Poems

EDDIE KIM
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First and last, we grapple a galaxy,
cold, inside step past fallacies unbound.
They say just hard work is necessary—
harder than the person standing across
from you. Forget the talented ruins
few things can break us like genius. Genius
forgets the food of work. And we forget
ourselves. Consider it, wrestling as sport
is too prosaic, and I can’t recall
how I began—hours blistering and alone,
the aches, the pink bellies, and the hunger,
early-morning conditioning and spit—
for six minutes on a cold, cracking mat.
People always ask, Why do you wrestle?

People often ask, Why do you wrestle?
I can’t offer a sensible response,
but each has a kind of possession, deep,
stubborn, and primal obsession. Control,
however fleeting, over pecan pie, 
of which I have none. It is dominance
over the uprooted nomadic wilds,
a tangible and barbaric yawp wrapped
around a soul’s chaotic reflection.
Sometimes, I just want to handle someone—
‘cause the basest way to lift a spirit
is by knowing you can break another’s— 
want them to feel my lack of choice. I need
an understanding of strength, regardless.

Our understanding of strength, regardless
how sweetly you duck under its defense,
is rolled up in trauma drills, left behind 
for the next generation of damage.
It struts about wearing backpacks and shorts,
the clicks and clacks of split soles through hunger,
echoing past the smell of reversal
and arm bar, duffle bags heaving with Wheat
Thins, Pedialyte. We search for new realms
within concentric rings. Kandinsky says
circles synthesize chief oppositions,
combining concentric and eccentric
in a single form, equilibrium. 
After wrestling, everything is easy.

Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life
is easy. If only. If only life
were as simple as a single leg, we
wouldn’t need a father’s hug, a mother’s
guiding eye, we wouldn’t need wrestling, we 
wouldn’t separate ourselves from others 
for fear of mediocrity and view.
We wouldn’t write our own mythologies.
We wouldn’t need anyone else to know 
we signed this pale blue dot within a speck
of cosmic Brobdingnagian footprints.
Fluorescents in a wrestling room are cold
and certain, a glaring austerity.
In this room, easy replaces prayer.

In this room, easy replaces prayer,
a holy tabernacle of the vexed.
The sound of tape holding misguided joints,
swipes of a toe drag, a swift pirouette 
circling equator and aurora,
but promise has no legs and must do work.
When you are a god, war is celestial,
uncomplicated—immigrants are sown 
from constellations of blood and compromise. 
Listen as polyester ropes keep time
for groaning, shifting plates of singular
reckoning. Ticks and tinnitus, swooshing 
like rope burn and ocean. When we finish,
we come to quick, crashing down like first love.

We come to quick, bearing down like first love,
that rush of a clean ankle pick and back 
exposure, a four count we chase and flee 
like children after lightening bugs and fear.
The whole world is a scam, vague and fierce,
but the demands of wrestling are simple.
You win or you lose—no points for nearly.
Wrestling is a style of running away,
though we’d never admit it to ourselves. 
We are the blue-collar outcasts, we sprawl
savannahs, shoot between realities—
the angles are vast, uncompromising.
Each syllable we eat boiled and counted—
subsistence does not require flavor.

Subsistence does not require flavor,
but it does demand a dusting of depth.
First time I stepped onto a wrestling mat,
I was a pudgy restaurant kid in Kotz,
king of milkshake thieves—hairlessly alone.
Perhaps that’s why wrestling appealed to me.
Ultimately, a milkshake lives alone
within a frozen archipelago. 
Not the most innovative metaphor— 
wrestling’s not the most innovative sport.
Ancient and unyielding, it is chaos,
like a child looking for new friends—a place—
like making milkshakes. In life, we’re defined 
by what we do when nobody’s watching.

What we do when nobody is watching
lines the halls of our worst nightmares, the peal
of infinite failure unable to
bridle our unicorns. We are become
Unicron, devourer of ideals.
Reality wrests with itself within.
There is no place for us, lest we make it. 
Forever immigrant, I’m unwelcome 
and unhomed. So I conflict for my place
in the slow seeking circuitousness. 
I measure you for an eternity,
gripped in a tidal locking—I am moon.
I control your waves and you should fear me. 
I am, and will always be, after you. 

I am, and will always be, after you,
just a little bit different from the rest.
The intimacy of interlocked arms,
pressing sweet sweat from my face against yours,
breath weighted but brisk from constant drilling.
Pushing and pulling like planets, we fight
to the edge of each fingertip, each toe.
The sun in Alaska is warmer
because it doesn’t give itself freely.
Humans think we’re special ‘cause we create
art, a concentrate of emotional
fascination physically informed. But,
even puffer fish know geometry 
of splendor—that beauty is dangerous.

Of splendor, beauty is most dangerous.
Drooling letters into void like dribbling
water on my palate—tricking body 
into a quenching. Urine thickly bound—
every ounce counts like nemeses, myriads,
but always one too many. A single 
pound is the weight of failure, it never
drops—sticks to you like your first bad haircut.
I instigate arguments with my food,
scolding the bacon for its sin content
and the pancakes for their butter and syrup.
I make out with milkshakes in dreams, only
to kick them out of bed in the morning.
The flavor of rejection is cheesecake.

The flavor of rejection is cheesecake
therapy riding on a bus, rapping
along glibly to Paul Revere after
placing outside contention, yet again.
Waiting for it all to finally fall 
in place, a story sounding well rehearsed,
as if luck might play some part, as if first
place were birthright. The cool vinyl bus seats
play our favorite songs through a tin-can
Twinkie, the memory cream-filled and lasting
curiously long. Our common failing
binding us for a moment. We’re not friends,
but we don’t need to be. The most basic 
enquiring bonds go beyond prescription. 

Inquiring bonds go beyond prescription
or longevity. An odd crucible— 
wrestlers are weird—wrapped within garbage bags
like monks, wringing out coal-miner sweat,
earthen and ascetic. The gnashing sound
of broken cartilage and cauliflower
worn like a badge. I watch Mike chase Matt round
the locker room wielding his mammoth cock 
like a lion tamer. Mac’s piss warms me 
while we shower. Nate bathes his bare body
in chocolate fudge. I drink Red Dog beer
in the Red Robin parking lot with Craig,
get high off Dick’s burgers with Rex, Josh, Floyd. 
In winter, warmth comes from a broken moon. 

In winter, warmth comes from a broken moon—
even though Men aren’t supposed to be cute,
nothing is more so, than watching Men-types
trying on scowls and insecurities
of affected machismo—puffed pigeons—
if it weren’t for the sheer ruin it wrought.
Dislocated your elbow? Tape it up.
Snapped your ankle? Tape it up. Lost, again?
Suck it up. Tears are reserved for winners
and dead fathers. Give me fifty. Again.
Our words shatter and destroy. Our failings
ruthless with locker-room lingo—No ­­— —.
And after wrestling, nothing seems easy.
I travel the expanses without food.

I must travel expanses without food,
not secretly believing I’m hardier 
than everyone else—beyond that is mere
inanity. Why is the primal so 
readily a belligerent offering? 
We’re not as evolved as we think we are.
I grab hold of a wrist, bar an arm, bury
my forehead in a temple of lost friends.
I belay the courage of a half sunk
elbow-deep for a page of not knowing,
This evasion is an everlasting
gobstopper, hard yet ostensibly sweet—
but the taste of skin touching skin, complete.
From first to last, we grapple with life’s grasp.

From birth to past, galaxies grapple us
while the people ask, Why do you wrestle?
A regardless understanding of strength.
Once you’ve wrestled, everything is easy
in this room—easy is but a prayer.
We come to quick, crashing down like first love,
a subsistence not requiring flavor
from what we do when nobody’s watching.
I am and will always be after you
of splendor. Beauty is most dangerous—
the flavor of rejection, of cheesecake
curious bonds beyond their prescriptions
in winter—warmth comes from a broken moon,
and I travel expanses without food.

Eddie Kim received his MFA in Poetry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is a Kundiman fellow from Seattle. His poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, The Margins, The Collagist (now The Rupture), Pinwheel, Lantern Review, South Dakota Review, and others. His poem “김장” was a 2022 winner for “Best of the Net”—selected by Mai Der Vang—and his poem “Telephone of the Wind” was featured on Tracy K. Smith’s iteration of the podcast, The Slowdown.