Berfrois

I Loved You From Another Star

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by Rosebud Ben-Oni

He’s always coming back, our neighbor, never quite here.
His wife, who teaches English, will never leave Seoul,

so he’s present part-year
past-participle— a joke he tells without a face.

We watch
his cat Monkra who looks exactly like our cat, who also wakes him
before sunrise, whining for food. Call him Momo for short,
and we do, no questions. He deals in import-export,

never carries a briefcase, only a pamphlet
of English grammar his wife authored.

He says she doesn’t understand

what I do for a living,

that poetry is for children and nine-tailed foxes

favored in Korean dramas that he and I discuss in secret,
away from our disapproving spouses. My Love from

Another Star, Secret Garden, and flower boy dramas
that even his teenage daughters mock.

Often he comes back
a day or two early and knocks on our door,

still carting his luggage.

He brings us sweets, snacks, films he favors
from Hong Kong’s golden age,

dubbed in Korean,

but with an option to watch in the original Cantonese.

Most of these he’s already given us. We have dinner.
Momo likes to go back and forth so we leave
our doors open. Neighbors
stick their heads in,
and we have to pause the film. Our chicken gets cold,
our beer flat and stale. This all could be solved if we did not

give into the damn cat. Who is really

not anyone’s cat

anymore. I ask my husband if he understands
the Cantonese. He looks at the screen, riffs
on the subtitles in English, as a gangster

in a candle-lit church makes his entrance,
a flock of dove parting in slow motion.

Momo paws at the screen. The cat
that is actually ours
we have not seen

meows from a hiding place
only she can create. We call to her.
Momo calls to her. Our plates full of bones and grease.

Our neighbor washes them, rinses his hands

in water hotter than I can stand.

He remembers plastic barrettes for my hair that his wife sent,

the kind I’d wear
when I was 12. Which I didn’t.
In a photo she’s seen of us, we are his and her

other children, and much younger
than we are. He always says

we have time.

Momo follows him out. He

never shuts the door
before we do.
I don’t know if I have it in me,

to be a parent.

I’ve seen too much go wrong, though now in my family
are backyards. Nieces and nephews looking at the stars
as long as they want

without standing in the street. But they live in an apartment,
his wife and three daughters, like us, space also hard to find,

and suddenly I say to the room
I loved you like a distant star.
Once on Instagram

I confessed this to someone

after he said it to me first

in an email with an attached image
bearing the namesake
of those words,

a Tracey Enim neon installation.
I’ve yet to see it in person,
and those words

sound lousy

out of context. I want to say

that what I do

to live

is always somewhere else.

It’s surfacing

without coming back

to sanctuary.

Because not all days blow the doors wide open

or lay us to ground.

Because of you

and you will never die you are

always

the distance.


About the Author:

Rosebud-Ben-Oni---Photo-by-Brian-Lee

Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a recipient of the 2014 NYFA Fellowship in Poetry and a CantoMundo Fellow. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan, a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a graduate of the Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater in NYC. She is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013), a contributor to The Conversant, and an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her poems appear in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, The Volta, Arts & Letters, Bayou, Puerto del Sol, among others. She writes weekly for The Kenyon Review. Find her Facebook, Twitter and at 7TrainLove.org

  • Dominic Newbould

    What a lovely, evocative poem.