Na Mee


Korean in their mouths
sounds like a bowl
of cooked rice, a thousand puffs
soft constellations
ball gown, hopscotch, lightswitch

A moon between their teeth
A rowboat, no wind

But korean in my mouth sounds like
books falling off a cheap shelf
like a word standing on its toes, too short
like a couch that won't fit around the corner
Sounds like kissing someone before
it's too late and I bang
my lips into their lips

I cannot order soup
or comment on the rain or ask my birthmother if she's happy without
twenty bats flapping out of my face

When I was first reunited with my birthmother,
she opened the door and she looked at me

then she looked at my friend
then she looked at me
then she looked at my friend

unsure which daughter was her daughter.

This is the tongue I was born with




The night I was born, there was no rally. For months my mother cradled me and I grew smaller. In hiding, we were both becoming ghosts. Oh to be alive in a country of dead ends. Before my 100th day, she traded. She would become the ghost and I could become the girl. She handed me to a social worker, who handed me to an orphanage, who handed me to korea, who handed me to a foster mom, who handed me to a volunteer on an airplane, who handed me to the parents who raised me, here, on the other side of the pacific. It is my duty to not forget my mother, who needs me to remember the woman she was. All of these are my family. They belong together.

There was no rally when my son's father first kissed me. Those days he ran out of breath, just looking at me. With him my heart had no border. He used to wake and tell me his dreams. In them, he was always running

The night there was a rally, I tucked my son in for bed. His hands are my hands, my mother's hands. His smile is his father’s smile. Because of this, they are always together. He is still too young to know he is a protest. My son understands the language of loss, but he doesn’t speak it. Today while thousands marched, he was just a boy who went fishing with his grandpa. I rolled a blanket over him, a soft tide, the smell of the sea on his skin

If anyone tried to separate us I would swallow the ocean just to shipwreck them. I would cut off my hands so that nothing could pass through them, I would cradle my son with my teeth. I would raise every end from the dead until they could not find us. I would run forever and I would never break eye contact. We would not sleep, we would not become ghosts, we would remember


Na Mee is a Korean American poet and writer. She is an Alaska Literary Award and three-time Rasmuson Foundation award recipient. She has received fellowships from Kundiman, The Loft Literary Center, and Aspen Words. Her work has been published in such places as Freeman's: Change (Grove Atlantic), Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (PM Press), and The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith & Spirit (Orison Books). You can find her at or @tsu_namee on Instagram or Twitter.