I used to live in Korea. I was about two years old and living in my uncle’s house. My parents were not with me because they had just started their hustle in New York and they sent me back to Korea so that I could be cared for my aunt and uncle. I lived with them for about three years before reuniting with my parents in New York City.
But four decades later, part of me is still there.
As a writer, I dwell in what Ted Kooser calls the “Country of Memory,”: “We each have our country of memory always within us, always open to exploration, and we hold this for most of our lives.” Essentially, this is where your nostalgia and sorrow are alive and well, waiting for you to come by for your daily dose of sad memories and regret. This is where I come for my Father memories. He passed away in 2006 so this is all I got.
The surface of memory is like one of those Advent calendar with lots of little flaps under which you can see things.
––Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual
You will find that my first book of poetry, One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons, opens a lot flaps, especially the father ones. It makes sense that I would write about my father, as our relationship was difficult at times. But I didn’t realize how much I would miss him until it was too late.
Back to 1951
My father is forgetting my face as he lies dying
in the company of parrots in bright eye shadow and lips
On a battery of wings, surrounded by a halo of flies,
he is lifted back to 1951, seventeen and hiding in the mountains,
living off bitter roots and small snakes,
giving the Red Army the finger.
He stayed there long after soldiers went back to their farm
and factory lives
while I tried to fit inside his tin can of a heart:
thou shalt not smoke
thou shalt not skip breakfast
thou shalt not end up an old maid . . .
Did Confucius say headstrong daughters must assume the venerable position?
Do it anyway: kowtow and contemplate remains of flesh and bone
melting into silt and soil.
––Jiwon Choi, “One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons”