Spoils of War
In winter war and mud an ivory curve
gleams too much for bone. My father toes up
bowls small as kneecaps—bowls hidden with care,
buried for keeping, the home burned flat,
dead in the path of the tank grunting closer.
At his feet, the earth is quaking from twin treads
curled like giant pillbugs on the roll,
A shame to crush play-dishes for the daughter
growing up without him. Surely salvage
and salvation sucker off a common root?
Saving small bowls wasn't stripping corpses.
Into his pocket, dirt and all. His next
step sank him thigh-deep in a buried crock
of kimchee. All the war long, fermenting cabbage
judged my father's boots.
The moon-white bowls
with gold inscriptions, strange and worn, came pickled
in a sour whiff of excelsior. I played with them
a single night. My mother shut them up.
From far-off Oregon my mother shipped
my childhood loot of seashells, feathers, leaves,
fossils. Those safe and labeled things gone still
and hard or dry. And then the shock of bowls
thin as breath, frail as plates in baby's skulls,
bowls with gold inscriptions worn faint
and silent as the mouth on the man in the moon.
I could not throw them out—not when words
like cloud had joined with mushroom to housebreak
the unthinkable and feed it near the sink.
What if the spoils of one war could slow down
this sham domestication of the next?
If one Korean bowl should break, a baby's
head in Vietnam might fail to harden
as giant pillbugs grunted closer, two
by two—in search of what monstrous ark?
Lost and silenced in a cupboard's ghetto
the small bowls slept forgotten until now.
Today my husband's Korean friend brought by
a jar of swirled and soured cabbage. Kimchee.
It knew me even without my father's boots.
Kimchee has won the refrigerator war
and room by room is pickling all the house.
Kimchee morning, earthquake night. I wait
in bed for aftershocks. War everywhere.
Guns bicker in the Middle East. Here, sleep
serves as ceasefire in a war between two armies
of a soldier each. My husband's small dreams wheeze
through goosedown. Will this sour cabbage always
haunt his beard? Night thickens. Clouds grow gauze,
muffle, then pack off the chipped moon. The earth
shakes its fur once more. Household things stir,
bearing witness. China's on the march
with pots and lids. Tumblers are living up
to their name. Cupboards groan open to air
gone sour. Mugs poise for slaughter at the gulf.
Glass truces are broken. A porcelain shriek
arcs cloud-high. Curve by ivory curve, the moon
slices through, scooped faceless by such effort.
Its eyes blur out and dim cheekbones dissolve—
mouth gasps so wide, it has black sky for lips.
On a shelf of cloud, the moon teeters,
a bowl cupping worn inscriptions.