I Am Four

I am a teacher of four year olds.  It has been my favorite age to teach ever since I started on the early childhood path, as far back to 1987 when I started as an intern at the Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School.

persimmon

Happy Birthday Jiwon

Our body holds memories of what happened to us when we were young, albeit some are murky and forget about chronological order.  But they are evidence of what we were going through at the time.   Living with my aunt and uncle, I felt powerless and lonely for my parents,  and though my cousins tried to comfort me, it was not enough.

Even as a little kid you know you’ve got little power to change your circumstances and that’s what really sticks in your craw, and what you remember most about being a child.

 

My life suffocates
Planting seeds of hate
I’ve loved, turned to hate
Trapped far beyond my fate

–Excerpted from “Harvester of Sorrow” by Metallica

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Eat?

One of the Korean things I learned was to ask my boyfriend if he’d eaten lunch.

lunch-e1536589782531.jpg

Bon apetit ca 1972

When I lived in Seoul during the early 2000’s, I dated some and learned the endearing custom of asking your significant one if they’d eaten lunch.  It’s a kissing cousin to the American “Did you eat yet?”

My boyfriend is good at making lunch so when I’m home I know I will eat lunch.  At work?  Not so much.   It’s a comfort and joy to have someone concerned about your eating habits.  There are so many people who aren’t as lucky.

“Did you eat yet?”

 

Thirst is angry at water.  Hunger, bitter

with bread.  The cave wants nothing to do

with the sun.  This is dumb, the self-

defeating way we’ve been.

––excerpted from “The Self We Share” by Rumi

 

 

 

Where Did We Go?

I don’t remember a lot of trips taken as a kid.  But I know we went to Niagara Falls.

1977Niagra.jpg

Niagara Falls, 1977

We drove up in a car and when we got there I puked in a paper bag.  I remember that it was from eating a whole lot of cheese doodles.

I had a feeling when I was young that we didn’t do things that other families did.  My friends who were white seemed to be always going on “vacation”.  It seemed like only white people could go on vacation.   They had the time and the money.

And when I got older, I made it a point to be going somewhere, it was a case of ABV––Always Be Vacationing.   But sometimes you end up in places that make no sense.

 

SUBTERFUGE & DNA

by Jiwon Choi

The whitest girl I ever knew

came from Concord, New Hampshire

she played violin, kept her hair boy short

and wore ear plugs to bed

––the one time my boyfriend came to visit

she really needed them

I went home with her one weekend

and met her family

over baked chicken and green beans I fielded questions

about my parents—what kind of work were they in?

I didn’t answer that their profession was dysfunction

I told my stories instead:

(as my parents’ only child I am good at subterfuge)

they’re in “sales” (not hyper-depressed immigrants moaning

in a dark room)

we vacation in Niagara Falls (one time when I was seven

and I threw up a whole bag of Cheese Doodles when we got there)

and our dishes aren’t all busted up (the Laura Ashley bowls were

the first to go––smashed against the wall)

Before bed while brushing my teeth, I find the diaphragm

on the bathroom sink and the ear plugs make sense.

 

 

 

 

Old Ladies

My Old Ladies have become my inheritance.

fullsizeoutput_1454

On Classon Avenue

As a youngster I didn’t think about how I was on the road to old ladyhood the minute I came out of my mother’s uterus.

fullsizeoutput_1451

Still on Classon

The “good night” that Dylan Thomas was writing about is some serious shit.  I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because I am afraid of dying.  I know I am dying.

fullsizeoutput_1457

Three Hats on the go

What the fuck.

Another summer gone, the hills burned to burdock and
thistle, I hold you a moment in the cup of my voice,
you flutter in the frail cave of the finch, you lean to speak
in my ear and the first rains blow you away.
–Philip Levine

 

Up On 107th Street

It’s not like I miss it that much, but it’s the only home I know.

203

Up on 107th Street

Our block had a catholic church on it with a statue of the Virgin out front.  I went to the adjacent catholic school for a year. Could have been first grade.  My uniform was burgundy and white, I think.  I remember knee-high socks were involved.  Not to mention the nuns and their rulers.

It wasn’t the hairiest block by far––ghetto light vs. ghetto heavy?  One time there was a fire across the street in my friend’s building.  The orange fire seemed to go all the way up to the night sky.

Years later I would read a NY Times article listing my block as one of the worst.  That’s according to the police.  I guess they would know.

Homes where children live exude a pleasant rumpledness,

like a bed made by a child, or a yard littered with balloons.

To be a child again one would need to shed details

till the heart found itself dressed in the coat with a hood.

Now the heart has taken on gloves and mufflers,

the heart never goes outside to find something to “do.”

And the house takes on a new face, dignified.

––excperted from “Where Children Live” by Naomi Shihab Nye

 

 

 

Holy Water

 

In high school I got sick off gin and swore it off forever.

gin

So happy

Except I developed a taste for it in my thirties.   The myth of drink for writers is intense.  I am not immune to it, but it’s got less to do with my writing than with my psyche.  But  I can’t write when I’m shitfaced anyways.

I admire Bukowski and can concede that his affinity for drink may have had an effect on his work.  Yes, drinking changes us, probably changed him––maybe he allowed it to became his companion.  But certainly the core of Bukowski as a writer and poet was himself, his life experience, his childhood, his memories, etc.

My dad kept a bottle of Johnnie Walker under his chair for many years.  I think he knew we knew, but did he care?  I don’t care if you know about my bottles, I kinda wear them on my sleeve.

 

Maybe the bliss

that came with drinking came

only after a certain period

of apprenticeship.  Eddie likened

it to the holy man’s self-flagellation

to experience the fullness of faith.

––excerpted from “Gin” by Philip Levine

 

 

 

Dinner Is Normal

My mother spent many nights making dinner for me and my dad.  Dinner was one of the few aspects of my confounding childhood that made sense:  a small proof of normalcy.  By 2011, my mother had mostly stopped cooking.  I took this as a sign that she’d given up trying.

IMG_1970

Making dinner 2013

But dementia takes away your life.  My mother had been so vigilant about buying fresh ingredients so she could feed us real food, so when I see her not being able to feed herself, I find it devastating.

anna's old place 1

Making dinner 2007

I find the act of cooking and sharing food a great joy.  When I make food for you, it means that I care about you.  What I may not be able to express with words, I can say with dumplings.

anna's old place 2

Chez Anna & Paul, 2007

Just like I learned from my mother.

Children who grow up without having a warm rapport with their parents will most probably turn into parents no better than theirs.  I am sure the short cut to a warm, close family is having meals together.  The joy of working in the kitchen and setting the table for their family is a lesson children can learn only from their parents.

––Chang Sun-Young, from A Mother’s Cooking Notes