My father used to be a dentist in Korea.
Cocktail party (my dad is the dude second from right)
I remember my father telling me there was a conspiracy against him getting licensed to be a dentist in the U.S. and I thought he was crazy. But the more I understand of the seventies and immigrant discrimination, I don’t think he was crazy. Do I have proof that New York University conspired to keep my dad from passing his exams and getting his license to practice? Not exactly. But maybe the truth is somewhere in between conspiracy and institutional xenophobia.
We got to NYC when Nixon was still in office and the war in Vietnam was alive and well. Enter us Korean immigrants into this mix for one fucked up cocktail of Yellow Peril and xenophobia.
I wish my dad would have returned to Korea way sooner than he did. He could have just returned to his dentist life and my mom could have stayed in New York. What did she thnk she was going to find in America? I wonder if the allure of America is just a gimmick. A trick to bring in the gullible. Perhaps it’s not an equitable promise for all who heed her siren song?
Amidst the racist rants of “Go back to your country,” I sometimes wish we had.
we, the living
have this compulsion
to walk backwards into the past
as if the past has been waiting all this time
at the kitchen table
for our return
but the past has things to do
a forever schedule of sorting and erasing memories
for how quickly they get hoarded
and become the present
if you’re not careful
–excerpted from “Forever Schedule” by Jiwon Choi
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.
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
Don’t fuck robots. But if you do, don’t blame it on other people.
I’m not a robot
I was surprised to hear that men were having sex with robots. Though that might strike you as naive as romance with dolls has been going on for some time. But at least it was an inanimate object, not artificial intelligence run amuck.
Okay but sometimes I act like one
So some guys would rather have a relationship with a simulated woman versus the real thing. We should all be afraid. These men have given up on being with a real person because it’s hard. Maybe they were rejected by someone they liked, but welcome to life. Did they think they were going to all get a trophy for their mediocre effort? Get used to rejection, it’s part of life. But it does not have to break your spirit.
But not when I’m in love
If someone says “No thanks” to you, you can say, “Good riddance” to them. Don’t let it get in the way of becoming a fully participating citizen. Please use your highly advanced technology to find a cure for cancer or an end to war and famine instead of creating an entire race of fake people. That’s what the Kardashians are for.
from the dance
where one danced, he’s
in love with Polly Basil.
Holding her hand
does nothing for it,
breathing beside her
the moon-drenched air,
letting the silence speak
of the slow weight
in his belly
does nothing for it.
Against the chain-link fence
going for throat and ears,
breast and crouch,
helps a little.
––excerpted from “First Love, 1945” by Philip Levine
I’ve been having my work rejected by various poetry journals and publishers for a long time. And I don’t keep a list of all my rejections, as it whiffs of being a bad sport––plus I don’t keep that much paper in the house! Also, think about all the booze I’d have to drink to dull the pain.
Driven to gin
Case in point, I have a poem that I’ve been working on for over a year, and it’s going to get the gold medal in the “consistently rejected” category. The most recent NO THANKS came from Calyx:
Dear Jiwon Choi:
Thank you for your recent submission to CALYX. We’re happy to let you know that “Existence” was among the small group of submissions held for final consideration by our editorial collective. However, our editors ultimately concluded that your submission was not right for us at this time.
They went on to offer feedback on another poem that I’d sent in, of which I was appreciative because most places don’t bother to extend themselves this way––usually you get a form letter and “buh-by.” But I’m still not sure what about this poem was “not right” for this journal at this time: Theme, length, tone? All of the above?
I could ask them, but part of me doesn’t want to know. Poetry is subjective and our connection with it is visceral, which can make it tricky to explain why we like the poems and poets that we do.
Thanks, but no thanks.