Fable of the Last Untouched Town


We are the only hole in a world of light.
No lamps grid our streets, no cars flash their headlights.
When sun sets, we have no choice
but to resign ourselves.

There are those who dread the night, who grow mad
with boredom during the long winter months
when the shrieking wind and dark cut
the wilted day at noon.

I prefer night. We are more invisible then.
He and I take our strolls at night,
traveling far out to the abandoned spas where old tourists
used to come and ablute themselves
to relieve their bones.

We speculate what has happened to them.
We heard wild rumors.
People live to 150. They grow hearts
out of cells.

All those hours we talk.
Sitting in the wide, cracked basins that used to hold
the prized green water,
(it was nothing but dyed faucet water)
now littered with the slimy leaves of gingko.


In this town, we are impervious to discomfort

such as the cold that crackles our blanket
and beards the loudspeakers with ice, freezing
the monthly bloody rags women dry for the night.

We are strong, not afraid to betray.
For instance, we rush our old.

I wrap my mother in blankets:
It’s time now Mother.
I’m not ready.
Oh but your mind is going, your tongue
is loosening you will start to talk we planned this.
I’m not ready to go.

My brother carries her up the mountain of junipers.
I make a nest for her.
I dread that we will see other kin abandoned there
I already see her tongue
dotted with frostbite yet we leave her
as she calls and calls.

As we trudge back down, our breaths wild
we chant songs of our king.


Then the man who I used to go for walks with
also disappeared.
I suppose I loved him or once, once
I did.

Mothers, fathers, friends, lovers.
No fairy stories to ease children’s ears.
We are to say: Enemies of the state.
No sorrows and songs, no

he’s gone far away to somewhere magical.
Our people are dancing a ring around a tower
and he is the tower. He is the tree.

I have dreams. A blade cold
as ice-nettled milk steaming inside a neck.
I am afraid that they could read my dreams.

I volunteer to collect night soil.

Mountains of frozen shit.
I shovel them into buckets and spread them
over the yellow fields and out of waste,
comes food for the only God
we know.


A storm raged for a week and our town was erased
by hills of snow.
Afar, our one story chambered apartments
look like concrete harmonicas. It’s easy for snow to swallow us.

But after the storm, a gigantic glacier appeared inside
the king’s most cherished open-air stadium.
It took up the whole arena.

Our leader launched a campaign.
Defunct factories suddenly produced heat lamps
and they strung a ceiling of scalding tubed bulbs over the stadium,
but the glacier only glistened.

So he demanded legions of laborers to come
chip away at this offensive glacier.
I was drafted to help.

When I arrived, I was awed, I was so awed, I began to cry
but when someone questioned my tears,
I said I was crying for our king and cursed
the imperialist-plotted ice.

The sheer sapphire cliffstone towered so high,
the whole ocean seemed frozen inside it.
Under its shellacked panes of ice were marblings of color
I’d long forgotten: tangerine, topaz,
canary and rose.

Like fluorescing cuttlefish,
the colors pulsed, swirled and bloomed
into contracting rings. The ice breathed.

We slowly chipped away with our picks.
As soon as we gathered a pile,
the wind burst in and scattered the powdery snow far
into the air like spores.

One laborer accidentally swallowed ice
and it caused him to hallucinate, blither in another language.
He was immediately exterminated.
We were forced to wear masks.

One day, I decided to steal some.
I pocketed one grain.

The snow glowed bluely in my hovel.
My little lamp.
Then one night I don’t know why I swallowed it.

And this is what I saw.

—Cathy Park Hong, Engine Empire 


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