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Art Inspires: Poet Sun Yung Shin on ghosts, gods, and the bliss of the underworld

Sun Yung Shin, a Minneapolis-based poet and teacher, was inspired by Ksitigarbha and the Ten Kings of Hell, a silk painting on display in gallery 206.

명 부 쩐 – 冥 府 殿 Myeongbujeon, the Hall of the Underworld

“The day that makes one an orphan.” —Myung Mi Kim, Works

On the day that makes one an orphan
(In the Hall of the Underworld faces float out of the darkness)
Apparition: this ghost a flame and this one a sword
Break, all you gods and drink us down into your dwelling

On the day that makes one an orphan
Devour us, stars in the apple, seeds of punishment!
Ten kings, ten hells. We are a compound campaign.
Our beards and horsehair hats and Buddha-lobes and sutras:

On the day that makes one an orphan
Cats and smoke whirl here, there, and travel
Refugees from this world, the middle sphere:
Marry me and guide me to the land of bliss

On the day that makes me an orphan!
(One is sometimes made an orphan by fire and foreign)
Let us fall, let us be sifted and judged
Fold us into this silken estate

Crowned in our sins, velvet hearts in hands
On the day that we join all the other orphans (made and unmade)
Cradled in orphanhood, gentle palm of night
Lotus, unfold, float glowing into our secret halls and hells

Sun Yung Shin’s most recent poetry collection, Rough, and Savage, was published by Coffee House Press in 2012. Her 2008 collection, Skirt Full of Black, won the Asian American Literary Award for poetry. In January 2014, she was asked to contribute to the inaugural poem for new Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges.