Bunker

By Chiwan Choi

Poem

i don’t know
if everything they told me
is true,
about statues carved in stone
that blinked in the chilean sun,
about grandfather’s deal
with the russians to save the family
as the communists came.

these are questions
i allowed myself to forget in ‘99
soon after
mother asked me what
she should do
about the tumor
in her stomach.

it is a monday
for all of us—
sons, fathers,
street sweepers,
to forgotten things
on the pavement,
a box of books,
most of them in tact,
on 7th street.

my parents only taught me
what was given them,
this ability to spill
inward,
to hold our blood
inside us
in bowls made
from hollowed trees
until the weight
of what survives us
gives us comfort.

my father—
and mother too—
wanted me to learn
to keep my eyes
on the ending,
to call death
by a familiar name,
giving me god
so i can embrace it.

how mother—
and father too—
held me until
i was able
to release these poems
that cannot
save us,

to whistle down
the street
on the intermittent yellow paint
in the center,
to the fire,
to skeletons of ancestors,
to the disappearing shadows
of a neighbor that stood thinking,
to the glory
of these things
we have not known.

it is monday,
but how can i speak
of the sky,
a blue that isn’t blue,
when we are
in the basement food court
of a koreatown mall,
eating spicy burnt rice
from stone bowls,
sitting in these end of days
in this bunker
beneath
the world we have fought
to love
as father keeps himself
from smiling at me,
a bunker that will
not hold forever
but long enough
for mother to drop seaweed
on my food
with her wooden chopsticks,
long enough for me
to protest.

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CHIWAN CHOI's poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including ONTHEBUS, Esquire, and Circa.. Chiwan’s first major collection of poetry, The Flood, was published by Tía Chucha Press in April, 2010.

He is a regular in the Los Angeles literary circuit, often invited as a featured poet at readings at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood and the legendary Beyond Baroque in Venice. He also leads two writing workshops, one in downtown and one in Santa Monica.

After a two-year stint in New York, where he received an MFA in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School at NYU, Chiwan returned to Los Angeles where he and his wife, Judeth Oden, launched a new publishing company to feature Los Angeles writers, Writ Large Press, in March of 2008.

He lives in downtown Los Angeles with his wife and their dog, Bella.

13 responses to “Bunker”

  1. Judy Prince says:

    A fine poem, Chiwan. I especially liked the poignant close:

    “a bunker that will
    not hold forever
    but long enough
    for mother to drop seaweed
    on my food
    with her wooden chopsticks,
    long enough for me
    to protest.”

  2. Such a beautiful poem, Chiwan. I feel honored to know you and work with you. Cheers.

  3. Gloria says:

    This is really beautiful. I could almost hear it being read aloud as I silently sat here and read the words. That was kind of amazing.

  4. chiwan says:

    thank you Gloria & Judy. glad you like it. it’s a relatively new piece that will be part of my next collection that revolves around aliens and the apocalypse.

    and rich, much gratitude.

  5. sheree says:

    INCREDIBLE!

  6. Erika Rae says:

    Chiwan, certain lines in here just *vibrate*.

    “to call death
    by a familiar name,
    giving me god
    so i can embrace it.”

    and…

    “this ability to spill
    inward,
    to hold our blood
    inside us
    in bowls made
    from hollowed trees”

    and…

    “eating spicy burnt rice
    from stone bowls,
    sitting in these end of days
    in this bunker
    beneath
    the world we have fought
    to love”

    You have a way, sir.

  7. chiwan says:

    thank you sheree.

    and no no, erika, it is you who have a way.

  8. Simon Smithson says:

    “my parents only taught me
    what was given them,
    this ability to spill
    inward,
    to hold our blood
    inside us”

    Without sharing your background, Chiwan, I can say this rang so true to me. As, I would hope, it would ring true to anyone.

    We have so many goddamn good writers and poets around here. It’s an honour to be part of TNB. It really is.

  9. chiwan says:

    thanks simon.

    TNB indeed got some good writers.
    i drink to it.

  10. Zara Potts says:

    This is beautiful.

  11. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Well, the faster among the TNBers have already ratted out the lovely purple passages, so I’ll just come along and [aol]me too[/aol]. Very poignant poem. Welcome to TNB.

  12. chiwan says:

    thanks zara and uche.
    i’ll keep writing more and forcing mr. ferguson to post them.

  13. Barbara says:

    Chiwan,
    Bulls eye! Your laser vision has hit a nerve. In all the right places. Again.
    I love your poem.
    xo
    Barbara

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