Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder With Han (한 / 恨)

By Eugenia Leigh

What possessed me
to try to break my husband’s arm

when he took the baby from me,
when he wouldn’t surrender the baby

even as—especially as—I, animal
brained, clawed his flesh, drawing

blood from four crescents as I bent
his arm behind him? The previous

night, my father had checkmated
my silence with a photo of him dying

of cancer. Pale and wrinkled
as winter silk, he glared at the callous

lens of his phone, which he angled
down like a topless teenager,

like he needed to prove his cancer
to me, who received the photo twice

in case the first didn’t go through.
For seven years, I’d imagined

my father dead. Then he bubbled up
everywhere—his emails, dozens,

all at once—like the time
the apartment above us paused

its demolition for a storm,
and we woke to our ceilings and walls

puffed and cracked, our kitchen floor
sunken in from the weight of the leaks.

My husband is not the first man
I’ve attacked. Malignant carcinoma,

pleural effusion plus three to six
months to rework the ending. Jesus—

if author, then a slack perfecter—
straps a mask to his face, scrubs

his punctured hands of us.
I am more God than God is

these days. Watch me refuse
to let my father die

in this poem. He is dying, yes,
but see how I keep him flickering

with a gerund? My father’s body
deflating. Dehydrated stalk. A selfie

for Christ’s sake. Alone as the day
he was released like a scream

from the mouth of an American
prison then expelled like an object,

foreign, from the American body
to a country neither his nor mine

but home to the ghosts roiling
our blood. To be Korean

is to house rage. Palpable rage.
Our people, collectively unwilling

to let go, believe we share
a turbulence, a complex emotional cluster.

Hateful resentment. The urge
to tear off my husband’s limb.

Our brains: paper mausoleums.
We spark, we scorch, combust. I, too,

want to believe my violence
isn’t all mine. The last of my father’s

faces I saw fourteen years ago, before
I fled from it like a battered wife

instead of   like the thing
packed in the backseat as usual.

I did reply, but like a politician I said
I am praying for him. But I don’t pray like someone who believes
in miracles, so what’s the point?

Did I say my father’s father
was an orphan in the war? Did I say

he died of the same thing
killing my father now? Even when I

don’t want everything to be connected—
threads everywhere. Our people know

this. The iron taste of war in the mouth
screaming, Give me my f*cking baby.

Orpheus calming the storm,
then   Jesus calming the storm. Me

running from my father running from
his father running from the oppressor

back when we called them oppressors.
Did Orpheus sleep through the storm

the way   Jesus slept through the storm?
On the cushion, Mark wrote. As if to say,

rested comfortably. Like someone
who didn’t fear. Or didn’t give a f*ck.

Do you not care that we are perishing?
Every time I cried out

from my nightmares—my mother
shot in the face by my father at the door,

mother drowning in a purple lake,
mother plummeting from a cliff,

mother crushed three ways
by Cerberus—my mother laughed.

I can’t die yet. I still have work to do here.
And because I believed her,

I get to grieve not only death,
but also the idea of death as being

a reasonable creature who waits for
the neat finales of our redemption arcs.

Shy of sixty, my father says
he hasn’t even begun the work

he set out to do. Even my foolishness
burns like rage. The shedding

of my childhood myths—rage.
The letters I folded exactly one way

and stuffed into envelopes—
boxes of them—for strangers

who, I prayed, would embrace my father’s
newest hustle. The vending machines

my mother bought then couldn’t sell.
The packs of cactus pills I order now

for my father who insists cactus pills
might kill the cancer. Who wouldn’t

indulge a dying man’s mania?
Who wouldn’t let him believe

his delusions about the life he will live
once the cancer, advanced as it is,

vanishes? So I send what I can,
short of myself. The pandemic

dissuades the impulse flight anyway.
Still, my father begs for a reaction.

The kind a daughter might give.
But I am terrified

of the part of my brain that registers
my father in front of me and not

someone I don’t want to hurt.
So I am impassive. Unreachable.

I am pawing the ocean floor
for blue holes the paper promised—

tunnels too small for submersibles
but wide enough for divers

to swim through to find a sanctuary
of glassy water ornamented

with tremendous displays of plants,
kingdoms of unexpected fish.

Please. I need to believe
all this plunging into the past will yield an oasis like this. Tell me
when I hit the bottom of this ocean,

I will wind up not dead,
but through.

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