A Diver’s Soliloquy

May 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

When I was born
my mother wanted me to be rich.
So where did the money go?
I did Haeyno work for fifty years.

When I was born, my mother would
take me to the sea with her.
She said that Imo[1] would hold me against her stomach
during the workday, singing about urchin meat and
slippery kelp as my mother’s browned legs
pushed against the undertow,
disappearing over the black rock that
resisted the ocean with each push of the tide.
The sea took her in each time
and never gave her back to me.
She would emerge from the water, her arms
taut like pig hide and slick by the thickness of algae,
and the nets that bulged with unknown geometries were
nestled on her back.
Her silhouette was muscular, masculine,
and it frightened me.

Some women carry children on their backs,
but your mother carries the ocean, Imo chanted to me.

I longed for a place on my mother’s body
but could not locate it.
And I would cry through the day that she worked,
my face wet, too, and inflamed from the salt that
cut my eyelids as it leapt from the water.
That is all that we shared.

Imo said,
cry all you want. Sometimes her words were sharp
like rock. But I learned to listen because our voices grew
with the onset of hunger and noise could only fill heads,
not stomachs.

Save your tears for my kitchen.
I could use the sea salt on those cheeks for pickling.
We must not be so wasteful of what
our bodies give us to solve hunger. 

It was true: the ocean kept us from starving
in the heat or else
dinner might have been spoiled.

The Haeyno took over my village. I was not the only girl who
watched my mother carry the ocean on her back like a child.
I was not the only girl who knew the sound of the women
entering the ocean or the smell of ocean life emerging from the water
with them. I was not the only girl who helped crack the urchin spine and dig out the meat with my fingers.
I was not the only girl who had her fingernails stained Gamgyul[3] orange.

Today, I hear my daughter crying my name on a
landing above the ocean wall. I descend into the ocean
and dive to where I cannot hear her cry any longer.
I descend to my food, and hers, and yours.

[1] Auntie

[2] Tangerines native to the agriculture of Jeju Island, South Korea.


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