Poetry: Youna Kwak

Selected by Srikanth Reddy as a finalist for the 2018 Omnidawn First / Second Book Prize


Like whippoorwills past
Winter, over
Fence-posts and holes, while
Underneath unborn

Grass lifts fetid curled fingers, and
waits, I walk. And while soil
Seethes below me. Before
I knew you, wheat was grown here, before that

Barley, brown kings on the stalks,
A million little regals nodding. Where
We set down our blanket
Jimson and yucca pressed thirstily up

Until their necks could reach no further.
They collapsed like paper
Straws. You are not in any window. Now
Spring, and the meadowlarks are

Sweet and fat with
Worms. I tried everything
My hands could do, could not
Please you. Barely in view

The chainlink fence we had to
Climb to come here. Littlest,
A lateness, the truculence,
Withholding. Locked in

A girl’s body like a fist
Tight around a creature
Gasping for air. Though
She says no and no and

No, the body steps carefully
Through the tall grasses,
Parts them.


           The image came first.
An image of ardor
unchecked, spilling
vines from the cabinets, vines

clustered thick with burst seeds.
Melon still ripening in
opaque juices. The wife

exiting, gathering the folds
of her mustard-print robe. It was
a kind of peace

like the cooled-over surface
of fruits whose flavors remain
unknown. The tree still producing

fetid buds unfit for
eating, scattering over
the pale spread palm of

beauty left unsoiled
by use. The children bending
supple glass necks over

busy completions. Wilderness
of crabgrass, plucked
like needles. There are homes

and there are neighbors. Come
an evening, an emptied pocket
is filled with his broad hand

creeping forward like
a noiseless bird
who has done little harm.

Youna Kwak reading: TALL GRASSES


Youna Kwak was born in Seoul, Korea. She now lives in the Inland Empire, where she writes, translates, and teaches French and literature. Forthcoming in 2020: a book of poems entitled sur vie (Fathom Books), and a translation of François Bon’s novel Daewoo (Diálogos Press).