Back to Issue Forty-One

(foreigner; perpetual)


I was living as a single tree in a forest of single trees.

Sweet, my delusion.

No ignorance and no end to ignorance, warns the Heart Sutra.

What it doesn’t tell us is that, sometimes, we glimpse the end of our ignorance.

How then?

Spring again. As the hate crimes spike and the dogwood blossoms tumble like pale pink coins
throughout the city, I watch my ignorance quiver, quake.

Shatter, my pretty ignorance.

In my family we called white people miguk sahram. Korean for “American people.” We weren’t American.

Noses flatter, bodies slighter, vaguely foreign-smelling, we.

But I am American, I tell my mother. Through the bathroom door I hear her laugh—I’m in the
hallway, barefoot, three. You are Korean, she tells me simply.

To be invisible is not to recognize your race.

I tell my father I want to be a writer, a reporter. He fires back, how about a doctor? Lawyer?
Some blond will beat you for the scoop. Is that what you want?

He said this in Korean: I am translating. I am always translating.

Justice, if it existed in my mind back then, was the evanescent plume of an evanescent train.

American. The word smelled like steak to me. Like Coppertone and Barbie dolls and neverending
carpet. How could I help but love it?

We had only just arrived, you see. The house was still beautiful.

A 54-year-old woman of Asian descent. . .

A 41-year-old woman of Asian descent. . .

Were the victims singled out because they were of Asian descent?

Quaint, almost archival, “of Asian descent.” Think genre, author, book.

The new taxonomy beguiles me, riles me.

Victims riding the subway. Waiting for the bus. Walking to church. (ordinary people; unpredictable)

Victim setting out trash one night in front of her Brooklyn apartment. (domestic; intimate; invasion)

Victim taking her child to an anti-racism rally. No joke, an anti-racism rally. Victim on his way to
visit another victim. (deep irony)

Victim, elderly, with one black eye, who grabbed a plank and hit her aggressor back. (self-defense;

Victim, deceased, whose son told reporters he’ll explore all legal options. (retribution)

When the newspapers break the story of the Atlanta shootings, they refer to the six women,
over and over, as being “of Asian descent.” Not American, Asian American, any kind of
American. (foreigner; perpetual)

Asian. Asian American. Asian-American?

Asian American and Pacific Islander?

They’ve had a difficult year, those Asians. I never noticed they were that different, really, I just thought they were such nice, respectful people.

Some of the hardest working people that I know.

It was 1981. Home, for the year, was Browns Mills, New Jersey.

Shigol, said my parents, as we drove past miles of rust-colored fields pocked by the occasional silo. Country.

Vincent Chin was still alive. Detroit was crumbling. I was starting the second grade.

In the mornings my sister and I walked from our ugly apartment to our ugly schools. We were
the only Orientals.

At night the sky was utterly black. Country of fields but no crops.

My father brought home a red bike with a white flowered basket. My mother, from a distance,
watched as my sister teetered up and down the sidewalk.

When she didn’t know the words in English, she would laugh politely, hiding her mouth with
the back of her hand.

Ninety miles north, my future in-laws read the New York Times. Traded stocks.

We bought a G.E. toaster oven. My sister practiced her rental flute. At recess I drew sparkly
rainbows and bunnies grinning ear-to-ear, like the other girls.

Christmas came. The Sunday School teacher gave out parts for the children’s pageant. A
missionary theme; we each held a candle. My line?

I am a little girl from India, seven years old.

It was 1981.

My part felt wrong to me, but I couldn’t have explained to you why. Microaggression, internalized
racism—simply words. And they hadn’t been invented yet.

My cheeks still burning, I blew out my candle as fast as I could.

A man is walking down W. 43rd Street, midtown Manhattan. 11:40 a.m.
A woman is walking toward him on her way to church.

If the woman walks 3 mph and the man walks 4, at what time will the two intersect?

But no, this is no word problem. See the man’s leg
snapping forward now—
swift, a front kick, hay-ah!

hurtling backwards, woman. Comic, as in Tom launching Jerry like a rocket
comic, as in not actually funny.

He is Black, broad-shouldered, in his prime.
She’s Filipina, tiny, 65.

And yes, there’s an audience.

Two doormen, one delivery man, in the apartment lobby. A “luxury” apartment. Meaning glass
doors spitshined, open to the street. Monday morning, Holy Week.

And you and me and a million others. Video watching, we.

Now she’s on her back, now he’s closing in, stomping
her belly with one foot, one hand still clutching
a white plastic bag—drugstore? takeout?—not at all hurried, no, he’s nonchalant,

pivoting, calmly switching out his feet
as he stomps her (repeatedly) in the (blurred-out, distant)

Anger, clearly, in the words he yelled—you don’t belong here. But in his movements, the only quality we might discern is detachment. Man on smoke break stamping out his ash.

And where, you might ask, is that audience?

Invisible. Then, in the lobby, in the foreground, count them: one, two, three.

In repoussoir—from French for “pushing back”—
the painter frames the foreground with an ornamental tree, a red velvet curtain,
even a person with his back to us, so as to force the gaze deeper into the painting.

Two doormen, one delivery man, forcing us to gaze into the painting.

Man Kicking the Shit Out of Woman
Landscape with Lady Crumpled on Sidewalk

Three men—we see just their backs, their craggy silhouettes—like cliffs on a beach after the sun
goes down, when all the warmth creeps away from the rocks.

One moves slowly now, decorously, toward the lobby door.
Firmly pulls it closed.

Street Scene in Hell’s Kitchen, 31 March 2021

Recognition of the self, of others—Aristotle wrote—is a passage “from ignorance to

The word in Greek is anagnorisis.

It sounds like a disease, a terrible inflammation of the heart.

I am reading about anagnorisis to quench the flames of my heart.

Recognition is most beautiful, Aristotle notes, when it sets in motion a reversal. You were
Oedipus the King. Now you are a patricide, a motherfucker.

I used to believe no one would kick, punch, stab, stomp, choke, burn, or otherwise wreak
unprovoked violence on a defenseless stranger simply because they looked like me.

This morning I stare blankly out the window.

The falling dogwood blossoms look like petty hail, like unseasonable snow.

They are a lesson in control: as in, we have none.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, hate crimes against AAPI individuals in the U.S. reported from 2020 to April 2021 totaled 6,603. “Asian Americans Reported Being Targeted At Least 2,400 Times This Year,” CNN, May 6, 2021.

“A 54-year-old woman of Asian descent,” “A 41-year-old woman of Asian descent”: Quotes come from The New York Times in Spring 2021 in an article recently edited and expanded in “Swelling of Anti-Asian Violence: Who is Being Attacked Where.

Vincent Chin was murdered in 1982 in Detroit by father and son, Ronald Ebers and Michael Nitz, who believed he was Japanese and, as autoworkers, resented rising Japanese dominance in the industry.

“A man is walking down W. 43rd St…”: The surveillance videos referenced in this section captured the horrific hate crime beating of Vilma Kari on March 31, 2021.

References to Aristotle’s Poetics come from my reading of Piero Boitani’s Anagnorisis: Scenes of Recognition and Revelation in Western Literature (Brill Rodopi, 2021).



(sanguhpul / double-creased eyelid)


Like dimples or diabetes, the sanguhpul gene passes unevenly through families.

My older sister got it. Her eyes were big and beautiful, like my father’s and my grandmother’s.
I didn’t. Mine were small and mediocre.

Jenny had it, Vicky hadn’t.

We liked to play this game throughout our childhood: Guess whose sanguhpul is real?

Connie Chung, for sure, had her eyes done, not to mention Pearl Cream lady.

Eunice went to bed for months with Scotch tape on her lids. One day they creased on their own.
A sanguhpul miracle!

Slant-eyes. Slit-eyes. Chink.

While chanting this, the most theatrical kids at school would slit their eyes by tugging the corners
with their fingers.

I’m still working on a comeback.

I begged my parents until they let me, Vicky told us sheepishly the first time we saw her postblepharoplasty. I couldn’t stand what I saw in the mirror.

Eyes huge and puffy, little Vicky glowed with joy. I could barely recognize her. Maybe that was
the point.

And yes, I did consider getting it myself. We all did.


Annie Kim is the author of Eros, Unbroken (2020), winner of the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry and Washington Prize, and Into the Cyclorama (2016), recipient of the Michael Waters Poetry Prize. A poet, educator, and former attorney, Kim works at the University of Virginia School of Law as Assistant Dean for Public Service, where she teaches law students about public interest lawyering. Born in Seoul, Korea, Kim lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Read more at

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