A decade ago, when I opened Sun Yung Shin’s debut collection, Skirt Full of Black (Coffee House Press 2006), one hundred pages of postcolonial sagacity in multiple tongues greeted me with echoes of Theresa Cha and Myung Mi Kim. I sensed a kindling - and kindred - spirit for Asian poet-sisterhood.
Years later, as “machine poetas” of Margaret Rhee’s marvelous Kimchi Poetry Machine – with Devi Laskar, Erin Adair-Hodges, Micha Cárdenas, Shelley Lee, Hyejong Kook, and Terry Hong – our syllables mingled in multimedia cyberspace, enhanced by Sun Yung Shin’s startling lines of vivid rapture – and voluptuous rupture.
I love Shin’s sequence of nested open parentheses in “Flower II, Calyx” from Skirt Full of Black.
Flower II, CALYX
Blazing corolla (sweet apparition
bud of smoke (ruptured confession
shroud of paradox (embrace an import of ivory
this maiden portrait (graveside signature
first there was a sword (glint of heavy elements
made to pierce (tender
my only-heart (cherry wounds
drunken fruit (as lightning falls from heaven
For this feature, I invited Sun Yung Shin to share about her current projects, as well. Shin writes, “I have been thinking a lot about fictional cyborgs, orientalist visions of the future, notions of purity, 19th century conceptions of the sublime, utopia ... this poem is in my new book that is about the politics of hospitality (guest/host relations), the uncanny valley, the monstrous female (always ...) ... ” The following poem, "Unalloyed," will appear in her forthcoming book, Unbearable Splendor (Coffee House Press 2016). -- By Karen An-hwei Lee, Poet of the Week.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor ... unclouded by conscience, remorse,
or delusions of morality.
- Alien, 1979, directed by Ridley Scott
1. The woman in white by the side of the road will eat your blushing heart and throw your alien, illegible, edible laws in the fire.
2. The woman in white has a face like a weapon. Sharpen it. If you could get inside her body you could ride in
it like a vast and war-ready ship. Slaves at the oars disposable as time. Sections of time thrown overboard to lighten the load, for you will get heavier and heavier as time goes on.
3. The woman in white places her palms against your face like twin curses and leaves black marks all over your flesh, as if you were a herd animal being chosen for the next truck that arrives tomorrow.
4. You invent the internal tattoo and gently remove each organ for scarification, branding, and the gentle and vivid watercolor of the sewing needle.
5. You would like to devour permanence and dissolve it in your many stomachs. You would like to replace your skin when you grow weary of its memories, everything that seeps in it and never passes through,
6. This woman is a disappointment. Can she be exchanged, can she be returned, can she be reborn. Douse it
7. The palm reader does not hesitate to read the palm of any creature. Every creature has a future, every other
creature speaks its own language that we cannot understand. It does not care about our future but it should.
8. Every woman is a source of terror. She is sublime, she gives chase like the white whale and she will destroy
your ship and bring you down with her, tethered to her by a sewing needle. You break the surface of the
water and become something else. A foreign object with no memory of your gills. You burn in the icy water.
Your last image is of a beautiful woman you saw on a street once, she left a wake of terror which you reared back from as if it was fire.
9. In the 19th century, men were obsessed with the sublime, the distant, the unknowable, that which causes
awe and terror. Alien, unknowable. Now men have forgotten the gods but not women, an ever renewable
source and object of this enduring passion. On her hands, clever spiders, might wear a band of metal to
mark her as yours. A miniature heart of coal compressed by time into something white and shining, a star
while it still gives light.
10. This woman in white is a ghost. She is a machine. She will be a god. Her spirit is a sacrifice to cleanse the
land of its sins. Blameless monarch. She is bathing inside you. Find her. A labyrinth, a fork in the path, your future.
신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin
Sun Yung Shin 신 선 영 is the author of the forthcoming books in 2016: prose collection Unbearable Splendor from Coffee House Press and essay anthology A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota from Minnesota Historical Society Press. Her poetry collections Rough, and Savage and Skirt Full of Black, winner of the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry, were also published by Coffee House Press. She co-edited the anthology Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption and is the author of Cooper’s Lesson, a bilingual Korean/English illustrated book for children. She lives in Minneapolis.