What If Love Doesn’t Have to Hurt: A Review of Arhm Choi Wild’s Cut to Bloom

Arhm Choi Wild’s debut collection is a deeply felt celebration of self-articulation and healing from both familial and societal violence, a testament to locating joy in the same body that has been a locus of pain, terror, and isolation. Perfectly titled, Cut to Bloom (Write Bloody, 2020) offers beauty alongside horror, and in poems like “Inheritance,” opens petal-like pages to love:

like sunflowers
following the sun
trusting to be fed
not burned

The collection progresses semi-chronologically, beginning by questioning what we owe our family of origin vs. what we owe ourselves. How can one move to speak after “generations / of mouths politely closed / or pummeled smooth” (“Inheritance”)? The pressure is particularly strong for women facing violence—”Mother’s silence / when he holds a knife / to her stomach” (“The Aria Thief: Part II”). In “What the Body Knows,” the speaker’s mother “once told me that love is all about forgetting. / What if it’s the duty of daughters / to make themselves remember.” And the speaker does remember—fragments of recollections doled out with restraint, as well as tenderness toward the people within them, like the sister in “Fool Me Once” who stands beside the speaker, as they suck “back / into our mouths / the air / we let him take.”

In addition to intergenerational familial silences, there’s the larger coercive weight of historical silencing. In the long poem, “The Forgotten War”—the title refers to the Japanese occupation of Korea—Wild speaks into the silence of family members “never talking / about the Korean pried out / like teeth.” Wild later asserts that “being a woman / is the loneliest thing / if you are trying / to survive,” demonstrating how these varied avenues of silencing reinforce and exacerbate each other. 

But this speaker doesn’t want to be lonely. They want instead to be fully seen, held, and loved, which is only possible by being known, both in person and on the page. So the self must be faced and articulated, in all its tenderness and trauma, all its fraught history and challenging present—”I am this fool / coming to praise / if not love / the fracture” (“The Forgotten War”). Speaking against a multiplicity of silences isn’t easy, “as if / I could squeeze it out / of a melon, skim / it off the soup, bloody / a tomato trying to get / at my seeds” (“Take What You Can”).

The only possible guide is love, and their partner asks “in that quiet voice / What if love doesn’t have to hurt” (“What the Body Knows”)? This question challenges the speaker to rebuke the violent definition of love articulated by their family of origin, and subsequently to give voice to truer, queerer love. As “At What Cost” articulates, this is a revolutionary proposition while living in the homophobic, white supremacist confines of the United States and also hailing from a South Korean family and culture where queerness is as invisible as physical intimacy between friends is common, “a finger goes up to wipe off a cheek and kiss it, / all as part of the conversation / easy like punctuation marks.” But this struggle toward connection is where the collection’s flowers begin to bloom, when the speaker is touched, in “A Stubborn Kindness,” “as if my bones were branches / full of fruit for your taking.” And then, the collection breaks fully into blossom as the speaker finally embraces their whole, complicated self in “For the Sake of Light,” knowing “if I choose // to be shell / and lip / and mess // there is no need / to fear the fire / whispering / along my bones.”


Luiza Flynn-Goodlett

Luiza Flynn-Goodlett is the author of the forthcoming collection 'Look Alive,' winner of the 2019 Cowles Poetry Book Prize from Southeast Missouri State University Press, along with six chapbooks, most recently 'Tender Age,' winner of the 2019 Headmistress Press Charlotte Mew chapbook contest, and 'Shadow Box,' winner of the 2019 Madhouse Press Editor's Prize. Her poetry can be found in Third Coast, Pleiades, The Journal, The Common, and elsewhere. She serves as editor-in-chief of Foglifter and lives in sunny Oakland, California.

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