Header image  
    Table of Contents
Helen Cho


She cut out her tongue for me,
left it in her other mouth.

“Is okey, doe,” she says.
A new one grew in its place.

She takes the old one out
late at night for slow folk songs,
and to argue with Dad.

When my best friend told
the whole third grade that my Mom
talks funny, I wanted to slap
the freckles right off her face.

Mom didn’t care. Just showed off
her new American laugh.
“Back home, we are not listening
to peoples who talk out both sides

of their mouse.”Helen Cho



Just Visiting

What I remember about Korea,
after the outhouses, was Gilligan
speaking Korean on tv and all that bowing
we did for our elders before they’d hand over
the cash. Meeting new relatives must be the same
in every language, cheekpinchers with funny breath.

That summer, with our American hairstyles
and tongues, we finally went back home,
found it full of longing for cornflakes,
cold milk and a mattress. We were popular
with the neighbor girls while the boys yelled at us
from the street. We could shrug them off easier
than the boys at home whose sticks and stones
broke our bones in English.

Korea was the land of many uncles.
First Uncle liked to practice with us.
By the end of August, he felt his
Engrish was increasing. Second Uncle
played hide and go seek in the coalbin,
made a crackerjack Elvis, Korean-style.
Rob me tender. Rob me true. Nevah lemme go.
Third Uncle took us past sewery streets,
to the candy cart man who spun us burnt sugar
rabbits and ducks for a few won. Fourth Uncle
would slip us into cool, dark teahouses downtown
when he needed an excuse to meet girls.
Korea was like that. Simmering
with impulse and cover.

Mom said Dad had to visit the countryside alone,
so we got to rent stacks of Superman and Archie
comic books. Korea was like that, too. A headless chicken
zigzagging the courtyard. Mountains studded with monks,
secret pools and the promise of tigers. Korea was watching
the men eat first, Grandma pouring barley tea, Grandpa chewing.
And Hooney, the servant girl, sweeping the heated floor.