Posts by jiwonny

Jiwon Choi is an early childhood educator, poet, and urban gardener. She is dedicated to making and eating her own Korean food, and published her first collection of poetry, One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons, last year.

Just in case you forgot just how bad he really was…

sonny stitt

sonny stitt
plays now’s the time
and you believe you can fly
you have discovered the magic flute
to propel you, to cut through 
the tightened seal of time and space
you can transverse the complications of your
diminution here
what your imagination will not allow
your body memory will remember
that you were of wings after all
riding the north wind
across these hemispheres
making the seasons 
guadalajara 
lima
saginaw 
detroit

come 
embody 
light

 by jiwon choi
august 2021

Friendly Advice

how long will this go on
hold my taco 
i have to call my mother
she was expecting me for dinner
but i got on this bus
and we're just lingering on this street
that is on fire
did we go to hell? 
Los Angeles, 1992. (Over your dead body)

”People in L.A. are now very aware that there’s another part of town than the West Side or the Hollywood Hills, even if it’s a part they don’t understand or are afraid of,” said Joel Kotkin, a fellow at the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy in Malibu. ”If there’s a positive to come out of the riots, it’s that we understand there’s a problem.”

”Now, it’s O.K.,” said Seung Choi, owner of the Korean Soup restaurant in the mall, who recalls the ”terrible, really scary” days of April 1992. ”But business never came back up.”

”When that day happened, it made it much worse for us,” said Pam Gray, who is now the first assistant manager of a new Parts USA auto parts store built by the Pep Boys chain at Florence and Normandie as part of the recovery effort; five years ago she was nursing a newborn baby. ”You had to drive a million miles to get to a grocery store.”

”On a collective basis, I’m not sure our city has heeded the lessons very well,” said John Mack, the head of the Los Angeles branch of the Urban League. ”There are some individual, spectacular examples of progress. But there’s been too much of a tendency to make it a spectator sport.

”L.A. can become America’s Bosnia, or it can become America’s example in democracy. We’ve all got to extend ourselves a little.”

–excerpted from the NY Times article, “Legacy of Los Angeles Riots: Divisions Amid the Renewal” by Todd S. Purdum, April 27, 1997.

Kumamoto Love

Some are not impressed with oysters. But consider what Seamus Heaney wrote: “My tongue was a filling estuary, my palate hung with starlight: As I tasted the salty Pleiades Orion dipped his foot into the water.”

I ate the day deliberately, that its tang might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.

— Seamus Heaney
Eighteen have given their lives

203 West 107th Street

In front of our building on 107th Street.

I lived on 107th street with my parents until 1992. We were the only Koreans on our block. Where were the others?

I am reading Louise Bogan’s bio again, connecting with the turmoil of her young life. She recalls her mother as being unhappy and ready to take it out on her family. Her mother had relations with other men while exacting inappropriate feelings from her son. I understand being raised by a mother mired in an unrequited life, but I wish I could extricate myself from her long tail of dissatisfaction and chaos.

When the bare eyes were before me

And the hissing hair,

Held up at a window, seen through a door.

The stiff bald eyes, the serpents on the forehead

Formed in the air.

–excerpted from Medusa by Louise Bogan

I Write, Therefore I am Korean

My second book, out now from Hanging Loose Press

My first book, One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons, took me about five years to put together. This second book, I Used To Be Korean, took a little bit less time. But, golly gee, book writing just takes a long time, huh?

I wonder at how people put out all their volumes and collections. I am amazed at the speed of their output and it brings me to wonder about my snail’s pace. I do honor and respect my output for what it is: I am a preschool teacher who up ’til last July was trying to take care of my Old Ladies. But they are both gone now and “every day is like Sunday; every day is silent and gray.” That should leave me more time to write, you say? Well, in theory, yes it should. But it’s not working out that way.

I think about Harley Elliott, a poet whom I trust to set me straight on the way of our finite human condition. I do mean the way we deal with being alive and how we make the most of our time on earth. Harley has published 11 books of poetry with two books out in 2020!: The Mercy of Distance (Hanging Loose Press) and Creature Way (Spartan Press) so he must know about finding the way to more writing.

I think of Bob Hershon who wrote about fifteen books throughout his writing life. His work is a body of knowledge connoting confidence, a savvy outlook on life with little second guessing. I admire that kind of knowing. Bob’s way of seeing the world. You may not be born with it, but it can be borne within you. It’s been almost two weeks since Bob passed and I am just coming to terms with knowing that we won’t be hanging out in his backyard, sipping on reasonably priced wine whilst ducking wayward acorns from those sassy Boerum Hill squirrels.

I know I will honor his memory and legacy by writing as much poetry as I can.

In memorium, Bob Hershon, poet, publisher, friend and eternal student of the School of Keep On Keeping On:

A Bad Dinner

by Bob Hershon

They gave me a bad dinner, not to make me a stranger
–Betsy Sheridan’s journal

They pelted me with rocks, not to take their love as my due

They burned my poems and papers, not to permit my self-love to

mount

They denounced me to the FBI, so I would not grow smug, in

comfort

and take their good will as a given

They pulled out my eyelashes, so I would not blink in amazment

They blew their noses in my socks, so I would not strut

They carved my name on a headstone, not to forget that I was

one of theirs, and they begin to carve the dates

Put Your Game Face On

Constructing identity via found objects. Does that sound like your life?

Your face reveals so much: What is my face saying to you?

The work to create your own sense of self that does not rely on other peoples’ ideals and ideas of you is tricky. How do you tell your own story of your vibrancy, agency and boldness without getting mixed up in stereotypes and misinformation?

Note: this DIY face portrait exploration is an ongoing project I am doing with my class of four year olds. We gather appealing found objects aka loose parts, draw and cut out our face shape, and then arrange the objects on our face canvas to create a portrait of ourselves. No glue needed.

Start with a canvas of your own making and then build from there…

I Used to Be Korean

Me and mom (circa 1974) taken at the Rudy Castilla Photo Studio

I forget that my mom used to perm my hair when I was little. She might have done it especially for this photo, taken at a real life studio across the street from our old apartment building on 107th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

The last time I tried to perm my hair, I might have been in college and realized just how straight my hair was because there was barely a ripple in it when I was done with all the rigamarole.

I have long ago come to terms with my long, straight, black hair, and I thank my ancestors for their generous gift every day.