Re­mains of the Day

(North Korea)

The London Magazine - - SUJI KWOCK KIM -

It’s dirty work, keep­ing the Im­pe­rial Palace clean. For a small man, the Em­peror has large ap­petites: so some­one has to clear away the gnawed ox-bones,

cracked crab-claws, sucked shark-fins, spit-out tripe: sweep the bro­ken liquor bot­tles they call dead sol­diers, push the charred ci­gar-stubs and ash into the trash.

Some­one has to laun­der the Em­peror’s soiled clothes, jump­suits made of the na­tional polyester called vy­nalon: strip the sheets when he wakes from his royal hang­over,

wash away the body flu­ids no one wants to know about — the sick-sweat, torn hair, bro­ken fin­ger­nails from the lat­est plea­sure-party to get out of hand, though not the last.

Some­one has to bury the dead girl who isn’t ly­ing here, who never ex­isted:who could not have dreamed the end she came to.

Rip out the rugs, scour the floors be­fore the stains soak into splin­ter and grain, bleach ev­ery board of the blood that is not there.

Out­side there are guards, and guards to guard against the guards. A slammed door, some muf­fled cries — some­one’s re-ed­u­cat­ing some­one again.

Keep clean­ing. Don’t let any­one see you see them see you see­ing them: don’t get shot. I’ve been turn­ing a blind eye since I was born,

I’ll be turn­ing a blind eye un­til I drop dead — I’m not the first man to do this and won’t be the last. Our coun­try is full of jan­i­tors.

But I’ll be relieved when they take the body away, far from the palace, out of earshot, smell-shot, mind-shot, dream-shot — Then let it be done quickly, let me for­get

the screams of the slaugh­tered, while I clench my rag of life, wiping down the splat­tered doors, rip­ping out the rugs, white­wash­ing the walls, as if cal­cite could make them clean, un­til am­mo­nia peels the skin from my hands.

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