Industry Prize, 2nd Place Winner: Inheritance by Ae Hee Lee
We’re all very excited to share with you the winners of the 2019 Frontier Industry Prize, selected by Jeff Shotts, Sarah Gambito, and Kwame Dawes. Today, we have “Inheritance” by Ae Hee Lee— a moving exploration of heritage, of lands, yet unknown, lodged like iridescent glass in the body. Stay tuned for our winner Elizabeth Oxley’s “After April Rain” on the 30th. Thank you to everyone who submitted this year!
Because there’s pleasure
in secrecy, I kneel in silence before
a kitchen cabinet. I pull out
the large can of sesame oil
inhabiting this corner of the house.
I let my eager nose hover
over its opening. The rim glistens
musk with copper, the smell
of an unfamiliar soil, a country
I was born to but did not grow up with.
I breathe it in. I breathe out:
gosohada— this is still a word
I cannot translate until it evaporates.
My father never talks about himself.
The eighth son— no one expected him
to survive the winter. Now he lives
holding a birth date that migrates
with the moon. His is a biography I know
in the form of bedtime stories, hushed
fairytales set afloat by my mother’s lips
into the waters of my nights.
Can you love what you don’t know?
I glance at the edge of a mirror,
a crystal caught in my cornea. Maybe
the unknown is but a hard mirage
of what’s known, a dubious carbon copy
of the seer’s mind. My curiosity
draws me to this displaced image,
selects from it; my parents’ nostalgia
expands it, infinitely, like a prism.
I want to love what I don’t know.
I want to learn, continue to yearn.
A homeland of mountains
with low, uneven shoulders.
In the distance their outlines are
plumed as if made from torn paper.
A homeland of electric forests,
persimmons, and expired peppermint
candies in the shape of diamonds.
This land was never promised to me,
but memory never owns. It invokes.
You have your father’s face,
an aunt told me once. A camel’s long eyelashes
and dark stars for eyes. I admit my father has
passed onto me many of his idiosyncrasies:
the closing of hands behind the back,
the bottling of desire until it bursts
into a thousand iridescent needles of glass.
But when I visit his old house in Chungju,
I don’t call it home. I choose
to glimpse a pair of cosmos flowers resting
their heads against half-finished steps,
caress their purple ears and ask
if they’ll remember me from time to time.
I return to myself— broken and full.
Ae Hee Lee
Ae Hee Lee was born in South Korea, raised in Peru, and now resides in the United States. She received her MFA from the University of Notre Dame and is currently a PhD candidate in Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her work has been published or is forthcoming at POETRY, Narrative, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, and the Journal among others.