North Korea, Poetry
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Parallel 38/Part III

Parallel 38/Part III

Remember I told you I was split two ways:

My grandmother’s father was a Freedom Fighter in colonised Korea
When we were Korea
Not Korea, South/North
Not Korea, Republic of/Democratic People’s Republic of
Not South Korea/North Korea
Like we see on the census slips and dropdown boxes
Just
Korea

He and his country fought back against the Japanese
The people who told us
We could not use our own names
We could not utter our own language
We could not wear our own clothes
But we must dress like the white man
Because that’s who they learned their tricks from
A sadomasochistic cycle of submission and domination

On 15th August, 1945
We were made a free country
On 17th July, 1948
We declared our Constitution
On 15th August, 1948
We became a Republic

And when my country became a Republic my great-grandfather became a criminal
Because he was
A Communist

One of Them

Granny said, then they came and took all our land and our money
Overnight
I went from going to school in American flower dresses and bento boxes
To telling policemen I didn’t know where my father was
And I really didn’t know
Because he left me and mum and sister and brother and he ran for his life

I didn’t finish primary school
Because I had a younger sister and brother and I was the oldest one
But I remember, one day, I met an American missionary, a Jesuit, who told me
You are a very smart girl, Jung-seon, come with me to America
But what was I to do
Leave them
Like my father did

* * *

When I think of Seoul
I think of my aunt Yoon
Who speaks with a feathery sweetness
Who knows the cool but cozy bistros South of the Han River
Who always smiles and has perfectly curled hair and who never raises her voice

A devout Catholic who married a staunch Atheist
Whose husband drives her and her daughters to church every Sunday
And when I drive back with him, he says, Because I’m a man of science, Emily!
Seoulites navigate different opinions and people with a gentle voice
In a city of ten million
They’ve had to

So it came as a surprise
When my mother told me
Aunt Yoon’s father
Whose name I’ve never known
Came from North Korea during The War
Lost his family fleeing from bombs
Built a business empire in the capital
Had three daughters and three daughters only in the sixties

(You must remember, I was born in 1990
That year, a million girls were aborted
So three daughters in the sixties
What that must have meant
For gender equality)

But back to Aunt Yoon’s father
His new family in the South
Meant everything to him
I don’t mean his wife and his children
More like his wife and his children
And his children’s husbands and their siblings
The grandchildren from his children’s husbands
He would take everyone on a holiday
To faraway places

I told you
I don’t even know his name
I remember him as the grandfather who’s not my real grandfather
But who gives me too much money
Who always smiled from ear to ear
Asked me what was going on in my life
More often than my own grandfather did

So when you ask me with your innocent eyes
Why do you hate North Koreans
Why don’t your countries become one again
Why is it that you won’t bomb them, start a war, you know they will lose anyway
I say
Why is it that you want us to rape and slash and shoot at our own kind and our own land
Wasn’t the last time enough
Why do you assume a randomly assigned line divides our heritage
What is seventy years in the scheme of five thousand years
Why do you assume that I hate anyone
Unless they tore my heart open

Like those people did to my people

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