The 2021 New Voices Contest, 1st Place Winner: Assimilamentations by S. Kim
We’re all very excited to share with you the 1st place winner of the 2021 New Voices Contest and $3000, selected by Donika Kelly!
“’Assimilamentations’ is full-hearted in its rage and grief. Across fifteen kaleidoscopic sections, the poet positions the reader in turn as witness and complicit. What I loved about this poem is that the stakes of the poem and the speaker’s feelings were matched so perfectly in pitch—the balance of powerlessness and frustration bartering with the imposition of structure, of control.” — Donika Kelly
The sky is the silence of brothers
A brother never ends
0. Model Minority
I chink, therefore I am. Take back your chink, your Kung flu. O Wall, show
thy Chink-O-Rama, thy chinkenfreude, thy chink tank. You’ll chink like a stone.
My brother’s left ear shriveled like a pink worm, right eye soldered shut.
Half-deaf, half-blind: tongue-twitch, arm-spasm.
Skull beating against the walls, fists pounding against the floors,
flesh knocking against wood, body praying for what?
2. The Anatomy of Melancholy
Broken plates, slobber-milk, spit — snot — piss — pus.
Father working, drinking, drinking, working,
mother cleaning after brother, scolding him when he’d shit himself,
ashamed to bring him home when he wandered
into neighbors’ yards, driveways, garages, porches —
3. The Melancholy of Anatomy
“Retard bus! Let’s ride the retard bus!” the neighborhood
boys chanted when we walked past. There was no passing.
Or “ching-chong” — “chop suey” — “slant-eyed
faggot” — “slant-eyed cunt” —
as if whiteness were the heaven from which we fell,
and not-whiteness our original sin,
our lack, the crack where “outside comes in” —
The day we couldn’t find him, when he was four,
makes a hole that has no end.
For hours and hours, mother called his name,
going door to door, like a salesman —
And through the O, another world, where what happened never happened —
where our neighbors’ son and his friend never locked him in their storage shed,
never beat him with crowbar, shovel, broom —
never shoved a shaft in his rectum, puncturing his colon —
no lacerations, no gash in his skull needing stitches —
no garden-hose used as a whip —
no shotgun or slug-sweat —
no clawhammer or dog’s choke-chain —
6. ST RAGE
Don’t touch the gash on his skull, his black-bruise eyes, his broken nails:
don’t touch the rips on his wrists and ankles where ropes cut skin.
Father gave us tranquilizers, so we wouldn’t frighten him.
We all took them, blue pills in little paper cups at the supper table.
St Thorazine, St Morphine, St Demerol, St Haldol.
But I don’t want pills.
I want my brother unharmed.
8. Fugue: Invention of Heaven
And the LORD sayeth, Forgive —
And the LORD sayeth, Repent —
(meaning “the pain again”)
but why should I forgive them, when I can’t forgive myself?
9. Prayer for Beginners
To be made is to be mad.
Shame of the immigrant father-mother with their broken English
who couldn’t save their son, shame of the sister who couldn’t bully the bullies—
guardians who couldn’t guard, mother cried so hard
she needed ice on her swollen eyes to sleep,
cold as coins laid on the eyes of the dead.
10. Fugue: Making the Maker
You in whom I don’t believe, come down to mother and console her.
Sing to her, lie to her, but make the lie sweet as breath, strong as death.
The word kills that is not made flesh.
S. Kim divides her time between Little Korea, Bergen County, NJ, U.S. and Little Korea, New Malden, Surrey, U.K.