To Speak England in Different Languages
엄마 없는 집에/Home Without Mom

엄마 없는 집에/Home Without Mom

Written in Korean and English by S J Kim


엄마 없는 집에
엄마소리가 난다
개단위에 숨을멈춘
난 눈을감고
더 자고싶다
다시 일어나면
또 이소리가 들리겠지

잠옷차림에 설거지하는
아빠 맨손엔

뿌연 밥그릇 하나
진주 처럼 빛난다


(Loudly, brokenly.)

If I die first, how will you take care of your father? Look how he grows thin. He fusses about everything I cook. He eats like a child. Who eats an entire box of HoHos and calls it a light breakfast? But no, he says, rice is too heavy for breakfast. He hardly ate a bite. What is wrong with him? Do you think he does this to me on purpose? Do you think he’s trying to make me miserable? Do you think he’s trying to kill me with my own fury? I am going to die first. Then, what will you do? Look, I told him he could at least do the dishes and just look. How will you care for him with your lack of patience, your penchant for cruelty? You will be miserable like me. You remember I told you so. Look at the way he’s throwing around that rice bowl. Does he know how expensive it is? He knows. He knows. I’ve told him so many times. He doesn’t care. Your father doesn’t care. His head is some kind of rock formation. Igneous. Ignoble. Ignorant idiot. Do you know how many times I had to tell him to do the dishes? Look how he refuses to wear gloves, how rough his hands have grown. How rough his hands have grown, your father’s hands. Have you seen your father’s hands? Look. They could be hooves, his hands. They could be coarse stone, like his stupid head. All these years of dunking his bare hands in abrasive things: dish soap, bleach, ammonia, or worse. You were too young to remember his first job here at a chicken processing plant. You were too young to hear him cry out in his sleep. You never saw him tremble in the dark. He never speaks of it, how, each night, he picked out the dried blood from beneath his fingernails before seeing you, even though you were already asleep by the time he got home. He never speaks of it. Especially not to me. I’ve never understood your father. He never really says what’s inside his stupid stone head. I’m always telling him he’ll be sorry when I’m dead. You’ll be sorry, too. You’ll both be so sorry, then. But sometimes I think of the exact sound your father used to make in the dark, that long broken cry — and I’m sorry, I’m sorry, too.

Published March 26, 2022
© S J Kim 2021


‘엄마 없는 집에’ is the only Korean poem I have ever written. The Korean used is likely broken and outdated, as I left my first homeland in 1994 at the age of seven — but it is my own. The poem was written in 2013 during my doctoral studies in the UK, while visiting my childhood home in America. At the time, I was greatly struggling to write my thesis because I felt so unsure about my claim to literature of the American South. The poem came to me as fully formed as it could be (considering my mutated Korean), in the span of time it took for me to walk from my childhood bedroom to the kitchen of my family home. In the poem, I am home alone with my father, observing him doing dishes at the sink, while my mother is away in Korea visiting her dying sister. The poem makes no direct mention of my mother coping with her sister dying, noting only my mother’s absence. There is some sense that my mother might be dead. My mother and her sister were the closest in age of their siblings and my mother tells me they looked very much alike in their youth with their snow-white, full moon faces. They are present, my mother and her sister (my aunt I hardly remember as she is dying) in the poem’s closing focus on a rice bowl my father holds, gleaming like a pearl. I translated the poem into a monologue from my grieving mother, imagining her voice in English. Through this imagined, other voice of my mother, I found room to speak to things unsaid between me, my mother, and my father. In the monologue, instead of speaking directly of her sister’s death, the character of my mother poses questions around both the possibility and certainty of her own death and how my father and I would survive. The two pieces are extensions of one another, sisters in shared in-between spaces.
– S J Kim

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