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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 162-163

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Ode to the Picnic Singers, 1984

Ishle Yi Park

[One Big Word]

...And then at dusk the woman
climbed atop the picnic table
and belted out a Patty Kim hit,
plastic spoon a mic clutched in her

And the kalbi spit and bubbled dark
as azalea and crushed black diamond,
meat soy-sauced and sizzling in the July
    heat waves
that hummed like the yellow frisbee     flung

over tiny Youna Ean, kneeling among clover
    and dandelion.
Ay, the sky flapped above us like a soiled
on clothesline while we twisted our ankles
    over Chinese jump rope,
then flew by on flowered banana seats,
    wind teasing streamers

and the black whips of our hair, past
our brothers in visors and cut-off football
lost in long switch grass and dewy goose
And our mothers raced! Piggybacking
    frilled babies

over grass to catch with their teeth
butter cookies strung on a white finish line,
to the slow butterfly thighs of their men.
Far from the dented Volvos and Hyundais

bereft in the parking lot, these husbands
    whorled and spun
in dervishes around that imported leather
    rugby ball
from Seoul, bathed in a halo of their own
and kicked-up dirt. Our parents gathered, [End Page 164]
shook loose the workday, their hangook
like wild geese skimming over lake.
They popped open barrel-shaped
and let the foam spill over; they let the

spill over. My father tilted the can to
    baby Sarah's mouth
and laughed at her sputtering, a laughter
    so serious
I think I forgive him, his hungry
    rough cheeks waning
to the woman's hungry, rough songs. And
    Jung Yun's uma

sang like a torn-up hymnal. She sang
    until we dropped
the twigs and pigeon feathers from our
to sit cross-legged in the nest of our
she sang like a yanked-out phone cord:

cut, ringing, 70s pop ballad fervid
with religion so unlike our Sunday
she sang and we believed in a smaller,
gruffer, chip-toothed god: she sang the
    dusk down.

And we, staring up at her knees,
rested in the blue fall of each other's
while the bab and ban chan, paper
plates and water coolers
were left, for once, gratefully unattended.


Ishle Yi Park was born to Korean immigrant parents in New York in 1977. After abandoning business school, she received a degree from Sarah Lawrence College. A recipient of a fiction grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts and currently a writer-in-residence for the program Youth Speaks, she has been published widely. Her first book is The Temperature of This Water (Kaya Press, 2003).



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pp. 162-163
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