As cabbage you were crunchy water-leaves,
one fraction of a field outside Gimhae
that laced the earth with millions like you.
Your bodies were scattered in produce trucks.
When they patched each layer of your young leaves
with chunky red paste down to the stem,
did you suffocate? Or was it haven,
insular, cocoon-like, a post-natal womb?
They left you rotting in heavy clay pots.
Bacterial bugs burrowed your leafy flesh,
crinkled white stems absorbed red chili spice,
shrimp brine, green onions, tart, fermented air.
You emerged a crimson flower, sour
from fermentation, radiating damp,
tepid, twice-born and sheared, piled densely
into plastic bags for street-side markets.
Aging vendors seem to know what is special
about your fish-rot smell, pale red skin,
brown residue left behind in every
dish you’ve rested in. You are everywhere.
You are lined along the outside grates
of a convex indoor barbecue grill,
to catch pork belly drippings before
splashing in fire, to absorb animal
energy leaking out of slaughtered flesh,
to layer on bright green leaves with garlic,
onions, and pork, to be engulfed instantly,
chased with soju shots and cold beer.
When ingested you coat our warm tongues, lips,
guided by metal chopsticks to our mouths,
down throats to the haven of our bodies;
insular, cocoon-like, a post-natal womb.
Brendan Walsh is a Fulbright Scholar and poet from Connecticut, but has lived in upstate New York and South Korea, and he will soon move to Laos. Follow his life in Laos at jockzenpoet.blogspot.com