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Root Canal

by Katherine Yeejin Hur

We wrench gold from my dead mother’s jaw.
The molars—their crowns,
their calcified roots, their still-soft tissue—
we plant in the ground,
we bury the treasure
looted from her skull.
A body whose heart no longer beats
still remembers how to bleed.
The neighbors call us fools—
they call us experts
on things we do not know.
I know how to skin a fish,
how to peel soft melons,
and soak blanched spinach in sesame oil.
I know also the press of knees
against hardwood, of forehead to knuckle,
the burning of incense, the libation rites,
the silver chopsticks fixed upright
in a bowl of rice like thin obelisks,
and still it is not enough.
A sapling takes root in the backyard.
Brittle-branched. The fruit rotting
before it has a chance to ripen.

A professor once told me that the reading brain loves images. This must also be true for the part of the brain which controls memory. There are things about my mother which have begun to fade—the pitch of her voice, the taste of her homemade kimchi. But I remember the gold crowns capping her molars, how I could always see them flash when she spoke or laughed. This image, like gold itself, remains untarnished over time.

Food almost always shows up in my writing. I think this is because I am almost always hungry. For food, yes, but for other things too. I write about food because the act of eating is both communal and terribly lonely. I wanted to capture that paradox in this poem: the ritual feast prepared for a bodiless presence.

Katherine Yee jin Hur is a Korean American writer from Atlanta, Georgia. Her writing has appeared in and won awards from Black Warrior Review, The Southern Review, Best New Poets, Hayden's Ferry Review, and elsewhere. Hur is currently at work on her first novel. You can find her on Twitter @_khur_.