They Swim Circles In The Rain (excerpt)
- Time, Korea.
This is a story about birth.
About mothers and daughters and sisters too. Those who are sold across seas.
Fathers, brothers, buyers, and the sellers too. It is about country, countries, adoption, birth.
Come on, tell it like a story.
Whose story, your story? Her story? Its story, our story, their story? My story?
Somewhere in Seoul a cockroach has been stunned by a story
III. January 15, 1975
She cannot pad silently across the wet trail. The mud grabs the bottom of her feet like a father. The space between them announces her goodbyes. Over and over and over again.
Plah, plah, plah, plah, plah, plah.
She does it beside a river, thinking, then we will both jump into the icy water and my sin will become the River’s. But by then, the sin will have doubled. And two sins float.
She stuffs the baby into the carcass of the dead deer. Both still warm and leaking.
She will tiptoe back to her father.
Mud returns no light.
Release is the tongue moving inward. Thlpp, thlpp, thlpp.
The deer opens its eyes and speaks. Slut. Whore of a farmer.
Then baby rides away on the deer.
IV. Hotel Ibyangin.
Yellow plastic slipper whizzes across the courtyard, slams into a dusty soda dispenser. A rat the size of a premature baby skids safely beneath the dead appliance. Mr. Kim chases with a pine broom, sweeping obsessively. The wet concrete of his yogwan.
The Korean adoptee from Oslo, his shirt off, wide flat nipples, slides the English language paper to a young girl who’s just arrived from upstairs. Blapped across the picnic table chained to a concrete-filled tire on the courtyard floor. Who would walk away with a table? The newspaper announces:
H-O-T in concert with Michael Jackson August 29th in Kwangwhamun center. Sponsored by G.O.A.L., the global overseas adoptee’s link (meetings every Wednesday)
“That was last week,” the new girl says.
He scratches lines into the table with a knife. He shrugs. “Wednesday comes again.”
IV. Hotel Ibyangin
We, fat fellows on bench tops watch Sumo. Slam our bottles on the table when it’s done. Burp. Yell. Deaf to the mother tongue. Burp. Yell. This yogwan? Fifty thousand won per a night. What’s that? Forty-nine thousand eight-hundred and twenty-nine won per a night. You too can stay here. Search on sitcoms. Put an ad in the Choson-Ilbo. Go on daytime talk shows. Burp. Yell. Fuck a whore. Hold a sign across your chest, with all known identifying information. Ann Wol-Soon. #75-81/YYS, for instance. Kim Ok-Cha. #79-101/SWS, for instance. Burp. Yell. With Date and Time of Lost and/or Found. Vomit. Host will say: For information on Any Known Blood Relative. The number will be on the bottom of the screen. Now back to our programming, Chuck.
IV. Wednesday (still or again)
They told me, this is how you search:
#1) Go to your adoption agency. But do not make an appointment. You don’t want to give them time to remove any pertinent information. Ask to see your file. They’ll have removed (most of) it anyways.
#2) Follow up on any names given on your paperwork. There is a chance they could be relatives. Old neighbors. The ones who relinquished you. Or not. But it’s worth following up on. If you find any conflicting or omitted information, such as names, times, and/or dates, there’s a chance that other information they’ve given you is incorrect. And if so, there’s a chance you were not born on the day you once believed to be a birthday. There’s a chance that you are not the one who they once said you were. And if so, chances are, the odds are highly stacked against you, and so you’ve got nothing to lose.
What you find may not be true. What you find may be out-right lies. But what you will find, even in the absoluteness of nothing at all, is your story. The one that is true.
#3) Then, go on television, at some point. Say: I’m searching for anyone who might have information about me. I’m curious about Korea, about my heritage.
Do not show your mournful face pleading, Ah mah, like a bawling cow, Ah mah, why did you give me away? Because, she will not call the number on the bottom of the screen, even if she was staring at your face through the glass.
#4) Remember, you’re a detective. Not a crime. Assemble the pieces of who you are. Or what. Or aren’t.
#5) And then, like drowning. Take it all apart.
I. Stone placed upon stone placed upon stone placed upon stone placed upon stone placed upon stone placed upon stone placed upon stone placed upon stone removed from stone removed from stone removed from stone removed from stone removed from stone removed from stone removed from stone removed from stone buried baby eyes breathing stones breathing stone breathing stone breathing
#1. Social Welfare Society, Inc., Any Time
The walls of adoption agencies are lined with filing cabinets. They are stacked from floor to ceiling. They are wedged in side to side. They conceal the walls behind them. As if there are no walls only sliding metal drawers.
But, if you knew what to look for, if you were observant, if you were bored, if you were listening, if you had to wait for a very long time, you would notice the gaps. Not just between them, but within, elongated reddish-brown muddy gaps.
Whole cabinets hollowed. File folders emptied, revised, re-filed, trashed. A raised bump of your identities concealed by layers of Wite Out. Name upon name upon name. Blown on in silence to dry. Now a texture, a residue of layered industrial product on a page. Upon which, carefully, like feet testing ice, a final name is laid on top of the bodies falling below. And just as the names are beginning to crack…
Retrieved by the recently painted fingernails of a bleached blonde Korean social worker, the file is released onto the desk before a young lady with Korean eyes, that plead, that lament, that belabor all injustice unseen. Was dispersal a contact lens meant to change color? California Dreaming should have been a cute pale blue tint made black with retrieval. How Korean is your Korean?
“I can give you a little time to look through,” says the social worker and closes the door to the tiny room. The girl left alone with her file, feels like she’s sitting with the dead at a morgue.
Ah, the story…
What can be told but never will. What can’t be told and how we tell it.
The girl digs as soon as the door closes. Digs and digs like a dog on a white sand California summer. To exhume what was thrown into a hushed humid air.
Beneath layers of opaque typing paper crumbling like brittle leaves, there is a note stuck to the back of the last fragile document. It is covered in a scrip she can not read. A language is not a birthright. Neither is a land. Neither is a mother. But, numbers. The numbers tell a story. She blows on her hands to get the dust off.
There are dates she recognizes as significant. What she has come to accept as her date of birth, 15/1/1975, her date of abandonment 18/1/1975. A combination of numbers and letters connected by a dash to identify her. 75/81/YYS. To tell a story. On the 18th day of the first month, in the year 1975, this was the 81st child to be turned into SWS by police box…And then there is a series of numbers to signify a time, in army-time, of a dark time, that she has never seen. At least not in the version of her file.
The social worker opens the door. The pages shift in the breeze releasing more old dust. Hah chew.
“Can I make a photocopy of this?” the girl asks, holding the scrap paper by its corner as if it is something she does not want to get on her fingertips.
“No copies. That is policy.”
“But this is my file.”
“No, this is our file. Your adopted parents already have your file.”
“They don’t have this piece of paper,” she says, giving it a little shake.
The social worker steps beside her. The girl can smell her smell. Like Korea lady sweat in a monsoon fan. The woman takes the paper from her and peers down at it. Shampoo.
“This? This is nothing,” rebukes the worker.
“But what does it say?”
“It is just the time you were born. We give this to your adopted parents already.”
They can both hear someone calling from afar, a pleading sound rolling down a long hallway.
“Time? I never knew the time.”
The social worker peeks her head out the door and says something to someone standing outside. She pulls her head back into the room. “Excuse me,” she says and steps into the hall, leaving the door ajar.
There are two women now speaking in the hallway. Stealthily, the girl pulls out her camera. Snaps a picture of this handwritten note on scrap paper.
What other new information might it contain? A birth time could signify a hospital birth, not an abandonment. But a relinquishment! Papers signed. Records. Names. She could become a detective. Follow unearthed clues to where the story begins. A lovely elongated face. She will run the film to 1-Hour Photo. She develop the picture of the missing clue in her file and follow the leads like stepping across stones to a doorway.
The social worker returns. “I’m sorry. I must go now. For you,” she says and puts something on the table, picks up the file, tucks it against her side with her elbow and leaves.
It is a little rubber thing covered in plastic. She discards the packaging. Lays on her palm a tiny doll wearing a hanbok in the traditional Korean colors -Social Welfare Society- stamped onto her dress. A cool rubbery girl attached to a key chain, but without a key.
Sasha Hom lives with her four children, husband, two dogs and sometimes chickens in a tent in the woods. It is a large canvas tent but never large enough. Sometimes the family splits up and half go into a tipi, although the chickens have grown up and moved out of the tent into a coop. When not in midst of a pandemic, she waitresses at a wonderful restaurant to support all aforementioned creatures on tips and scraps. Her work can be found in literary venues such as The Millions, Viz. Inter-Arts magazine, Kweli Journal, The Journal of Korean Adoption Studies, Mamazine, LiteraryMama, and other places. She was a recipient of a Sustainable Arts Foundation Grant, a Holden Scholarship from Warren Wilson College where she is still hoping to receive an MFA..