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Sannakji by Brendan Walsh


Masan Fish Market drips salt water
incubated in glass tanks, teeming

with fresh catches. Ajummas
wear knee-high rubber waders,

scaling knives flash mirror-light
as they carve indiscriminate flesh

flaked from rainbows of bodies.
Market walls hang dried fish split

at the throat: their scales, gator-shoe
dry, eyes open, shiny, dead.

Today I eat Sannakji—octopus,
chopped, served squirming,
suctioning molars down my sesame-
greased throat.  Chews like
worn-out rubber, tasting of
ocean and salted oil, not life
or death, or suffering.

I laugh while tentacles curl
over metal chopstick tips.

The octopus struggles, though it died
minutes earlier at the bubbling tank;
the cleaver chopping and recoiling,
first the bulbous orange head,
an ax through cantaloupe flesh.

Then eight legs, tangling into one,
diced to cutting board rhythm,
one, two, three, one, and the work
was done.  The writhing, disjointed
body, sesame seasoned, filled a plate.

I eat to the point of bursting.

-Masan, South Korea

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