Poetry by Su Hwang

"May" by Finn Schult / finnschult.com



Conjure: Daughter

                  In frilly tutu—pastel like Easter
Eggs—cornflower, seafoam, periwinkle,

           Mint—adorable, dainty, fragile. Spinning 
Toile doing the cancan down the street

           While cradling an infant doll named Daisy 
May, her synthetic braids matted with 

           A smidgen of dirt, sticky toffee. How darling 
To be this darling. Rerun emblems of girlhood: 

           Saccharine sweet cheeks like Pink Ladies.
Not the rascal scurrying into imaginary woods 

           Chasing after starlings & bunny rabbits. Think: 
More Mary, less Laura Ingalls—beautifully

           Dutiful, so mild-mannered! To be picture 
Perfect (handmaid in the making) for me

           An impossible feat. I was, after all, no violin
Or piano virtuoso, merely third chair at 

           Flute, zero scholarships to medical school. 
Too non-committal to be Goth or punk, just 

           Riddled with suburban angst prattling on 
The phone behind a locked door with signs

           That read: Knock Before You Enter & Private Zone 
Ahead. Totally unremarkable. Certainly, progeny 

           Unworthy of martyrdom—to think the many 
Years I held my poor parents’ lives for ransom.



Assimilation Bouquet

               your fist

like a nesting 

picture dahlia, 

in time-lapse

lightning bolts

               in a bevy
of pickling jars


               to leaf
through anther

               & filament
to a part called

               & stem 

               new replicas
to hang around

your neck
like garlands 

               & gorge 
your cheeks 

of anthems




When my mother cries, Hey Zeus!
it cues him to resume sweeping. I giggle
picturing the Greek god of marble, 
muscle & thunder. His eyes 
remain lowered when I ask 
where he was born, where he calls 
home, as my legs swing below 
the counter—the store totally free 
of customers. He bridles, suddenly in my 
crosshairs: visible. Mere sliver of a man. 

Tells me in broken English that he 
walked a long way, across many borders
(I’m just a child, couldn’t possibly fathom). 
He misses his mother—smuggled in 
clutching her picture. It’s been a dozen 
years but knows she is still alive 
from signed trails of Western Union 
receipts. He sends her everything, 
works two other menial jobs, lives 
with several migrant men in Harlem. 

Watching him sweep, I peer over at
my mother whose shoulders are hunched 
stocking shelf after shelf—wasting 
away within a five-foot radius, but 
our distance seems to span an ocean. 
I never ask any real questions, she 
never tells me more than I need 
to know—having built impenetrable
barriers. Inadvertently locked in 
a vow of silence, there is no arguing, 

we are all rotten to each other.




               1. verb [sojourn; something like a river]

It is occupation
To assume the position: transport, 
Heed, baptize, sever, feed. 

               Mouth forever an opening, ending.

Ligaments hewed from bone, splinters 
Lodged into heels—we’re inherently
Refugees. It is elegant

               Carrying only what you need. 

Do not mistake hyphenation for lack 
Of discipline or vestigial claims as 
Surrender. We’re told to fear large bodies

               Of water—how easily we are made

To submit. Even in the womb, we seek
Exit strategies, wrestling the murk, 
No matter our pigmentation or creed.

               Supremacy is a state

Of inadequate psyches, dizzied by 
Desire to accrue more seeds for each 
Harvest: futile races to the moon.

               Duality forms confluence: frenzy.

Twin helixes transmute native
Tidal flats—broad & impossibly long; 
Our shared carbon footprint

               Made digestible, easier to swallow.


Born in Seoul, Korea, Su Hwang was raised in New York, then called the Bay Area home before transplanting to the Midwest, where she received her MFA in poetry from the University of Minnesota. Su is recipient of the inaugural Jerome Hill Fellowship in Literature, the Academy of American Poets James Wright Prize, writer-in-residence fellowships at Dickinson House and Hedgebrook, among others. BODEGA, Su’s debut poetry collection, is forthcoming with Milkweed Editions in October 2019. She teaches creative writing with the MN Prison Writing Workshop and is the co-founder of Poetry Asylum. Su currently lives in Minneapolis.