When I Say I Am My Mother's Daughter
a poem by Yunseo Chung
I mean that we were born of the same
Her mother is my grandmother, and we are the same shade of tan.
I mean that I hold a paper heart in iron ribs,
mean thoughts in a mesh skull.
I mean that I never cried when I was younger, and
she taught herself how to read.
I mean that I never have enough patience. I always want more.
[My mother is twenty-two when she goes to donate blood. The needle sucks the life out of
her, and she walks back home light-headed. The world spins. She smiles because she feels for
the first time in years.
I am seven when my mother bleeds. We’re in a new country,
and I don’t know how to work the phone.
My voice quavers when I tell her I don’t want a dead mom.
I love you, I’m sorry, please stay.
My mother smiles at me like I’m too young to understand, but I’ve always known. There isn’t
enough love or blood in the world to make someone stay when they’ve made up their mind
She tells me to go to bed. I close my eyes with her heart jumping in my chest.]
I mean, at seventeen, the curve of my lips are hers,
which means that when I laugh, I laugh her smile.
I mean that on a good day, you can’t tell us apart.
I mean that on the bad days, she looks at me through the mirror,
I will always be striving.
[She asks me why I’m always so tired. She says she hasn’t slept a full night since eleven years
old because of school, but was never tired because I had a goal, it’s not hard when you have a
I don’t bring up the past tense.
She’s been out of school for twenty years. I don’t mention that, either.
I tell her nightmares keep me up. It’s true. I spend all day chasing after my mother and dream
all night about her slipping away.
She gives me her sleeping pills.]
I mean that everything decaying in me
If I am quick to anger,
if I am passive-aggressive and overly critical,
it’s because she taught me to be.
If I hurt you, I’m sorry –
my mother has a ghost of a hold on my heart.
I only meant to love you.
I mean that everything good in me
is hers – I mean,
if I am kind,
if I am holy,
it’s because she raised me to be.
I mean that I slam the door only poke my head out again,
re-close it softly.
I leave the last chicken wing but will gladly take it when it’s offered to me.
I love the idea of love, blood-red and sticky-hot.
[You taught me about love. You were right, you always are.]
I mean that I am
sentimental, but mostly scared.
I am tired from the last ten years I spent away from home,
but excited for the ten that lie ahead.
[I mean that for me, 2020 felt like bleeding to death, and I’m still looking to come back. This
time, I’ll be careful and slow and timid – like taking my first steps while my mother holds my
hand. I’ll be eager and bold and optimistic – like laughing with my mother at the kitchen
I mean that I am seventeen but feel the weight of forty-six -
I mean that I am unsure but I know I have nothing to fear
when I say I am my mother’s daughter.
[If I loved you, I’m sorry. I must not have done it right, and you bled instead. I’ll do better, I’ll
do better this time. I will.]
Cover Photo Source: Viddsee