Animals: “The moon upside down is a bear (문곰)” by Susan Moon

“The moon upside down is a bear (문곰)”

            after Aracelis Girmay 

In the cave there are no clocks or light: only a hollow. In the cave I am a bear living
with a tiger. In the cave, we would be hallowed into humans. The king promised.
Before I walked upright on two legs, I roved on four. Before I was woman I was a
bear. Before I was bear, an upside down moon. 

In the cave we are told to stay for one hundred days. In the cave the tiger wallows
for sun and meat, serrates his claws into the walls, walls wailing as in labor. We pray
for a mercy. The king answers with twenty cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort. 

One hundred days in a hollow are innumerable. No ordinary dark. At first my
breathing shallow, heart beating itself to collapse : : : the beats I counted, the beats I
follow. Out of ribbed cage and into cave center. Three heart beats to the moon rise
tomorrow. Dark time is a vertebration. I swallow cloves whole one by one. In the
cave the dark grows on me, no longer a sorrow. Out of cave belly the tiger bails by
the twentieth night. On the twenty-first morning I am made woman. Out of the cave I
am unexiled and married to the king. Bears before me have become constellation.
From my loins I birthed a nation.

In the cave I came to be what I was not: a mercy
Out of the cave I became a nation: unto myself

This poem is based on Korea’s founding myth, 옹녀

About Susan Moon

Author photo of Susan Moon walking along the side of a river, smiling at the photographer.

Susan is a Korean-American poet who writes at the intersections of language, art and mythology. Her work has appeared in Gianthology, The Shore and Lammergeier. Her coordinates for home fall between the US, China and Korea, and she currently resides in Brooklyn. Follow her at and @smoon1211