Poetry: Things I Learned In Seventh Grade by Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong
With precise control of image, Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong’s poem is an unfolding, one that builds toward its brutal, blunt turns. This is a kind of elegy for the violence that reveals more than what the speaker should have to know: “I wish I’d never seen it. I wished I could go back.”
Things I Learned In Seventh Grade
It’s like the way you can’t stop staring
at a smoker’s lung. The perverse wonder
of the black hole, spreading. Even at twelve:
the sense we weren’t meant to look
inside, yet here it is, projected, the teacher preaching
about visible sin. You know
you will never forget the tube forced into
the helpless neck, the way salvation
can look violent, violatory. The merciless camera
moving in for the kill. We are taught
that the soul is something you can reach by cutting
closer. Penetration. Who remembers their first time
they saw a flower under a microscope,
the finest hairs, the swollen curves, the teeth marks
of parasites in the center of young leaves.
I wished I’d never seen it. I wished I could go back.
The way after my rape I starved myself
—I can’t explain it, why insects only eat
from the center, leave the rest to die,
why smokers reach and reach for something knowing
they’re reaching for something else, why I wanted
to see the tops of my ribs, remember
the body makes a cage around the heart.
I looked at myself after all of this and wept
for my body’s secrets. How I knew too much about it
and there was no turning off the light.
Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong
Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong is from Oregon and lives in New York.