In Korean folktales the gumiho, the nine-tailed fox, is a trickster shapeshifter who punishes men’s transgressions by seducing them and feasting on their livers. If they consume enough, they are awarded immortality.
Earth: soil black as the night sky,
and so many trees. The air: bright
and blue and blistering. I have no name.
Each afternoon, I rise from my den,
drink from the creek (the taste sweet
as the cooling belly of a star), wander
beneath the tall pine and above
the white-bottomed river. Lick the snow.
An eagle stitches through the sky,
lovely and brown as the moment
before sunset. I am the oldest
of Nature’s hundred daughters; all
the forests and forest-trails are mine.
When my mother is sad, she gives me
another tail. For so many, many days
I have just the one.
Cities bloom among my mountains
like rot. Roads scrawl through my trees,
the land flayed open for fruit and the wind
burdened with burning, and brine.
In the mud-worn streets, the songs warn
of my beauty &
my nine white tails &
my eyes bright as teeth.
They name me: fox-spirit, and hunt me
like an animal. I am not an animal.
I have so many bodies // and men want to destroy them / all. // The roads / once tracks / scratches strafing through the trees / now wounds winding across the mountain face / scars I can’t erase.
In the shape of a woman, I itch. My silk hanbok, woven from the atoms of my tails, abrades my shoulders and thighs. Another winter falling through my forests; all these men falling at my feet. They never learn: my songs cold & clean as creekwater; deadly as rapids.
They dismount in moonlight sharp enough to dance in, and beg to smell my skin, taste my songs, slide inside me. Silly boys. I am not hollow.
I moan; the sweet,
dark taste of him
burns my tongue.
Delectable, even after
the so, so many I’ve had.
Usually I only eat
the liver, but his eyes
are hot & full-black;
I swallow those too.
Kimberly was a finalist for the 2019 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize, and a 2020 Pushcart Nominee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sky Island, Sleet Magazine, Jet Fuel, Pretty Owl Poetry, South Dakota Review, Harpur Palate, Iron Horse, Puerto del Sol, and Electric Lit, among others. Follow her at your peril on Instagram @speculativemermaid