California welcomes me home. I know every West Coast dreamer
first came to search for gold or make it, as if our yellow bodies
could instead become it, alchemize into something
beautiful. If not worth saving. My mother used to say citizenship
like it was holy. Her only daughter’s spine
a bridge spanning oceans, a countdown until we could
cross the Pacific to be whatever we wanted
to be: fluent & unafraid. Owners of American gold.
The most valuable thing about my body is what
the law says it can be. & so I inhabit Seoul
like it’s a temporary thing. I graduate
to dreaming in English, I juggle passports in both hands
at strange airports. When I grow up
I want to be American. America rarely wants me
back. Lonely morning in Los Angeles, the sun
an egg yolk cracked yellow, which is to say, wounded, & I’m writing
in the language my family can’t read & I’m wielding
citizenship like it’s a weapon like it means I have a right
to be here & it’s midnight in Seoul, too late to call home.
Sophomore year move-in, my roommates and I
eat up miles of sun-bleached freeway &
spit out the gravel. Foot on the gas, praying nobody
pulls us over because half of us are from another country, but even that
depends on your point of view. I’m trying to find home, or
an H-Mart to cry in—whichever one comes first.
And what did come first, home or the imitation we built
in honor of it? There must have been a home,
surely, some other place
I must have come from first, before
I could never go back. The past a foreign country & long ago.
To belong, to be longing
for a homeland that only exists in the imaginary. Seoul isn’t
a place so much as whatever I need it to be.
My mother raised me to leave, knowing her voice
would one day be strung thin over the telephone line, carved up
in static. & still she used to tell me don’t forget your
English. I hammered thin my tongue until it caved
at the root: no mother tongue but an orphan’s, instead.
What I need Seoul to be is the closest I can ever get
to you. Mom, look at me, I don’t know what to say. I’m walking
through language just to get to you.
I introduce myself hyphen-first, ampersanded,
stranded. My skin betrays me, false gold. Citizened
Editors: Sam L., Nikki J., Nadine R.