“TODAY I WAS ELEGANT” – “THE RIVER (1963-2019)”

TODAY I WAS ELEGANT

I could have been a lawyer.
I would have been a wonderful doctor.
This is what the morning sun tells me
Streaming into my heart…

Instead, I get lunch with my friend
Who is a lawyer
And my friend who is a doctor,
A large fern flickering over my face.

I am wearing a long sheer dress
Meant for the beach.
‘I’m happy,’ I say, though I meant to
Tell the truth—

How at night the moon acts like
A crazy girl
Slapping my face left and right—

Instead, I watch children play
After school. I am paid
By the hour.

Alone, I take a long time getting ready.

Never wearing makeup
As I put it on tonight
I feel like a geisha preparing
A tea service,
Every movement
An art.

Now that I don’t go out often
At the house party
What I say &
Who I am
Surprises me—

Like horses passing each other on a road
I pass a stranger
In the hall

We dip our heads shyly
And all night long
Is a silver thread

The River (1963-2019)

I am rowing Father
Across the river Styx.
He keeps looking over
Into the grey,
Looking afraid.
‘I don’t want to go,’
He says.
‘It’s not that I want you to,’
I say.

We could have taken a swan boat.
We could have waited for a sunny day.
But I put out my hand
And a skinny oar dropped into it
Like the handle of a broom.

I thought of many things rowing.

A deep fog enclosed us
In which I could only
Make out
My hands coming back to me.

I heard father say
Close in my ear,
‘Oh, I don’t want to go to hell.’
Fear had filled his voice
Like a girl’s choir.
‘It’s not that I want you to,’
I said.

Then I dropped the act,
Like when Dante meets his gay friend
In purgatory,
The marvel of life
Cut through
Like the smell of bacon—

‘Wasn’t it you
That jumped into the Hudson river?
On a hazy august afternoon?’

The traffic on the George Washington bridge
Was stopped,
My bus was stopped,
And I stood up, swirling, in the aisle.

‘Oh, I thought about it,’ father says,
After a while.
‘But I didn’t have the courage.’

My arms were tired of rowing
I wished to leave them behind

I had a premonition about death
Of this tiredness
And wanting death to take it away

‘Did you know,’ father says,
‘Once in a while you drive a ghost.
Ask any taxi driver in New York.’

‘Once a girl got in,
No luggage,
Strange shimmering dress.
And as we were coming down a hill
I saw her
Vanish in the mirror.’

I felt the water get shallow
I couldn’t row any longer if I wanted to

On the banks of the Hudson I was
Screaming
Like I had just been born

— Christine Kwon is a poet and fiction writer in New Orleans. She reads for Tilted House Press and teaches at a school in the French Quarter. Her work has been published in Joyland Magazine, The Yale Review, Sweet Mammalian (New Zealand) and The Recluse. More is forthcoming in blush lit, Recliner Mag, The Columbia Review, Hot Pink MagBear Creek Gazette and X-R-A-Y. You can follow her on Insta @theschooloflonging for poems that don’t live to adulthood.