First Prize: 2011 Teens Between Cultures Poetry Contest

by Yun-Jung, Korea/MA, age 18

It surrounds me,
The smell of dried ginseng and fertilized bean curd,
Clay vases that I could curl up in
But hold instead a snake immortalized in rice wine.
My father tells me
The persimmon tree was planted when he was born
In this strange country.
Now it stretches out sturdy branches,
Weighed down by an abundance of blushing fruit.
He plucks one from the branches I can’t reach,
And hands me the sticky sweet product of their efforts.
Scraping dirty feet across stone steps,
My sister and I slide open the panel doors and wonder
How people can live in a house made of paper.
And we hurry to find the answers to our questions
Sitting in our grandmother’s bedroom.
She sits as if the whole world was hers to bear on her
Tiny shoulders.
When she speaks, her words make little more sense to us
Than a fork being run across a plate.
And when we can’t piece together the words to answer her questions,
She sighs at the failures of her son
To pass down the inheritance of her tongue.
But she takes from me the soft persimmon
And peels the skin back to reveal the ripe summer’s sunset.
She shows me how to slip out the meaty fruit
And suck out the sweet juices between my teeth,
Smiling at my proudly candied hands.

Photo courtesy of FariaC via Creative Commons