Poetry / February 2010 (Issue 10)


by Jean YeoJin Sung

Beginning morning with a part, pointed tip of a plastic comb scraped
         scalp. I'd clench the hem of a plaid jumper. Tighten
lids over my eyes. Between her thick fingers, Ummah clutched
         the slippery dark strands of my hair; wove each bunch; tugged
with each in and out. I'd feel the precise pull, awaiting the outcome.
         Perfect pigtails. My mother created braids unwilling
to yield to slips over asphalt and the acute awareness of the fair-haired
         playground jostlers unaccustomed to my exotic face.

Surrounded by the hustle of teenagers spilling from classrooms, I cleaved
        to cinderblock hallways. Buried my face in stocky texts
hoping for anonymity. Traced white spaces under lines of language,
        never meaning more than loose strands twisted through my fingers,
uncertain and restless. Dark tresses landed overtop pages, but I couldn’t diverge
        focus. A close-up. How they saw the squint of my eyes when they tugged
on the corners of theirs, laughing as they mimicked what they saw 
        in my face, recognizing these familiar shapes as foreign.

The lengthy nights ended at sunrise. I stumbled as if just learning
        to walk, unbalanced as a toddler. 5 a.m. marked another close –
School Girl Thursdays in the Village. Tending bar in pleated, plaid skirts,
        white collared shirts, tight against my bare skin and breastbones.
Neck ties flew. Knee highs, loafers, the customary pigtails spun
        as I'd thrust $2 shots, choked down whiskey with leering men.
Skin flushed, I discovered how to exploit, profit from the angles of my face,
        faltering into a smile I had never wanted to recognize as my own.

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ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.