where i was when i realized you are me

by | Feb 9, 2021 | CNF, Issue Nineteen

i had obsessed over logistics, maps, inroads, geography: coast, sea, shell, flight, waystation, layover, customs and immigration that i forgot i could access you, just one of the 65,000 children adopted between 1980 and 1989—city of exiles, generation of sparrows singing into their identities, to their impostor syndrome, to the planes that became mother.

you were a lost shipwreck. you were a bank account on the Caymans. you were an icon. you were my patron saint. i looked upon you smiling like the Mona Lisa, a remote enigma redoubling my existence. i thought of coast because i was the shore. i was ocean, wave, embodiment.

It started in August 1910 when the colonizers came. They wanted us to change our names to something they could pronounce. When I sift through the facts that booked my reservation, I recognize my story as a coda to your stories, challenging in the idea of being Korean. That I, despite my lost heritage, am you. That I am one of a thousand thousand branching paths of fortune. That when you take all that is not me away, what’s left is us. 우리. 

our people should understand more than anyone the process of regaining, puzzling out, working through an identity. i was here looking into the soul of you, thinking about the groundedness of my legs, about starting a new home about how i would finish this work about how i had not even dawned. i had been thinking of you as separate and now i see. the river han has two sides. one moment becomes branching, moment flows and where each moment goes i am thinking. about pine trees and sunlight. about not the lands i didn’t know never knew couldn’t recall. just about you—

i was not the land, the heart, the core, the essence. all of those belonged to you. even i belonged to you but because i centered on myself i could only draw the outlines could never fill you in never occurred to me that i only mapped out the territory i knew, the sand and sea-roads tracing the coastline.

It started in August 1945 when they woke the essence of han from a long and fabled slumber. They regathered shards of flags and stitched a new nation from broken supply chains enslaved to the East. Regrew daughters and sons strong in her language. Erasing the nihon from han that had been painted over with false sunlight and shiro miso. I too dream in Japanese. I was not permitted to see 国 as other than kuni. They cut up my body, and divided the organs: lungs and stomach, brain and liver, believing the two poles could function without each other. Each half believes it carries the trueness of the han people. But I am the people; I am one and two.

i am the unending Korean war.

It started in August 1955 when President Eisenhower signed the Holt Bill into law. In the womb I dreamt of water, 水; it started in August 1985 when a couple decided they wanted to adopt a child—in 1986 I left you on a water’s day, Wednesday, 水曜日—War Day, June 25. I colonized myself; I built camps and slung bombs upon her body. Not liking my single-fold eyelids, I tattooed a heavy line between me and you, 수영.

why not cut into the heartlands. why not be without reservation or judgment. i wore my favorite top today. why not demine, demilitarize, decolonize. i ate gyoza with Korean 젓가락. i learned that

you thought i was dead. you placed my photo on your altar covered in a white cloth like a Western bride. i was always coming back to you, you know that? i ripped out the Japanese language from my hair and watched the spectacle of waving flags and bright hanbok. all you needed to do: open your mouth, swallow the ocean and its unrelenting years, undo the shipwreck that beached me on another coast. sing until the water engulfs my heart.

why not


i forget the exact moment when our fingertips met—Su Yeong 수영 水永, 水榮, 秀英

Read more CNF | Issue Nineteen

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