BY JESSICA KIM
after Sally Wen Mao
I move to California, but no one
recognizes my chipped face—
graffiti across the subway station,
a self-portrait eroded by the plastic coating
on my green card. In 1903, the first wave
of Korean immigrants flooded America,
their faces plasticized with sugarcane,
pinchfuls of copper pennies,
images of a merciless God.
On Sundays, they file into the only church
in town: eyes lowered, lips sealed,
hands clutching a pocket-sized bible.
A conversion factor that divides forgiver
from foreigner. I no longer recognize
the yellowed face on my card—
though I finger its creases and trace
the route back to motherland.
I am alone in the city of Los Angeles,
skin peeling from my face like
wrinkled posters at the metro station.
There’s a full-body snapshot
of a white girl, the next Hollywood star,
staring at me in the eye like I’m the villain’s
abandoned sidekick. For a split second,
my reflection matches hers, then vanishing
before I can capture its perfection:
like the year mother shoved me
into a suitcase and sold me to the white man
in another city. In another shade of grey cement,
in another wavelength of a car honk, I forget to live.
I assume no one will come searching for me
at a starving downtown restaurant.
I’m not even hungry, but I nibble at the grains
of rice without noticing. The grains stuck
to the left pocket of the shirt-dress I bought
in Namdaemun market. I want to trade
this hunger for home—or model myself
into the poster girl, the picture of God
that begs me to leave America: to spit out
a currency for empty distances. It begs me
to unwrite this poem—erase the tenderness
of Christianity, picture-perfect brides, exclusion.
I’m on the last metro for the night,
heading for Union station,
stopped by a sputter from my larynx.
America, even if I can speak in fragments
for imported faces without names,
they do not answer—I am still a stranger here.