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,