Pyeonghwa Highway, North from Uijeongbu
I think, if you drive for long enough, Pyeonghwy Highway
Runs into the DMZ
Is that right?
At 13, I sat in the backseat as your husband drove
North along the Pyeonghwa Highway
Wherever it is the highway goes –
you told me stories about history
that stay pressed against the present:
How the grassy mounds and damp wooden shelters
rising from between trees dotting the hillside
Along the highway are symbols of, and in essence,
Life and death.
You explained how the wet-green mounds are ancestors
nestled in air-drenched grassy wombs. Each
tended by the family's eldest son until –
When does it stop?
You traced with your finger against the window
Of the car, mound after mound
As we moved along
One big inverted U after another, lingering
Your finger changed shape
Mapping the machine-gun outposts, presently
Manned by both Spirit and soldier, scattered among
Mounds along the highway.
Your finger could have traced several inverted “U”s
And then a squared-U-propper to map the pattern
Of death and what could be protection,
But you didn’t do it like that –
You stopped tracing the mounds all together,
Lifting your finger between sharp line drawings
On the glass. Does this mean something to you?
I would have liked to know how the graves
of your ancestors and machine-gun
outposts live in relationship
Along this highway, in your mind.
But what you told me is
how the Pyeonghwa Highway is a road
crusted in stories of invasion. How
The Northern army might fire missiles,
Hitting the city-center of Seoul in just
How the plan for escape is by an air-lift
Out – how in a skyscraper, your reptilian
Brain knows to tell your legs to climb
Rather than descend.
Will you be rescued
How many times have you asked that question?
You stop tracing and point, instead –
At a face burrowed in one of the small
Shelters on the hillside along the highway,
or the barrel of his rifle just under his chin.
At a restaurant on the riverside just off the highway
You point to each speaker box nestled in the walls.
You explain how loudspeakers deliver war orders,
How civilian becomes soldier if the history
that’s nearly-always pressed against the present
Evolves in the wrong direction.
How this sprawling lumpy graveyard might all
turn to battleground.
That night, standing on the subway platform
At Uijeongbu Station, I told my father what you’d
Told me, rolling my finger in the air, mapping U after U,
Just like you had. He missed some of the story
As I tried to yell, unsuccessfully, over a train carrying
tanks that roared along the platform.
I wondered what he heard, but in love, you’d already
Told him everything. We watched the hard flashes of tanks
Roll across our vision for minutes. My moving mouth muted
Eventually, my father said,
We Americans were never taught to live like this – the proximity to war,
Or – how lovely it could be to know that you’ll be buried, gestating above the ground
in the earth, just as we grew before birth, nestled,
decaying, just as we grew. Doesn’t it feel as if all these tanks are