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Artwork by Joanna Chen, staff artist

Grandfather runs his palm

against the glazed wood of a shoehorn,

and lets the television crackle on

a soap opera

nobody is watching.

Rain pulls the smell of

the Han River

twelve floors up to mingle with

the taste of my grandma’s doenjang

on my tongue.

There is a photograph of my mother

on a part of the wall where the beige wallpaper

has not yet peeled,

where her mouth stretches


frozen open in a laugh

that I've never heard.

In America,

her chapped lips are always pursed

over clenched teeth

to hide the English in her mouth,

fragmented into too many syllables and

dotted with the staccato

of plum rain.

Yesterday, I could not fall asleep

with the rabbit in the moon watching me

as I tried to unbutton the Californian sun

from my skin.

Grandfather ate all the apples that my grandma sliced

into seedless crescents and forgot

to leave some for me.

But Grandfather’s bed had no mattress,

and Seoul was humming like an aimless taxi driver,

and I didn't know how to pronounce the word

for unfair, anyway, so I forgave him

for that, too.


the sky will soften a shade bluer.

Grandma’s soybean paste will be tucked,


in the left corner of our smallest suitcase,

where my mother won’t discover it in time to protest

until she boards the plane back

to America.

In the morning, my mother will still be afraid

of broken jaws and Grandma will warn me

that someday, I will stretch mine to dislocation.

There are only so many words

my mouth can carry. They stick to my tongue like

the dried persimmons the ahjumma sells on

the street corner and get caught between my teeth

like an unwelcome accent.

Today, Grandfather is silent.

And I search among the folds of the bojagi

in my grandma’s hamper

for a language that fits

the angles and curves of a girl who still

needs room to grow.

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