Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, inquiring into a poetics emerging from the adopted diasporic condition, guest-curates a portfolio of poems for The Line Break.
July 5, 2013
This white peach from the market down the street, its skin in my teeth and juice on my tongue, and how one bite takes me to that morning thunderstorm a decade ago exactly beneath which I met my biological father and later his wife, their daughter, their son, whose six-year-old body curled every night beside my eighteen-year-old anger on the living room floor where we all slept and where I stared into the lush green hills, choking back thoughts, searching those huge white cranes within that thick white morning fog for meaning, the incense burning its citronella spiral through the night. It wasn’t just peaches that summer but nectarines and plums and concord grapes whose skins and pits we piled up, and also green and white and yellow melons and fruit I’d never tasted, but I ate them because that was how we shared and spoke with one another–well, the fruit and the whiskey, the fruit and whiskey and cigarettes. Oh how we drank and how I poured with both hands as a sign of respect, and how that man said six-shots-in one well-past-midnight Monday do not ask me anymore about your mother and how his wife who was everything but the third-world woman I’d assumed all South Korean women were said me and put my hand beneath her breast, said omah, mother, bio-mom, okay and how I looked at her until she said again okay, you say, bio-mom and how I did not answer until days later when I watched her cut the evening fruit and reached and put the pieces in my mouth and when I swallowed said okay and how she shared a cigarette with me after everyone was asleep, and the way we looked out that morning and watched the cranes soar and listened to them cry, not saying anything but leaning, shoulder to shoulder, knowing it would never last, that I would return to America, that I would continue on with my life and so would she with hers. So what we did was eat. We ate that fruit all summer long.
Dear Satomi Shirai,
Dear Satomi Shirai,
My itch is not your itch, but I still recognize the signs of your transient life—futon, window unit, white unadorned walls, those awful plastic blinds. Do you even have a closet for your clothes?
My own clothes, my desk, my books, my shelves, are in a storage unit awaiting my return, alongside my dead grandmother’s couch and tables, her bed and dresser and nightstand. When I was very little, she used to introduce me like this: This is my granddaughter. She’s adopted.
Years ago, on Christmas Eve, I drank too much at dinner and protested when she wanted to go home early. It was snowing, the roads hadn’t been cleared, and I was tipsy. We got into the car anyway and I told myself to get her home fast, without getting pulled over. I don’t know why, but in the midst of that long drive through all that falling snow, I said, Want to see Grandpa? So we turned around and went in the other direction.
At the nursing home, I waited in the hallway while she went in to see him. They talked for a while and then Grandma said, I love you. Grandpa said, I love you, too. Good bye, Grandma said. Good bye, Grandpa said. They sealed it with a kiss.
I took her home, drove myself home, and my mother met me at the door: Grandpa’s dead. We picked up my grandmother and she climbed into the back seat beside me and held my hand in her hand and didn’t let go. She said, If you hadn’t taken me to see him I would never have said Good bye.
She’s gone now, too. Her last words to me were: I love you. And your mother. And your father. Very much. Good bye, and she hung up the phone. Now I have all her furniture. I will return for it with a moving truck when school is back in session. Until then, for me, it continues to be the summer of ongoing biopsies, the summer of neuro-opthalmology. It has been a difficult several months. It has never not been a difficult several months, which is why I keep moving and moving, and moving: four cities in the past three years alone. Where next? And will I ever be happy? Will I ever settle down?
When I began this letter to you, Satomi Shirai—strange sister stranger, your exposed back turned away from me—all I could think was: My itch is not your itch. But maybe I was wrong. Perhaps your itch is like mine, in my desire to return home, to a home that no longer exists, or to a home that never existed at all. Or to a home I do not have because I have not yet made it for myself, and perhaps will never make, and never know.
(from The Asian American Literary Review, Fall/Winter 2012 issue.)
Molly Gaudry is the author of the verse novel We Take Me Apart, which was named 2nd finalist for the 2011 Asian American Literary Award for Poetry and shortlisted for the 2011 PEN/Joyce Osterweil. She is the creative director at The Lit Pub.