Poetry

Poetry Sunday: “Say Grace,” by Emily Jungmin Yoon

Say Grace

In my country our shamans were women
and our gods multiple until white people brought
an ecstasy of rosaries and our cities today
glow with crosses like graveyards. As a child
in Sunday school I was told I’d go to hell
if I didn’t believe in God. Our teacher was a woman
whose daughters wanted to be nuns and I asked
What about babies and what about Buddha, and she said
They’re in hell too and so I memorized prayers
and recited them in front of women
I did not believe in. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet Virgin Mary, amen. O sweet. O sweet.
In this country, which calls itself Christian,
what is sweeter than hearing Have mercy
on us. From those who serve different gods. O
clement, O loving, O God, O God, amidst ruins,
amidst waters, fleeing, fleeing. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet, O sweet. In this country,
point at the moon, at the stars, point at the way the lake lies,
with a hand full of feathers,
and they will look at the feathers. And kill you for it.
If a word for religion they don’t believe in is magic
so be it, let us have magic. Let us have
our own mothers and scarves, our spirits,
our shamans and our sacred books. Let us keep
our stars to ourselves and we shall pray
to no one. Let us eat
what makes us holy.

 

From A Cruelty Special to Our Species, forthcoming from Harper Collins and available for order here in August. First Published in Poetry, November 2017.

Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author of Ordinary Misfortunes (Tupelo Press 2017), winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize, and A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books 2018). Her poems and translations appear or are forthcoming in The New Yorker, POETRY, The Literary Review, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. She has received awards and fellowships from Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest, AWP’s WC&C Scholarship Competition, The Home School in Miami, the Aspen Institute, New York University, the University of Chicago, and the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. In 2017, she received the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. She currently serves as the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the literary magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and is a PhD student in the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department at the University of Chicago.

 

Poet’s Note

I wrote this poem thinking about the hypocrisy of faith—how so often religious tenets are born out of or centered around survivalism but are then spun around to kill and hate—and the need to question our beliefs (religious or not) and where they come from.

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