Spring 2024

Dear America / Beautiful Country

By Esther Ra

When I first learned you could murder, I cried.
I wanted so badly to believe in you, in your
American dream, which placed shining words
on my tongue. Migak, sense of taste, sweet
as apples. Country, I thought, with a conscience.

In Korea, we called you Migook, beautiful country.
Meaning we saw you as buffalo, full of dark strength,
roaming prairies of vast possibility.
You fed us cigarettes and salt crackers during the war,
snapped chocolates as easily as limbs. We became
your bargirls and babies, eager for one glance from your eyes.

Your arms enveloped me, foster child
from an ancient and terrified land, and my past
learned to clutch at your sleeve. I loved you, America,
with your sky large enough to hold every race

and your story so brazenly young, everyone could tell
where it began to go wrong. Misook: your ignorance,
or mine. You swaggered that God was on your side.
And I clutched you like a hope. Like a rope. A rope

tight as a noose on some necks,
where freedom rubbed raw on wrong skin.
Yet you placed eloquence in my mouth,
gave me the tongue with which I condemn you.
I became full of life, other, daughter—

O my mother, allow me to speak:
from my migoo, my fragmented body,
let words flow like rivers of stone.
How long will you hide the bloodstains
on your cloak, build floorboards over
dead bodies? Migook, O America,
Be consistent with grace:
Your own children lie shot in the streets.

Migook, my America, do not shudder with pride,
but swell with the warm yeast of mercy.
Be bread in the pockets of the hungry,
and rise like fresh dough to your name.

Esther Ra is a bilingual writer and illustrator from Seoul, South Korea. She is the author of A Glossary of Light and Shadow (forthcoming from Diode Editions), book of untranslatable things (Grayson Books, 2018) and the founding editor of The Underwater Railroad, a literary reunification project. Her work has also been published in Boulevard, Rattle, Twyckenham Notes, The Rumpus, PBQ, and Korea Times, among others. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Pushcart Prize, 49th Parallel Award for Poetry, Women Writing War Poetry Award, and Sweet Lit Poetry Award. (estherra.com)

Spring 2024