by EJ Koh
They say the mother in my world has no pulse.
They say the god I talk about is not the god people fear.
They say the subject of race is no exception.
They say I have difficulty with the surfaces, the echoes, the sudden, the no longer there.
They say the shape of the crown on my head is only a narcosis of motherlessness.
They say I am cracked. I am no river but a lizard against a backdrop of oddly
reigned and oblique conversations of people.
I am common, they say, a commoner.
I am a map of betrayal, of refusal to prick into our times.
I am no storyteller, only troubled.
I am not sad, nor inventive, nor magnetic.
I am forgettable man and forgettable woman.
I have done nothing more than create an angry reader
with a sense that nothing is profound, all is meaningless.
I have no friends with cancer.
I have no career and no future.
I have no finest and most famous work that tells a story of a small town.
I do not live in Nebraska, Montana, or Michigan.
I was not born in Colombia with a prize for literature in 1982.
They say, deeper and deeper, I prove there is nothing in me
hard-earned or spiritual or broken. They say I will never have enough to lose.
There is no judge, nor critic, nor author, nor poet that is my friend.
There is no great enterprise in my life.
There is no cult of personality.
There is no exquisite tension created in my deftly stiff juxtaposition of images.
There is no death like the death of expectations after I dare to rear up and ripple language against the innocent pressure of readers that must compromise nature itself to look upon me.
There is no exuberantly constructed richness in my speech, my speech
that is so unsophisticated in its use, a betrayal of literary traditions
from the language of the Bible to Faulker.
No words of mine should be required for the entire human race.
My real gift is for my exceptionally non-diverse work.
My words are the most unenticing choices of our century’s literature.
My words punish the reader. My words do not convey sincerity.
My premature, debilitated, crippled words without meaning of drama or self-discovery.
By calling my words poetry, they would be denying its considerable failure as words.
My never-telling of the experience, a disgusting saga with no luminous depth or imaginative generosity or universality. I am no tribute to the hands of a master. I am no ancient art of storytelling. I am air, false, slight to the touch, and invisible.
I am irresistible to flies.
I am stunningly lame.
I am ugly and sometimes, achingly so.
I am hidden without a glimpse of casual brilliance.
I am magnificently challenged, narrow, and dull.
I am never a delight and never full of lyrical variety that distinguishes a rich tradition
of allusiveness. They say I am an artist that fails both a private and national heritage.
They say I am not funny.
They say I am tasteless.
They say I am a fugitive.
They say I am disturbing.
They say I am descending and disorienting.
They say I am a box of pins.
They say I am an intimate world, incoherent, private, and unrelatable to culture.
They say I write from a common sensibility that no one can admire.
More than poetry, they have tried to find something human in me.
About the Author
EJ Koh is a poet and an author. Her work has been published in TriQuarterly, Southeast Review, La Petite Zine, The Journal, Gulf Stream, Columbia Review, and elsewhere. A finalist of the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Prize in Poetry, she has also appeared in KoreAm Journal, Flavorwire, and was named their #2 of 23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry in 2013. She is currently finishing a Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia University. Her first novel Red (Collective Presse, 2013) is out now.