Halmoni

Hayun Cho

2011 Runner-Up

“I can’t put my life there in words.”
     —Kim Haksoon, former Korean “comfort woman”

The first man who lifted my skirts
and sighed in my ear
was Japanese and a general
famed to conquer
fifty virgins on the first day.

I dug fingernails into
my palms and pretended to sleep
when they entered to pick
us like fruits
overripe and sadly sweet
from our stalls.

We were not prostitutes
nor mistresses.
Coins eluded our palms,
one lover was too true to
exist.

My classmate with the dimple
never escaped my eyes and
his boyish body mocked my legs
as they met harder
obstacles.

Heart pumping, veins
shooting, I imagined myself
stubborn strong and beautiful.

I clutched hope like one holds a child
red and miscarried.

The day I was released it felt
strange to lie on wet leaves
under the stars
empty and free
to think in the rhythm
of my own breathing.

And when I crawled home
my mother wept to see her
daughter married countless times and
sent me away to walk into
imagined homes
to cradle my arms and become
baptized born
again to struggle against these bones,
hard and unyielding.

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