Two Poems

By Sandra So Hee Chi Kim

The Fire I Carry

It’s blazing hot for days in Los Angeles in the late summer, 
the sun so bright 
that you instinctively retract your body, holding up your arms 
to block out its assault, the scorching heat 
bearing down so oppressively at the height of day 
that you retreat into artificially cooled buildings 
or at least the relative respite under a tree.
When there are no trees around, you make yourself small 
under the shadow of a traffic signal post 
at the crosswalk.

Then there are the wildfires that predictably catch us off guard. 
Hell’s flood blazing through the brush 
that had prepared for its baptism day after day 
dying, drying to a crisp, flames 
stunning in their swift spread and scale of destruction,
evacuating life in their path 
and ahead of them, uncertain of where 
they will go next. The whims of the wind 
direct their course; the smoke darkens the sky
for a time. The oxygen we breathe feels scarce. 
We burrow in our homes, our lungs 
on fire, our eyes stinging. 

I once learned that the Korean word for dinosaur 
literally translates to “frightening dragon.”
Dragon mythologies are found all over the world.
It makes me wonder — 
what if the idea of dragons has prehistoric origins?
It makes me think of 
the history of this planet,
of early human beings, of
how we got here.

In Korean mythology 
the dragon is wise, powerful, and benevolent.
She was once a serpentine creature, earthbound,
who meditated for one thousand years
before attaining the power for a transfiguration
that released her to the skies. 

Our dragon is a water spirit, directing water 
in all its forms. Her breath moves water
giving life, sustaining life,
warding off stagnation and death. She originates
rivers. Her lucky scales generate
rainfall and abundant harvest. She protects 
the skies, the seas, and the mountains. 
Her descendants flourish.

The wind dies, or some rain falls. The firefighters succeed eventually. 
The sky begins to look bluer and we emerge 
from shelter, eager to walk among one another 
in the fresh air. We breathe in deeply.

Soon the dead leaves of the oak tree pile up on the lawn 
in fiery shades of red, orange, and amber 
— an eerie transmutation.
The air feels cooler. The quality of the light is gentler, 
sadder. Twilight silently edges in,
an astonishing arrival that stops 
us in our tracks. We watch until 
the skyline is ablaze and the earth 
dips into inky night until
again, we turn in 
as the world turns.

What is this fire I carry inside, 
destruction and death
beauty and light 
a burning ache in the darkness? 

Our dragon does not breathe fire.
She holds in her mouth a glowing, 
flaming orb, the condensation of 
enlightenment. With it, she blows spiritual energy
into the buddha. Did you know? She dwells in 
deep waters, uplifting the earth and at one with it.

What I wish for is 
the alchemy of the dragon,
crucible of self
not anything yet bound to everything


Dr. Sandra So Hee Chi Kim teaches race and ethnic studies at California State University Los Angeles. She is also a Visiting Scholar of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and the founder and co-executive director of the Asian American Justice + Innovation Lab.

Image Credit: Ramakrishnan Nataraj

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