Monologue for an Onion

Suji Kwock Kim

I don't mean to make you cry.I mean nothing, but this has not kept youFrom peeling away my body, layer by layer,The tears clouding your eyes as the table fillsWith husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mineLies another skin: I am pure onion--pure unionOf outside and in, surface and secret core.Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot.Is this the way you go through life, your mindA stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth,Of lasting union--slashing away skin after skinFrom things, ruin and tears your only signsOf progress? Enough is enough.You must not grieve that the world is glimpsedThrough veils. How else can it be seen?How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veilThat you are, you who want to grasp the heartOf things, hungry to know where meaningLies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,Yellow peels, my stinging shreds. You are the oneIn pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning toYou changed yourself: you are not who you are,Your soul cut moment to moment by a bladeOf fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.And at your inmost circle, what? A core that isNot one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,A heart that will one day beat you to death.

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Born in 1969, Suji Kwock Kim was educated at Yale College; the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; Seoul National University, where she was a Fulbright Scholar; and Stanford University, where she was a Stegner Fellow. She is the author of Notes from the Divided Country (Louisiana State University Press, 2003), which was chosen by Yusef Komunyakaa for the 2002 Walt Whitman Award, won the Bay Area Book Reviewers/ Northern California Book Award, and was a finalist for the Griffin International Prize; and Notes from the North (Smith/Doorstop, U.K., 2021), winner of the International Book & Pamphlet Competition.

She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Whiting Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Wordsworth Trust, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, as well as grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, California Arts Council, Washington State Artist Trust, Korea Foundation and Blakemore Foundation for Asian Studies. Her work has been performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus, recorded for NPR, BBC Radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Free Genoa and Radio Free Amsterdam, and translated into Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, Croatian, Korean, Japanese, Bengali and Arabic.

In her first collection, Suji Kwock Kim confronts a number of difficult subjects—colonialism, the Korean War, emigration, racism, and love. She considers what a homeland would be for a divided nation and a divided self: what it means to enter language, the body, the family, the community; to be a daughter, sister, lover, citizen, or exile.

In settings from New York to San Francisco, from Scotland to Seoul, her poems question “what threads hold / our lives together” in cities and gardens, battlefields and small towns. Across the no-man’s-land between every “you” and “I,” her speakers encounter, quarrel with, or honor others, traveling between the living and the dead, between horror over the disastrous events of the past and hope for the future. Drawing upon a wide range of voices, styles, and perspectives, Notes from the Divided Country bears witness to the vanishing world.

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