THE KOREAN SPA AFTER TOP SURGERY – Michigan Quarterly Review


Published in Issue 62.4: Fall 2023

Fall 2023 | Noah Arhm Choi Reads "The Korean Spa After Top Surgery" MQR Sound

There is only one place on earth 

where a frieze of mermaids stand silently 

as women in black bras and underwear scrub 

the body in front of them. This poem 

will not change the uniform they must wear 

or the male and female only lockers or the x 

on my license or that this is the one place 

I want to wear pink like my mother is calling just to say 

hello. I want to bathe in the geranium pool promising 

to leach toxins from my skin like an eye is never 

a mirror. I want to be called exemplary or favorite or most 

welcome guest, and never the first, or the only or the one 

who is so brave. Some dude I haven’t talked to since half 

a lifetime ago writes to say he is SO PROUD, as if 

I need him to mark me as special and inspiration, as if I yearn 

to open my mouth wide so he can tap 

my teeth and say how unique I am to know my teeth 

are teeth and not a doorknob or a sign that says this dude here 

is woke. How simple it is to wish once 

a year on a cake. How simple it is to sink into hot water, 

to eat potbingsoo swimming in the condensed milk the war brought

and never took back. When my therapist says back 

when you were cis and before you were male like she knows 

what she’s talking about, I think of how an oat milk latte costs 

7.99, two dollars more to avoid what my stomach can’t 

keep, and somehow it is still true I want to be loved 

by the permed emos and food court queens as if these huge 

pink shirts were all the Korean words I understand but cannot

say right, as if I can breathe underwater, sink 

to the bottom like a coin

with no eyes to ask if I am real 

if I breathe 

if I move.

Noah Arhm Choi is the author of Cut to Bloom, winner of the 2019 Write Bloody Prize. A Lambda Literary Writer in Schools, they received an MFA from Sarah Lawrence, and their work has appeared in Apogee, The Rumpus, Split This Rock,and elsewhere. Noah was nominated for Best of the Net in 2022, shortlisted for the Poetry International Prize, and received the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize, alongside fellowships from Kundiman and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

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