“Seomyeon Gongsajang” by Hyunsoo Nam

Hyunsoo Nam (age 14)


after Philip Levine

My father would come home from a construction site in Busan
and limp down the hallway to his room. I could hear the bed sigh,
his sandals resting against the wooden floor. “You can take them,”
he’d say. Through the mirror that settled on his table, his wrinkled
face was shaped with bleached white hair and pitted nose and he
would be lingering in that position long after noon only to wake up
to find me gone. Ten years would pass before I’d remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each son has a father who
disappeared when he dreamed, and dreamed when he rose to face
this life, and that together they were only one person clutching each
other’s hands and gazing at each other’s eyes that always hovered,
hands blemished and bruised, a mouth that stuttered, asking, “Do you
think I can carry on?” All day at the Seomyeon Gongsajang my father
stacked bricks and cement while sunlight lashed at him,
and the manager howled at his workers for doing work so slow.
In the 70s in the district of Seomyeon, buildings and skyscrapers started
to conquer the grassland that had sprawled all over the town. The city grew.
The grass became buildings. Giwajib became apartments. The homeless
wandered and the city bloomed with neon lights, the cars and trucks hissing.
I give you back 1971 and the years afterwards. Give me back the swollen
face with the pitted nose, the bleached white hair. Give me back my father,
exhausted, smiling in his blue Dodgers cap and leather jacket.

from 2023 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Hyunsoo Nam: “I am heavily influenced by the surrounding environment, including my school, my neighbors, and my family. I like to write poetry because I think it is the most effective way to express my thoughts and memories of other people. I also enjoy the fact that I can interconnect my theme to global issues from news and the internet.”

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