Author's note for "Why mate for life: Red crown crane" and "The Prisoner": In 1998, when I traveled to South Korea to emcee a series of cultural-exchange “rallies” and parades, I visited the border between South and North Korea—what they call the De-Militarized Zone, or the DMZ. Some of my Korean counterparts cried silently as we toured the area. That day was temperate and sunny but felt storm-filled, as if lightning was building up around us. The sensation was so odd! I knew then the “Cold War” between the Koreas was not cold at all. Around that time I’d read about Moon Sun Myung, a former POW in the Korean War who survived the Heung Nam death camp by serving others joyfully, maintaining his physical dignity, and learning from nature (even from insects) whenever possible. This miraculous lifestyle reminded me of another hero, of Viktor Frankel who survived Auschwitz by adhering to similar principles. “Why mate for life? Red crown crane” and “The Prisoner” are expressions of my hope that if a thriving life is possible in the face of tragedy—then so is compassion and reconciliation.
by Jennifer Jean
Why poetry? Because content needs form.
And form needs attention. An inmate
in Hungnam, in the waning days of the Korean War,
washed his red chapped, limeburned body
with half his water ration. He stretched
pectorals, hamstrings, and psoas
before dawn while the whole death
camp slept—the inspired air elongating
his ligaments and stamina. When form is attended
content rises from a deep. The mayflies can be seen
mating in flight, in the latrine. It is a kind of love
in the sulfate mist. It is enough--
hefted he can heft
one hundred and thirty bags of acidic manure
from conveyor belt to truck. From conveyor belt to truck
he took care with 40 kilo bags of crystalline
crap sent to feed the gardens of his enemies.
He took on the tonnage of his team,
converting their eight hours unto death
into five unto life. These fast friends
sat out the day meters away from an ammonia surge,
their broken skin weeping blood
slower in the lightening, in the little coup,
in the cold. Anything can be shared with the other.
Even half his rice ration. Less is more,
he said, blooming. Even prayers in prison
can be sung for the other; imagine,
he sang to his beloved Hananim,
Heavenly Parent, Don’t worry about me… Imagine,
I pour forth content into this container
and the poem lives and gives,
meaning I’m set free. This too is a miracle.
Jennifer Jean's most recent poetry collection is The Fool; other collections include: The Archivist, Fishwife, and In the War. Her work has appeared in: Drunken Boat, Caketrain, Denver Quarterly, Tidal Basin Review, The Mom Egg, and more. She's Co-director of the Morning Garden Artist Retreats, and she teaches Free2Write poetry workshops at Amirah--a safe house for sex-trafficking survivors. Jennifer teaches writing at Pine Manor College.