The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Carol Ashworth
In the land where you were born, kinship
sinks a tap root that reaches deeper into the earth
with each generation. Families pray to ancestors
at altars beneath faded faces from the past.
Pregnant women dangle strands of chili peppers
in doorways for luck to ensure the birth of sons.
Parents celebrate their children in a national holiday
every May 5th, your birthday. Crowds flow
Through streets, like black-tipped waves, past carts
of dried octopi, piles of bok choy, pans
of centipedes. Mothers tilt forward as they walk,
their toddlers riding them like two-legged backpacks.
Cabbage, chilis and garlic pickling in pottery crocks
ooze their aromas and mix with motorbike exhaust
to ferment the air. You were too young for spicy dishes
yet not too old to start over with strangers.
For three years, you breathed that kimchi air, slept
skin to mother-skin, counted and sang her tongue,
bowed to those who would let you go. Did your ancestors
bestow luck on you that day we arrived to claim you?
Months later I took away your doll as punishment.
You plunge into a fit of tears until you learn
not everything taken away is gone forever.
"Do you love me?" you keep asking.
One day you hear a song in your first language--
you stop, like a dog that's caught an irresistible scent
or like someone blinded as a child who still sees
glimpses of color and shape with her mind's eye.
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