A Glossary of Light and Shadow examines what it means to live as a human in a world rife with atrocities and unexpected grace. Weaving together a rich variety of forms and personas, these poems explore the anguished affection and quiet resilience of human beings who are more than their trauma.
The collection includes a section of twenty-six poems (one poem for each letter of the alphabet) drawing from the author’s experiences working with North Korean refugees. This section explores experiences that are commonly overlooked in the politicized narratives on North Korea: falling in love in a country where love has no name, homesickness after “successful” resettlement, and the lingering effects of survivor’s guilt. These poems depict peace-building as a slow and often painful process, yet persist in cherishing small moments of tenderness amid loss, illness, and war.
At once a collective love poem to the silenced, a celebration of ordinary miracles, and a deft, playful tribute to the strange beauty of the English language, A Glossary of Light and Shadow is a testimony to the limits of human suffering—and the frail, fierce hope that survives in spite of it all.
A Selection from A Glossary of Light & Shadow
a is for
Apricots from the Old Country
And the children say, Mother, you’ve been dreaming again.
All night I wandered through a garden of eyes,
hands warm with the peat of plucked tongues.
Tearing bark into stone soup again. Saying goodbye
to faces that are fading. When I said goodbye
to my mother, I watched her hair turn into snow,
and my hands are still numb from their drift.
Read the full poem "Apricots from the Old Country", first published in Coastal Shelf, in Esther Ra's debut collection A Glossary of Light and Shadow.
Esther Ra is a bilingual writer from Seoul, South Korea. She is the author of A Glossary of Light and Shadow, book of untranslatable things (Grayson Books, 2018) and the founder of The Underwater Railroad, a literary reunification project. Her work has also been published in Boulevard, Rattle, The Rumpus, American Literary Review, PBQ, Twyckenham Notes, and Korea Times, among others. Esther has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Pushcart Prize, the 49th Parallel Award, the Vineyard Literary Award, the Women Writing War Poetry Award, and the Sweet Lit Poetry Prize