“A Blonde Whispers Korean in My Ear” by Tanya Ko-Hong

Tanya Ko-Hong


We were drunk on homemade wine
at a child’s birthday
when a blonde mom told me
Once I had a Korean boyfriend—
his mother hated me
but how I loved her
food, bulgogi, japchae,
and you know you can’t kiss
after you eat that—
what’s it called—the smelly cabbage
made with salted baby shrimp,
anchovy, garlic, chili …

She giggled,

I know a bad Korean word, she said
Whisper in my ear, I said


Her face bloomed red bong soong ah—
My face a frozen trout

Only a whore uses that word—
Never wives—not even to their husbands
Never moms—not in front of the children

When referring to the penis, a Korean doctor says
a Chinese word
even after Koreans invented it

That’s not a bad word, I replied
It’s just a part of the body

Who does she think she is
to say that word?

When I’ve never pronounced
with my mouth—

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018
Tribute to Immigrant Poets


Tanya Ko-Hong: “As an immigrant of the Korean diaspora, I know what it feels like being invisible, voiceless, and powerless. Writing poems has been a long process: even allowing myself to write certain words felt like an impossible transgression. At times I was sick at heart, in pain and angry, but something magical was happening. I was able to expose my own wound through new symbols and images.” (web)

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