You, child of something resembling country, resembling woman – You have tripped over your own blessings. You repeat into eternity. Womanhood you’ve never known, history you’ve thrown to the wind. No use thinking of history. You are just another child, drifting away.
The subway hurtles into black – you are in the guts of Seoul. Hanyang. Joseon. Daehan Minguk. Soldiers clutch parcels. They are as young as you are. One soldier has a name that makes you want to write a poem. Immediately, you feel guilt. He shares your mother’s family name. His first name is Young Eung, Hero. You feel guilt. You educate yourself with movies and short stories. And all you know is, it hasn’t stopped. You cannot say what exactly. The subway, the uniforms, the summers, the corner stores, the mothers standing at the doorway. It hasn’t stopped. Every mountain remembers bone on rock. Every cuckoo cries as it did centuries ago. The city laughs at the Yankee. The Yankee has the nerve to stay.
You go back to your mother’s old room,
Where she kept her rainbow diary,
The radio is on. Something wistful is playing.
She is on her period and she is on her
Second custard bun – no, she is
Thinking about the boys who are sweet on her.
There was another protest on the street,
And more people have been arrested.
One should die for one’s country.
She chews her third custard bun carefully;
There is a history exam tomorrow.
All I really want is to touch someone through the haze. It’s like I’m running adjacent to crowds that share my face, but I can’t see anyone. I’m only aware of the buzzing noise in my ear, the fact that something’s wrong. I don’t see anything. There’s no war, and I don’t see anyone sobbing. There’s no one laughing either. I am woman but that has rarely meant anything to me. I am a mirror of what was and is – my mother’s mouth, my grandmother’s eyes, yet I do not know how to make a fire when I’m cold. Hold myself up to the light.
I held a friend close several days ago, and she told me I was loved. I had not heard that in a long time. She held me, and we both cried. “We care so much,” she said, “but sometimes it’s not enough to care.” I don’t remember what we said after that, but I think I will always remember that night. Two Asian women holding each other close, unashamed.
I am realizing there is more to history than lessons. I think of all the women who have laughed before me and embraced disaster, and I think I might know what I have been missing.
I am forever my mother’s baby, forever my young mother’s small friend who held her hand and peeked at both our naked reflections in the bathroom mirror. Look, uhmma, look, I would giggle, leading her to see a dead sparrow on the street. She would always shriek and run away – I loved seeing her terrified, because I knew after taking a few steps, she would come back and to where I was standing, take my hand, lead me gently away. There is something so sweet in that certainty. Knowing someone will come back for you, meet you halfway.
The radio is on. I am on my period. I am on my third custard bun. There is a history exam tomorrow. There is a history exam tomorrow, and every day, in my heart, I fail it.
아무래도 나는 인제 끝장이다. 아무래도 나는 내일이면 그냥 아리랑이란 노래, 아무래도 내일이면 그냥 아리랑으로 돼버릴거야. 내일이면 울부짖고, 내일이면 어머니 어머니라고. 산 위에서 덩실덩실 춤 출게다. 아리랑을 부르며. 그래 아가야 이 나라는 너의 것. 묘지 따위는 생각도 마라. 까마귀도 선녀이다, 꿈도 사실. 사실 나는 궁이 보고 싶거든. 물에 가도 불에 가도 너는 안 죽는다. 공주야, 명심해라. 활을 쏠 때는 눈을 똑바로 떠야한다. 수르탄 냄세는 기억속의 꿈이지만, 살아지지는 않는다. 조선를 위해서 싸워라. 너는 아직 안 죽었다.