the only documents that attest to his life could very well be the footage that was used in the film. And I was observing the recreated light patterns of what had once echoed off his body and into the camera’s lens, captured.

Light moves and fills me. It is not quite life, but it echoes and drums and resounds and speaks it.