Literature 1-14-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Sun Yung Shin

Read this week's winning poem by Sun Yung Shin, "Pyongtaek," selected by Leslie Adrienne Miller

1Photo of Sun Yung Shin, courtesy of the poet
2"Skirt Full of Black" (Coffee House Press)


A white neo-colonial house looks out onto the fields, limbless, no fingers to flute the rice, green and young. The sun like a pendant on a woman’s neck, hanging above a fine gown.

They’re wearing identical white raincoats, or nearly white, like hulled rice, which, if you

hold it up to the light shows a touch of translucence. They can’t win this though they lick

the chain link wallpaper until their tongues grow rough as a cat’s. The farmland already

history, a museum, a field of graves. Future crop nothing but soldiers.

Too much salt in the soil, weeds and blood. A knife plunged into rind. Split open the

second pumpkin, wicked brother, though the first yielded a host of goblins, drunk on your

misfortune. You are what you are.

You never said you loved this. Money-takers and flames, your manor blackened to ash—

yet still you kiss the bird’s broken leg.


I believe in the revolutionary and revelatory possibilities of poetry.


Sun Yung Shin is the author the poetry collection Skirt Full of Black (Coffee House Press); co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption (South End Press); and author of Cooper’s Lesson (Children’s Book Press), a bilingual (Korean/English) illustrated book for children. She is a 2007 Bush Artist Fellow for Literature and has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Jerome Foundation. Shin teaches at the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

Shin is currently working on a prose poem auto-ethnography (aka memoir) titled HARNESS; plus a three-book cycle of poems corresponding to the three waves of Korean immigration (1903, 1950-1953, and 1965).