My mama always said I’d be a heartbreaker, but she never suspected I’d break hers first.
When I came home with my first and only American Girl Doll, she sat me down on our steps and said:
“Sweetheart, why didn’t you get a doll that looked like you?” I stared at the doll I chose:
pretty blonde hair, bright blue eyes, plastic smile. I looked at my mom.
“I don’t want her to look like me. I want her to be pretty.”
When a white boy called me “pretty for an Asian,”
and I shied away, retreated into hair that’s been dyed with bleach: lighter
and surrendered back into a soul that had half-died: whiter.
When I found myself suddenly allergic to my culture.
Sometimes when an accent slips from my words my tongue swells
inside my mouth and clogs the words, distorting them.
I never liked the way Korean sounded inside my mouth;
the words always leave a bitter aftertaste.
I threw away parts of myself America patronized me for—
My almond eyes, my straight black hair, my first language.
I stuck two fingers down my throat and gagged on
foreign food and the family that I came from. I became just another teenage bulimic,
purging my body to make it what I thought was beautiful.
I ripped out half of my heart as in a messy, too-orthodox surgery and casted it into the Pacific,
hoping that the waves would carry it back to you. Perhaps I did not do a good enough job.
The tidal waves return it to my shores, blanket-wrapped in baskets:
a hard reminder of the parts of life America taught me not to love.
I didn’t mean to, Korea. I just wanted to be pretty.
I am not pretty here. Where I come from limits where I can go here.
And though Korea surrenders me and America pushes me away,
every day I am shoved closer to the waters of the Pacific. Both worlds I barely know
telling me to go back to one another, to a house that is a home. I don’t have one.
A foreigner on all sides, I am swimming through the Pacific,
looking for the parts of me I threw away and gathering them in my arms—
making them the bones of the house which can be a home.
But I fear even when it’s finished, I’ll only have a skeleton.
But even if it is just bones, and the wind rattles them every time it blows
I hope that I get to fall asleep in the ribcage of my home,
and spend enough time there to become its heart.
Because even if I am not beautiful,
I am the product of an affair between two countries that are,
so doesn’t that mean that I’ve got beauty in my genes
just enough to fit into my jeans and still have a little extra in my back pocket
to pass down to a daughter I might have who might not think
she’s beautiful either?