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Gilded Age

gilded age


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

& unpersoned.

Editors: Sam L., Nikki J., Nadine R.


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