I must be dreaming of you again because you’re the grace I think of when I wake. Mama I can imagine you expertly doing a thousand actions of kindness with humble boldness only you could be both modest and fierce and playful singing in the kitchen filling the room with joy.
You’re forever smiling while wrapping presents your heart was overfull with sharing and giving saving up treats for us but you rarely enjoyed anything for just yourself. Communal heart you sacrificed the best of what you had for your children.
You even felt guilty for eating a meal alone “What if my children are hungry?” I lived thousands of miles away and you still worried about me, Have you eaten? is a Korean greeting. “It gets dangerous after sunset, make sure you’re home by then.” you were always worrying but I usually laughed at your advice thinking I knew better (what a know-it-all I was and still am) but you were usually right.
In the corner of my eyes you’re quietly folding clothes stirring a savory tofu soup with delicious mystic steam rising. Or you’re training Ruby, (the pugnacious pug) how to trot like a horse! You’re so funny Mama I love the way your unconventional mind works.
A forever memory of you is imprinted in me you’re lighting multicolored sticks of glowing wax sweet sixteen birthday candles in the formal dining room. You made a celebratory feast in honor of my birth. Everyone was gathered singing Happy Birthday to you but I ran away to my room crying because I couldn’t handle so much love and attention after several years of forgetting (five years worth of belated birthdays) made the remembered one, unbearably emotional. No one else understood that, but you did. “What’s wrong with her?!” my brother said, “Judy’s so weird and selfish.” But you brought a slice of cake for me smiled with kindness and hugged me in my room.
I remember sitting in the makeshift seat in the grocery or hardware store shopping cart while you added the elements: ginger, garlic, onions, potatoes or beautiful things to plant: daffodils, cucumbers and corn, pear and lemon trees. You were always so proud to have my company as if I was a celebrity you elevated me as a princess. Your children were your greatest source of pride and joy. I miss those grocery/hardware store adventures. I was your pony-tailed, dimpled treasure you gave me so much love cheesecake, cookies and chocolate milk my own private stash because I had a heart condition you treated me like I was made of rare porcelain. I see you in the flowers and lovely, curious birds Everything you loved, reflects you in return.
I want to hug your warm shoulders and cry Mama, uhm-mah, ohm-mohn-nee, do you know how much I’ve always adored you? Even when angry at you you were the diamond in my heart like a secret compass of joy to me I bet you never knew that. Do the people we love ever know how much we love them? You can stretch out your arms like a child “I love you this much!” = infinity. Do any of us understand how to love while we can before it’s too late and all over?
I love how you’d transport the room with rings of vibrato singing your heart would grace the ceiling with your best of humanity humility your operatic soul was so epic and glorious like sunlight through the trees to me but your fears were wartime wounds that never closed.
A memory stays glazed in my brain of you, me and dad (couch potatoes of the 80’s) watching the corny, silly country tv show the “Dukes of Hazzard” when I was a pre-teen we’d watch cheesy tv together. I loved seeing father in a moment of comedic hilarity shouting, “Stupin’ Police!” at the screen with his beautiful Korean accent over the stupid sheriff’s bumbling idiocy. Father retained so much innocence despite the violence and neglect that he inherited from his good-intentioned parents who were stretched to the edge of wartime poverty.
No one is born an abuser my father was brutalized too. I imagine everything he did to us was done to him even worse. I blame Japan’s colonialism over Korea it’s an unacknowledged root cause of reactive, learned, regurgitated violence. Suffering often breeds new, reluctant tyrants.
Father I forgave you long ago. It’s because I’m a fucking writer that I can’t forget forged with photographic memory and over-sensitivity. I write because I’m compelled to speak my truth and express my life in verse. I have to understand the ancient curse solve it like a three-dimensional puzzle pull out the threads like thorns. It’s not because I don’t love you. Ap-pa, (father) you’re worthy of my love and you’ve always had it.
Ohm-mah, (mother) we have the same wide open laugh the same way of squeezing our eyes triple tight, while laughing we could be twins. I’m proud of the lovely face you gave me. Each glance in the mirror is a reminder of you and your powerhouse mother. I inherited a fierce lineage of passionate, super heroic Korean women and men who voluntarily suffered for love of their children. I’m grateful to come from such excellent goodness. Mother, Father, Ancestors and God, the ultimate creative Source and Cause of Love, thank you for my life.