Lantern Review | Issue 9.3

Franny Choi

Prayer for the Untranslated Testimony

Midnight, and I’m sitting on the back steps
looking at the leaves and listening to the sound
a boy is making into the night with the peak
of his lungs, somewhere in my neighborhood.
He is stretching the air, and I do not
know what it means, this sound.
It sounds, I think, like a name, like the name
of my friend Fatimah, Fatimah, but with different
letters, I think, or maybe it sounds like a command,
a long and desperate spell, which he makes of the air again
and again and now growing longer as he shouts it;
and if I ask my heart, rude translator though it is,
to read back this sound, what I hear rippling
from the quiet floor of my chest is let me in,
let me in, or, open it, open it, and now in my chest’s
vocabulary there is also a door. There is also a blue
light in the top window and a face that will not
appear. And some of my friends, I know, have names
that sound like this, like I am here, I am here, like
why won’t you answer, like why can’t you see me and they are,
mostly, not boys, but do grow long and blue-lit
at midnight. They are spells, the women I know,
and today a woman sat in front of a panel
of men who, I have to try to believe, were too
once boys who shivered in the yard, a woman sat
and had to say again and again, it happened,
it happened and watch the glass panes of the once-
boys’ faces remain unlit and only echoing back,
with their short vocabularies, are you sure, are you sure,
are you sure. So tonight, reaching up to hold hands
with the leaves stretching onto the back steps,
I say: Please. Let this spell grow legs. Let my sisters’ names
grow long as their hair. Long as they need to.
Let their names rattle the night air with their
incessant lungs. Let the sounds of their names burn
blue in the night, let even their ugliest memories
be named after the daughters of prophets, please,
if there is a god named for the humble undersides
of these leaves somehow not yet dead, let
the names of my sisters make all the doors on my street
fly open. Let every tree sleeping in our chests
claw awake. And rush out to answer that call.

Demilitarized Zone

I roll my suitcase through the demilitarized airport. I hand my demilitarized ticket to the demilitarized agent at the gate, who smiles in a demilitarized way, points with an open hand. On the plane, I order a demilitarized orange juice. I look down at the demilitarized mountains of Siberia and imagine walking on them. We land on the demilitarized runway, and the captain’s voice over the loudspeaker is demilitarized as he asks us to stay in our seats. In the bathroom, I brush my demilitarized teeth. I get on the wrong demilitarized train and have to plead with the conductor who does not have a gun. I watch the demilitarized pine trees filter the sun like a ceiling fan. I watch demilitarized cranes land on a lake so bright it makes me blink. The demilitarized conductor bows as he enters each train car; an old woman sits with demilitarized bundles wrapped in pink. At Pyeongyang I stop for demilitarized noodles. The Taedong River is not full of bodies. The sun in the trees makes a noise like eeeeee! eeeeee! The sparrows in the buckwheat fields shout in Bukhan accents and no guns. At Uiju the platform is demilitarized; the taxi stand is not pockmarked with mines; I buy a demilitarized barley tea, and the shopkeeper hands me my change like she’s responsible for me. In the demilitarized record hall, I hand over a slip of demilitarized paper, and the clerk smiles at my accent. You’ve traveled a long way, she says as she leads me to the demilitarized stacks. We find my family’s genealogy book. We turn to the last generation recorded before the world ended and our line split south. I unfold my paper with the list of missing names. The clerk copies the letters as I read them. Together, we demilitarize my family. The sun coming in through the windows says, ah. ah.

Photo of Franny Choi Franny Choi is the author of Soft Science (Alice James Books) and Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing). The Founder/Director of Brew & Forge, she teaches at Williams College. Their poems in this issue are from The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On, forthcoming from Ecco. • Photo by the author

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