ISSUE FOURTEEN: La Mer Systyle | next poem →

When I was Korean

Nadia Eugene Jo

When I was Korean
apparently I slurped down wriggling sea worms
and read novels glued to my toilet seat.

Today I have finally lived in America for more than half of my life.

Mom points out little boys around town lugging backpacks
to learn math, taekwondo, piano,
that sleep is optional, that dreams are nonexistent.
They laugh at my American clothes, then they stop caring.

I washed across the ocean yellow and impressionable,
crawled like sand devouring the shore.
In America I learned only how to love.

I stare back at the dead fish limp on my plate.
Other teenagers, they can see my nervous grip.
I fear their knowing chopsticks, prodding at flesh that does not fight back.

I drenched too many blankets with tears. Now
there’s only my longing gaze at my love who is called saint,
although he is a dictator. Girls frantically
flock around him—they have never waited like I did.
He smiles on, because what else do gods do?

I fear the Korean subway station. Everyone is too alike.

When I was Korean I would have bowed to greet grief,
but now he offers me a handshake.
My dreams are long gone to his arms.

In America my reflections taunt me, judge me.
And you don’t even deserve the name “Korean,” hissing.
Yes, I know. I am a sinner who wipes away her tears
playing the same music endlessly, longingly.

I am a sinner who is fluent in the language of love only in America,
but I am not American. I search for myself,
before I was long lost between the oceans,
when I was Korean.

Nadia Eugene Jo is a student at Deerfield Academy, a boarding high school in Massachusetts. She has published two books of poetry and short stories. Her works have been recognized by Creative Communication and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards as well as being published in The Tavern. She lives in South Korea.​

ISSUE FOURTEEN: La Mer Systyle | next poem →


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