New Voices Contest, 3rd Place Winner: My Name Means Pearl by Megan Kim
Of the 2022 New Voices Contest third place winner, the judge José Olivarez states, “Megan Kim’s poem MY NAME MEANS PEARL is anthemic. Play this one in the club after someone stupid and lustful whispers in your ear that your name sounds so exotic. I admire this poem for its depth of imagination: every iteration of pearls and their history leads us to a volta that I won’t spoil here, but I promise is breathtaking.”
MY NAME MEANS PEARL—
A reaction, defense, layers of luster,
layers of whiteness hardened
valuable, grain transgressing geographies,
foreign particle lodged
into unbelonging, flooded
continuously, as tears flush a stray lash.
Over time assimilating to smooth,
to reflective, milky mirror
of whatever gaze settles on its surface.
The irritant, that catalyst, remains
at the center of the mollusk’s secretions:
nucleus, core, heart. Dexterous
heart, performing chemistry with language:
from invasive to precious. Dangerous heart,
my name as syllables on the lips
of the man who’d never love me back
asking what was so bad
about being an object of fetish,
diner light casting him pale as foam.
Where does the scar end and the self begin?
Desirable is desirable, after all.
In the waters off Jeju, the hanyeo
dive for shellfish, octopus, the possibility
of pearls, freefalling for their livelihoods
into the ocean’s maw. Could I be
so lucky as to be a stone
in the hands of a sturdy-lunged woman,
pried from inside the clam’s cavern,
sunk country of containment?
Dear diver, dear dark,
today I am tired and will build
something iridescent from my wounds.
Today I will swallow my words.
Grant me breath long enough
to emerge more than beautiful bur
on someone else’s tongue.
Megan Kim is a poet raised in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, currently enjoying Midwestern lakes. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Lantern Review, and Narrative Magazine, among others. She is an MFA candidate in creative writing at UW-Madison, where she also teaches, and a reader for Palette Poetry.