Memoir Poem: Thank you for my life

Choi-Kang (Pixabay.com)
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.

26 Comments

  1. Ah, Judy, beautiful and poignant beyond words. I relate to so much of what you so eloquently share. How we wish for their comfort in times likes these…and how we regret not appreciating them as much as we should/could because it seemed there was so much time but… I saw a recent photo of myself this week and thought, “OMG, it looks just like a photo I have of my Mom.” There will always be some of them in us, besides what we carry in heart and memory but how we wish they were here to laugh with and hug today… Warmest wishes dear friend — 🙂

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    1. Thank you, WG for your thoughtful comment. Retrospect brought me the wisdom I wish I had decades ago. It’s beautiful how children can resemble their parents, I agree that they will always be part of us, our formative years were shared with them. I keep getting reminders of my mom and it feels like a energetic hug. Yes I wish I could laugh with my mom again too.

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  2. A lovely, beautiful and heartfelt poetic memoir of your childhood, Judy. ❤

    The memories, the emotions, the thoughts and the feelings are all expressed so vividly here.

    You’ve painted in words your childhood past and what it was that made you YOU.

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    1. Thank you, Sylvester for appreciating the poem. I’m glad to share an uplifting poem (not just political rants :)) with supportive friends like you💖🤗❣️

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      1. You’re very welcome, Judy. Always appreciative of your writings (and political rants too 😄) 💯 support always, my friend ❣️🤗💖

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    1. Thank you, Marlapaige💖, I love that you connected with my poem, it’s the greatest compliment to be seen and understood. I cry too when I read certain poetry too, your heart is beautiful! 💖🥰🌸

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  3. A pure, honest, and authentic look into the depth of a Korean mother’s heart and love for her daughter. Like many Korean mothers, she did not raise you for the mundane. I would guess she is content that you have remembered her fondly and become a voice for truth and reckoning in our world of cross-purpose and conflicting views.

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      1. I always feel the presence of those who have gone on. Their love and memory remains strong. As an aside, we are renovating our home and we got new toilets so when my daughter dropped by to see us, she started to the bathroom and Tiger Mom told her to lift both lids and sit on the bowl. My daughter asked why and Tiger Mom told her the toilet was new and she didn’t want to get it dirty. So that started a melt down and another funny memory to share at dinner time. In our multi cultural home, the fonder memories aren’t available to the masses and that makes them more dear.

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      2. Hi Dan, thank you for your comment, sorry I didn’t see it until now. I know my mom is pain free now but I miss her and regret not spending more time with her. Your wife sounds intense! So what is the toilet seat for if it’s not supposed to be used? 😄

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