Elegy with Mayfly Sex
Love, I want to tell you all I learned today
of the mayfly, known for their one-day life spans.
How they’re named after the fact of their fast deaths:
ephemeroptera, briefest of wings. How this isn’t fully true,
as they can live submerged as nymphs for years until their sex
forces them out of the water. Just because we don’t see
their living doesn’t make it void. You drape a quilt over
our bare bodies to prove it, hidden but suddenly heat.
Elsewhere, a girl is unearthed from a shallow grave, her body
veiled with trash bags. The heat hastens her rebecoming of earth
until her father who identifies her can’t get through the interview
without weeping. She was my baby girl, he says.
In Ann Arbor, we watch the asphalt outside grow sheathed
with sleet, the trees in deep slumber. Her murder
was sexually motivated, I read. Give me the world
where she rises from mud. Where the crush
of her skull uncollapses itself, the penumbra
of every knife wound stitched shut. Where the blood seeps
back in simply because she deserves it. Deserves better.
Again, oxygen. Again, stuttering, hard-earned breath.
Again, hyacinth persimmons laid flat on her tongue with love.
Love, what are my chances? In each woman washed cerulean
on a shore, shot or sunk in an oil drum, I see the face
of every woman I love and yes, selfishly, myself.
White bloat of salt, ejected from the lake’s anonymous vine
for my mother to identify. Every summer, the mayflies
come out of the water and blot out the blue with the fervor
of their coupling. They rarely make landfall alive. In midair,
the males grip the females and don’t let go until they’re done.
Spent, the males hover towards land, coating windshields
in a burial of wings and swift desiccation. The girls return
to the water to lay their eggs, then spread their wings
flat against the surface and drift until the fish come to feed.
Forgive me, I didn’t initially mean to draw parallels
between male mayflies and what human men so often do
to girls of their own species. The man online who says,
can you blame them? Under a photo of the victim smiling
in swimwear. Or the other who tells me, I only want to gently
rape. Someday, I’ll draw a knife from my open and brandish my sex
like a weapon. When given the choice to leave the lake or stay,
I’ll turn my face towards my sisters and choose to stay.
Diptych of my Great Aunt in 1953
Baby brother, I’ve counted coins
under a fat apple moon as soldiers
scraped skin off the rocks outside.
Your tuition in hand, I am naked
as dusk. The husk of my hanbok
unfurled before a flag whose stars
I’ve laid under— stunned
________night after night.
Somehow I was a virgin before this.
They call me “western wife”
or rag. Is the moniker still wretched
if it becomes literally true? Soon
I will follow a white man to America,
his war-relic bride. How to tell you
without vacating all trust?
Tell me again of love
and its dark mirrors:
well-skinned pear, our cheeks
in the dust. The wet shred
of a body,
Your voice carrying
clear over the threshold,
Sister, welcome home
before you turned
to embrace me.
JIHYUN YUN is a Korean-American Poet from California’s Bay Area. She received her BA from UC Davis and her MFA from New York University. A winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, her debut collection Some Are Always Hungry is forthcoming in September 2020 from University of Nebraska Press. A Fulbright Research Fellow, her work has appeared in Narrative Magazine, Adroit Journal, Best New Poets and elsewhere.