THIS PIECE APPEARS IN THE HIGH/LOW ISSUE OF THE LARB QUARTERLY JOURNAL, NO.29.
You cut down on the gopher in a single, crisp stroke
in the garden. In it also, your mother’s prized orange tree.
A blue jay your family feeds and has trained.
I picture the gopher, no longer struggling in the trap
inside the water pipe for the sprinkler
throbbing over grass and stones.
Then, you must have slid open the door
to the dining room, leaned the shovel on the tree.
I heard this story years ago in California.
In the time of pandemic, alone together, I read
too much news: “Trump Defends Using ‘Chinese Virus’ Label,”
“Woman assaulted in Manhattan, blamed for COVID-19,”
“Racism is a Virus.” I obsess, knowing
our place as Asians in this country,
the exemplar minority with advanced degrees
and gadgets, a superior meekness. Knowing,
our desirability was built to reassert Western centrality.
That, too, a type of technology.
To keep us in check, a Texas man took it to himself
and stabbed an Asian father and two sons,
cutting their faces open. One of the children has a gash
pointing to his eye, the damage itself in the shape
of a blade. A delta. Wanting to breach another opening.
Watch. Watch the wild turkeys roam the neighborhood,
unconcerned, banal, and ugly.
Yet you love these animals.
When our friend’s old cat died, you had cried.
He was eighteen, had a good, adored life.
You had mourned so, for someone else’s animal.
So when your mother told me at the dining table
about the gopher, I was shocked.
But that, too, was kindness, your shovel.
For the slowly dying animal, injured beyond saving
for entering the human world in the shape of a pipe,
a wet reach to a diorama of the natural world.
Embarrassed and ashamed, you looked away.
As we sat, in that moment, two Koreans
in a white world, I wanted to marry you.
To protect the person who loves
like no other, whose kindness
is unlike anyone’s I’ve known.
Foolish and naïve, yes. Every day someone leans the shovel
and knife, real and not, against a gentler thing,
after striking another that looks like us.
For crawling too close, out of the technology they built.
Yet today, feeling momentarily safe
in our room, I can ask what you did
to the gopher. You buried the animal, you say.
In the same earth it came from.
Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author A Cruelty Special to Our Species, published by Ecco in 2018.
Banner image: "Pocket Gopher Mound 01" by Becky Houtman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.