KUK MU: A BEGINNER'S KATA
i. Arm Block
Up from below, your arm transforms: loose fingers
and palm to shield, strong, upright. It looks so small,
so incapable of injury or protection but I know you
are strong, nearly as strong as the wind that lifted
the dying oak behind the house from its decades-old
stance. I imagine the things you will have to bend
for, the things you will have to stand against. Again,
I say. More tension, more breath. Your face turns like
a summer storm; now the shield becomes a weapon.
ii. Knife Edge
On the playground you learn the nuance
of suggestion, the power of promise over threat:
My father has a sword, you say. It could
slice you in half, you say. The words taste like
pennies on your tongue. Worth almost
nothing. Not what you hoped for. You notice
the grass grows in sparse tufts between
your feet, long stretches of dirt between. The boy
you wanted to scare begins crying. It's
what you meant to do but how you hate it. You
want to take it back but you can't take
it back, no matter how hard you might try.
iii. Downward Block
You burst through the back door
full of the day's news: test grades,
love notes, who got the good swing
at recess. When I ask about your friend
Frank a shade drops across your face:
he had a black eye today, said his mom
got angry then left for a few days until
she could figure out what to do with him.
He is young enough not to know how this
single statement will change everything.
You want to know what it means, how it
can be love if it hurts him. I cannot explain.
iv. Rising Block
The Poom belt with the mean streak corners
Lydia, the newest Green belt. No one can say
why: maybe it's her excitement over her new blue
gi, maybe he sees how she looks in the mirrored
wall, no longer a beginner but finally one of the big
kids. He twists the skin of her forearm in his thin
white palms. An Indian burn for an Indian, he says.
You stand very close to him, say Stop in a voice
clear as winter noon in the pine barrens. What do we
stand for if not each other, you say. You show her
the right degree of elbow and fist, palm out,
rigid, immovable. The strongest defense.
v. Straight Punch
Some days you will see smoke but never feel the fire. Other days life will explode, no warning, a five-mile radius of ash and glass and heartbreak. Some days you will rush in to help. Other days you will run the other way. Some days holding your breath will be all you can do. Some days the wind will clear the mist, bright skies all around. Some days you will stand like a fortress, son. Other days you will let yourself fall.
Rachel Bunting lives and writes in Southern New Jersey between the Delaware River and the Pine Barrens. Her poems can be found in both print and online journals, including PANK, Toad, Weave Magazine and Tuesday: An Art Journal. Her chapbook Ripe Again was published in 2008 by Finishing LIne Press, and she is currently at work on a full-length manuscript.