a river runs through your locked mouth

by Esther Ra

the south korean teacher says

         “the child has not been    speaking”

          

little fist craving nothing   

        but color

     

                     paper crayoned

                  to verdant    unease

 

         it is hard to explain    in a country of words

        that silence   is a raft     for the speechless

 

lashed to a boat

     of hushed breath       like the night

 

                i carried you   (blue-faced

           treasure       my child)

 

    through a mountain   rife with

          language of     guns

 

the others said      drug

      the baby

 

                  if she cries

            none of us    survive

 

       but undrugged

    you were stiller    than spruce

 

         a ravine      without water

                   or wind

 

      branches slapped   at your face

              they slashed   at your face

 

        but you held your breath

               (trickle of blood)

 

did you know       we were saved

          by your silence

 

                        is that why       you never

                                      spoke since

 

               how will i teach you

                       my swallow     my child

 

   that to live     is more than

           riven numbness

 

i will hold you     my music

       of tarnished      and mute

 

               to the thrumming    rumor

                      of my breath

 

listen           how the gourd

           of hope scoops      through my chest

 

            umma

       are we there yet

 

                          you said:

Esther Ra is the Pushcart Prize-winning author of 'book of untranslatable things' (Grayson Books, 2018) and the founding editor of The Underwater Railroad, a literary reunification project. Her work has also been published in Boulevard, Rattle, Twyckenham Notes, The Rumpus, The Korea Times, and Border Crossing, among others. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 49th Parallel Award for Poetry and Women Writing War Poetry. In writing, as in life, she is deeply interested in the quiet beauty of the ordinary.