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a date with mother darling

These days I’ve begun working.

Oh, the delicious thrill of honestly, independently earned money in one’s hands!

And its thought-provoking weight.

I save all of my earnings for airplane tickets.

Mother once mentioned that if I get accepted into university,

she would love to see it with her own eyes and step on American soil again, at least once.

My heart broke a little when she said that.

After all, she’s been working so hard to pay for my high school tuition these three years;

so humble and so sweet a wish from the best of mothers certainly deserves to be answered.

And then, of course, it would never do to leave my two little sisters behind.

They, too, have pined dearly and desperately to see once more the land of our childhood memories,

and it would feel wrong to leave them both behind while taking only Mother.

So here I am, trying to work up the money for airplane tickets to America and back,

tickets that would amount to at least four thousand dollars.

That’s quite a lot of money.

Well, thankfully, there’s quite a lot of work out there for me to do,

and even more thankfully I actually enjoy most of it.

I teach English mostly – and, thank Heaven, none of it test material.

I had been so afraid I’d have to teach classes on “How to Get an 800 on Critical Reading,”

“How to Get a Perfect Score on SAT/AP English Literature”, or “How to Ace the TOEFL.”

This makes me sound very ungrateful. I’m sure there are harder, more unpleasant things to teach.

But all my life I’ve been convinced that test-prep English doesn’t really help

your fundamental English skills, and teaching these subjects would kind of go against my convictions.

Thankfully, all the students who have come to me cheerfully allowed me to teach whatever I liked,

in whatever style I liked. So I decided to go crazy (at least by Korean standards).

I teach Creative Writing. I turn on obscure OSTs from Japanese short films no one has heard of,

then ask my students to imagine scenes for the songs.

I show them five-minute animations or Old Spice commercials,

then discuss themes of standards of masculine beauty / synonyms for “fragrant.”

A little more traditionally, we read short essays / stories.

I recommend “Paper Menagerie.” I read it two years ago in a World Scholar’s Cup contest,

and it’s stayed with me as a beautiful, striking piece of emotion ever since.

 So, I’m doing what I love, and I’m having fun, and I’m more grateful than I can express.

But as a very shy person who finds it stressful to make small talk for five minutes,

let alone teach nonstop for two hours,

it’s not easy. And it’s not easy to work without thinking.

About the people I’m doing it for.

About the people who have worked tirelessly for my selfish needs for the last three years,

for my whole life really,

without a single word of complaint.

Especially Mother:

dear, elegant, charismatic, musical Mother,

with her large, suffering, wonder-filled eyes,

her lips parted in a shy, self-effacing smile,

her legs trembling with years of driving and working,

legs that once looked so beautiful click-clacking briskly in polished high heels,

legs that can’t even walk up a flight of stairs on their own anymore.

She’s given up so much.

The slender fingers that used to touch grand pianos at the Tchaikovsky Music Conservatory

are now worn with years of scrubbing floors and cooking meals and washing dishes.

Despite her prettiness, her youth has fled in seven years of working for the church,

for a very difficult marriage, for a household that has never been rich.

Well, I’m trying to repay her for all that now,

trying to express all the love and gratitude and guilt I hold in my heart for her.

Although most of my money goes toward the airplane tickets, I always save a little,

to keep a steady fund of resources available to make Mother happy.

It’s not much. Little gifts she’s always liked but never bought for herself:

candles – camellia and peach-scented ones, knots of flowers, boxes of tea, red bean porridge.

It’s not much. It’s not nearly enough.

But it’s a beginning.

“Taste certainly changes with age,” Mother remarked fondly,

stroking the last bunch of daisies in her glass.

“When I was younger I longed for jewelry and pretty clothes.

Now, I look for objects that give me peace, like soft lights and pretty flowers.

I think I’d be satisfied even if I didn’t buy another outfit until I die.”

I listened sadly, thinking, “My dear,

I’m sorry I couldn’t buy you all the pretty dresses you wanted when you needed them.”

Well, until Mother’s taste changes again, I’m going to try to fulfill it.

Yesterday, we went to Cafe Arriatte in Insadong, Seoul!

I had searched all over the Internet for a nature-themed cafe,

since Mother loves flowers and grass and nature so much,

and I was very happy to have come upon so pretty a place.

The whole floor was thick with pieces of wood and soft brown soil,

and it felt as if I had just stepped from the bustling, car-streaked city streets

to a small haven of herb-scented paradise.

arriatte

As I walked into the cafe, I lifted my arm,

letting my fingers brush gently against the smooth, cool leaves hanging overhead.

I bought Mother a glass of herb tea (organic herb tea from Jeju Island, no less!),

and we also shared some honey-drizzled, bean-paste-sprinkled toast,

with hot, melted tteok (rice cakes) squished between the slices of bread.

It’s much tastier than it sounds.

honey injeolmi bread

All around us were clear glass bowls filled with water, on which rosebuds and candles floated.

“When I grow up and have enough money, I’ll build you a little room like this,

just for yourself,” I declared in delight, looking around us.

“That would be very nice,” said Mother, smiling warmly at me.

mother drinking tea

I love it when she smiles.

When I was younger, her smiles and hugs,

even her expressions of affection were a very rare delight;

Mother was not a person of much laughter.

I feared and suffered for her almost as much as I adored her.

She was full of so much anger, so much hurt and bitterness and deep, incurable sorrow.

Now her smiles come easily and naturally, like flowers blooming in spring.

If there were no other proof of God in this world,

I think Mother’s softened eyes and beautiful smile would almost be proof enough for me.

It’s taken decades for Mother to be able to say, “I’m happy,” and mean it.

If I have nothing else, I should still be eternally grateful for that.

There is nothing that affects me as strongly as the sight of long-suffering, kind souls,

lives that have gone through great sadness and changed for the better at last.

Anyway, I smiled back. “Thank you for existing,” I said sincerely.

“Trying to make you happy, makes me happy.”

Then, ducking my head a little shyly, I sniffed at the flowers.

sniffing flowers

There wasn’t much else that needed to be said.

My Pew by Franz Wright

Ever since I remember, I’ve grown up on the threshold of the church.

With a pastor as my father, I ran down the honey-redolent, wood-paneled corridors

Of decade-old churches. I learned to walk in rooms

Where cripples had been healed.

Of course, I’ve had my moments of doubt.

Of splintering uncertainty.

There was the dark, confused period of cold resentment.

The period when I questioned why we had to spend our lives saving others,

When we couldn’t even hold our own family together.

There was the wavering period of doubt.

The period when I questioned everything I came across,

From the Trinity, to the creation of the world, to the meaning of life,

To the authenticity of the Bible, to whether my faith was real or a mere product of my upbringing.

Finally there was the period in which I struggled -

not with the question of God’s reality or nature,

but with mine.

High school unearthed the roots of bitter wounds inside me,

and unable to find remedy for the injury, I spent day after day

and night after night

meticulously crafting and fashioning the idols I could lean on:

idols that came in the shape of friends and loves

that could never return my affection in full.

And so I hungered and thirsted.

In the end, although I’ve never let go of God completely,

I’ve come to understand much more that He isn’t just a philosophy to admire,

or a religion to chant,

or a vending machine,

or a supernatural force.

He’s that rarest of treasures – a friend,

One who sits quietly by my side and listens attentively to my thoughts,

from trivial, shallow wishes for pretty clothes and more self-esteem

to deep longing for deliverance from despair.

I feel so thankful for that.

I learned: it’s okay to question. It’s okay to cry, to be angry, to wander and get lost.

The important thing is to keep coming back.

Thank you, God, for holding Your arms out for me every time I do.

———————————–

My Pew

Franz Wright

I love this
window
way in the back
in early gentian morning
down which light’s long
labyrinthine whispers
reach my ear, I
would like to describe it to someone,
to myself, my blind companion—
                 Why did I turn to this
                 forsakenness again?
Are You
just a word?

Are we beheld, or am I all alone? And

as that little girl on the psych ward
recently asked her father,
When I am very old

can I come back
home, and
will you be there?

the pieces that make up happiness – 2.

2. I’ll wait for you

Having people who love me despite my faults,

Despite childish tears, eating too much,

Uncomfortable honesty, blushing, middle fingers,

Punchlines gone wrong, uncombed hair,

Tantrums, tongue-slips, quick despair,

Despite everything and worse,

Being able to look me in the eye and say,

I’ll wait for you. Don’t worry.

And even, You’re special.

Not just with lips, but with kind eyes

Refulgent with hearth-warmth and heart-glow;

And hands that wrap blankets around me

And feet that get up to fetch me the things I need

Before I knew I needed them:

Joy. Confidence. Unfading peace.

the pieces that make up happiness – 1.

1. watching crumpled tissues fall / like petals in the spring

First, I hugged her hard, in silence.

Then I sat next to her, listening, listening, her hands folded in mine,

Drinking in her sorrows slowly like a kettle being filled,

Emitting fee—fee—fee

The quiet, soothing noise

Of blowing off steam.

Finally, I whispered a joke into her ear—

Self-derogatory cynicism,

Turning sadness from a bullet wound

To a pellet of tightly-packed humor.

Finally, she stopped crying, looked up, and laughed: softly.

And I swept her tearstained tissues

Out with the trash.

Rekindling

The gnawing bitterness of Korean cold was harsher than what Esther had remembered. The wind whipped raw around her stockinged legs, swirled sleet and snowdrift into her skirts. By the time she reached the hotel, the roads had all been blocked by snow. Cars stood honking on the driveway, blaring impatience and frustration in sonorous, rubbery notes. Esther shivered with irritation, muttered, “Even cars can argue with each other these days,” and clattered up the cold stone steps of the hotel.

The lobby was gilded in fake marble and glittered with gaudy Christmas lights. It was heated to stuffiness inside, and the snow piled high on every windowpane. A stocky, middle-aged man with a glistening bald head stared out into the chaotic street, hands folded neatly behind him. When he heard the click of heels on the floor, he whirled around and rubbed his fat hands together. He reeked of sweat. Esther felt unpleasantly discomfited by the large drops of sweat rolling down his forehead. “And your room is, ma’am…?”

“Room 413. My sister is waiting for me,” said Esther.

He licked his thumb and flipped through several papers. “Oh, yes. Room 413…your name is Esther Ra?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then…” He gestured towards the elevator with an exaggerated smile, and Esther wasted no more words. She clacked up to the elevator and pressed up. She imagined she saw the lobby manager’s sweat-stained thumbprints on the button and shuddered. She grazed the inside of her hand on her smooth, glossy black skirt.

Eunice had been curled up in her bed, doodling on a huge sketchbook. When she saw Esther, she jumped up and burst out in fresh, unrestrained delight, “Oh, Esther! You’re finally here! I thought you’d never arrive.”

A drop of pure affection from a pure source was such a rare surprise that Esther stood still, startled and touched. It had been three years since she had last seen Eunice, and the slender, pretty, lightning-quick child had little changed. Although now sixteen, Eunice was still Eunice: with her old air of innocent vivacity, naïve observant eyes, and “duck lips” that curled into impulsive expressions of annoyance or delight as instantly as emotions came. Twenty-two-year-old Esther felt a shade of gloom relieved from her heart, and allowed herself a moment of real happiness in a very long time.

“My goodness, you’re just as bright as always, my little thing,” she said, kissing her youngest sister affectionately. “And look at how tall you’ve become—so much taller than me.”

“But you wear heels now. You’ve become so grown up. So it all evens out.” Eunice looked at her sister admiringly: at her glossy dark hair, tightly-fitting blouse, and smooth sheath of a black skirt. “I wish Lydia and Mommy was here to see you.”

At those words, the gloom fell once more upon Esther’s spirits: and very heavily this time. She kicked off her heels and said briefly, “I know.”

“Remember the time we ate pizza here with Mommy? And she stood in her beautiful white bathrobe in front of the mirror, combing her hair…”

“Eunice.”

“Okay, okay. Sorry.”

Esther tried to smile. “No. It’s just…I miss them. So much it hurts to talk about it.”

Esther unknotted her hair and let it fall gently down her shoulders. Unfastening her blouse, she nestled underneath the cold bed-sheets, shivering and trying to fill it with body heat. Eunice stood in front of the window, drawing smiley faces and wrinkled pugs in the splintered, opaque mist. Then she gasped.

“Look, Esther. There’s an adorable puppy in the snow! It’s going to freeze,” cried Eunice.

“Oh, it’ll survive,” said Esther, taking out the Norton Anthology of English Literature and flipping to the middle of Beowulf. “It’s probably warmer than we are. Where’s the heater?”

Eunice tapped her little foot impatiently for a few minutes, then looked around with her half-timidly-pleading, half-bold look and said, “Let’s take him in. He looks lost.”

“What? No,” said Esther decisively. “It could have all sorts of diseases.”

“You’re acting like Daddy used to.”

“Eunice. It could really bite you. Don’t.”

“Can’t you help me? Or this poor innocent puppy? You used to love puppies, too.”

“Well, I still do.” A defensive note crept into Esther’s voice. “But this one could be carrying a swarm of fleas for all we know. And it’s not any of our business.”

“So you’re just going to let a poor puppy freeze to death?” Eunice began to get angry. “Come on, Esther! It’ll barely take a minute.”

“A minute in which this bed is going to grow as freezing cold as the Arctic wastelands again, my hands get muddy, and fleas jump into my hair? No. Look, Eunice, I’m really tired today. And we won’t even be able to keep him, we have to board the airplane back to America tomorrow…so can we please just let this go?”

“Fine.” Eunice whirled around. “Stay in bed and read your stupid book. I’ll go help him.”

“Eunice…”

“What’s the use of trying to be a famous writer that helps people if you can’t even help one poor doggy?” Eunice stamped the ground with her boot. “See ya in a minute.” She closed the door with a boom.

She walked into the lobby and bowed to the oily-faced man. He bowed back, droplets of sweat flying across the counter. Eunice paused for a moment and said, “Isn’t it too hot in this lobby, sir?”

“Yes, I know,” he said, tugging at his collar, “but the customers need to feel the immediate difference between this damn cold outside and our hotel’s fine services within.”

“Well, at least take off your jacket,” said Eunice, kindly. “Did you know there’s a dog outside?”

“A dog? Mung-mung? Oh dear. Maybe one of our guests’ pets got lost.”

“The doggy looked cold. May I take him to our room for a while?”

“Oh. Mung-mung, in your room? Quite difficult. But, ah…” He rubbed his forehead. “Very well. Our hotel policy does allow pets, actually. But if he starts barking, out he goes.”

Eunice thanked him and went out. It was snowing fast and furious. The streets were jammed with cars now, all honking angrily to rush from nowhere homes to nowhere jobs, trying to piece together paper dreams. The doggy must be on the left. Eunice dashed through the snow, ignoring the cold seeping through her coat furs, and saw—there. The doggy, shivering, bedraggled, and wet. But not as dirty as she had feared.

“Poor thing,” she cooed. “Poor little thing. Don’t worry, we’ll get you warmed up right away.”

She approached it cautiously, hands open, and the doggy crouched. Perhaps he was too stupefied to bark or be alarmed. Or perhaps he was used to humans. In any case, he lapped feebly at her hand as she stroked it through his choppy, frozen fur.

“Come with Mamma,” she said, scooping him up. He licked her again, and almost nestled into her arms. “Let’s go. Esther will throw a fit, but I can’t leave you to freeze to death, poor thing.”

She went back along the parking lot, the snow crunching high, clear notes beneath her boots. As she passed through the lobby, the man looked nervously at her. She bowed deeply to him and boarded the elevator to her room. Then she stopped. Esther was standing on the floor, a huge metal basin full of warm soap-water ready.

“So that’s the doggy,” said Esther, smiling faintly.

“I thought you were mad,” squeaked Eunice.

“No. Of course not. I was just tired and sad, and that made me selfish. But I’ve repented now.” Esther smirked. “Look, he has a collar: he’s not a stray. Take him to the bathroom. Let’s clean this baby up.”

Eunice dunked the dog into the warm water. It yapped quietly and splashed, dark droplets splattering on Esther’s blouse. She didn’t seem to care. “Hold him still,” she said, and crouching down, scrubbed him up and down with plentiful water. She slapped on another layer of soap. “Whew! It’s hard to clean him round the eyes.”

“Here! I’ll help,” said Eunice, jumping forward. She slipped on the bar of soap and went tumbling down with a loud crash. Esther gasped and leaped to help her, overturning the basin. Water poured out everywhere, and the dog scrambled for the door, nails scratching on the bathroom tiles. “Quick!” Esther gasped. “Close the door before he messes up our bedroom.” Eunice dashed for the door and slammed it shut just before the dog leaped over its threshold. Yowling, it fell to the floor, pawing and scratching furiously. Esther ran up with a fresh basin of water and threw it over the dog, drenching him and Eunice both.

“I’m sopping wet!” Eunice yelled, and grabbing the shower head, turned it on Esther, full blast.

“You little…” began Esther indignantly, then burst into sudden, childlike, irrepressible laughter. Her pale face, which had grown thin and drawn, resumed the apple-pink color of her former years. For a moment she looked very pretty and very happy. “I feel like it’s summer again,” she said brightly, eyes glowing, “and we’re on a California beach splashing spindrift and golden sand on each other.”

“You have a real imagination on you,” Eunice scoffed affectionately. “Always did.”

“Oh, Eunice. It’s not imagination. Can you smell the salt in the air? Can you hear the seagulls?”

Eunice stood still, holding the dog, and listened.

She couldn’t hear any seagulls, but she could hear knocking. The sisters looked at each other, dismayed. The dog began to yap again.

Eunice grabbed a towel and scrubbed it frantically over the dog’s fur while Esther opened the bathroom door, threw on a dry T-shirt and then a bathrobe, and opened the door. “Hello,” she said to the oily-faced man, in a much warmer voice than she had first addressed him with. “What brings you here to our lowly room? The shouting and stamping of our winter ceremonial washing rites?”

“What?” He hemmed, reddened, and looked embarrassed. He pointed at her bathrobe. “Were you in the middle of…a shower, eh?”

“Yes! Care to join?” Esther flung open the bathrobe with a mischievous flourish, and he leaped back in alarm, only to see a dry T-shirt and a drenched skirt. “I’m sorry. I was joking.” Esther laughed freely. “We were just washing the dog Eunice found. Were we too noisy?”

“No, no. It’s just, eh, I brought our guest from Room 510! He said he had lost his puppy the day before, and when I told him about the mung-mung-i we thought it might be a match. Could he take a look at the pup?”

“Oh. Of course.” Esther stepped aside, and a portly lady with a mop of tight brown curls bustled in.

“Yes! This is my puppy,” she crooned, snatching the puppy from Eunice. “Thank you so much, child. Thank you. Thank you. Now he is very clean. I was worried about this dirty mutt.”

Eunice frowned. “You should take good care of him. Not let him wander out in this awful weather.”

“I know!” the woman wailed. “I just lost track of things and he got away. I’m so irresponsible. Now, I really do want to thank you dear little things. Mayn’t I buy you dinner, or something?”

“I’m sorry. That would be lovely, but actually, I have a flight to America tomorrow, and we’ll be quite busy tonight,” apologized Esther.

“Then at least let me order a pizza for you. My gift.” She laid a hand on her bosom. Esther smiled and turned to Eunice, who nodded furiously.

“Okay. Thank you so much.”

The woman nodded and swept out the door. The lobby manager sweated and hurried after her, mumbling about how the hotel policy should really change to no pets at all.

In half an hour a box of hot cheese pizza and Coke came to their door. Esther had finished a hot shower by then, and curled up in a bathrobe, she had finished Beowulf in good spirits. Eunice sat on the floor, typing in a story on her laptop as she listened to music.

“This is the life,” said Eunice, munching on the pizza.

“I’ll say,” said Esther, swallowing her slice and getting up to the mirror to fasten a pin in her hair. As she stood in the flickering lights reflected in the glass, her hands touching her dark hair, Eunice was suddenly struck by her resemblance to Mother, four years ago, in this very hotel room. Just the same way of standing, the same air, the same bathrobe. Eunice felt very affectionate all of a sudden and hugged her sister from behind.

“Oh, darling,” said Esther, patting her cheek. She understood somehow, although Eunice had not said a word.

“May I take a slice of pizza to the lobby manager?” Eunice asked.

Esther wrinkled her nose. “Why? He’ll sweat all over it.”

“He was sure sweating when you threw open that bathrobe, you horrible, unpredictable thing.” Eunice giggled. Esther giggled too, and waved her hand.

“All right, all right. Give him a slice. Give him two slices. It’s always good to be kinder than necessary.”

Eunice wrapped up two slices of hot cheese pizza carefully and placed them on a paper plate. When she reached the lobby, the manager put down his phone and looked attentively at her. “May I help you?”

“Oh. I just wanted to see if you’d like to share our pizza,” said Eunice shyly, pushing the paper plate towards him.

“Ah! That is very kind of you, child,” he said, looking greatly surprised. Then he smiled and pointed at the heater. “I have taken your advice and lowered the temperature. And it does make me feel a lot better.”

Eunice returned to her room, which Esther had already cleaned. She snuggled in next to her sister as Esther read from her poetry book to her:

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.”

By the time she had finished the poem, Eunice was fast asleep on her shoulder, breathing softly in and out, stirring the blankets gently. Esther tucked the blankets in around her small sharp chin and kissed her.

“Good night, Eunice,” she said quietly. “Good night, and merry Christmas.”

ten small sparkles of esther

1. Maybe it began in sixth grade, when I first read The Brothers Karamazov. My sister disagrees, saying I had wanted to become a writer since I was three. My mother remembers how she read the Bible aloud to me while pregnant, believing I would subconsciously remember its metaphors and morals, its lama sabacthani and “let there be light”. So in a way, perhaps it was written in ink, on the vellum of time. Perhaps it began before I was born.

2. And so I fell in love with literature. The secret of falling in love, like the last flume ride of summer, is the swoop of the stomach. The conviction, if only for a moment, that you, too, can fly.

3. What does it mean, to be in love with books? To be a bibliophile means volunteering at the library simply to feel the solid weight of unspoken stories in your arms. To yearn to borrow or buy them all. To liberate them, consume them, to be colored by them, then color the world. To breathe in their unforgettable fragrance.

4. A study in 2009 once described the smell of books as “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.” Individually, though, Penguin Classics’ Austen has the sharp tang of lemons and honey; Oxford’s Burney, of fresh, snow-white cream; Bantam’s Dostoevsky, of newspaper stands, vodka, and midnight.

5. I want my books to smell of wild grown grass still wet with rain. Where Dahl dreamed up dream catchers, I yearn to capture my cries in the scent of decomposing lignin.

6. To love literature means more than to be a bibliophile, however. It means to love life, to its fullest, to create and recreate it. Although one poet sagely remarked, “Words can kill, so aim well” (and indeed, consider Stubbs, whose hand was chopped for a pamphlet, or Montfleury, who died of the “Andromache”), words can also resurrect. I remember that day very clearly: it was my twelfth birthday, and Mother had asked me to forgive her if she died. In reply, I wrote her a poem. Her hot tears pearled on my hands as I read it to her, my lips forming the syllables as carefully as she had when pregnant with me. When she hugged me afterward, I felt her love seep between us like sunlight. Her heart pulsed against mine, loud with hope for life.

7. Another shard of hope: my little sister’s weary eyes blooming like mint flowers when I folded a card into her lunchbox, every day, for a month. I tried to make up for lack of paper money with painstaking prose.

8. When I, too, spiraled through sadness, I held onto literature for dear life, spitting raw chunks of soul into short stories. On one particularly desperate day, I found comfort in three small things. A) Heart/break is a spondee; B) “Spoonfeed” is the longest English word with its letters in reverse alphabetical order; and C) “Taco cat” spelled backwards is still “taco cat.”

9. For French poets Baudelaire and Mallarmé, the best book is always closed: mysteries are better than reality. But for me, it is important that books should be opened. Through words, or actions—we must make a difference. Like oxygen, we must perpetually blue the sky.

10. Love, like water, always shape-shifts so that no one can step in the same river twice. Through the last eighteen years, my love for literature has fermented within my intellectual boundaries, but now, my future compels. It beckons: “Come!”—come, that is, in search of new seams to burst. In the quest to become a new wine-vat where words can shimmer like draughts of dew. In the adventure to seek my patch of wet grass and poetry, to seek a future where I can fulfill my first love for literature.

Sunday Evening

Sunday evening,

when all the church members have threaded out of church,

my mother pulls off her high heels and collapses into her chair with a sigh.

“Finally,” she murmurs;

this transient hiatus from ten p.m. to Monday morning

is the only breath of relaxation she has in the week.

I massage her ankles, comb her lovely midnight-black hair

and feel my heart sink at the thin streams of silver interspersed between the darkness like the tails of comets.

I hadn’t remembered her to have so many white hairs before I left for school.

Silently I twisted my finger around one and plucked it out,

spread its shining length upon her palm and went back to combing.

We had just finished dinner, munching limp kimchi and soggy kimbap,

exchanging jokes over cold pizza left crumpled in greasy boxes –

everything gleaned from the leftovers of today’s church feast,

which Mother and Father paid for with their own money

but barely had a bite from.

They were so busy – so busy!

Mother jiggling the church babies in her arms as she clacked back and forth

in worn shoes that pinched her toes,

Father shuffling sermon notes and having theological discussions with curious newcomers,

and I watched them sadly as I swallowed my pizza,

cleared the dishes, asked church members – Is there anything I can help you with? –

and scrubbed the tables afterwards.

We are children of God.

We linger over the rice grains left in empty bowls and listen for the crow of the rooster

that signifies the coming of dawn with yearning.

But there is more than leftover pizza or tired feet we gain;

there are years of wisdom lining Mother’s beautiful eyes,

creases of experience running down Father’s forehead.

I kiss Mother goodnight as I comb her long hair as she undresses,

preparing herself to begin her journey anew tomorrow.

A journey of empty rice bowls but heaven’s possessions,

tired feet but quietly smiling lips,

a journey of no return,

no footprints,

no end.

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