Claudia Ann Seaman Award
Pyeongtaek, South Korea
Humphreys High School
steam-flushed water is voltaic on bare skin
and stirs baked egg shells in my throat and knotted tongue,
wearing away fragments of inner city daegu from my
pellucidly stripped ears: bustled subways buried beneath
dilated voices in satoori, our people’s dialect, curved and
strung-along in the same unqualified way you would nail
a thick-rinded tangerine. dead skin cells form assemblages
on green-gloved body scrubs, rubbing against bodies
withering in overnight work shifts and drenched perspiration.
old women, little girls stamp their bare feet along tubs and stools,
sing-songing nursery rhymes and folk tales my ears are
no longer able to grapple. they don’t know of blue-tinted
humiliation, of keeping tender flesh free of strangers, those who
nestle themselves thousands of light years from their bloodline.
i am envious, budding girl who knows only of red-drizzled
abashment, of pressing her chest close to bathroom-tile walls
with her back turned against water. i prefer colder tubs,
small swimming pools, currents that slip past nudity with ease.
when towels on the heads of other girls my age
curl the shape of lamb ears, mine creases like
paper frogs. sometimes, when peripheral daegu rings
like late twilight in my ears, i soften the frogs and mend them
into swans and flamingos the way my origami teacher once
taught me. often, though, i let them hover above bathtub water,
static gushing along their hips and backbones.
Striking in its bold language and clever alliteration, this piece evokes Daegu in sharp and vivid terms, each image flowing seamlessly into the next. Through the bathhouse setting, the speaker gracefully explores isolation and innocence, age and identity, and how to reconcile history with the issues of the present. Its conclusion is at once quiet and powerful, leaving the image of gushing static echoing in the reader’s mind.
Editorial Praise from Tara Betts, Poetry Judge:
The poem "24-hour bathhouse" renders a scene in a Korean bathhouse where soaking and exfoliation is rendered with caring details. The imagery almost slips us into wishing for a spa, but as the speaker observes other people in the bathhouse, the speaker speculates on servitude and "intruders, those who/nestle themselves thousands of light years from their bloodline." The poem deftly weaves out of describing a scene of self-care and questions colonization in an observation that takes a turn about midway through the poem, and it lets us know that these thoughts are so a part of the speaker's train of thought, that it doesn't even occupy the entire poem, but it lets us know what's undulating under subtlety.
Corina Yi is a student from South Korea and will graduate with the class of 2023. She enjoys writing as a means to explore her multicultural identity, cure nostalgic memories, and spill out her 2 am thoughts. During her free time, she enjoys editing for Polyphony Lit and playing with her dog.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR