Schools are strange places.

I grew up in San Jose, cocooned by the neighborhood and community that surrounded me. Nearly all of the students in my classes were first generation immigrants. It was a given that you spoke a different language at home than at school.

My only memory of people making fun of my school lunch was when I packed a sandwich and pretty horrendously, we only had purple ketchup (why was this even a thing)… so my sandwich was purple. I have some pretty vivid memories of my friend’s faces when I revealed the sandwich.

Ibuki moved to our school in third grade. Or was it second? We were lunch buddies because we both packed boxed lunches, and we’d compare and share what we had that day. Sometimes we would swap. He and his brother Rei, who was my brother’s age, taught us how to count to 10 in Japanese. …


I miss my mother’s youth
Such shy smiles in old photos
But I have memories too.

Light filtering through the plastic curtains
of our apartment while she holds me

She lived with her husband’s mother
and at 30 felt like her life was over.

It’s no wonder that her feelings might
have transferred over
to a growing fruit in her womb

Yurumi — it means fruit, or summer.
But my grandmother named me.

When I was born my dad could
not join and her mother came instead

— Once, I overheard her tell
my friends’ mothers that she cried
when she saw that I was a girl
because I would also have to go through
all this…


I would like to write a poem
But can only think
Of traffic, middle fingers, and the heat.

The train and the fields are inspiring.
The mountains too.
But there’s a lot of construction right now on 17 —

and mosquitoes.

My friends get invited to martini nights in the city
To share beautiful poems about their ancestors
and injustice
and my eyes go red when I try to review other people’s work
Jealous.

I only now know how to remember
my grandfather’s face; she kept
him in photographs in the top drawer
I don’t even know his name.

I imagine a romantic era, immediately before, during, after the war;
I try to imagine what it must have been like
to see electricity in the night for the first time —
But I don’t want to think of the sorrow too, to lose a child and a lover;
it’s inconvenient. Why worry, when I have electricity all the time. …


“There was no poetry in camp,” a man narrates.

“Unless you consider dust..poetry

“Unless you consider mud.. poetry

“Unless you consider cruelty.. poetry…

Dr. Satsuki Ina did not know she was going to make films. Or that those films would win awards. After teaching abroad for a year and returning to D.C. to settle reparations for her family, she stepped into an exhibit at the Smithsonian. “We the People”: a study on violations of constitutional rights.

She continued through the exhibit and froze in front of a large, black-and-white picture of a man standing in front of prison bars. …


“This novel is warning us about how our world might change to be a worse place and we need to stop ignoring events that are happening around us.”

It’s the sixth essay I’ve read that shares a similar thesis statement. Offred Didn’t Know. She ignored the signs. She ignored the world.

Is the onus all on Offred?

I’ve closed Facebook because the statuses are overwhelming. Yesterday, I chose to ignore. I’m proud of people sharing. I also didn’t want to think about those nights, and all day, every new status was a quick flashback.

Flashback — I draw out a timeline for a student. I draw a stick figure in the middle. This Is You in the Present, I say. I draw an arrow to the left. In Our Minds, I say, Sometimes we Travel Time and We Go Back. Like when you think of a memory or you smell something that reminds you…


Korean.
Page 8.

Her eyes are closed, her chin tilted upwards. Her lips are pursed and turned up in the corners, with a slight smile. Her arms rest gently on his back and the nape of his neck; her eyebrows are thinking. They relax. Her lips are starting to part and suddenly he turns, his lips brush her cheek —

I close my laptop.

The room is silent.

In my blankets alone I wonder:

Did they love more because they speak the same native tongue or
(do native tongues count if attitudes differ)
Did they know the right moment to exhale
(the right words in sighs— )
Or would they not even have to speak — just stare
into each other’s eyes
speak language in nerves,
fingertips,
fuzz,
buds,
eyelashes —
How does one love
to have an expression like hers,
because when I think of love in my language, I squirm
I’ve never heard it outside of Ye-su and Sin
— an unfortunate vision to have
in the union of flesh,
like if priests watched you outside of the covers,
complicit,
but their eyes override the pleasures of
sharing…


On grief and kimchi

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Laurent Hamels/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images

This is a container of salt.

It sits in clear plastic Tupperware under a green lid.

It is three-quarters full. The salt is granular and sharp. On hot days, it clumps together, like sand.

“It is all we have left of your aunt,” my mom said.

I’d sprinkled it generously on the tofu bubbling on the stove.

“She sent it to us when Fukushima happened. Because she was worried about the salt we would get here.” She set it back into the cupboard.

“That’s it,” she said. “That’s how fast life goes.”

We consider using the salt to clean the cucumbers, but decide there’s too little. …


(DRAFT 1)

“Yeah, we say ‘eh?’ at the end of everything.”

“Wow,” I say. “Korean Canadian. What’s that like?”

“Well, not as cool as you Californians. Californians are so cool! You have ‘hella,’ ‘lit,’ ‘dope’…When I was at Yonsei I just wanted to be like you all.”

I turn away from 280 N. The San Jose haze makes both of us squint.

“What?” I laugh. “You don’t have slang?? What do you mean you don’t have slang??”

“Well… we say things like, ‘it’s good, eh?’”

I don’t know if it’s okay to laugh, so I let out a half-hearted bleat. He smiles. “I think Korean Canadians are more Korean. So they act cool, you know? 눈치봐. But you all are… I don’t know. You have this American thing, you can totally tell. …


I don’t know why I woke up with you on my mind, heavy on my chest.

Memories were fresh.

It’s been nearly five months since I heard about you leaving. I hadn’t had the courage to visit you.

I can’t do anything when I think about it. So I haven’t been thinking about it. You were pushed down, down, down.

Was it the swimming last night? The personal narrative brainstorms I worked on with my students?

“Describe loss.”

To be frank, I had already chosen to lose you nine years ago.

In my mind, I would see you at some older-stage-of-life reunion. We’d chat, remember fond, sepia memories, and then I’d tell you that I’d visited Iceland and Greenland because of the way you’d described it. …


  1. Re: The Title of the Next Poem

I know
this language.
It is vulgar.
No —
people are vulgar.

When you read
Dong
All of you will think
penis,
that most selfish
and pitiful
specimen
when wilted.

Let me be vulgar.

To me this 동
is not
that ugly, comic-sans
round, heavy D-O
ring-dong Dong
accented Standard American English.

It
sounds like
East
or the beginning of
Fairy tale.

It is fragrant,
an exhale.

Learn it
like I was forced
to learn yours.

2. Watching Dong-Ju

I am ashamed
of having thought
that I
could be a poet
in these times,
he says. …

About

Sunli Kim

Teacher in San Jose. Writer in secret.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store