This August, we present E. J. Koh’s poems, “Ghosts” and “1807 Oleander,” which blend lyric with narrative to offer meditations on longing—longing for companionship, for family, for home. In “Ghosts,” the speaker divulges more about the ghosts of her home than about its residents, then concludes with a startling yet fleeting moment of self-reflection. “1807 Oleander”—one poem in a series of poems titled with addresses—continues this narrative of solitude by highlighting the speaker’s loneliness and her liminal existence in a “garage-home,” drinking a meal of “boiled salt water with pepper sauce,” with a mother overseas.
— Eugenia Leigh, Poetry Editor
always sit in swivel chairs that won’t fit under low desks.
A fireplace log shifts
and the center leg of a table sinks without sound.
You can tell a ghost is here when the dog sniffs plaster walls,
or your left elbow itches, or windowpanes
bend where the sun hits.
Just now the staircase called out, old wood rasping.
A ghost has drifted in and he
settles like dust with nothing to gain or lose,
a sculpture in a museum—
until headlights cast beams across the ceiling,
bursting the shadows. If I say
ghost out loud, he will hover over the vacant seat at the table,
a voyeur from my past. No wonder
I enter my house like a visitor.
At night, as Mom had, I rubbed
my wrists with ginkgo lotion.
They rested by my face
and I fell asleep smelling her.
Each morning in my garage-home,
I boiled salt water with pepper sauce,
used the same chopstick to stir.
I drank it.
Since I had no phone, she shipped
kimchi packets that ripened on the trip.
She sent letters from Seoul;
I signed the postal slip on tiptoe
and set them aside—her folded slip
with foreign squares, short crosses,
crowding the page, covering the creases.