July, in the Old Country
My Korean teacher is re-instructing me,
Re-inserting the little I have left of my mother
Tongue, today, she is wearing a dress of sky,
Today, I refuse to use punctuation except
The most fluid of commas, today, she tells us,
When I was a child, my dream was to become a spy.
Not a spy like red spy, commie, ganchub,
But the spy in the American movies –
Deadly, pretty like liquid metal.
In class, we learn the most ridiculous things.
In a practice problem about the Korean War,
One of the obviously wrong answers goes like this:
North Koreans and South Koreans meet in
The middle of the ocean and embrace each other.
I finish a book about an immigrant family,
Their losses and everything despite their losses.
The main character grows old
With the bewilderment of homeland,
Blank women and blank rooms.
In my dreams, a girl stands in a white bathroom,
Rehearses her sins to the mirror:
I robbed the glass cabinet deep in my childhood,
Name it heart or whatever people want to hear,
Took out blue bottles, looking like medicine
Or perfume but just hurtling empty and
I thought, give me a tongue I can use,
Mine, one that cannot be robbed or understood,
And the glass rattled so hard like it was begging for mercy.
Or something like that.
You think of homecoming as it is often told:
A soldier running home to the smell
That bubbles from the iron pot,
To his mother who sits and stirs,
Her white hair in a knot.
Having somewhere to go
Satisfies you well enough.
It was never about someone.
But you do know about warmth –
When she cried on the other end,
You cradled the phone on your shoulder
And did not say a word.
After you hung up, you wept into a mirror
With two hands on the glass.
Here, the Pacific is a muted glow.
In the Academy, they praise your work
For its fable of scars.
You hold the knife, you drink the sorrows.
You burn your hands making tea.
When something hurts,
ou no longer feel rage.
You wipe up the mess.
Outside, dusk is the color of
Violet and ash.
There is a song in Korean that goes,
Beloved who abandons me
Shall not walk ten li before her feet hurt.
People sing it when someone dies.
You picture the scene like this:
It is summer in Nonsan,
Rain beats about the treetops.
The persimmons of your childhood
Have turned to mush,
The river will not speak to you.
When you arrive, the village is empty.