dear franny choi 
Esther Kim

Honorable Mention, International Young Writers Prize, Poetry

in the first grade i remember hanging my head low

when my umma introduced herself

 

as yoojin. i remember feeling so grateful

that my name was not korean, for i had shed

 

that name in skins. i’d already known that i shouldn’t

bring bibimbap for lunch, that it would smell bad

 

and look as if my kitchen unpeeled itself. reading

“Choi Jeong Min” was sinking into my past.

 

i grazed on it and let it fill my bedroom, seeing

how i could find myself in your words, how

 

my childhood seeped through the page. i knew

this “paper thin & raceless” you wrote. in there,

 

i see my pigtails and bangs as if i were a doll

of sorts. i never liked dolls, but i played with one

 

in my halmoni’s apartment in seoul. it was

a russian stacking doll, one you’d crack open

 

to find another to find another. i think there were five

in the one i used, and i always felt like the smallest—

 

the last. my american had hidden the korean,

and maybe one day, my korean would

 

disappear. i wished it would. i wished

halmoni didn’t speak korean every day and let me be.

 

i, too, wished i didn’t have “garlic breath” after i ate

her soondubu jjigae. i wished i wasn’t so far away.

 

but now, when i think of college, i wonder what i’ll eat

if not korean food, if not soondubu jjigae

 

by umma’s side. she tells me she won’t miss me,

but then she laughs and feeds me more. in english class,

 

we’re discussing immigration as one aspect of american

literature, yet i do not believe america

 

is as much a home as some think. my parents’ home

is still oceans away. they tell me they hope

 

to go back there, and i wonder why

they came here in the first place. if they go, i will

 

follow. i’ll get lost in their streets and maybe find

my way to the yogurt lady who used to come

 

by the house, her face as banana milk as mine. then,

i wouldn’t forget. when they’d ask me my name,

 

i’d tell them i’m yoonjin, spun from “minor chord”

and “gook name.” and like you, i confess. only years later

 

did i know that halmoni had cancer, that god may give

and god may take. in two years, i hope to go back

 

to her and step inside her apartment, for i know

it’ll seem like home. by then, i may know how to cook jjigae.

 

i’ll welcome others there too with my broken

konglish slipping out of my mouth. i forget

 

when i left my mother tongue, but i think it’s still

there in the stacking doll, folded within the layers of foreign

 

that seemed so smooth. maybe then, i’ll feel

its doll casings like the palms of halmoni,

 

only rougher than the year before. halmoni’s hair spills

out slowly, and she bends to the floor as she steps. i hope

 

she stays long enough for me to say thank you

and hold her hand. then, i will unravel

 

the stacking doll and press a star into halmoni’s hand

so that someday, i may find her. i haven’t

 

seen “the star” yet, but i will if this “factory yard”

lets me go. then, i’ll follow it back.

Esther Kim is a Korean-American writer from Potomac, Maryland. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in SOFTBLOW, Lunch Ticket, & Half Mystic, among others. In the summer of 2019, she participated in the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. A high school junior, she has been recognized by the Library of Congress, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards as a National Gold Medalist, The Atlantic, & the Poetry Society of the UK.