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Hyejung Kook

Self-Portrait as Ghost

In the dark      alone      pissed off      I piled on
black eyeliner      then turned the phone
on myself      glasses off      unable to see what
I looked like      as I took each shot      my face
weirdly glowing      bluish white      what little I could see
behind the wild tangle of my hair      I kept covering
more and more of myself      obscuring everything
except my anger      smoldering in the dark      like the red
and black that filled      the little hole in the paper wall
the traveler had made      with a finger he wet
in his mouth      to peek      into the next room
violating the condition of his stay      when he bent
his head to the peephole      all he saw was inhuman red
swallowing a pinpoint of black       the eye
of the woman-witch-ghost      who had given him shelter
staring straight      at his transgression      I was afraid
of the story as I told it      I have been afraid and ashamed
of my rage      but last night      in the shadows
the lines I drew across my face      unmaking
my features until I was unrecognizable      terrifying
at first      all I saw in that implacable gaze
was pure black      I couldn't turn away from
until I saw reflected in my pupil      a white blur
a ghost      I had become light  
    pure incandescence

Hyejung Kook - Author Photo.jpg



Hyejung Kook’s poems have most recently appeared in POETRY, Curating Home, Pleiades, The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit, and The Massachusetts Review. Other works include an essay in The Critical Flame and a chamber opera libretto. Born in Seoul, Korea, she now lives in Kansas with her husband and two children. You can find her at

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