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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging

What does it mean to be an emerging writer? Is it that when you are new and full of hope?

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Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool

And when is it that you can stop “emerging”?  And who gets to decide?

I’m almost fifty, do I have enough time to evolve from my emerging status?  When can I shed the husk of amatuer?

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Max Beckman: “Woman with Mandolin in Yellow and Red”  (1950)

I talked to my publisher Bob Hershon who’s been publishing and writing for over fifty years about the plight of the emerging writer and he expertly noted that the moniker “new writer” is the better description.   With a fifteenth collection under his belt, I can’t disagree.

But how can one be a new writer in their fifth decade?

I am writing my second collection of poetry and I am slow going.   The first one took me over five years.  And I’m super proud of my work, but it doesn’t make writing the second book any easier––layers of complicated feelings and memories that works as the cruxt of your work, but often the obstacle of your progress.

Can you get out of your way?

It is yourself you seek

In a long rage,

Scanning through light and darkness

Mirrors, the page,

Where should reflected be

Your eyes and that thick hair,

That passionate look, that laughter.

––excerpted from “Man Alone” by Louise Bogan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing While Colored

I’ve been submitting my work to Rigorous, “a journal edited and written by people of color” for a little over a year.  It’s an online magazine with the flexibility and expansiveness to accept not only written work, but visual, audio and video arts.  So smart.

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Current issue of Rigorous

I’d not really considered submitting my work to a journal dedicated to writers of color and I wonder why.   Because it’s important this community we are creating through the simple act of creating and sharing our art.  As writing poetry is such a solitary craft, as much of art is, I find a sense of gratitude for this cohesive network of writers.  Sure it’s through the Internet, but it’s there.

In the January 2017 inaugural issue, one of the editors, Kenyatta JP Garcia, wrote of his affinity “towards the experimental, speculative and slipstream” in art, but that he’s mostly seen it done by “white folks”:

We rarely see the brown and black alternative approaches to art but it’s not for lack of trying. Most of us have been taught to ‘work twice as hard’ and many of us took it to heart…While not every piece is overtly political, every time we as the marginalized create something we are being political. Our arts speak of our experiences and worldviews. It speaks from a perspective that has been minimized and silenced. The act of creation is a push back against a system that has historically ignored us.

The act of creation is a push back against a system that has historically ignored us.

He continues to say that we need community and a support system in this “new era of American policy.”   This policy of Trump that we must resist and help dismantle.

St. Eugene of the Color Blind

What ever happened
to that that light-skinned girl
your brother was dating?
The one your father used to call
“the Mulatto” and we were too dumb to be
embarrassed for him, for us
because that was the eighties and we
were in high school and doped up
on wine coolers. Your mom liked to
comment on her good manners, not like
your Canarsie floozies who hogged the chairs
in the kitchen and mooched all her Shasta.

You liked to say Eugene was color blind
like you were bragging about it
like he was the only one in the clan who
could be that way

but he broke up with her
after all that
when it was clear it was going to be
a hassle every time
to get through checkpoint Charlie
down by Breezy.

He wasn’t better than us
just opposite:

a hypocrite.

      — by Jiwon Choi

Resilience

My mother grew up during the war.  She was 13 when Chinese communists and Korean dis-loyalists colluded a hostile takeover of her homeland.

Korean War People

After war (AP archives)

After having to leave the north where she was born, she never saw her home again.  She never really talked about it, but I don’t think she knew what happened to her parents.  And many of her siblings perished and were lost from her.

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I remember mama

I didn’t grow up in war directly, but I was privy to the damage that it caused my mother as the pain and anger weeped out of her.

As a Korean child of Korean immigrants, I have conflicted feelings  towards the Chinese and Japanese (along with the despot Kims of the North).  And I have trust issues with white Americans, too.  These conniving powers hell bent on destroying a small nation that just wanted to be left alone.

But what a phoenix Korea turned out to be:  from the ashes born a creature of resilience and determination.   Yes, we are.

War, illness and famine will make you their favorite grandchild.

You’ll be like a blind person watching a silent movie.

You’ll chop onions and pieces of your heart

into the same hot skillet.

Your children will sleep in a suitcase tied with a rope.

Your husband will kiss your breasts every night

as if they were two gravestones.

––excperted from “What the Gypsies Told My Grandmother While She Was Still a Young Girl” by Charles Simic

 

 

 

 

 

Do Chinee Wear Shworts’r?

Not to take a too hard line on it, but what’s up with the Dutch?

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A Shworts’r and Chinee walk into a bar…

It would appear that even their “Dutch” girl is not stereotype-proof, but why the urge to typecast others?

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Old recipes?

As it turns out, the Dutch or Deutsch are Germans who emigrated en masse to America’s high plains in the 1700’s.  These German “plains people”  then came to Pennsylvania to flee persecution and subesquently became the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Read David Laskin’s Children’s Blizzard for an indepth view of  how these emigres fared in the New World and how they lived through the harrowing 1888 blizzard.

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The International

Blizzards aside, I can’t find any good explanation for including weird off-color images of people in these old time cookbooks.  Is it because the Dutch lost their way when they landed here?  Did they forget what it was like to be on the receiving end of prejudice and persecution?  Many were indentured servants or sold off as slaves by “soul drivers” * who would march them through Pennsylvania towns to sell at auction.

According to independent food historian, William Woys Weaver, even their cuisine got lost: groundhog, yes; shoofly pie, no.

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Consider the groundhog

 

 

 

*explorepahistory.com

 

 

Did You Eat?

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

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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

 

 

 

Up On 107th Street

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

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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