Mr. Ha

Mr. Ha drowned in his show­er. Just an inch of water, but that’s all it takes, I guess. He died for a while and now he talks in a loud whis­per like he just got stran­gled. He can’t stop clear­ing his throat even when he’s just sit­ting behind his desk watch­ing us. He makes us write the­se things called do jons when we piss him off, so we’re basi­cal­ly always writ­ing. I was the first one to fig­ure out if I coughed he’d clear his throat like it was on fire. Sarai was wor­ried he’d kick me out, but as soon he start­ed to calm down, I’d cough again, and he nev­er said any­thing — prob­a­bly because he couldn’t remem­ber our names any­more.

And he’s a real Kore­an now. He whis­pers with an accent that he moved here from Seoul after his wife died, that he’s sor­ry for his bad Eng­lish, but he believes “Human­i­ties very much a uni­ver­sal lan­guage.” He says things like, “This is not time for talk­ing. This is time to write your dojeon”. I don’t think that means any­thing, unless he learned Kore­an when he was dead. Mr. Ha grew up here. There’s a pic­ture him in the gym run­ning track that says “Toby Ha, class of 86, gets last laugh, vic­to­ry, at CIF.” His wife is Ms. Sny­der. She teach­es Biol­o­gy and dri­ves him home after school.

We fin­ished Da Vin­ci and Michelan­gelo, and we were start­ing Kepler and Car­avag­gio, but now Mr. Ha wants us to for­get all of it. For­get the Great Vow­el Shift. For­get the Mag­na Car­ta. He say his­to­ry is a lad­der — we’re not sup­posed to mem­o­rize it, we’re sup­posed to step on it. I don’t know why the school doesn’t kill this shit­show, but they don’t. May­be they just don’t want to deal.

Today he asked, “Is any­body here orig­i­nal?”. His voice sound­ed dif­fer­ent. We all raised our hands. Well, I didn’t. “A hun­dred per­cent orig­i­nal?” Sarai looked at me. She heard it too.
He stepped out from his desk and walked to my seat.

Why not orig­i­nal?” he said.

Noth­ing new under the sun,” I said.

I wasn’t used to him being so close. His arms were pale and slick, his eyes were wet — from being drowned ? Or is he still drown­ing ? “Very fun­ny. New dojeon,” he said, still look­ing down at me.

Write some­thing nobody has ever writ­ten before.”

Just him?” asked Sarai.

He turned to Sarai. “Every­body dojeon.”

He didn’t go back to his desk. That was a first. He walked up and down the rows while we wrote. When he was on the oth­er side of the room, I coughed, but noth­ing hap­pened. Grady and Eddie laughed, so I did it again, and this time he turned around and looked at me. He put his hand over his mouth and said some­thing. Yas­mine moved her chair at the same time so I couldn’t hear, but it sound­ed like “douchebag.”

When time was up, we put our do jons on his desk. Usu­al­ly he’d put them in his bag to mark up at home, or he’d grade them while we read. But, anoth­er first, he start­ed to read them out loud. And they sucked, so they made him super ragey. Flecks of spit popped from his lips like lit­tle fire­works.

Which is Sarai?” She raised her hand. He read : “The same time every night, I turn into a mon­ster. Hun­gry for soli­tude, while my par­ents argued over din­ner, I get up and run to my room where I can eat the dark until I’m full.”

He dropped his hands to his side and turned his head, slow, like a kai­ju ris­ing out of the sea. Yas­mine said it was sexy. Eddie said he nev­er thought about being alone like you could eat it. It didn’t mat­ter. We’d always be wrong.

’The same time every night?’ That not orig­i­nal,” Mr. Ha said. “What time ? Why vague ? It’s oat­meal on a baby’s lap. Time not impor­tant. Din­ner impor­tant. Hate par­ents impor­tant. ‘Hun­gry for soli­tude?’ I’m hun­gry for orig­i­nal­i­ty. Why you feed me oat­meal on a baby’s lap?” Sarai looked down at her lap. “You should say, ’I explode from my chair and stum­ble down the hall like some­one threw a har­poon into my chest and is reel­ing me into my room.”

She doesn’t hate the par­ents,” Sarai said.

He scanned her page again and then looked up at her. “Yes she does. Which is Gor­don?”

I stood up, scrap­ing my chair on the floor. “I am, Sir”. Every­body laughed. Mr. Ha smiled too. That threw me off.

Pa rubbed his caldera with his big right hand and gave me smile to hide the hot lava about spew out of his face. By the time he hit me, his pyro­clas­tic hatred had cooled into pahoe­hoe fists that had no trou­ble leav­ing their mark.”

Holy shit,” said Grady. Shut the fuck up, Grady.

Sarai said, “Gor­don, that’s so…” Don’t say any­thing, please.

Bor­ing,” fin­ished Ha. “Every­body say anger is like a vol­cano. Big deal. We erupt in bed. We erupt with grief. We erupt with joy. Got it. Humans are big flesh vol­ca­noes. So what ? I don’t know this father, I just know the writer doesn’t know the father either.”

I want­ed to shove my pen in his ear and ham­mer it out the oth­er side. Moth­er­fuck­er.

That’s not what I wrote,” I said.

Mr. Ha looked at my page. “You are Gor­don?”

You know I am. That’s the old ver­sion. You told me to rewrite it.”

I can’t remem­ber.” Mr. Ha looked through his pages. Sarai was giv­ing me a look. Didn’t she know I was doing this for her ?

Are you seri­ous ? That was my only copy.” I sat back down with a loud cough. Mr. Ha cleared his throat.

”Okay. Tell me what you changed.”

How am I sup­posed to remem­ber that?”

You remem­ber.”

I stood up again. I remem­ber every­thing.

My father gave away his rage like a mon­key slings shit. I could see it com­ing, but I could nev­er get out of the way.”

Oak

The colum­nist reads the crows
falling out of the the lau­rels
and adjusts his hat. The sto­ries come
when the dogs go slack in the wet grass
and the crows walk in the street.
There is talk of revolt,
the mad­ness at home can wait.
We wait until night to howl at the rats
behind his house where he waters
the grass, sil­ver and naked but for his hat.

Evening

I kicked you out. You packed up and fell
asleep on our bed, tick­le porn
spilling out of box­es across your hips.
An ech­e­lon of shiva beads advances
upon your dark nip­ples
or the scar across your throat.