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.

mom & me

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Old Ladies

My Old Ladies have become my inheritance.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Family Policy

I had a family in Korea.  I had roots.

grandma & group

December 1973

I wasn’t always alone as I am now.

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I had a family

My parents left Korea in the early seventies and I am sorry for that.  I wish I could have grown up with my big extended family and lived an uncomplicated life as a regular Korean person.

emo & mom

And then there was two

As a displaced person, I worked to extend my dysfunctional nuclear family to include the friends I managed to keep. And it was a smart thing to do because life is a better time when you are connected to good people.

But I’ll always have my Old Ladies.

However far

I’d gone,

it was still

where it had all begun.

––excerpted from “A Feeling” by Robert Creeley

Holy Mystery

My parents were seriously ill-matched.

ceremony

Is this all there is?

Neither ready to live grown up lives, but rushing to marry because that’s what was expected.

wedding

Til death do us part

In their wedding pic, I swear my mom is bending a bit so she won’t tower over my father.  I wonder how much she cared about.  I was reading in Louise Bogan’s bio about how her mother shot up four inches past her father after they got married, and how her mother never forgave him for that.

communion

They try to tell us we’re too young

In elementary school, a friend’s family invited me to be in her first communion ceremony and it looks like my mom thought it was a good idea.  Crazy though because I don’t think my friend was old enough to marry God.  Is anyone, really?

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It’s a holy mystery

But look at my super-cute dress.

Sorrow is my own yard

where the new grass

flames as it has flamed

often before but not

with the cold fire

that closes round me this year.

Thirtyfive years

I lived with my husband.

The plumtree is white today

with masses of flowers.

–– excerpted from “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime” by William  Carlos Williams

 

 

 

The Dragonfly

I was in college when I first read Louise Bogan.

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Of enough

I still remember the feeling of being lifted up and bathed in a pure light.   An awakening.

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Planting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay, NY

I bet that’s what flowers feel when they are about to burst open to the world after being asleep for all that time.

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Camellia on the verge

I identified with Bogan as a poet who struggled to keep the demons of her childhood in check.  Actually it was just one demon:  her unstable mother who fought with her father, disappeared for regular stretches, and placed her in unsavory situations.  You can read about these Mother-horror tales in Elizabeth Frank’s Bogan bio, but what it comes down to is the most harrowing feeling of being abandoned as a young child that probably scarred her the most.  That scars all of us the most.

Twice-born predator,

You split into the heat,

Swift beyond calculation or capture

You dart into the shadow

Which consumes you.

–– excerpted from “The Dragonfly” by Louise Bogan,