One smacks my arm
to tell me my hat has fallen
on the snowy ground.
I pick it up, she doesn’t
look back, just keeps walking.
Another shoves sticky rice
cake into my mouth for the new
year, our bodies damp
with the sweat of the sauna’s air.
One more shows me how
to flick my wrist when my hand
grips a badminton racket and,
no matter how many times
I smack the birdie across the net,
says, “No, no, no.”
I’m always introduced by my age.
Another elder in the weight room,
6 a.m., visor tight against her hair,
holding herself up by her elbows
on the captain’s chair when I walk in,
gestures with her chin and yells
to her friend, “The foreigner’s pretty!”
I accept. Sure, fine, I’m young,
I’m pretty, but I don’t know how
to feed myself or play a sport
in which children excel or keep
my things from falling onto
the wet ground. And this is the way
identity forms, that’s what my professor
must have meant, years ago,
all of those around assign us label
after label until we ourselves are certain
they’re true. I wonder what will happen
to me when I return to Seattle,
where I’ll be old again, just average
looking, but reasonably good
at the normal things that compose
a life. What, then, of Marie Howe’s
long American youth? What of mine?
Mine has been a long Korean youth
and I’ve relished in it, me and the elders,
my mentors, my teachers, the ones
I look up to, who are, after all, my age.