Franny Choi is the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone. Her work has appeared in journals such as Poetry, PANK, Folio, Solstice, and Fringe; and anthologies such as Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry, and The Courage Anthology: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls. A VONA/Voices Fellow, she is a recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Frederick Bock Prize, a finalist for the 2014 Ruth Lily Poetry Fellowship, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She has been a finalist at the National Poetry Slam and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. She was also the top-ranking female poet at the 2011 Southern Fried Poetry Slam and the champion of 2010 Seoul Poetry Slam. She is a coordinator of the Providence Poetry Slam and a teaching artist with the nationally acclaimed Project VOICE.
Other-lips whispering between my legs.
What they called black hole not-thing
is really packed full of secrets. A rebel mouth
testifying from the underside. Careful
not to let it speak too loudly. Only hum
demure in polite company — never laugh
or spit on the sidewalk or complain
lest we both be dragged under the wheels of
one of those. Or worse coddled
smiled at as at a lapdog acting wolf.
Or worse called ugly a cruel joke. Or —
there are always worse things.
Too many messengers shot. But then
who wouldn’t fear an eyeless face
whose ghost stories always come true?
Choi Jeong Min
For my parents, Choi Inyeong & Nam Songeun
in the first grade i asked my mother permission
to go by frances at school. at seven years old,
i already knew the exhaustion of hearing my name
butchered by hammerhead tongues. already knew
to let my salty gook name drag behind me
in the sand, safely out of sight. in fourth grade
i wanted to be a writer & worried
about how to escape my surname — choi
is nothing if not korean, if not garlic breath,
if not seaweed & sesame & food stamps
during the lean years — could i go by f.j.c.? could i be
paper thin & raceless? dust jacket & coffee stain,
boneless rumor smoldering behind the curtain
& speaking through an ink-stained puppet?
my father ran through all his possible rechristenings —
ian, isaac, ivan — and we laughed at each one,
knowing his accent would always give him away.
you can hear the pride in my mother’s voice
when she answers the phone this is grace, & it is
some kind of strange grace she’s spun herself,
some lightning made of chain mail. grace is not
her pseudonym, though everyone in my family is a poet.
these are the shields for the names we speak in the dark
to remember our darkness. savage death rites
we still practice in the new world. myths we whisper
to each other to keep warm. my korean name
is the star my mother cooks into the jjigae
to follow home when i am lost, which is always
in this gray country, this violent foster home
whose streets are paved with shame, this factory yard
riddled with bullies ready to steal your skin
& sell it back to your mother for profit,
land where they stuff our throats with soil
& accuse us of gluttony when we learn to swallow it.
i confess. i am greedy. i think i deserve to be seen
for what i am: a boundless, burning wick.
a minor chord. i confess: if someone has looked
at my crooked spine and called it elmwood,
i’ve accepted. if someone has loved me more
for my gook name, for my saint name,
for my good vocabulary & bad joints,
i’ve welcomed them into this house.
i’ve cooked them each a meal with a star singing
at the bottom of the bowl, a secret ingredient
to follow home when we are lost:
sunflower oil, blood sausage, a name
given by your dead grandfather who eventually
forgot everything he’d touched. i promise:
i’ll never stop stealing back what’s mine.
i promise: i won’t forget again.
Too Many Truths
I’m in love with a broken
glass. I’m in love with a broken
city. I’m in love with a city shuddering
at my feet. What I mean is that there was
a man on the ground at the bus station.
What I mean is I didn’t give my seat
to an old woman once. What I mean is
sometimes I have a seat and others don’t.
One time I fell in love with people
I called other. One time I tried
my hardest and I still got laid off.
Everyone was so sorry. I’m sorry
for being on the other side
of other. One time a white man
yelled about how sorry he was
for being white. One time I fell in love
with a white man. One time I lost
a different man. One time I
lost a woman too, but different.
One time a different woman
built my body inside her body.
Then my body left hers.
Then pockmarked body, then body riddled
with jokes, body tried to hide.
Body left home and rode off toward
college. Body studied anything it wanted.
Body looked at other bodies
at the bottom of the hill. Once my body
fell in love with a hill.
Once my body claimed it had
a puppet master. What I mean is
I’m in love with my own god.
What I mean is I spent my money
on slavery one time. Or a million
one times. What I mean is
all these things are true. What
I mean is all these things
must mean. Once there was a poem
that claimed it had a soul. Once there
was a poem. Once there was a poem