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Tales from my Korean Family -- 3 poems by Sarah Parmet

1985-Gravediggers


His hand gripping hers tightly,

Ankles wet from midnight dew.

White moon casting a ghastly light.


Money had run dry.

“No more good money after bad,”

Eldest brother said.


Up the hill,

Calves burning,

Knuckles white.

Shovels running faint lines

In the grass.


No more foreign cars.

No more luxury villa in Seoul.


At the top,

Perfect black marble

Glistening, foreboding.

“Are you sure?”

She whispers, a hand on his arm.

No reply.


The fortune teller had told them.

“The reason for your misfortune,”


Grass yanked from its roots,

Giving way to moist dirt.

Steel cutting through earth,

The mound shrinking rapidly.

Scents of sweat and dirt

Intertwined with fatigue

And blistered hands.


“Is because your father’s bones are buried in the

wrong place.”


Clang. Her shovel collides with something hard.

Scrape, scrape, scrape to reveal

Smooth wood boards.


“5 million won,” he begged.

The gravekeeper’s unconvinced stare.


He grunts, muscles straining.

The lid creaking open to reveal

Twenty years of rot

Festering.


“10 million won.”

“We can’t afford this.”


Her dress muddy as she reaches down

To grab a bone.

Brittle, cold.

Clink. Into the bag and repeat.

He waits for the watchful eyes

To come,

To shout,

But they never do.


“10 million,” he sighed.

The gravekeeper’s satisfied smile.


Trying to ignore the acid

Scalding his throat

As his hand scrapes the bottom,

Picking up every last bit.


They flee arm in arm,

Bearing a heavy weight

They’ll never set down.

“They’ll never know,” she says.

“They’ll never know.”


No one did know,

Until the mysterious phone call,

And the family found their

Father’s desecrated

Grave.


Five years later,

A nephew fallen from a mountaintop.

A brother he’ll never get back.

Permanent exile from the family.

And still

No more money.


Selling silk scarves

On a street corner

In Queens,

His hand gripping hers tightly.


 

1988-Three Not Four


“It’s a girl,” Mother-In-Law says,

nose wrinkling. “What a waste.”


Daughter-in-law lies

In a hospital bed

Fatigued, sticky with sweat.

Bright lights scald her eyes.

Hushed voices a collection

Of indiscernible chatter


“A girl,” Father-in-Law mutters.

“Why did it have to be a girl? We already have two.”


“At least the eldest is pretty,” Mother-in-Law reassures him.


Pretty.

Pale skin,

Long dark hair,

At least she

Would be able to marry well

And bear strong, healthy sons

For her future husband.


“This one isn’t,” Mother-in-Law continues,

Looking at

The baby

Whose lip is split

Clean down the middle.


“Should we fix it?” she asks.


Father-in-Law shakes his head.

“No,” he says, “It’s a waste. Besides.”

He hands the baby off to Mother-in-Law.

“I’m sure the orphanage would be delighted.”


The husband sighs.

“Don’t worry, Omma, Appa. We’ll try for another.”


“Useless woman,” Father-in-Law chides.

“Can’t even bear me a grandson.”


A year later

Back in the hospital room

A fourth child born,

The third long forgotten.


“Perfect.”

“Finally, a boy.”


A nurse enters the room.

“The Seoul Olympics are on.

Would you like me to turn on the TV?”




 

2010-Glass Eater


At the annual

Yoon family gathering

The children run

Along the riverbank,

The adults sit outside

The complex while

Doctor Yoon presides

Over the estate

His estate.


The Yoon family’s

Youngest child

Waddles over,

Chubby hands holding

A bowl full of rainbow candies.


Doctor Yoon picks one up

A blue one

Admiring it under the light.

So smooth and shiny,

As if made of glass.

He pops it into his mouth.

The Family stops laughing.


He moves it from cheek to cheek.

“That’s glass,” says Daughter-in-Law.


He is

Too consumed by pride

To spit it out.

Admitting fallacy

Would be to

Wear a badge of shame

Until he crumbled

Into sand.


“That’s glass,” she says, louder this time.


Doctor Yoon did not make mistakes.


“That’s glass.”


How hard could it be?

The texture of candy

But without the beckoning taste.

As long as he was

Very, very

Careful,

It wouldn’t

Tear through muscle

As he forced it down.


Crunch.


The sound like a firecracker

Makes Daughter-in-Law jump.


Crunch.


A shard almost slices his gums.

Crunch.


Everyone watches.


Let them watch.

Let them see that

Doctor Yoon

Is never wrong.


Crunch.

Crunch.

Crunch.


Grinding glass into sand

So fine that it won’t scrape up

His insides

As he swallows it down,

Mouth filled with blood.



 

Sarah Parmet is a sophomore who lives off caffeine, adrenaline and very little sleep. When she’s not struggling in chemistry, she can be found writing, dancing and making music. Sarah, who now lives in LA, draws inspiration from a childhood spent in Hong Kong, along with the academic pressures that she faces. She enjoys writing fiction and poetry.

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