by Christopher Kang
Written distantly on a Wednesday while waiting for my bed sheets to dry, this poem intends alongside failure, confluent with a version of this world that’s all categories and comfort. I once told a friend, “I never feel like I’m done with a poem. Usually, it’s done with me.” That having been said, a poem begins when my clarity about something abruptly splits, diverges, then gives itself beyond what I want. I scratch obsessively in my sleep, and wake up ashamed. Camouflaged in the loud morning light by my bed, I count how much of my own blood I have to remove.
When I was a child, I would stare stiffly at something long enough to send it to my future self. I was always more preoccupied by how well I could grasp a thing than by the thing I was grasping. I remember only one of these images. Lying in the back of my mother’s van at dusk, looking up at power lines organizing the sky into sharp shapes. A punch from an enormous fist leaving behind ominous fractures. It means nothing, and I worry that is why I remember it.
There are some things that look like they can be lit on fire but just melt. A photograph, for instance.
A friend asked if I would like to contribute text to an art exhibit. Sentences would be projected from a gallery window up into the night sky. I asked him how anyone would read any of it, and he said that was the point. A blinding light filled with a message that wouldn’t find a surface where it could say. I wrote, “Find it, love it, lose it, learn it, hide it, repeat.” I didn’t send it to him, and in fact haven’t called him back in months. I have a hard time distinguishing between giving something and giving it away. One time, at a party, while having a conversation with friends, he unknowingly pinned my wayward shoelace with his enormous leather boot. I couldn’t move until he finished talking about the death of god and how it changes the way we understand films.
An ex-girlfriend once told me a long story I barely listened to, then asked me what I thought she should do. Across the room, a pillow on the bed still dimpled by my sleeping head. Her parakeet perched on top of its own cage, chirping like a malfunctioning fire alarm as it stared right at us. Too embarrassed to ask her to repeat the story, I said she should sleep on it, all the while fearing that what she said was about something terrible someone did to me. She had a twin sister and often, when the three of us went out to dinner, the two of them would synchronize their exasperated sighs. Years later, I finally decipher the good reasons why she left me, embrace the blame that I could only hear myself in her voice and hear myself in my own. She said one time I turned abruptly to her in my sleep and said, “You’re getting in the way of my project.”
For years I was convinced someone was following me. The fear overruled the simple fact that I did not consider why they would do that. For some reason, it was paramount to never lose a store receipt. I burned them in a fireplace, along with any papers that I had written a single word on. Even grocery lists and doodles of endless spirals. I always started each spiral moving from the center and expanding further, endlessly out. Yesterday, I watched a movie about two men who go back into the past with a time machine only to find that it is, with each return, slowly killing them.
The first missile was created by using parts of a standard door knob, no, that’s not true.
A friend admitted to me one day that I was his best friend and I, not knowing what to say, replied, “Thank you.” Years later, I still linger on that reply, irked by the excessive accuracy of it. The last time I saw him, we both knew we would never see each other again. He took his eyes off the road and waved goodbye with an exaggerated frown as he drove his van away, a broken window patched with a flattened cardboard box, and I, terrified he would crash his car, realized how I missed him all along. Missed him, the way one misses a train.
Up until the age of thirteen, I woke up in the middle of the night, immobilized, staring at a spotlight on the wall that was spread out like fast growing moss. When it reached my feet, the bright, cold sensation was accompanied by a high pitched squeal. One night, I had a dream I was sleeping in my bed, just as I was sleeping in my bed in my waking life, except this time a man was staring blankly in my second floor window. He closed his eyes and, at the same time, opened his mouth from which big band jazz music came blaring out. Then he opened his eyes and, at the same time, closed his mouth from which muffled big band jazz music could be heard. The entire time my bedroom door was slowly, almost imperceptibly closing.
When someone holds open the door for me, I rush through and say, “Sorry.” My apologies emerge from somewhere uneven, desperate to vaccinate myself from any conflict I fear could erupt irrationally at any moment. Discomfort is more a gesture than a position, I think.
My favorite movies have almost no dialogue in them. “You would like that,” a friend said to me.
Certain oak trees weigh less in the morning than in the evening, again, this also is not true, but it could be. I could easily excavate the answer, but I have a hard time distinguishing between what is true and what is worth knowing. I remember climbing a desiccated tree by the public library and am bothered by the fact that I don’t remember ever climbing down. As if I’m still up there.
I wrote a long paper in high school about the feasibility of time machines, and concluded they are feasible but we wouldn’t ever be able to do it. One would have to move incredibly fast to revisit the past, but the faster one moves the heavier one gets. That I know is true.
Christopher Kang earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a PhD in English from the University of California-Irvine. His first book of stories, When He Sprang From His Bed, Staggered Backward, And Fell Dead, We Clung Together With Faint Hearts, And Mutely Questioned Each Other, was selected by Sarah Manguso for the 2016 GMR Book Prize. His short fiction and poetry have appeared in LitHub, Epiphany, Massachusetts Review, Gulf Coast, Verse Daily, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, Open City, and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Professor of English at the College of Wooster. www.christopherkang.com