Two Poems

Poetry / Suphil Lee Park

:: Present Tense Complex ::

Not I love you 
but the cuckoo 
clock moves me 
to tears. Poor 
Have seconds, fast 
I will 
seconds to fast. 
Spare us a second. 
Light at gunpoint. 
Whose lung 
brims with bullets 
ruts snowed- 
in, mind tucked in 
skin. What will 
heal, what not. 
There’s no sobbing in this world 
there’s no sobbing 
          in this world 
          there’s No 
sobbing in this world. 



Poetry / Suphil Lee Park

:: Route, Root ::

Volcanic winter, the cold 
is in color, sheltered. 
The canon balls in place 
of your eye balls 
I’m sure are the dead 
ends of your brain—god, 
should I drop my torch.




From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ve always found it hard to agree with many who like to say the most impor­tant qual­i­ties of a poem are essen­tial­ly son­ic. I believe I feel this way because I’m Kore­an AND a bilin­gual writer. I have that hard-head­ed bias as a native read­er and writer of the Kore­an lan­guage that has evolved from cen­turies of such com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry; unlike the Japan­ese who have ful­ly inte­grat­ed Chi­nese char­ac­ters into their own lan­guage, we invent­ed our own unique alpha­bet while still car­ry­ing over most of the words that con­sist of Chi­nese char­ac­ters from the last cen­tu­ry. For exam­ple, the sun in Kore­an is 해. Oth­er words in Kore­an, such as “year” and “harm,” even some phras­es like “will do,” “do this,” “should I do this?” spell and sound exact­ly the same (except some sub­tle dif­fer­ences in into­na­tion when it’s used as a phrase); the mean­ing of the word, there­fore, depends entire­ly on the con­text. But we also have anoth­er word for the sun in Kore­an, 태양, which con­sists of Chi­nese char­ac­ters “​太” (big) and “陽​” (yang); and each of these Chi­nese char­ac­ters also has mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions. While 해 is an exact equiv­a­lent for 태양 when it means the sun, a skill­ful Kore­an read­er will be first sprint­ing through a web of lin­guis­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties and con­no­ta­tions at their  recog­ni­tion of this sim­ple word. In oth­er words, I was born into a lan­guage that neces­si­tates lis­ten­ing not to the words them­selves but for the his­to­ry and poten­tial of each word and how words come togeth­er to form a wild­ly com­plex rela­tion­ship. So my obses­sion with words lies not in how they sound (the son­ic ele­ments are notes and beats that pro­vide pre­req­ui­site back­ground music) but in the chem­istry they spark up on the page. 

This lin­guis­tic incli­na­tion of mine matured into an impor­tant aes­thet­ic lat­er when I start­ed writ­ing in Eng­lish. At first, my very Kore­an brain approached the Eng­lish lan­guage pri­mar­i­ly as text, not as sound that I often had a hard time mak­ing out. While spo­ken Eng­lish was slip­pery and hard to grasp at the time, the lan­guage on the page felt to me some­thing like clay, espe­cial­ly in poetry—malleable, volatile, and tac­tile, as the words put and close the dis­tance that we call lines between them. Depend­ing on that dis­tance, they could become entire­ly dis­parate things, con­tained in the exact same word. In that sense, writ­ing in this lan­guage has been like paint­ing to me. A sim­ple jux­ta­po­si­tion can bring out an unex­pect­ed hue in a sim­ple red; some shapes, you can only dis­cern in hind­sight, at a dis­tance. A poached “egg” dif­fers dras­ti­cal­ly from a woman’s “egg.” I’ve always loved the idea of every word as an attempt and fail­ure to con­tain the uncon­tain­able, and how that only expands the hori­zon of each poem, with every word, even a rudi­men­ta­ry one like “egg,” adding lay­ers and nuances when put in a dif­fer­ent con­text, and depend­ing on which line it’s placed in. In that sense, I almost feel every poem is to be a brief jour­ney for its words to align them­selves. This is why many of my poems make use of antana­cla­sis and explore the con­tex­tu­al and tex­tu­al rela­tion­ship of words.


Suphil Lee Park (수필 리 박 / 秀筆 李 朴) is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion, Present Tense Com­plex, win­ner of the Marysti­na Santi­este­van Prize (Con­duit Books & Ephemera 2021) and has recent­ly won the 2021 Indi­ana Review Fic­tion Prize. Born and raised in South Korea before find­ing home in the States, she holds a BA in Eng­lish from NYU and an MFA in Poet­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin. You can find more about her at: