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“Compass That Points her Home,” by Helena Goos

Compass That Points her Home

My mother is Korean,
from a small fishing village (not so small now), in South Korea.
It’s called 퍼 항,

She came to America,
Six years old,
Wide eyed,
Youngest of five.
She couldn’t speak any english that first year.
Now, 43 years later,
Korean is barely an echo on her tongue.
I beg her to teach me 한글,


To teach me the heartbeat tongue of Korean;
But she knows only enough to speak with 할 머 기,


in Puyallup,
And even then, my 엄 마,


Stutters and trips
over the syllables and words.
She taught me 한 글 once.
I can’t read or write it.
I can say food words,
Not even basic vocabulary.
I want so badly to learn Korean,
The round shape of its characters,
The birds wing flutter rhythmic heartbeat bounce of the words.
My mother is Korean,
She’s fierce, but gentle,
Demanding, but forgiving,
Yet her tongue is a starving 호 랑 이,


Starving to speak, to remember, to devour aloud,
The smooth notches and lines,
And the soft sounds.
The notches in the vowels are her compass needle,
The silent 이응  the body,
But the consonants,
The lodestone that lies below- has broken;
Spinning off kilter, disoriented,
Her 나침반,


Has lost its North,
And though she knows where she came from,
Perhaps it will never point her home again.

Helena Goos wrote this poem while a 9th grader at Nathan Hale High School. Performed at SAL’s sold-out Literary Arts Series event with Barbara Kingsolver on October 25, 2018, at Benaroya Hall.

Posted in Writers in the Schools2018/19 Season