안녕히가세요 (annyeonghi gaseyo)
On my 10th birthday,
my pastor’s son shares with me
the secret sweetness of red clovers.
He asks if I want to learn, not knowing
I would do anything
to be closer to butterflies.
Lying in the grass, I follow his example:
pluck petal from plant,
balance gently between lips.
A botanic cigarette
with bounties just as intoxicating.
There are faster ways
to reap treats much sweeter, I’m sure
but this way was ours.
He calls me by my Korean name,
refuses to let it lodge in his throat.
My name flows from his mouth like nectar
and for once I lean into the sound –
a sunflower following its light.
I take his hand and lead him to the forest.
Searching for clovers
but instead finding solitude,
A first and last.
Tomorrow will be his 10th birthday.
he leaves for another town,
I hope he has clovers there.
I hope they are just as sweet.
Driving home from the grocery store,
my mother shares the story of her first love,
a boy back in Cheongju.
Could outrun anyone by 10 paces,
a sunflower in another life,
“I never told him I loved him,” she says, “but he knew.
I have to believe that he knew.”
“So why didn’t you say it?” I ask.
She wasn’t at the river that day, she tells me, but her brothers were //
He was a gifted swimmer, she tells me, though she herself had never learned //
No one realized it was a seizure at first, she tells me, but he had drowned by the time they did.
Her hands grip the steering wheel bone-white
a decades-late life preserver.
I don’t ask his name.
Some part of him deserves to be hers completely.
She was 16 when he died.
Forty years later, she confides, and there are still days where every thought converges to her love for him.
my mother has shouldered the burden of love.
I worry that a flammable heart is one more gift she gave me.
I wonder if, forty years from now, I still will be trying to pluck your daisy thoughts from my mind,
green-thumbed Sisyphus that I am.
When we burst apart,
you accused me of never loving you,
incapable of loving anyone.
Some days, when the path of least resistance sounds its siren song,
I wish that were true.
But more often I think of all the pieces of myself I gave away to you.
I feel more seashell than person.
Press your ear against my heart and you’ll hear it,
the echoes of my former homes,
your own heart among them now.
If ever I have a daughter,
eager for grandiose stories of love and loss,
mine shall be the mirror image of my mother’s:
“I told her every day I loved her, and she said she never knew.
I can’t believe that she never knew.”
I’ll pray her heart be an icicle,
or freshly salted earth,
anything to deny the tenderness that is her birthright.
Margaret Perry abandoned her English major after one semester, but she still thinks about their hypothetical future together sometimes. She is a recent graduate of Wellesley College currently residing in Vermont. Her poetry is informed by her experiences as a queer woman of color in love with the mountains.