from Notes from Utopia, Inc.

Suji Kwock Kim

for my grandfather

1

Who minds the minders?
To watch them watch you watch them watch each other watching you,
as you walk along the Taedong River, down Revolution Avenue
to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum,
past the Monument to the Martyrs of the People’s Party,
past the guard-towers and interrogation rooms, labyrinths
of cinderblock and barbed-wire and steel, each face
shadowed by that looked-at look, as rush-hour crowds descend
escalators underground to “the deepest subway on earth,”
aka “the largest nuclear bomb-shelter on earth,”
blast-doors sealed against anthrax or radiation, the exit that is not an exit.
Thunder of wheels on tracks. A train’s iron scrape and drag.
Name the stations: Comrade, Red Star, Golden Fields, Paradise.
Giant photos of the Great Leader hang on every wall,
staring at you like a shorter, fatter Mao –
the dictator’s dead grandfather still “Eternal President,”
the only corpse on the planet holding executive office.
As if all the world were underworld.
Why did you come here, among the marching soldiers,
singing factory-workers, dancing schoolchildren,
what are you trying to find? We’re all brothers and sisters,
we have nothing to fear: our father is here.
You cannot not see the other life you might have lived,
the not-I in the I, the never in the now.

 

2

Seek, and ye shall
seek: but how will you know him, if you see him?
Your minder reminds you not to speak
to the “natives.” He could be
the father who won’t look
for the grandfather you can’t find:
and who, after you’re gone, will remember they ever lived?

 

3

Or like a dog that cannot be flogged to forget,
are you faithful, stupidly faithful –
and to what?
Your minder reminds you not to speak.

 

4

The silence is never silent in this country.
You don’t ask, you’re too afraid to ask
if he’s still alive, as if the not-asking could keep him from harm.
You hear the grit, the grains, splinters of different silences within the silence,
the hiss of sizzling wires, crackling of malfunctioning microphones,
the prickle of neck-hair, nerves pricked by the click of a surveillance camera.
You hear the dreamdrum in your minder’s mind,
see the sunken eye-sockets, cliff-pocks of his face,
shadows of shadows of shadows.
You know he knows you cannot know
if he believes what he says, or pretends to because he must,
as you must pretend to believe he believes what he says.
You taste the tin-canned words he speaks,
hear the unspoken words buzzing, swarming like blackflies to dung,
minutes ticking, hours whirring,
years smeared and sticky with wanting, waiting for the Revolution to end,
taste the sweat, bile at breaking one’s back
working for Utopia™, eu-topos, “place-where-all-is-well,” or is it ou-topos, “no-place,”
deafening, the sound of eyeballs rolling back into the skull,
sickening, the smell of a man lying to your face, as you’re lying to him,
skin crawling, stomach churning,
seeing him see you say nothing
so you can leave: as he cannot,
you mind he minds you mind he minds it well.

 

5

Seek, and ye shall seek: there is no end
to the end.