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How I Wait for You to Return from Your Naturalization Ceremony

for Eric/Young Han

I have covered the rungs of the stepladder in palm oil
so that now I must jump onto the bed with a running start
like a Portuguese water dog, which, days before Bo was born
in Texas, I desperately wanted the Obama family to choose.
You were a fifth grader living in Korea then, so I recreate
my fifth grade Scholastic magazine poll with a blue pen
into the sheets. Then I empty the desk drawer of its boarding passes
and receipts, covering every paper surface with the alphabet
I asked you to teach me on those first dates in Thai restaurants
and in the dim light of my bedroom after waking, because
as children when my mother said jury instead of jewelry
my brother and I laughed at her until she cried, her legs
tucked underneath her in the passenger seat. I write over and over
the fifteen hangul vowels I cannot pronounce, their romanizations
tacked onto hyphens like tails: eoh, weuh, oui. Tonight, when you
return, you will be an American and I will still be a girl who needs
a translator to read in my mother’s language, my mouth full
of so few shapes. I fall into the habits of my mother, it’s true.
I walk to the store repeating to myself impossible sounds,
and in the soap aisle I pretend to look for soap. Tonight,
after driving you home from the airport, I will show you all
the possibilities I have laid out on the bed: soft-coated wheaten terrier,
bichon frise, labradoodle. I will ask you to call me Sunmi, the name
my mother gave me. It means beautiful declaration. I wear it shyly
like an invisible ring. I used to be so quiet the first grade teacher
with the chair at the front of the room believed I needed to be frightened
in order to speak. But do you remember how we met in the basement
of a house party, your aloneness compelling me to ask about the language
of your mother, even though I already knew? Tonight, before we curl
into bed, I will ask you, new citizen, to fold my dresses into squares
like tiny flags so that when I wear them I will look like a girl inside
a grid: linen creases forming the strokes of the hangul vowels
my mother never taught me, believing that every daughter
who was wanted was given an impossible name.


Maddie Kim is an undergraduate at Stanford University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Winter Tangerine Review, and The Journal. She lives near Los Angeles.

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