“Armistice” by Joan Kwon Glass

Joan Kwon Glass


Where are you going? Where are you going?
Over the mountain pass, pass,
I will climb it alone.
—from the children’s song “산토끼” (Santoki)

As children, we sang a Korean nursery rhyme about a lone rabbit
who ascends a mountain. None of us can remember
learning this song, but all of us know it by heart.
We root for the rabbit, bouncing her way toward the clouds,
determined, stopping to sniff the not yet frozen ground for fallen chestnuts.
On my pre-war map of Korea, the peninsula resembles a hare,
steadying herself on hind legs, daughter of three gone kingdoms.
She gazes warily to the west, front paws vigilant in front of her.
I point this out to my students, American 12-year-olds who are already
learning to armistice themselves, determining which wars to surrender,
which mountains to conquer.         If given the choice between going
back in time or into the future,         I choose to levitate.
From here, islands pepper the East sea, specks unknowable.
From here, the DMZ is just the trail of a ghost cloud grazing
Earth with her ghost feet, in search of something she can almost
remember, might still imagine.
Pulling down a modern world map over Korea, I ask my students
—if you could choose to live anywhere in the world, where would you go?
One girl, a recent immigrant from Turkey, chooses an island,
barely visible. When I ask why, she says, I think there would be less
war on an island.         I would be safer there.
As children, we dreamed the rabbit fat with survival.
Now, we teach our own children that home will appear if
they just believe. In the song, we never find out
if the hare makes it to the summit. Even so, we sing it,
raise our hands, fingers hooked in the shape of ears.
We hop, smile, tell our children to climb,
show them how to lift chestnuts from the ravaged ground.
None of us can remember learning this song,
but all of us know it by heart.

from Poets Respond
October 30, 2022


Joan Kwon Glass: “My mother was born in Korea and grew up there during the Korean War and in its aftermath. I lived in South Korea there in the 1980s and remember hiding under my bed with my sister during an AFKN broadcast that tunnels from North Korea had been discovered. News like this always brings me back to those days, and the longing for peace beyond armistice.” (web)

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