Wednesday, December 14, 2011


on a paper in a grey box in the stairwell closet of the first floor
these things are listed:
a name you can't pronounce (its yours)
the color of your hair, eyes (black, brown)
the day you were born (or just a guess)
your siblings' ages
a promise that you were given
not taken.

given, not taken.
hold this close on the nights where your knees tremble against the corner you were stood in.

remember this, kneeling on the cold linoleum. a hunting rifle, the heavy in your head
pulling you towards the floor.


your mother was a shaman, mu dang.
it climbs in your skin like the pain through her bones, from the spirit she let in for so long.
when she was a girl, waist wide, and hair braided to one side, her parents marched a tall brown man up a hill towards her.

theirs was a mountain covered with green, ocean on all sides.
this is where you were threaded. the eyes caught and
they pulled each other towards the main land, cold pacific air on the cheekbones.

your father had fought in a war, he traveled like you do.
without purpose but working. without money but smiling
as if the joints that moved his arms were greased with air.

thinned, he was a clatter of empty green glass by the door.
they lost their first daughter then filled her in with girl, boy, girl.
when you came along, you were a girl, but everything about you screamed second son.
he held you on his back once, and you sunk your first teeth into his skin
to say hello.

when you were a loud voice in a tiny room, he was gone.
the hospital, and then the ground
claimed like everything in this place by a man with a simple cure
temporary, like the steaming broth of your sister's cat
your mother once made to dull her pain.

Monday, November 21, 2011

subject to change

i've told this story before. it was the third month of the first grade. winter had set in, and with it an itch.
grade one brought several firsts. my first full days of "pay attention", my first long gaps of freedom from the watchful eyes of "family", from the trail or be trailed rules of farm life.
here, in this spacious brick room, i was built by something new. it felt like self. there were days, when putting one arm and then another into the quilted
purple sleeves of my winter coat, felt like standing in line to be trampled.

like any good captive, i threw up protest. my knees would begin to jump as the 3:40 bell drew near.
i took to staying seated and stamping my feet when line up time was called.
then, things escalated. my protests took the form of a screwed up face which turned to oversized tears, and sporadic out and out
shrieking at last recess or sprinkled throughout the afternoon.
it had begun virtuous enough, a pure distaste to leave the nest of distance, but by november, i had chalked myself into a full formed problem.

my name appeared in the right hand corner of the black board early in the day, followed by checkmarks and frowny faces.
soon, nearly every morning had been invaded by my disturbances.
it was late november, cold enough to see one's breath but still warm enough to walk to and from the bus, slowly.
i dragged those few alone moments like the toes of my velcro shoes on the pavement.
the day began, role call, the pledge of allegiance. something crept up my red checked dress and bit me with a new steel.
i had never felt it before, a side effect from life out from under the thumb.

as everyone rose, i felt myself stay seated. miss baker, an angel of a first grade teacher, in belted blue dress, white bibbed and bowed, with matching scuffed pumps, shuffled to my side.
in utter distress, she watched my silent mouth. the chorus had begun but she stopped it with a double clap and another clatter of heels.

my eyes focused on my friend's pigtail, my name was called, two and then three times.
i heard the now familiar scratch of my name being chalked white on the blackboard.

it came over me quickly, so fast in fact, i didn't feel it come out. a question had been shaken out and hung between miss baker and i.
why, today of all days, was i refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag?

an explanation crept out quickly. i wasn't breathing. a small voice spelled out a truth I had never heard before.
"I"m not from here." the voice said. "this isn't my country. I miss my country, and I miss my mom. i want to go home."
The reality of the words stuck to my fingers, the roof of my mouth. a beat skipped, Miss Baker closed her mouth, turned and continued the
chant. face down, I counted as the words poured past me. still and red cheeked, i tried not to think about what i had done.

Later that morning, Miss Baker closed my reading book and led me by the elbow beneath the flag, through the door and down the hall.
I counted silver and black tiles from the first grade door
to the office. I sat on a pink and steel chair while a call was made. whatever awaited me on the other side of that phone, i didn't want it.

that afternoon, i followed the feet to the bus to the lane to the farm. slow, my grey velcroed sneakers carried me up the hill. when i
climbed the brown carpet to my bedroom, she was waiting.

something was wrong. i felt the quiver of knowing in my knees. it worked its way to my lip.

i had seen her angry before, many, many times.
the way the peach colored flesh around her eyes bunched. but today was special. there was a red splotch to the right of her mouth
and something in the ridge of her forehead looked deeper and more folded than i had ever seen.

she stood over my bed, tall and still except for her mouth. the big blue suitcase lay on my tiny pink bed, unzipped into two rectangles.
the closet door was open, and the brown carpet was cluttered with my few belongings.

i watched her face change to something darker and then sharper than skin should be.
her feet planted, she was half the room or more. one hand grabbed at the things
from our three years, she had bought to be mine. she threw them at the open suitcase.
the other hand pressed down onto my shoulder until i was flush with the floor, and small.

now, more than two decades later, i am sitting on a pink bed with an open suitcase in "my country" far, far away.
and still, this moment shines so clear, when i think of her.

how i found my voice of won't and lost it on that single day.
that day she built me. she built me
from a fear and shame and guilt that we called love.

'if you want to leave so bad" ,
the blue suitcase flying through the air , then at my side
"go" she said "go."

Thursday, November 10, 2011


the third time i met you, i was dressed on purpose.
i held a small clear glass to my mouth and sipped quietly.

in a green and ivory sweater i bought because it is wool, i sit cross-legged in my room. everything in me is waiting. clenched and focused on "patient".
it's a muscle i'm learning to stretch.

the way she pressed on me tonight, above the shoulders and across the part of my back that curves in two, i felt known. i skipped home, beyonce in my ears, a foreign smile on my face.
it's dark here in the quiet way that doesn't feel scary. i step quickly over a carpet of yellow ginko leaves spread out softly beneath trees they let go of lastnight.

they let go of.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Blood. There is blood, everywhere. The boy presses a thin left hand over the hole in his leg, the red spattered pick and his missed target swim in a shallow red pool at his side. Where a minute ago, his work station cluttered a low, scratched metal table, suddenly there are hands. The older men eye the boy with sighs and exhausted pity. He shouldn't be here, a few grumble. Too young, too weak for this work. From the floor, the boy floats beneath the crowd of bunched up towel cloth and firm hands. There is nothing left to hear, to feel.

Both eyes dry, the boy watches a gloved hand grip the iron poker. In the fire for a minute, it gathers everything red from the flames, and comes close to be something warm, something promising.
The room is a quiet smell of flesh. The tall black point pulls on the boys thigh in a thundering squeal through his limbs. The reds mesh together, until there is skin.

The clutter of men disperse with too firm pats on the back, and the boy is alone. A scrap of orange towel taped to his leg, dried blood on his shoes and hands and tools.

An angry foremen barks his way towards the boy. His sudden eyes, in front of the boys. Two cements hands drop the pick onto the boy's limp palms.
Work he warns, work or leave.
Both legs crippled at his side, the boy takes a dull silver sheet from the stack on the table, he pairs is squarely with the gold metal fitting, and he pounds. And he pounds, and he pounds.
The blood caked under his fingernails, chipping off with every firm jolt of his newly made skin and twelve year old bones.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


the summer i turned 12, i remember feeling like this was it. i was a farm girl.

our farm was a white, green trimmed star of cement brick barns in a bouquet of acred hills. wide, the outer edges quietly met their end in a myth of mountains that may have been appalachians, to the north and south.

it was big, endless the way my feet could never carry brown legs to an exit.

as far as the summer soil would allow, my grandfather guided the long gray flat on wheels down a hill that would be a field. we were farmers. my black hair tied tight behind my eyes, i belonged. at least until something better, marriage or a factory job, held me by the hand and pulled me out. we gathered rocks for the sun up hours, the kind of dust stones that build a path on an autumn hike.

boulders the size of my head, heaved themselves against my worn off fingernails and wrists. we weighed our spines to the ground, clearing a field of fertile soil, in the hopes that it might breathe, opening its dark brown hips to a row of seeds, the way old valley soil knew it should.

Monday, August 29, 2011

near misses


there was a letter
the sound of teeth knocking together
in the space between high cheekbones
as if i forgot
how to scour below skin in your absence.


i fell asleep with my heart open
summer dulling the parts of me that just won't feel.
arms and then hips
open on skin

words too soon
and suddenly hear
i am right side on small squares of wood
my left side held
in your two hands.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


like i was a solid
he came towards
my damp reflection.

two marked bodies, we grew our skin together
to see what could be saved

slim books stacked along the wall
bones on twist between
another meeting of trees.

i am far away now
chewing up old wants

the only thing i know how to do
with a vengeance.

Monday, June 27, 2011


start with a map.

like this. she hands me a single strand, the daisy heads lying flat against her palm, she's chained them together with milky fresh stems. they lie together on her brown skin like they are a gift.
i make to reach out for them, but she pulls back quickly.
they're not for you. they're for this.
her fingers drop the flowers before my left chubby thumb has left its pocket. the flowers splash into the warm shallow water,
a million insects swim for cover then return quickly to their spot in the sun.
the water is slow here in the shallow part of the creek, and we scramble back to our special place on the overhanging branch, almost two bodies thick
. i look up at the sun, we never wear watches, and neither of us has learned to measure day by light.
she'll be mad if we're late i mumble and although she has heard me, her eyes haven't left the water.
they follow her craft until it is lost beyond the waist high weeds at the bend.

goodbye i shout, my hand fanning the air sideways, we'll miss you.
the chain is gone, and like this my sister snaps her neck back into place
she'll be mad anyways, and i bob my head in silent agreement
we remove our once white shoes, our dark toes squishing through insects, through the softest 3 inches of mud and we're already on the other side. the creek only 4 bodies wide, and we run our feet dry in the short crabgrass.

i carry my shoes, erica slipping hers on over her still damp ankles and we are wandering at a hurried speed back up the path. with these legs, i imagine it is a mile to the house, but their open hands have reminded us on repeat
it is only a quarter.
i can walk it in 4 minutes, we've been told, we can wander it in ten. there are 8 fields on each side as we wind back towards the pond and that house.
a brown one, then a green one, higher than our heads, then an empty one where soy was until last week, then another green one.
we lose ourselves in blank stares, and i stop every now and then to scoop up a handful of onion grass, rubbing the scent on my wrists like a
store bought perfume.


she floats me a paper cup taped to a string
and there are words about you.

your hand missteps against a body
and then another.

i find myself open eyed near the floor
the mouths say, yes, this is the floor
but i'm up here tied to clouds.

this isn't the first time i've done it
dreamt it all up in my head.

this is true.
you draw a line that balloons into faces
and suddenly we're fingerpicking pledges of love on the headlands
streetsmart, we're climbing from a sportscar in sausalito.

i promised myself love, once
and you followed on repeat.

but the paper cup is ringing
and i can't help but hear.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

soon seng nim

knuckles bent back for legs
i drag into the week.

this is me quiet.

without language
i listen.
dark eyes
in the corner, two stretches high.
i wait.
they throw their voices against me
as if i could be toppled by misuse.

these sounds
dash left to right
a linear colon
syllable stretched into shoulders
short stem into my skin.

but i am not listening
for words.

you need to be powerful he said
long slender fingers on the doorway
he throws them a single sound
it presses across the room
retracting their claws and fangs .
and like this
they are a room of children, books

i force my soft smile straight
the threads of my spine unstitching themselves
i am a stack of translucent pages
useless words printed against
my beaded neck and hands.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

acres of smooth response


below these ripples
a mountain of cold waits.

she blankets me in the night
her mothering a wool sweater.
my taut skin spits up red patches of protest

the fingernails comply.


another afternoon blinks by
her wrinkled warm hand under the blanket
a fertile womb of rocks.

we cannot share words
from the ear to the mouth, our frequency of sound
spins uncollectible by the sweeping past of
looks, of animated hands.

i lower myself into a train
defeat in the crook of a long day.
i slice at the webbed morning of self
dilute it with water from the eyes
and stir it into a reward.


fingerpicked from the chaff
we is a slow snail
it rakes through the day.
once or twice out the parting of lips
it escapes through the slowest breath
creeping quietly from the nose.

this is me healthy


switched on from open to close
i cradle the last cigarette from yesterday's box

i take deep breaths
and look both ways
before i plunge into the street.


who could i be
with nothing to blame.
no one.

i eat these thoughts for dinner
in a small aluminum pot with my ramen.

more than 2 minutes on open flame
and soggy sets in.
a hot water soak and sleep
my secret recipe.


dear mother,
you don't know me, but you made me. 
on a thick blue blanket on the floor
you laid down against or under my father.
pockets, cupboards bare
like the soft pink space where you heap rice
thin red smears of 
dinner or 
this stale bottom of the bowl
and must not go to waste.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

adopt korea

slicing blame in the right direction
for the first time
i count backwards from a hundred
i count loves i've failed
up in korean until i am
three fingers deep.

hours pass
the clock
numbers squaring towards morning.

stained hands
i blamed their white tile welcome
with my shuffling of cardboard sheets
clattering silver spray cans.

i stepped quickly
down the street
fingers tucked in
red palms.

i kick myself in a rectangle shaped bed
i picture
a woman on knees washing
my words with
small beads of sweat, the hours of her day.

my microscopic justice
a sloppy red splatter behind closed eyes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

please put on your mask

last night
we spoke over heads between.

through a drug store
my hips lead the way
a wire tree of cards to the floor.

i rowed the broom.
on knees
you held the plastic lined bin.

this morning
your silence
thick with indifference
yellow dust clings
at soft tissue.

Friday, April 29, 2011

the water monitor

my skin sewn myth of mother
bowlegged and shrugging age
silent cries through two teeth.

small gasps of saliva swim stain
thick flesh colored cream on the cheeks.

i am her rib built body grown up foreign
she clutches me by the wrist
and by her
this once
i am raised.

she is my mother
a cellophane bag of want
wrapped around my chest.

strangers stand between
shuttling language from the downturned
corners of her mouth.
twenty five years of ready to say something first
and here she is heavy
on my shoulder small.
head nodding
i can only smile.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

not like that, like this

( 1985 )

somewhere over the pacific
between incheon and jfk
i inhaled thin white wisps of exhaust
deep enough to stain.

( 20 11 )

the flesh rotted
to bleached bones
i splash through a shallow puddle of yellow.

here, spring falls at an alarming rate
my arms cross over an empty network of face
feigning sorry for speech
china blows in
exact fortunes of the weather.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

this language is futile.

one ( ha na )

i shut in.
the door locks left.

push the handled dark glass
on the fifth floor.
first right, remove your shoes
sharp left, reapply the shoes.

around the corner
in the first door
the key left then right, wait for the cockroach
to return to his peeled back paper room.
wait, for the smell of black mold
the close walls
to press you in, a deep swallow of home.

two ( dul )

everything here is funny.
i burst out
high collar strutting

three ( set )

When we are in love, we love the grass
and the barns, and the lightpoles and the small mainstreams
abandoned all night. -Robert Bly

since you, i am two doors slammed and deadbolted.

i excerpt the hours
my swollen eyed night rise of voice
the last time i threw myself
long breaths in your flannel shoulder,
the smooth brown stretch of your neck.

you held me away
arm's length and then a block, a city
i placed an ocean between us, the
won't look back entry point of our shared home
your eyes settling everywhere but on mine
and the distance,
my mouth hinging down on the words i flew at you

i admit
half of us wrong

dark shut into this short hallway of home and two
suitcase-shaped boxes of self
i press my hand between my thighs
fingering your teethshaped scars
in my shoulder

i breathe aloud.

i forward my interest towards you
blue smears of your face find their way to me
alone in a city of everyone but you.

and you have stopped listening
but i look for you still
your absence pulling down on the
sound of my single footsteps

Saturday, April 16, 2011

last night

alone and sure
i give in
white salt quarter moons

my eyes
slick and red
like you used to make them.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

in the dream

we are two small girls
quick feet on a square of purple plush.

on the other side of the doorknob, hands demand our necks
and there is panic
her red mouth pressing out a scream.

i flutter behind plastic-hangered dresses bought on sale.
we climb each other's knees
as if in a box shaped closet
there is somewhere to reach.

every time, an escape appears
a dark tube in the wall
our small brown bodies thread the way out
bellies scraping dimension
dolphin kicking to anywhere, now

two heavy hands rattle the porcelain doorknob
hurry, they're coming
i'm pressing my fingernails into my skin
i'm screaming into her shadow, into her tangled morning hair
or into an empty white wall against my bed
angry koreans cursing me quiet, from the other side.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

someone, seoul

i break agreements, the short hand passing.
it is only monday
the contrasting faces of this place, sought across my ocean, uprooting from under skin.

i take the train home, red faced and slouching,
across feet, a girl sleeps like her body could not straighten for a bed, she is a girl,
worn white shoes, a bag of rainbow flowers.
this city is spilled with the after of hours and there is no shame
it is the spending that is judged with two open eyes,
long strands smoothed, bangs straight just so. white cream shimmer just so.

i scold myself human, hours stacking mistakes.

now this is the you i know he says, nice.
he has named the other dragonlady, boasting her sexual ease
when i am a topple down stranger in the street
he stares mean, he slices the word different, like i am a stranger, he has yet to meet.

honest, i call her the brave self
day quiet nodding, and the neck is stiff, i call her the spittlestained mouth of won't.

as if i could whisper in the upturned ear of mercy, of power
i climb a
tower of light, each morning
grasping with two hands at infinite wisdom and the square shaped light behind closed eyelids.
i mouth the word universe.
slow sighing standing in a crowd
feet set apart just so,

and i say sorry
without weighing what i mean.
is how i am.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

somewhere in the middle of march

a month. it's only been a month.

on the subway, there is staring.
whitefaced perfect bangs
pointing the word "really" on repeat.
they discuss her
they decide she is chinese
words whispered lower just in case.

clinging with one hand to an overhead handle
to this hallway of bodies
she finds herself

as a child
there was nowhere to map this in her mind.
a small black dot
between fields semicircling outwards
colored corn or soy or wheat
another creek, another barn.
another sequence of proud white skin
worn knuckles on her neck.

here in a country growing higher by the year,
up instead of out
she is anything but home.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

i wandered through dongdaemun, carrying a clock in my bag.

warning: this is not a poem.
this was written in cursive
a pink and white bunny notebook
in a holly's coffee on a cold afternoon.

i wonder why i wanted to come here.

last night, i fell asleep with fingertips touching,
i closed my eyes to picture what i want. it couldn't be so easy.

i spent my life masking my difference, angry at it
but in a crowd of same, i chainsmoke cigarettes
from a yellow box, the word american written blue
struggling to breathe.

an old man shaves at the market counter. my hands freezing at my sides
there are only so many places to cross.

here, when you grow old, the spine L shapes towards the ground.
watching your feet shuffle slowly across white lines.

i never wanted to be american, but here, in my country of origin
i wear it like this is the only coat i own.

a man with a wheelbarrow of pears tilts his two hands end down to rest,
four men cross the street
small sacks of cement on their shoulders. is this how to build a city?
i spend hours wandering, hidden deep between crumbling alleys and back market
dead ends.

i don't want to go home, the fear of sticking to the floor
a wet brown marked tissue.

seoul soon

here, when i jangle a door entered
a small trail of stares follow
close beside.

single syllables monotone the room
i , sift for sounds i know.
..american person.....

here, so many moves of the mouth
to cut the different down.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

love, korea

over cigarettes
we raise our arms but never our voices.
we show to tell
he waving the words of our two languages towards me
and nay, i understand.

2. our mother

today i watched her anger
rise like the quickest sound
the melody struck her foot, a blue bruise emerged
and so she threatened
violence, two hands high and her voice.
my niece with eyes wide, palms flat over face
my nephew watches silently
she spends
her last puff of rage on the baby
a plastic swat to the face.

her love, misdirected on me
these 25 years later is lost.
i, who don't know how
but these children will spend a lifetime
a grandmother who hated them so
stuffing a stranger's adult mouth with rice, with
kindness that spills over
red spicy stain
that stays
on the lips and skin.


with every breath in
i build in my mind a tower of light.

i fold my legs together, then my fingers

once, i drew a picture of this
black and filled the hands in with yellow.
placed it on a plastic tube

like everything i make, burns.


twenty minutes every morning
i focus on what could come
arms and legs moving through a day
my mind
two magnets
i detract thoughts
with books
with knit pearl knit
with painting my sister'sniece'smother's toenails
by overdosing on bottled water.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


in the night
my american bones pressed against
heated cement floor
i ache for something that gives.

four fingers away
the woman who is my mother sleeps
begins to cry
a small tube of sound from her soft center
her coarse day voice in the dark
whistling high
and then my name
the words she placed on my forehead at birth
she is calling me.

her two tooth mouth agape
i can only turn
sharp hip on stone
and will it to end.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

february twelfth is full of farewells


what, have i done. 
my suitcases too heavy to pick up with two hands 
i say quietly
this is everything i have.

i'm not afraid, but i cannot see what's coming.
write she said. don't forget to write.


my best friend looks nothing like me
but she is my best friend.
i open a card she has placed in an ivory envelope
and suddenly my face is wet, my nose, the ink filled paper.

across the airport, an older korean woman watches me
the yellow beneath her eyes reddening
im glaring at her, i feel the fangs beneath my upper lip emerge 


i push the words down with spoonfuls of soup 
biting into jalapeno skin, crisp to forget what i'm doing here

well, i say, throwing my cigarette to the ground. 
i want this to be over
i want to be alone on that plane
an ocean between us
to forget.

he looks at me, or my right ear
my hand gathering the black around me, cold.

why so dramatic he laughs
my fingers grasping 
his elbow, my mouth settling for his dimple. 

he forgets what it's like to know me 
to love me, or he would.

i turn without looking back
willing him to miss me, to want me like 
two bodies in a quiet room of books.


joel says goodbye
tears streaming down his face
his lower lip catching the time between us. 
i'm a pint of whiskey in, squinting into his sadness
we touch hearts and whisper the word special
so quietly, neither of us will forget.


two forks, nachos, two corn quesadillas and a side of rice on the bed
beth and i eat lying down spinning crying. 
we hold hands and try to sleep.

Monday, February 7, 2011

the weeds have moved on to a quiet place

lately, i hear my mouth
practic​e the word seoul
like i speak the language the sounds spell.
whom i am nearing
it is monday​ and the dreams return​.

the specks in ​her skin like lemonseeds in a straw
inside of me, sour sprouts 
​grown, like she​ imagine​s i haven't​.
l remain inside the ​flawed b​lue-flow  
of her histor​y, a child's body now dust under soil.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

everything inside is made of stone

saying it is easy.
i map out a year from
intention , my closed self
a bouquet of so many reasons to go.

i saw you on a friday my love
pressed between hunger and night
wearing familiar pieces of past
fingers flicking the space between
we occupied
a glass of beer, intermittent pulls from another cigarette.

i trace my memory over you, the grey shape you are
flawless i look for ways to forget
to pick your dark edges with fingernails
crisp cover of healed

i am
in your hands, a fresh wound at the ready.
show me how
to peel away permanent.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


cursed, she said. her palm open near my chin
her eyes on me groping
the grey bruised pear seated in her pink satin window.

all ears for the cause
i placed my two hundred dollars to the right of her fingertips
yes i said, nodding, the tears warm
a body living
with two first fingers i hear myself pointing

a curse, i nod
my mouth pressing the blame around it
like twenty minutes twice a week
i wear my willing , my take me
topstitched to gold ribbon on my hip

like three rings of
everything gone wrong.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


a small grey stone in a pond, i watch a year
stretch itself closed, without heavy sighs
       nor early morning
            intoxications as delusion.

instead, i
turn to my green ghost self
collecting smoke in her familiar way
grasping the pen to resolve
with both hands.