A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art

Five Poems

Burning, Wooden, Match, On, Fire, Burn, Burns, Flame


mother tongue

How twisted is it
to reduce language into a string
of sounds I don’t understand. To attach melody
to conversation, playing in an elevator. Going
up. My feet off the floor because even gravity
forgets itself. A mother tongue that
isn’t much of a mother if she doesn’t teach
her child how to speak. Korean words scorch
my slow tongue, my mouth red & blue
from the cold winter. My own body
rejecting language, the connective tissue
of its history. My ancestors weeping in the ground.
I can’t tell if it’s a blessing that we can only feel each other
through the water that seeps out of our narrow eyes.
Me, a fraud on the concrete steps of Busan. Yellow
skin tainting the pastel sea of paper umbrellas
shielding porcelain complexions from sunburn.
The white dust of a snow-globe pouring out
onto the pavement. The sky sinking into the river.
My grandmother once asked me why I was so dark
and I said I had been swallowed
by a shadow. The sun drenched me
in light & I felt like a stake
of wood in the fire, growing warmer, browner
until there was ash, floating & then falling

A girl is a flame

A girl is a flame.

That is to say, she is summoned
by the flick of a match,
and the hissing of the stovetop, brought into existence
at the mercy of someone else’s hands.

A girl is a flame.
That is to say, she needs oxygen
to keep her alive, dancing
across dinner tables, legs made of candlestick,
arms quivering like melody.

A girl is a flame.
That is to say, she is red
like the warm blood that drips
out of her nose, bruises on her knees,
wax melting into a pool of surrender.

She sings softly in the morning
before the house awakens.
Her voice sinking into tiny
crevices between wooden floorboards,
lyrics folding into curtains.

A girl is a flame
and her tongue is a weapon.
Sliding around syllables, swallowing
sounds like bullets. Speaking fire
until nothing else remains.


I have a habit of giving t-shirts to boys
who say I don’t show them enough affection.

He digs his chin into my shoulder. I want you,
he strains through straight teeth. I bought you
a t-shirt, I reply. It’s gray with a red heart. Almost
beating. The heart has eyes. He slips it on like
a second layer of skin, laying on my bed, two hearts
overlapping. Three now, as I climb over. His hands
gliding over mine like instructions. My fingers
pinching fabric, tugging cloth over his head,
shirt onto the floor. Red heart still beating, throbbing,
spilling over into a pool of thick blood.
His mouth on mine, brain spinning in my skull.
Wandering fingers I didn’t ask for but
I can’t speak with his tongue down my throat.
Pain is a choice if you close your eyes hard enough.
Turning, breathing & not breathing,
his body wide & heavy.
He wears the grey shirt again to take me
to the airport, asks to borrow twenty dollars
to pay the taxi driver. I am still numb
from his touch. Before I enter security he pulls
me into his chest, my cheek touches the red
heart with eyes of its own, no mouth.
I love you, I hear like a phone call,
already imagining the distance. I can feel
my body shrinking away from him
like an instinct. The heart stares & begs
me to keep quiet.

For Arden

One day your body will forgive you.
The lines on your fingernails will smooth
into glossy opals. Your birthstone.
You can stand up without being blinded
by the white inside your eyes because hunger
is no longer glamorous. Your mother
is too tired to scream, her voice drained

of fire. Like how a honeybee
forgets its rage at the world
once it penetrates flesh, loses its stinger.
How it spends the rest of its life
in flowers. In bloom.
How we eat honey on toast.
You will wake up after your brother
who gave you a second chance. Your day
pushed forward. The night is long
and lonely. You read with a flashlight
because your lamp droops over the words,
turns the pages black. Blank. You paint
with watercolors on your bedroom
floor, lavender droplets seep into the wood
& grow roots. You wish that color
did not disappear in the darkness. The gold
paper stars that hang from your ceiling
are tangled together and worn on the edges
but they remind you how close the sky is
to falling.

Sebago Lake

Sticky sweet summer dripping from our lips
stained blue from popsicles. Our days dictated
by the recording of a bugle through the loud-
speaker. We march across the grass, shivering
before our toes even touch the green lake.
A whistle. I dive in, head-first. The water is thick
like jelly. My feet flail against the slimy
ground. I scream. Under the dock there are
leeches. Backstroke, eyes up. The sky is so close to my
face I can feel the clouds tickle my nose bridge.

I try to remember how to breathe but lakewater
fills my mouth and I drink. A girl offers me
her hand and we both pull. Tug-a-war of flesh.
Can she see that the sun made me yellow? I’ve
seen her freckled face before, squealing in
front of the mirror because her eyes shrink
when she smiles and it makes her look so Asian.
She spits out the word like a cockroach nested
in her throat. Her sunburnt arms wrap
a beach towel around my shoulders and both of
us pretend to forget. I dig out the grains of sand from
underneath my fingernails until they are almost white.

About the Author

Arden Yum is a high school senior living in New York City. She has been recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing and YoungArts, and her writing has appeared in Polyphony Lit and The Apprentice Writer, among others.

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2020 by in Poetry and tagged , , , , .
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