Ga       The fishy consonant,
Na     The monkey vowel.

Da     The immigrant’s tongue
          as shrill or guttural.

Overture of my voice like the flash of bats.
The hyena babble and apish libretto.

Piscine skin, unblinking eyes.
Sideshow invites foreigner with the animal hide.

Alveolar tt, sibilant ss, and glottal hh

shi:               poem
kkatchi:       magpie
ayi:               child

Words with an atavistic tail. History’s thorax considerably
cracked. The Hottentot click called undeveloped.

Mother and Father obsessed with hygiene:
as if to rid themselves of their old third world smell.

Labial bs and palatal ts:

La        the word
Ma       speaks
Ba        without you

I dreamed a Korean verse, a past conversation
with Mother when they said I was blathering unintelligibly
in my sleep.

The mute girl with the baboon’s face unlearned
her vowels and cycled across a rugged phonetic map.

Sa      glossary
Ah      din
Ja       impossible word

Macaws turned into camouflaged moths.
The sky was overcast, the ocean a slate gray

along the wolf-hued sand. I dived into the ocean
swam across channels to islands without flags;

replaced the jingoist’s linotype with my yellowing
canines and shrilled against the anemic angel who

cradled the bells that dictated time and lucid breath.
Cathy Park Hong, “Zoo” from Translating Mo’um. Copyright © 2002 by Cathy Park Hong. Reprinted by permission of Hanging Loose Press.
Source: Translating Mo’um (Hanging Loose Press, 2002)
More Poems by Cathy Park Hong