ink blood stars poems


Spencer Lee-Lenfield

Art by Richard Barnes

Calligraphy courtesy of the author

In this vital commemorative portfolio “The Muse: Dictee at 40,” edited by Porochista Khakpour and Jee Leong Koh, 12 writers, scholars, and artists respond to the continuing influence of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s groundbreaking work. Read Porochista Khakpour’s introduction here. For the full portfolio, click here.

after Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s “Urania – Astronomy”



If ink be blood
then your ink
runs deep through my veins
oh mother, oh mater, Demeter

dip my brush
in my blood in my ink
made of ash from a pine
write and drink
in communion, thirst
for remission of sins
(I do this in remembrance of you)

grind pine ash on stone
take the dropper, stir in the water
enough for the brush
let it flow so it won’t drench the page
then touch pen to mulberry fibers
each stroke a breath through the wrist
with spine straight
feet flat on the ground
ink bleeding black down the pulp of the paper
where you dwell:

a DNA test
Rorschach blot
universal O
an ㅇ


perfect ring,
the silence preceding
each bare starting vowel:
a cycle a loop
unbroken, infrangible, eternal
from mother to daughter and son
through mitochondria tinctured
like Persephone’s tongue tinted red with the juice

o mother
o maeum
o ma
o mo



Ink shows the rhythm of breath;
every poem is made by brush in ink

when one listens for signs
they appear in the tempo
in the trace of the halt
of the stroke and its pace

the sign has no sound
but its sounds are pure

sing sang song: o chante le sang
a carmine Carminum carmen
heol hyeol hyeol (헐穴血)
αἷμα on hyeo
bleeding tongues,
tongues of fire,
tongues of ink

No book without ink,
no history without blood:
May the words of my mouth be pleasing to you,
ink holy, blood not shed in vain.



Strike the balance of qi
in the blood in the ink
insert the needle and loose
the tide of all that the blood
that the breath has retained

then write on the page, sing of the stars
to heal illumine raise and support
balance the dark with the light
it is the blood that saves us
the ink that forgives us
by the λόγος made flesh
made 살 made 몸 made 피
to dwell among us:
you died for the sins
of your bloodline
your 핏줄 your 혈관 your 후예
with your seongsim ablaze
sacré coeur afire
with plasmatic ink, magmatic blood
each atom of iron from the heart of a nova
the fire of the stars

(if only mere matter had memories
had a mother)

Queen Seondeok once built a great tower to see the stars.
O Queen, be with us now in our life in our death
in the ink in the flow of our brush
in the words on the page in the strokes
in the pulse every month in the blood
mixed with water from our sides
from our depths in the cloth
on the paper


Spencer Lee-Lenfield

Spencer Lee-Lenfield has previously published poetry and poetry translations in Guernica and Colorado Review, and is an assistant editor at The Yale Review.

Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes is a New York–based artist and photographer. For his series “Murmur,” which he produced over the course of two years, he photographed hundreds of thousands of migrating starlings in the skies above Rome as they coalesced in formations known as murmurations. Barnes’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions that include the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego; the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh; Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, MI; and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. His photographs are held in numerous public and private collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and the Whitney Museum in New York; SFMOMA; LACMA; and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Barnes was the recipient of the Rome Prize in 2005, and in 2006 his work was featured in the Whitney Biennial and awarded the Alfred Eisenstadt Award for Photography. His monograph, Animal Logic, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2009.

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