I wanted to find it.
I memorized the route to grandfather’s house.
On the street, I loosed my six-year-old self.
I watched her gather her childhood like a bouquet of flowers
In bright alleys where women sold cherries, peaches,
Brimming with golden light, path lined with fruit.
I wanted to find it—
Mother, that night, I slept beside you
As if you’d raised me
Sick with discomfort
On the floor, in the awful heat
Waking to dawn breeze, open window,
Sudden flare of flame, your cigarette.
The smoke made me itch. I wept
To the crook of my elbow, sleepless, enraged with you.
Was this what we would have been?
Did I find it on your mountain
Whose shadow you were born in
When I climbed it at dawn,
Facing the sun
All shadows falling to the back of me?
The peak was cold, and I was surrounded by family,
Even though no family surrounded me,
Like I could love this land
That rolled before me in green and gold waves.
They say the sunrise is so beautiful from Cheonwangbong
That you, and your parents, and theirs
Must have lived virtuously for me to see it.
Could I love you then, if I loved this land?
The question I came six thousand miles to answer,
That I ate meat for, rode long buses for,
To find it—something to convince me
I could love it simply,
That blood was thicker, that I wasn’t your tourist,
That I could one day know everything.
Mislaid daughter, I hunted
The neon-cold alleys till the washed-out dawn
Chilled the streets like snow; I sniffed the air
For a broth that tasted like home.
Something was always around another corner;
I never found it.
Foreign to myself, I became small,
Wanting to lose my body,
Wanting to be a pair of eyes only.
You had the habit of shrinking too—shrank yourself to dark corners of dark rooms
you spent much of my visits sleeping in,
And I recognized myself, bittersweetly, in your hiding.
Is that love, then?
Family, I thought, was another word for comfort.
The term jeong implies that knowing and loving are the same.
Something is always around another corner.
I could memorize grandfather’s address and still never find it.
I could sleep every night in your room and still never find it.
I could climb every mountain on the spine of this country and still never find it.
My mother, my heavy passenger, my soil
My country, my old dream, my harm
I will never know you.
I loved Korea when I was two thousand meters above it
On a mountain, in air as clean as myth.
Everything that didn’t comfort me
I finally allowed to be beautiful.
Everything about you I could ever learn
Rolled before me in green and gold waves.