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by Kai and Ishle

Breathe. Breathe while she sucks down a slow serene drag, cigarette hanging between freckled fingers, eyes resting above the hush of coiled smoke, no mind to what its curling fingers will do to her body as it soaks the walls of her womb, the lining of her stomach warmed and weighted with macculi and late afternoon lyric.

Breathe. Breathe because that's all you can do to stay strong and sink your teeth into the unspoken truth that screams in static filters when she strolls, wrinkled hands behind her back, bent over, hair a shock of white, lips tight and withered at the edges, each step grazing the rocks painted with promise, pebbles coated with pictures, drawn by a small child.

Grounded by the burden of dense heat, after an August downpour, its pressure pulsing in her limbs, echoed by the roll of poongmul, lethargic air dips beneath olivestatues a stoic girlchild stands tall, tells the story of onceyouth a still halmoni half submerged in the river where she once bathed

I was 14. Stones in the small village painted with temples and faces. Flash flood melts the road into a river.

3 pine trees. my parents thought they sent me to a good place. my hands like rubber gloves. my heart bleeding.

She died once in battle when she was only thirteen when war raged on her body, too see was to greet enemy troops trained in the trenches

they ravaged the woman before killing her son anchored his power by forcing his dirt in her womb plucked from working fields, sold behind stacks of limp harvest grown on bloodshed soil a virgin, knew only of opening crops with small dreams slivered, bending blades of grass

They cut her open because she was too small. With rusted scissors. Virgin. Doctor first to enter her after the operation.

They ate rice balls prone on stone beds, thin mattress, one washcloth to rinse between soldiers. they were beheaded if they bit down.

ever so gently she wipes his pleasure and punishment under a piece of stale board she hid a hair piece, a silver coin, a tapestry of swords

I cannot reconcile this halmoni with a girl 50 years ago, lips like pressed heart, neck long as reed, who never learned to write her own name, this halmoni, bundled thick in 2 wool coats, bus ticket clenched tightly in gloved fist to attend her hundredth rally, pushing the glass covered police young enough to be her grandsons, to be in spitting distance of the Japanese embassy.

She will sleep well tonight, they saidbecause this is the 822nd time she raised her brown fist in front of the Japanese embassy, despite its closed doors she will sleep well tonight, because she danced for five hours to the low humming that turns shame into power, silence into survival

I can forget everything when I paint, when the blood is burnt up.

She draws a painting larger than herself of a soldier in mustard green, wrapped to a cherry blossom tree with black barbed wire, guns pointed at his chest from 3 directions, white doves taking flight from its branches. white doves taking flight

And she danced like this, hands flicking, hip jut, shoulder slant, wrinkles filling her eyes.

She dances, ash falling from her cigarette, a cupful of Macculi splashing upraised, between puffs she tilts her head and sings...

shoulders side by side, ready to lock this moment I stood next to strength unknown before, breathe, because that's all I can do for a woman with wrinkled hands linked behind her back, our names unknown to each other, I ignore the heavy raindrops remember to breathe because fifty years of silence & fifty hundred soldiers have boiled down to this one woman's sigh atnight, she unfolds her hands that once clung to imaginary knives and dry splinters, she reaches for my arm and it tingles at her touch, she pulls me closer under shelter protection from rain, wipes my jaw with fingertips, imprinting her name with blood

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