Ashley is an alum of the 2018 Korean summer program. This poem was submitted as an entry to the NSLI-Y 15th Anniversary Storytelling Competition.
A Seoul summer: sticky youth, convenience store kimbap
stuffed with rice, too-sour kimchi, sweet bulgogi.
We go to the Han Gang on days too hot, spread our gingham picnic
blankets & clumsily ordered fried chicken with extra pickled
radishes in a language not yet ours. At sunset, we pack up
& say our goodbyes, watch the fading sun slip under
rippling waves of the river. From Seoul City to Anyang
you must brave both the subway & 900-express bus.
It is not like home & navigating rush hour is an art form.
You must do it carefully. Quietly. Cautiously. Here is where
new friends are made. The German tourist who looks
confused & asks about the best place to get black bean noodles.
The old man who loves poetry on the bus, pulls out his
moleskin notebook & shows you how he memorizes
Emily Dickinson’s poems by carefully etching each &
every English word like a prayer. If I go home early enough,
sprint past tteokbokki stands & all the makeup stores,
I’ll catch the elderly bus driver who only listens to SISTAR,
the K-pop girl group of his dreams. I write poems on the
condensation on bus windows—this is the first lesson
in learning how to not forget, even when it is your stop
& you must rise & leave your heart behind. Even when
you wipe away words & all that remains is a memory.