Saturday, 1 July 2017

Grandmother Talking Camptowns

by Tanya Ko Hong

At 77 years old all my teeth are gone
and the wind blows past my gums.
No windscreen in Dongducheon
where homeless live alone.

Rather than live alone
I wanted to be a monk in Buddha's temple
but they kicked me out—
I sneaked the bacon.

The Deacon's ad in the newspaper
offered a room at his church—
In exchange for cleaning I lived well.
One rainy night I drank Soju and smoked
so they kicked me out.

Damn hard work on my back for GIs—
pounded and pounded me inside
so one day it had to go.
The khanho-won removed my womb
no pension for sex trade
no yungkum.

American couple adopted
my half white son—
my half black daughter
I left at the orphanage door
and never knew her fate.

At one time I had money saved.
My brother came in his guilty face
Because I can't protect you— you do this.
He used my handling money
to become a lawyer and soon removed
my name from the family—like scraping a baby from the womb.
Still, on my birthdays my sister Sook
secretly came to see me,
came with seaweed soup—
Unni, Unni…I waited for her to come saved a gift chocolate so carefully wrapped—
gum, perfume, Dove soap…

Now that she's engaged 
Sook cannot come again—
Why can't you go to America like the others?
For the first time that day I was weeping, Mother, mother, we should not live
Let's die together! but Mother was already gone.

The time goes so fast that people on the moon didn't know where Korea was.
One day I met a man
and I am a woman making rice washing his work clothes submissive
and joyful until he found my American dollars
ran away and never came back.

Now in Dongducheon
stars shimmer in the wind.

* * * * *

"Grandmother Talking Camptowns" was first published in Spiraling, Paris Press

Korean American poet, Tanya Ko Hong, has been published in Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Two Hawks Quarterly, Portside, Cultural Weekly, and elsewhere. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles, and is the author of four books of poetry, most recently, Mother to Myself, A collection of poems in Korean (Prunsasang Press, 2015). Fluent in Korean and English, Tanya is an ongoing advocate of bilingual poetry, promoting the work of immigrant poets. She lives in Palos Verdes, California with her husband and three children. Find out more at 

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