This poem, “Korean School (Multiverse #1, #,2, #3) from An abridged medical history of family & multiverse of selves, is the recipient of the 2020 Jane Kenyon Chapbook Prize for Undergraduate Students at the University of Michigan. A conversation with Monica Kim, Daniel Neff, and Carlina Duan can be found here.
Korean School, Multiverse #1
A year after finishing ESL I scratch pencil against paper, writing in my mother tongue. The workbooks filled with lines, their middles dotted // At lunch in the cafeteria they give us kimbop wrapped in aluminum foil and I hold my chopsticks diagonally, the wooden sticks intersecting as a crisscross like the little statue of Jesus on the cross in our living room at home. It’s the wrong way to hold them, so maybe that’s why the boy laughs at me, maybe that’s why the kimbop falls from my open mouth and I drool, the boy’s mouth an O like the kimbop on my paper plate. // I tell my parents I don’t want to go to Korean school anymore, I want to play soccer on Saturdays instead, and they say— (1) okay. The last time I am ever on that green turf is the day the ball is kicked into my face—should I have stayed?—then my stomach. I should have.
(1) korean school, multiverse #2
no. my parents tell me i should keep going to korean school so i do. when they give us kimbop for lunch again, i sit as far away as possible from the boy who laughed at me. i stare out the window, imagining myself on that green turf, kicking the ball shaped like an O. but i’m here, writing my letters on lines that have their middles dotted blue, until
i’m no longer at a desk learning the difference betweenㅐand ㅔ because (2) we’ve moved to a place where we know only three other koreans (or do they call themselves korean americans? american koreans? korean-americans?). the nearest hagwon is forty-five minutes away; so ends my two-year stint at korean school.
(2) Korean School, Multiverse #3
I’m heading to College, Thousands of Miles Away in The Midwest. They don’t have Korean School there but I will pass the Language Placement Exam anyways. But Before, I visit my Mother’s Side of the Family in The Motherland. I can read traffic signs in Korean and English – Though at Museums my Uncle still hands me a Brochure in English.
When we go to Gyeongju we eat Kimbop, but not the kind That’s shaped like an O – more like an Oval. My Cousin laughs At how I hold my Chopsticks diagonally, the Crisscross like The one on my Grandfather’s grave. My Cousins refer to me As their “American Cousin” – even with nine years of Korean School Under my belt, they hear the American in me.