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.

summer, somewhere

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.

This is a sunset on the Han River / Han Gang.

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.

This image is of the apartment complexes in Anyang, which was the city where my host family lived. There were a lot of little rivers that you could cross with flat stones.