Letter to My Ancestors

The blue buckets on the shower floor were useless
against the drought. I dismembered the hydrangeas
in the garden and put them in my dress pockets.
I left my mother’s house. I crossed the deadened brush
along the highway where the unclothed body of a woman
was once found by the headlights of two teenagers.
I dropped a trail of hydrangea heads like a crop circle
in the dust. This is how Seoul must have looked: dark patches
of village soil covering kimchi jars buried in even rows.
Except here three generations of time have made barren
the wilderness of what birthed me. I looked for a body
but instead found the entire landscape a grave: the cashier
at the grocery shoving my pears into plastic, the man
on the phone trying to sell me a house with no windows.
During the Joseon dynasty women fortunate enough
to bear sons flaunted their breasts in crowded village markets.
When I learned this I held my mother’s backyard oranges
silently to my chest, dreamt of rice paddies draining
from the highest terrace. Grains arched and shivering.
Weary as the oar risen from the river. Ancestors, tell me
where you have collected the water which from its blade
has ascended. I want to return to that other life.

Maddie Kim is an undergraduate at Stanford University. Her poetry and prose appear in The Adroit Journal, Winter Tangerine Review, and The Best Teen Writing of 2016, and have been recognized by the Norman Mailer Center, Princeton University and The Sierra Nevada Review.