Poetry: Broken Abecedarian For America by Jessica Kim
In “Broken Abecedarian For America,” the speaker investigates the complex and often corrupt nature of American history and culture. Through experimentation with form, Kim shares her version of the Abecedarian poem, with a careful critique of the American Dream.
Broken Abecedarian For America
America doesn’t have a body—just
the rupture from a pistol,
broken like a mother’s backbone. One night,
I return home to find her
collapsing into her own tongue: a second-
hand language she bought for a
dollar. Mother rinses her mouth clean,
cleanses her face until it becomes an
envelope for undelivered love letters.
To love my country is not about
forgiveness as it is about indifference.
How I can sleep soundlessly with the
glaring redness of a rocket. Outside,
the sky is a deadweight,
hole-punched by another bullet and not
fireworks. Please, I want to
indulge in history without retreating
in pain like a crumpled newspaper
jammed into the bottom of my backpack.
Tonight, the mockingbird
keeps me awake and afraid. Tomorrow,
I will imprison myself,
Los Angeles skylines wired into my palms—
it’s better than encountering
myself in a mirror at the department store.
Girl fluttering her wings like a monarch,
never reaching home. Too fragile to be
American. I can’t help but become
obsessed with the lipstick that’s only
worth thirteen days’ of starvation,
possibly less. At school, the fingerprints
of girls on tabletops like countries
quadrated into pop quizzes. To love
my nation is to talk about one-sided
revolutions. On the battlefield, a victory.
At home, a mother afraid of
school shootings—says be careful almost
as if I am not already full.
Tight-stomached, pulling my body closer
to hers because it’s the only
unhardened object within reach. Unlike
America, I inhabit a body I wish to
vacate, and I know this isn’t the answer
she is searching for. I am defeated again,
when the syllables of the American Dream
vibrate like bombs ticking, ready to burst:
xenon-smeared lips. If only I could contain
the wholeness of a language in a poem,
yellowed at the edges. To love America
is to model my mouth into a fat
zero, having nothing left to surrender.
Jessica Kim is a disabled student and the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles in 2021-22. Her work has been recognized by Columbia College Chicago, The Adroit Prizes, and F(r)iction, and appears in Waxwing, Wildness, and Diode. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Lumiere Review and Polyphony Lit. Find her at www.jessicakimwrites.weebly.com, @jessiicable on twitter, or stealing cookies from the cookie jar.