Water on a Lotus Leaf

I watch as tiny beads of water
form and roll to the center of a giant
lotus leaf,
amazed by the way each droplet holds it shape,
smooth and firm like a rounded piece of rising dough
or oil poured into a cup of water.

I think of the time my cheap necklace broke
all over the floor,
glass beads rolling into the air vent,
bouncing off the baseboard,
hiding between tufts of the carpet.

But this is different.

Spheres skim the surface of the green.
They gather together and morph into one shiny thing.
They gain momentum
and look so happy zooming like marbles around the rim of the waxy basket until at last they join together, settling in a pool at the center of the leaf, collecting
and reflecting green.

Colors from
giant flower petals, the bold strokes of ancient paintings,
wait for a thoughtful gaze or a gasping admirer or the
quiet meditation of grandfathers with their hands gently clasped behind their backs.
Thoughts move through the air as water circles the leaf.

Instead of absence there is an abundance
of clarity. The kind that turns heads and hearts.
The kind that changes minds.
The kind that covers a pond and holds tiny drops of water.

The kind of beauty that comes after rain.

The Summer Before Kindergarten

Loose white sheets from an entire ream of paper
find their way onto the living room floor,
carelessly left scattered wherever they fall.

Pens and pencils, markers with no lids, stubby
crayons of various lengths all wait next to forgotten lines
and deliberate sketches of horses with flowing manes and brave cowgirls,
of details like stopwatches and barrels and horse eye-masks.

she draws horse murals using various shades of Crayola’s tickle me pink,
rubs until the hard wax of the crayon shrinks and we have to rip its paper at the seam.

The horse’s mane and tail are always flowing,
layers of swoops and stylized sections stacked
and sorted on top of its hourglass head.

In one recent picture she drew the top half of the rider
hidden behind one dramatic swoop of the mane.

She tells me that some horses are too beautiful
and famous to be drawn on paper.

Some are too fast to be captured with color and taped to the wall.

Teach me to Pray: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

This is a series of poems I wrote this spring reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer through the lens of my everyday life in Korea. It was a powerful spiritual exercise for me. To consciously pray through the details of the world around me and to see the glory of God again and again. (I posted the first one, Our Father in Heaven, here).

HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME

eunni, oppa, dongsaeng, seonsaengnim, halmoni

No one needs a name tag here. We walk the streets as family,
connected in a way that makes me want to stoop down
and pick up the wallet you dropped and hand it back to you.

You have a name.
I’ve heard it through the television, through the telephone, through
the formal introductions never separate from your relationship to me.

I wouldn’t say it out loud.

Never born, never going to die.
This is the eternal song of the One whose name doesn’t change.
He calls us (all) Friend
His name is everything we need:

I am

YOUR KINGDOM COME

On the corner, four-foot popsicles cover the old convenience shop windows.
Discount ice cream signs are installed quickly,
the store is cleared out, swept out, shelves replaced by freezers.

We can’t walk by without going in.

This is the world in it’s place
with variety and color and every flavor of ice cream.
I’ll have chocolate and vanilla. Would you like sweet potato? Green tea mochi?

We lean over freezers, trying to decide which ice cream bar we should buy.
All is right.

YOUR WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN

On the playground near the fire station, three girls
play kindly together.
“Gongjunim, bbali wa!” (princess, come quick!)
These girls are not petty.
Not careful in their dresses and tights and buckled shoes.
They run through the sand, turn on the water fountain,
spray the front of their clothes.
Their hands are filthy, but they are not concerned
with cleanliness or perfection.
They are not interested in a show.

They play and play and play

until their mothers come with scolding faces and bicycles
with extra seats on the back,
ending their playdate in the castle,
ending their time in the sand.

Bamboo is propped up to the right of the playground,
standing tall with the help of wooden braces.
The drain by the fountain swirls with water ready to escape.

Across the way firefighters train for their next rescue.
They start the motor of the safety raft in the
parking lot behind the station.
They lift the tallest ladder and start to climb.

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD

My husband taught me to divide freshly cooked rice into four sections
before scooping it into bowls.
To mindfully make the sign of the cross
in gratitude and remembrance.

My mother always did this, he tells me.

I imagine her hands today,
decades of nourishment raking through murky rice-water,
rinsing ssal until the liquid runs clear.

There were times her family went without,
when the rice was low but she found a way to
fill the bellies of her children anyway.
She combined the rice with barley or another
stretching grain, and suddenly there was enough.

There is always just enough.

It is foreign to my framework of abundance,
but I prayerfully copy the motion:
give us this day our daily bread.

FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS

At the subway elevator, elderly men and women shuffle
past my double stroller
to make their way inside.
Occasionally they look back sympathetically
at my arms holding a baby and pushing two big kids
at the same time.
It must be hard, they say to each other as the doors close
swiftly, like a window screen sliding into place,
keeping all the bugs and bees and birds
out of the house.

DON’T LEAD US INTO TEMPTATION

On Sunday Morning

I sit in first service
under the mid-morning sun as it glistens
through tiny buds and new leaves,
through the breeze still chilly.

I watch my son ladle sand into his dump truck and toy stock pot,
alternating containers as he
scoops through damp piles.
A tile mural fills a short wall behind him like
stained glass in a sanctuary, depicting flowers
and butterflies in a colorful mosaic,
jewel tone squares reflecting light.

Sitting next to my sleeping baby in the stroller,
I feel the satisfaction of the worship chorus.
Of slamming car doors, fire alarms beeping,
the scraping metal of the apartment
construction site next door.
I hear tiny tennis shoes brushing along
the brick walkway, slowly scraping flecks of sand
beneath them.

An offering of gratitude pools in my hands
as I wash them in the water fountain.
The mystery of being loved and known
cleanses off the dirt of obligation.
I sense the baby’s breathing even though
it’s much too soft to hear over the birds gently
chirping and the traffic zooming by.

The playground chorus repeats as Sunday cars
rush stuffy families with their giant Bibles
all the way
to church.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

Gray clouds smear across the stormy sky like dark fingerprints
smudged on a dull piece of paper.
Outside the window it’s raining pollution.

Umbrellas bob with footsteps, disks rounded down over morning-heads walking to work.

There is so much work to do.

We step out into the gloom and dark,
underneath a makeshift shelter.

A thin piece of nylon covers our heads.

FOR YOURS IS THE KINGDOM

My daughter asks at the dinner table
what it means to have authority.

In the back room the kids retell famous stories:
“I am Goliath! Who is going to kill me?”

This is our place in the world, as darkness slayers, as healers,
recognizing evil and committing to its defeat.

As sons and daughters of the King,
there is never any doubt in tiny minds that we are

inhabitants of another Kingdom.

AND THE POWER

Speak the truth in love and you will find
love is the only way to speak.
Maybe you want to hear yourself say something profound, but there is no
profundity in spring.
We’ve seen it before. Last year and the year before.
We know the pace of women running umbrella-less in the rain.
We stand with mouths open like trap doors, thinking universal words of pleasure:
Beautiful! Magnificent! Lovely!
It is exactly what we need.
In all the beauty of its repetition
we bow down.

AND THE GLORY FOREVER

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. Isaiah 40:5

When the time comes, each delicate cherry blossom is set in motion.
Soft hues of pink and sharp white petals stand out against an ice blue sky.

They congregate, and when the slightest wind blows, they fall.

This is also how we are: beautiful and fragile, vulnerable to the wind and rain.

This is how we interact, how we move as a unit
or get swept away.

This is our hearts collected. Grouped together.

Popping into the open air,
no longer able to stay tucked away in seclusion,
we behold the unstoppable glory of God.

AMEN

There is no goodbye
may it be so
there is no ending to this conversation.
Your eyes will never close.
selah

Our Father in Heaven

This spring I wrote a series of poems based on the Lord’s Prayer through the lens of our Korean neighborhood. It was a really fun challenge. Here is the first one:

Our Father in Heaven

Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!           Psalm 116:2 (NLT)

Look for colored masking tape that sticks semi-permanently
to papers with tabs full of phone numbers blowing below the details of
the place for rent.

“one room”
“very clean”
“roommate needed”

Even the tape that held papers since removed leaves confetti residue
stuck forever like a chewing gum installation on temporary construction walls,
telephone poles, and abandoned shop windows near the road.

Most of the papers politely call for attention, but sometimes the images shout:
this is exactly what you need.

If you already have a home, there is something for you, too:

“piano teacher”
“guitar for sale”
“new department store”

like answers to prayer they wait, confident you’ll read them.

Meanwhile the same street is wrapped in forsythia. New blooms
arrive as cheerful greetings. They are not shy in reaching,
not careful in bending,
in every direction they shout:

“yellow!” and “hello!”

There is no way to walk by without sensing the pleasure in a
string of tiny glowing flowers
as they cling close to haphazard sticks.

Their petals mirror the flapping phone numbers,
providing the specific details of that one thing you need.

————————
Find the rest of the poems here.

Summer Magazine

Occasionally my mom tucks
old magazines into the
oversize packages she
mails to Korea.
Between the rattly pantry items
and bulky toys for the kids
a Martha Stewart Living will appear.

The glossy floral cover promises “sheet cakes that wow,”
“mini room makeovers,” and “melt-in-your-mouth meringues.”

While flipping through the pages I’m fanned with a breeze of
nostalgic summers in America.
Filed between a feature on roses and animal-shaped cakes is an
article explaining how to decorate your home like a popsicle.

I am not particularly interested in the décor of page 120,
in the orange accented bed or the coordinating shower curtain stacked with teal, hot pink, and orange,
but sitting on my living room floor, listening to afternoon
traffic and summer birds,
I feel the predictability of a cooling
fan as it pivots and homesickness as it blows heavy on my face.
I want to turn two-dimensional and slip
into the scene like a paper doll.

A wind of desire, of jealousy, of longing
grabs my attention
and I turn the page quickly as if it were that easy to skip over the difficult parts
of a life simply by closing a magazine

Potato Starch

Potato starch

Creamy film coats the outside of a peeled potato.
Turns it brown if you leave it on the counter.
Stays behind if you wait too long to wash the used knife.

It leaves a map on the blade. 
Creates faint white lines on the resting cutting board.
Turns to chalk if left to dry.

Scribbles of starch mimic the layers of earth that
once buried the growing, golden thing.

It hides beneath thick skin until exposed,
coating my fingertips as I slide the pieces
of potato from the knife into the frying pan.

Each one pops in oil as the outside heats up.
And as the cubes flip and crisp,
the starch sticks.

Milk Tea as a Metaphor

Summer heat blows in like a sadness.
I feel it against my skin.
I turn my head to resist it like the first gust of
hot air that escapes from an oven.

It helps to remember that this feeling comes every year.
It’s inevitable: I will feel sad in June.

I feel tiny and insignificant, flying around like a bug
caught in the path of a giant windshield on summer vacation.
I am in danger of being squashed by the heaviness.

It’s been 5 years since we moved to Korea, and it seems to be
getting harder. I look at my kids who barely speak the language,
watch their huge eyes as I try myself to communicate with some
small intelligence.

I am ignorant and unaware.

This is the humbling thing: I live a beautiful life
in the middle of difficult circumstances.

We walk to the big box store
four subway stops from home.
We pass the milk tea stand on our way to the bookstore.
An oasis.

Nearby a lady cradles her older daughter. She looks like she’s cradling arms and legs as she
swings her around and smiles.

When she sets her down,
her white T-shirt shouts across the aisle as
bold black letters bleed in all capital letters:
DON’T FEEL SMALL.

In an instant I don’t. I stand up straighter as I push my boys
toward the sticker books.

The choices we make when we feel a sudden sadness
find us stripped down and thirsty,
and if we’re lucky, sipping milk tea on the way home.

River Garden

This poem was first published by Upwrite Magazine.

In the early evening, a Korean grandmother
works alone in her garden by the river.
She sits low to the earth, hunched over like a bright purple cushion,
planting vegetables and picking weeds.

One side of the garden is outlined in garbage:
bottles, plastic bags, empty food containers
dumped in a line and partially buried.
The other side is lined with bundles of sticks roughly tied together.

I watch her from the river trail as she works in a tiny section of the dirt.
She never moves farther than her arms can reach.

Next to her walker, in the shade of the cherry blossoms,
she silently manipulates what she can,
ignoring every bicycle as it passes.

I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work
and her lack of mobility. Her efforts seem impossible
until I notice the canola flowers rising in a patch of triumph.

They blow quietly in the evening air like yellow canaries behind her back,
still parallel to the ground at the other end of the early spring garden.

There is no praise, no congratulations, no one to keep her company.

Just the sunset arriving shortly,
bouncing through the yellow flowers,
reflecting off the line of trash,

and the woman in her garden,
dutifully tending to the next thing.

Before We Say Goodbye

Before We Say Goodbye

Suddenly the cherry blossoms burst
above the gravel parking lot
at the beef restaurant across the street.
Hundreds of tiny flowers delivered overnight.

They cling together, shaking like pompoms at a halftime show
or miniature wedding bouquets held tightly in the hands of nervous brides.

They stand out against the cobalt sky
like the snowy “up hair” of the halmoni who sits next to
my four-year-old daughter on the subway
and holds her hand.

In awe we look up through the barrier of our
phone screens, shifting on small rocks, adjusting to
capture the best angle of the trees.
Knowing soon
the petals will fall and stick
to the ground like used confetti.

We are spectators and participants
conscious of our short-lived, ordinary lives:

a magnetic display
even if they tower over gravel,
a miracle
even as they fall to the ground.

What February is Like: a trip to the downtown library on a Thursday

February is like pushing a double stroller full of big kids to the subway station.

It’s like the halmoni* who steps onto the train with an elegant walking stick made of real wood. Her white hair swoops away from her face. She wears a bright purple coat and purple floral pants. Her smile is kind and generous. She guesses the kids’ ages and holds True’s hand. But when she stops to think, when she looks out the dark windows, she sits quietly with sad eyes.

February is like the woman sitting next to the halmoni on the train. She clutches her pink prayer beads knotted on a green string and whispers something over and over, prayers filling the train car just past noon.

It’s like the tough guy in a teddy bear sweatshirt or the policeman drinking banana milk in the underground.

(Even the oversized “America” t-shirt for sale, hideous and white, feels like a metaphor.)

February is like the blaring music pouring out of trinket shops with dozens of socks and key chains. It’s boxy like McDonald’s and Uniqlo.

It’s like the puppies and kittens in tiny cages, jammed in the front windows of tiny pet shops.

February is like 2pm, when tiny family-owned restaurants house lingering customers and the smells of deonjang and ddeokbokki leak into the back alleys, tempting our full bellies as we walk by.

It’s like the moment I repeat the library rules so the kids remember to keep their shoes on their feet and off the furniture.

February is like the sad new books tucked away and shoved underneath the double stroller, waiting to be opened as soon as we get home.

————
*Halmoni (할머니) means ‘grandmother’ in Korean, but it is also used to politely address elderly women in general.

————
Writing has been drudgery this month. I keep trying to wrestle paragraphs, but I can’t seem to fit them together. It got me thinking about February in general and how it’s rare to find someone who claims it as a favorite. These notes from last Thursday describe what it feels like to slog through the blahs of my February words. I’m not sure if it will make sense to anyone else, but at least it’s a glimpse into our current every-day.