ode to dead caterpillars: poetry by m.o. kng

(after “ode to rats” by Elizabeth Acevedo)

because you were the one that did not prove them wrong, did not
split the chrysalis in one try, did not emerge a fully-realized being:
the butterfly after the caterpillar,
the swan after the duckling,
the rainbow after the rain. because you had to grow up 
without the glow-up. the lucky ones are all fluorescent, meaning that
their bodies can swallow black light and
spit it back out into sparkle - neon green, hot pink, firetruck red,
a pride of colors soaring through the June sky.
at this sight the little girl in the park screams with glee and
her dad burrows his frow, wonders out loud
i don’t have a problem with them
but i don’t get why they
need to be so in-our-face about this. from the shadows you
watch your brethren fly, wondering why it is that with each year you swallow
your body only grows heavier. what if they 
lied to us? what if for you, it never gets better? or what if
you were made not to be a light fluttering thing but a
crater in the earth? this is what you know to do: to
see a pit and crawl for cover.
see a hole where a bullet-point body is supposed to go.
fill a cavity with the closest thing to bone because you know
some of our people did not survive long enough 
to write this chapter of the story; 
crushed under the crunch of a careless boot or
shrivelled under the watch of time. and still they ask you:
why don’t you fly, child?
how will you ever complete this life cycle
if you don’t shed this old skin and
fly? you don’t respond, but in your head
you think about how some caterpillars
choose not to hang by a silken thread but
to burrow deep below the ground before their
transformation. there’s your answer: to make your home
in the places people bury you 
to die. to live on this earth,
this hostile earth,
this kind earth:
a blessing stuck sweaty to your skin,
a color worn on the inside of your ribcage.
you do not know how to fly yet 
but you know 
how to sit still,
how to stand guard,
how to pull every scrap of love so tight to your body
that there is now a black hole
where your heart used to be - you better
put gravity in its place, dead thing
suck the rain out of the air, dead thing
let your people fly
let them glow in the dark
and pray that in another life
another place
you too will join them
a cocoon unfurling
a new color

ARTIST STATEMENT: This poem explores the topic of being queer in a non-affirming family. I do not have the same “coming out” story that many gay people have: I have taken most of my life to accept and love myself, and although I now have many friends and loved ones who accept me as I am, I struggle at home because my birth family holds very homophobic ideas and beliefs (I have never told them that I am queer). I am still proud of who I am, even if I can’t share it with everyone, and I want people to know that their journey and their identity are still important even if they can’t “come out” the same way other people can come out. 
m.o. kng

m.o. kng is a Korean American writer, performer, and educator. he grew up in Southern California, raised by Korean American evangelicals, caring mentors, and Internet friends from far and wide. as m.o. grew older, reading and writing grew into outlets then commitments towards healing and justice. in college, they stumbled into spoken-word poetry, studied the history of K-pop, and interned with the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. his experiences motivated them to self-publish their first book, speech therapy, in 2017. right now, m.o. lives in the Bay Area teaching high school English, hanging out at the rock climbing gym and curating an incredible collection of frozen meals. you can find more of their work at mokng.com!

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