how do we look after our dead? in time
as the months pass, aligning on a day of the moon
a welcoming & a goodbye: haenyeo greet yowang,
master of the sea, haenyeo console lost sisters
taken by the sea. they serve wine, spirits swallowed
by the dead amidst tables of mandarin & incense
wafting through the living, drumming birth &
sorrow. neglect is a heavy thing. even the dead
are not guaranteed safety. haenyeo scoop bowls
of rice & eggs into fists, wrap gifts for their
fellow living & dead women of the sea, thrown
into the water. pray: pray to the dragon god,
pray for the haenyeo before them, with them,
for their families, remembered before forgotten.

for my family, remembering the forgotten
means feeding them. an altar of dried fish,
bowls of dried dates, tteok, plates of galbi,
apples, korean pears, bowls of steamed rice,
bone broth soup, please forgive me
if i am forgetting something. take the cup
of soju, circle it around the cradle of incense
in threes, pour in threes, bow three times
once on your knees, pausing, forehead nearly
to the floor, twice at a ninety degree angle –
this, you learn, is respect. respect the dead
when they eat: spoon a handful of rice
and look away from the table, out at the moon
close your eyes, counting until beckoned.

closing my eyes, i am beckoned to the place where
my paternal grandfather’s ashes rest. i’m used
to seeing his photograph above the table
but here, only his name, and the day he died:
my cousin’s birthday. it is weeks after
chuseok, weeks after harvest, days after
we returned to korea. two summers ago
we were supposed to return, scattering
my grandfather’s ashes into the sea, a prayer.
he visited my father in a dream, telling
him: it is cold, it is dark, i am hungry.
a year ago, my aunt moved his ashes here alone
only stones away from her best friend
how do we look after the dead, in time?

Monica Kim (she/her) is a queer Korean diasporic writer and advocate living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a prose editor at Mag 20/20 for Issue 06, a 2022 Watering Hole fellow, and a 2023 Periplus fellow. Her writing has appeared in Honey Literary, SUSPECT, A Velvet Giant, and other publications.

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