hour 12: 1.5 generation

I’m a 90’s baby but I don’t know 90’s music
so if you say anything about Destiny’s Child I’ll just smile and nod.
Back then my mom was bumping Cho Yong Pil, and no—
you’re the one who’s missing out.

I still haven’t been given the sex talk by my immigrant mother
and I probably never will. I’m 22.
Public school health ed failed me too.
Friends and the Internet came to my rescue.

Only years after enduring stale cheese sticks
and pizza squares in the school cafeteria did I learn to appreciate
the dishes my mom can whip up with the humblest of ingredients—
get you some soy sauce, chili powder, and garlic—you’re set—
and anything lying around the house becomes
your next orgasm.

I spent as much time as my mother spent
making me write and rewrite the English alphabet and
spell out all the numbers up to forty
and reading books aloud
interpreting for her
at the grocery store
the bank
the school
even to the police.

But I always refused to step in
when the pizza guy couldn’t understand her accented “black olives”
because what on earth else
could she be talking about, pizza dude?

My mom never asked to read my writing
even when it was published,
and I never asked her to read it.
The unspoken agreement is that it’s the English
that is the barrier,
but I don’t think either of us
want to face the moment when she reads
about herself through my eyes.

As for me, I had to relearn the language that was
my birthright.

hour 11: motherhood

My friend tells me that she fears
bringing a child into this world
because of what the parasite might do
to her body.

Another laments
the financial burden it would entail
to invest into his offspring,
to feed,

But me—
I fear that I cannot live up
to the responsibility of guiding a human life
through to adulthood.
If I learned anything from my mother, it is that
motherhood comes with great sacrifices.

Will I be able to sell them the world
the way my mother sold dilapidated homes
to men with deep pockets,
guiding their eyes away from scratched hardwood
to the seventh layer of new paint
in order to put grains in my stomach?
Even if I do as she did,
and use my own body to shield my children from the world,
will they be recovering from their childhood
in this monstrous world?

Inspired by “I AM ACCUSED OF TENDING TO THE PAST” by Lucille Clifton and “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith.

hour 10: ancestors

inspired by Jackie 🙂

Someone called it “Shrek green”
and from behind my laughter, I wondered
if the rest of the world sees my painted nails
as more juvenile
than serene.

When my eyes scanned the shelves, this color had drawn me in,
reminding me of the jade bangle
encircling my friend’s wrist
to ward off bad luck during the year of her zodiac,
and the folk stories about this hue of green
promising health and fortune
before the cross and crucifix colonized
our traditions.

Tomorrow, I will fix
my chipped nails
with the naïve hope that the color
will help me to reclaim
my ancestors.

hour 8: korea

“History has failed us, but no matter.” – Min Jin Lee, Pachinko.

To understand the sacrifices of my people, look to our history.
We were royalty and yangban who created language from ashes, but our time of glory has
been beheaded by the island folks who look like us. They have failed
to recognize the humanity coursing through us
and our land. What can we do but
retreat into our families and choose survival over resistance, when no
single child has a grain of rice to eat, what else can matter?

hour 7: inside and out

Have you ever read a poem
that rang so true
it punched you in the gut
and twisted the knife too?
Bosselaar did this to me once.
Her poem which I read off a pixelated screen
cracked me into two
unraveled my intestine
until it was a single string,
it was the tightrope I walked,
until the imagery of the poem
left me dangling in the air with my two bare hands,
and even when my arms grew weak,
I didn’t feel fear of death
because finally this poem
had spoken for me a truth
I’d never realized
was hiding just beneath my skin.
Or maybe I had buried it there and burned it from my memory,
but even as I faced the horrors of this poem
as it wrote me inside out,
I wanted nothing more than to drag myself toward it,
take two of its lines in my hands,
spread them apart, and drag myself into the spot between the lines of the poem
so I could feel
a way I’d never felt before.

hour 6: y’all

They never used the word sacrifice,
they always used the words a better life.

On the first journey,
I dropped the name that granted me wisdom
and the brightness of the sun and moon
for something equal in syllables
but meaningless in worth.

On the second journey,
I dropped the new words I had just mastered.
Gave up freeways for highways
and you guys for y’all.
It wasn’t enough to rip out my tongue
a second time
for y’all to see me as human.

Y’all wanted me to unflatten my nose.
Open my eyes.
than to use chopsticks.
Poke my eyes out with them

Y’all’s problem
became my problem.
I should never have taken that load,
I should’ve thrown it off the side of the Appalachian mountain range
and hoped for it to crush y’all
on its way down
rather than let y’all crush me.

hour 5: lake lure

Umma never let me wait up for you.
But sometimes I didn’t fall asleep
until I heard you come home.
Porch door swung open, plastic blinds slapped against the door.
I drifted away,
knowing you would be met with a steaming bowl of white rice
and a hearty, spicy stew.

You never showered before you slept.
I know this because the smell of raw fish and cigarettes
you carried from the restaurant
permeated our home,
battling the scents of chili and garlic
wafting from Umma’s kitchen.

The immigrant curse meant work and sleep
were all you knew.
So freedom for you was driving me an hour away,
where we dipped our feet in cold water
and imagined stories about the lakes’ mysteries.

The lake was your freedom.
So they spread your ashes there.

I watched them do it, along the bank.
It had been cold for weeks
but the grass was so bright that day,
welcome you with its summer best.
The water
lapped at the shore,
carried some of you away.
You would finally unlock its secrets.

The wind
wanted part of you too,
and I remember how pretty your ashes looked,
falling from grieving fingertips
and fanning out like you were dandelion seeds
about to grant a wish.

sometimes I wish
I would have dipped my hand into the box
and felt your ashes fall from between my fingers.
But I think
I am glad
that the last time I touched you,
you were alive.

hour 4: handshake in the womb

Umma and I have an understanding of sorts—
we must have shaken hands on it when I was in the womb—
that even if she lied, her presence would be honest.

I always feel the lie,
the ease in our conversation sputters
to a halt.
Our backs are stiff and straight like
we are leaning on double-edged swords.
It is precarious
to acknowledge the untruth in the other,
so we choke on the air between us, hold our breaths.
We must have shaken hands on it when I was in the womb—

I remember coming home from school
to find her on the floor, legs neatly beneath her,
and as she recounted the way her youngest sister died,
her hands were busy at work with something
unimportant but distracting enough
for her voice to hide the pain
that her body made clear.
We must have shaken hands on it when I was in the womb—
I sat there
cradling my backpack instead of
her broken heart.

I remember the way she screamed
and the next second, my eyes found the tree,
and him
and the noose.
And the leaves broke her fall and
wiped away her tears,
while I stood and watched from a distance.
Only when the man walking his dog found us
and told me to comfort my mother
before dialing for help
did I touch her.
Umma and I have an understanding of sorts.

hour 3: parallel lines

Parallel lines and parallel lives
We kept our hands to ourselves,
our arms straighten to our sides
straighter than a straightjacket

It was like I was the flame
and you were the fuel,
and if our eyes met the wrong way
you would provoke me
and I would devour you
How fucking cliche.

I should have asked when I had the chance
about the parallel lines you wanted etched into your skin.
How long, how far would they descend?
I ask because maybe the length of your tattoo
will tell me how long I need to wait,
hold my fire,
bite my tongue,
hold my arms to my sides.

How long do I wait before I forgive?
Notice I said how long,
not if,
because truth is,
I want you to come back along
but I am scared that somehow
forgiving you
is giving you
to do it all over again.

And so the question arises,
And I ask myself every time—
What exactly did you do
to me?
I bite my tongue
but it’s like an old bruise,
skin darkened and green
forgotten and unseen
until you cross my path
or I hear your name
and it’s a fist pressing down
and I remember the pain.

I write this poem and I’ve stopped writing on the lines,
the parallel lines
I am spiraling
and none of my questions have answers.

I bought you a ring.
Now I know that parallel lines
don’t happen by accident.

The ring broke.
The parallel lines broke.

Is this a sign?
Or do I wait for the lines
in your skin to lose its youth
fall apart
lines break.

How long will it take
for your skin to give
the tattoo to fall
for my sign to forgive?

Will it take
Saturn’s ring to break
before I trust you
and me?

I used to worry
that you wouldn’t have someone to call
to come flying to your side
when you felt weak.
And I felt selfish.

I bought you a ring.
And it’s broken.

hour 2: dream

Arriving to Los Angeles was my dream come true—
I held my mother’s hand as we disembarked,
with wide eyes searched for a face I had only seen in pictures,
strained my ears for a voice I’d only heard through a phone receiver
during international calls cut short in haste to save a few cents.

I don’t remember seeing my father’s face when we finally found each other,
but I remember at eye level the light shade of the brown khakis he wore,
but that could’ve been a memory I made up
to make myself feel better about the blur of this day.

I remember launching myself into his arms,
in a voice as joyful and innocent as the first cry of a newborn.

But from then on, I saw.
We passed by countless white cars as I tried to guess which was his,
and didn’t even notice the little two-door until he pointed it out.
I crawled to sit in the back.

Our new home was one large room. With a bed against the wall and
too much white space.
This was the life he’d left us for.
That we’d left behind our lives for.

Before I had even heard of the lie of the American Dream,
I had the feeling that the dream promised to me
was a sham.