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Sasha Hom

A Guidebook, This Pen

 

AWARD FOR HYBRID WRITING

 

Issue No. 6 || GRAVITY

“A Guidebook, This Pen” was selected by contest judge Lars Horn as the winner of the inaugural Brink Literary Journal Award for Hybrid Writing, a contest designed to celebrate hybrid and cross-genre work and the creatives who make it.

No . . . We don’t know . . . These meetings? . . . Yes, I know . . . Every Wednesday . . . No, her mother didn’t mean to give her up . . . Not like that . . . She just disappeared . . . Haha . . . Into thin air . . . That’s not funny . . . When she returned . . . You know the yogwan . . . Just ask Cheryl . . . Homestay? . . . Whoa . . . She was adopted by . . . How unusual . . . I was one of eight . . . He was adopted by . . . In Minnesota . . . All of them were white . . . They were adopted by . . . After Rodney King . . . We were adopted by . . . You don’t know Rodney King? . . . Germans . . . That’s not funny . . . My first memory is of my birth mom leaving . . . I was adopted by . . . sent to . . . Hare Krishnas pulling a juggernaut with a reclining Krishna down the block . . . Sent to . . . She was adopted by . . . That is so Berkeley . . . Denmark . . . I don’t remember that . . . Sent to . . . My adopted parents won’t talk to me . . . Have you tried television? . . . Because I returned . . . I put an ad in the Choson Ilbo . . . Just be grateful . . . Gucci . . . At least my adopted parents didn’t . . . Did you hear . . . Not quite incest . . . But . . . My brothers . . . Can’t get over that . . . Grew up here in an orphanage . . . They beat her . . . Stop dancing . . . No, Ferragamo . . . I remembered Korean watching television . . . to Cali . . . I was nine. . . When I was one . . . They say I need to embrace who I am . . . I don’t think so . . . Just be grateful . . . What they’ve given me . . . We did the DNA test . . . What Jesus has given me . . . How did you find out about the group? . . . Now they keep asking me for money . . . Oh, you founded it . . . But we have volunteers who can help you . . . She left me on the bathroom floor . . . of his hotel room . . . They were all gone . . . But I am grateful . . . 

hom 1

1998.7.17 Seoul, Korea
Broadcasting Radio Signals: H-O-M at the Kims’ Yogwan

Me and You


—at . . . tzz . . . ya . . . tz . . . Hello? . . . tzzzz . . . Fucking static. So, here I am sitting cross-legged in a rented room in a deteriorating yogwan located right off the main drag, tucked in an alley riddled with puddles like pockmarks reflecting street lights and every dying star. That’s where I am now, a small black-haired girl broadcasting at ya, like a sea turtle with her neck stretched out, screaming . . . tzzz . . . darn static . . . testing, testing, 1, 2, 3. I hold the mic in my hand. Just kidding. There is no mic and turtles don’t have hands. It’s just me, beaming at ya.


—Would you stop with the “ya”s?


—Just me beaming at you from the Kims’ yogwan where the guests pay by the month, or the week, or the night, or even by the hour. I am stewing in the country, but not the city, of my birth. I don’t know much about that place. Yet.


—What’s the title of this again? Can you clarify? What’s the theme, the A-story, the B-story? Pitch it to me.


—Hold on a sec. Someone’s calling me. The meeting? No. I don’t think so. How to search? Oh. Yeah. No. Hmm. Maybe later. Sorry. It was that girl again in the room across from mine. She wanted to know if I was going to the meeting.


—You should go. You were telling us a story . . . but it wasn’t very engaging. There was no hook. I know! Give me an elevator pitch.


Mimimimimeeee . . . I will sing it like a song, like an elevator rising from floor to floor. I’ll call the song: “When The Tigers Were Smokin’”

1. The Gods came with their cups,
2. Flinging women like dice, none larger than ponies
3. Flipped across a peninsula named . . . Gojoseon (<108 BC)

4. Named Daehan Minguk (1948)

5. Named Choson Minjujuui Inmin Konghwaguk (1948)

6. Named Dangun (2333BCE)
7. Named Snake eyes ()()!
8. Women sit up.
9. Women lean back.

10. Women rest chins upon elbows, stretch out upon the plains,
a sheet of lumpy bodies, baking pies beneath the sun.
11. Then, she becomes a mountain.

Bends her knees toward the sky, spreads her toes across the dirt,

and just as she is about to peak,
12. He slices her like toast.

—Poetry so does not create profluence. Can’t you tell it like a story?


—I was trying to tell it like an elevator. Actually, I was trying to connect the body of the woman to the land. Like the peninsula and its history of division, which, of course, led to the creation of the Korean Adoptee Identity, not to mention the effects of such wars on the bodies of women, and men too. I mean . . . How about as if it were a myth:

 

In The Beginning, a mudang sang a muga. Just a bear sitting
patiently in silk, beside Mugwort and ten thousand desires.
For twenty-one days she fornicated with Gods Goddesses
StarDust ************** >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Out came a
female child!
She fed it to the tiger, disproving The Theory of Indivisibility—
               more than bound—& The Myth of 10,000 Things.
(They sang, they sing, they sung)

still singing

—Oh come on now, that’s not the Story.


—Oh, but it is.

hom 2

1975.1.15.22.06.
Origin Story #1

When she held me in her body as she stood beside the trickle of a stream, she did not think, “My womb is a cave of the ocean.” She did not think, “I am a moon who shifts the weight of water from the body of the shore,” even as the stream drank her toes. It sucked her down. She rubbed her fists against the bones of her hips, sticking her thumbs into her creases. She rubbed with such vigor that for a moment she forgot who she was—a small woman carrying a secret mistake. Resting a hand over her belly, and another hand on top of that, stacked like lovers, she listened. Then nervously she glanced around.


No one tells you how a womb is chock-full of crystals, how the edges slice grooves into your hand, writing a life yet lived. I didn’t know these words back then: “stalactite,” “stalagmite,” “epigenetics,” “descent.” A language of tendons necessary to the bone. They slip off the tongue like bird calls in the tree tops rolling toward a rising sun.


The basement of my mouth holds her brown clipped tongue.


My father was the sound of a horseshoe striking pavement. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. He would ring with the rocks and the trees, beating time, but never crossing the water. I try to listen when I am overseas. Tzzzzzz . . . But all I get is . . . tz . . . static. Damn.


Whereas, my mother was a woman who could hold it down. Even when they tried to beat me from the body of her bag, she held me in, and I grew, cramming my limbs into my mouth so as not to hurt the stretched-out linings of her with something as inconsiderate as a heel. Held me until, expanding to the limits of her grace, she stood beside the raging of a stream, panting like a bloated dog. I cowered beneath her membranes lit up like a crackling sky while the river rose against the exploding moon of her belly.

She kneads her stomach with the dough of her hands, caked in the salt of the sea, roaring. Her bloodshot eyes. Roaring. The blood-soaked bank. Roaring. The snow, a spreading sun, the color of the sky when the woods burn.
 

She drops to the ground. A jet plane bifurcates the sky above. With the glossy eyes of a minnow, she watches a thin white line unfurl across the blue barred sky. From the closing umbrella of her womb, I fall onto the bank, covered in the phosphorescence of her sea, and roll away.
 

She calls to me in seething words of bone. A shaman’s song, a muga, a gift of ears. She roared. It roars. We roar. Roar.


I cry, “Ah-mah. I am here. I am here. I will always be with you,” knowing that I will not and that like the moon, it will be her following me through my life.
 

The imprint of water on scales steers a fish back home.


I will tell you of the things she once gave me in the small suitcase of my body. She said, “This is how you lose your lover,” then wound the basket of my pelvis with a white snake to squeeze and release like a heartbeat racing with the hooves of a horse into the distance.
 

She said, “A life is not a journey but a well-worn rug,” then wrapped me up in yesterday’s news and placed into the pocket of my mouth a photo of babies tied to women crossing a swaying bridge going under.
 

She said, “The rulers will always love the blood of a woman and you will be a female child,” then handed me a map that I still carry, following her directions to a tee.


My father says, “It’s a world in here, Baby, this head, this body, this vacant room of my smile. I would cut you from my skull if I could keep you.”
 

But he did not and they could not. Their faces are a waning sky.
 

I search for them in the cabinets, the books, the songs both old and new, never thinking to look between my palms, two sets of lines staring each other down like a road map held to a mirror. I trudge their well-worn trail. I fly over.

hom 3

1998.7.17 Seoul, Korea

Broadcasting Radio Signals: W-H-O-M at the Kims’ Yogwan

You and Me

—We’re on the . . . tzzzz . . . air! Shhh. Listen. Do you hear that static? No? All right, so, tuning in . . . Is anyone there? Can you hear me? Are you listening?


—Of course. I’m sitting right next to you. I thought this was Radio Station H-O-M.


—Silencio. There are no stations. Only signals, beaming to you from my small room, just a small box, really, set on top of a big box that is the Kims’ yogwan, a cheap hotel that probably no longer exists. I probably no longer exist by the time this broadcast reaches you. Like starlight. From the top floor above, a gazillion adoptees swarming beneath, all searching, I sing, Mimimimee! Just kidding. My hair is tangled dream-time. It blazes red in the noonday sun but flows effortlessly back through the water. I am five feet tall, that is. I don’t know how many feet I am around. I weigh one hundred thirteen pounds in the morning. At night, it’s always different, as if a day can be measured in pounds. As in, “That was a real three-pounder.” Or, “How was that not even a one-pound day?” Or, “Goddamn—a five-pounder?” And now, how do I shed the weight? Tell, tell, tell . . . Do you hear that? It sounded like bells. Hand over hand, up the rungs I climbed into a small space like a treehouse in a big sky where clouds speed by like freight trains and skyscrapers scrape my head. Beneath jet planes incinerating the sky, I climbed with my backpack full of
books, balled clothes, one die, no brush, and all the necessary toiletries in miniature bottles.


—That’s all you brought?


—I was only allowed one carry-on and one very personal item. So, hand over hand, up the rungs I climbed, with a guidebook, this pen, my adoption papers zipped up in a clear plastic pouch, into a tiny space sunk within this scraping city of a sky. I had arrived.


—That’s all you carried?


—Oh, and a photo of a boy I once loved, gazing through the bars at a moon changing shape with the movement of the clouds.


—You brought your adoption papers?

—He’s in a mental institution now.


—I thought you said you didn’t come here to search?


—I thought we were going to marry.


—As if marriage ever solved anyone’s problems. So, wait, what happened?

 

—I haven’t told you that story yet? When I first arrived, map in hand, Mrs. Kim gave me a tiny key on a long string—the kind you use to unlock a diary. She pressed it into my palm. It sunk into me like a truth. I pushed the complimentary rubber slippers into my armpit as she instructed, Weoh sheoh-ah. Weoh koh-yae. Wiles bad. I didn’t understand. Another guest carrying a frog in a cup interpreted: Faulty wiring. No ground. But then, barefoot, no slippers, having just arrived, I was hovering over the toilet seat. I stepped off and flicked on the switch to make sure it all went down. There was a flash of light! A floral can suddenly over-flowering. Brown-stained tissues seared onto my eye lids. Shocked, I fell with my hands in the bowl. I had been electrocuted. You see, I had neglected to put on the slippers. It was the German who resuscitated me with his paper cup of frogs. “Do not lie on the ground,” he said. “It's dirty.” Ribbit.


—I don’t think “electrocution” is the technical term, but . . . How did you know they were all adoptees? And did you ever find your real mother?


—Like Jesus slipping off of his cross, I flap my wings. A fly flies by. I walk across the. . . tzz . . . water . . . tzzz . . . No. I must climb a ladder in order to enter this room. When I close the door, it sways on its puny hinges. This place is not very well built, you know. A botched job that was done, probably, by Mr. Kim with his power drill. Dust from Sheetrock christens the floor as the shut door reveals, on a newly bared wall, a face staring at me—its coarse wavy hair, its lips like mine, those eyes that I swear are

not                                    my


.eyes.
And this is not my home.

—Huh?


—Mirrors. I was looking at a mirror. I am very watchful here. Not just because of the reflections. Eye. Fly with compound eyes. Pupils packed in side by side like the tubes of a bolete, a gill-less polypore. Or a public school classroom. Get it? Pupils! It’s trapped inside—fly and eyes—blown back by the ever-twirling blades of a fan hanging, just barely, by two twisted wires in the corner of the room. All this staring at the walls until they’re moving, all this looking at reflections for the start. It makes one crossed. Crossed eyes, crossed legs, crossed arms. My torso is twisted, doubled. Can you feel it? Do you see the image of me emerge as I unfurl?

 

—Are you on drugs?


—I meant the story—unfurl the story. I unroll the padded blankets to make my bed, silky and blue like a river. I sit cross-legged. My thighs stick to the plastic ondol floor.

I rock to the right

and the left thigh sings out, schlup, as the floor releases
some skin.
I rock to the left,

and the right thigh sings out, schlup,

as the floor suctions up my skin. Schlup, schlip, schlup,
schlip
(I am rocking),

sings the space between flesh and floor.
Schlip, schlup, schlip, schlup, sings a chorus of skin caught
and released by a plastic ondol floor. It is a Melody of

Release & Reunion.

—Like a theme song!

—Exactly. Every story needs a theme song, even if it’s just the sound of farting flesh. Wait. Hey, did you just see that thing moving? Look. Over there! That reddish-brown beetle-back rising out of blue? Eeek! Watch me flick it to the ground. Splat! Just a short fall for a large descending beetle. Downstairs the guests are yelling. I bet they’re arguing about sumo. Which fat man ambling insect-like is the winner? Which roll of flesh will he subdue? I fall asleep. I must have. Because I wake to a crick in my neck shooting lights in my brain and something squirming in my hair, tangled up in dream-time. I put my hand to it in real-time and it wiggles. I scream and fling it out of my body. It thuds against the wall. Tiny feet skitter across the plastic ondol floor as the big roach slips into the cracks, stunned, I believe, by this story.


—What the?!


—Yep. Stunning, huh? Like starlight.

hom 4

1975.1.18.22.06.
Origin Story #2

There is no real knock at the door silence just a disturbance in the sleep of the roosters no sound as a ghostly-thin hand the size of a child’s relinquishes the substance, if you will, the juice, the glowing green essence that’s kept her going for the past nine months and two weeks (she was always late). The only time she has ever felt fully alive (it’s amazing what doubling can do to your hair), practically floating, vibrating across the rutted roads of the watching village.


Before the Reverend opens his door to the faint knocking, he tightens the stiff cloth of his hanbok around his waist. His mouth contracts into a salted plum. His eyebrows rise, eyes widening into mirrors. An owl takes flight from the branches. A slight breeze bubbles up through the trees as Amma ascends with the rising snow.


It’s coming down fast now. The Rev’s knees creak, reminding him of how he’s been put together and how he can come apart. He lowers himself to extract from a basket (was there really a basket like in the cartoons?) a bundle forsaken on his stoop and in the process, accidentally knocks over the one potted plant that has been holding fast to its frozen petals, its soil spilling down the stairs.

Aigoo! The Reverend slams the door. The tenements shake, releasing dust of mortar, like the eyes of newt winking in the moonlit snow. With quick, scissor-like steps, he trots toward the station, leaving in his wake a fresh line of sunken footprints that crisscross another pair of footprints, now fainter than a leaf pressed into powder. Dirty clouds puff up from a factory. They drift before a crescent moon. The Reverend tightens his grip on the package wrapped in paper and one rag. His throat burns as he hurries past the nasty building’s many glowing eyes. He kicks stones.

 

At the police station, the Captain answers the door. Reverend?

 

The Reverend tries to hand the baby over. Take it from me. Please.


The Captain crosses his arms. Last night’s baby was not breathing. The morning came too soon. Squashed, dumpstered, screaming, squalling. Her, more beautiful than a doll.

hom 5

The Reverend and the Captain walk down a long hall into a small room lit by a single bulb giving off a shockingly bright light. The capped head of a young Officer sleeps in a cradle of arms beside a binder of loose-leaf paper, unclipped. He is roused. The pages flutter to the ground. The sleepy young Officer’s hat droops comically over his eyes as he scrambles on all fours to collect the now mixed entries of past and present crimes that might have passed. His hat plops onto the floor, upside down, like a turtle on its back. He scoops papers.


The Reverend hands the bundle to this comical young man, brushing from his arms the feeling of this life’s contact, unremovable. The Officer places it wrapped in soggy layers on top of his desk. It feels simultaneously soft and hard. Despite himself, he lets out a curse that floats like a halo above his head: %#$!*! and quickly apologizes. Sorry, Rev.


The Reverend’s back aches. The Captain’s does too. The clock ticks. The three men contemplate this night’s package. Aigoo. They curse: women, tigers, bears, wars, factories. The clock tocks. They curse: God, mothers, life, books, this . . . ? %#$!*!?{}^$*! story. The young Officer’s throat constricts. His stomach turns, echoes within. He pictures his wife at home nursing their newborn, both creatures stretched, transparent beneath the weak light of the moon. He strips off the layers of newspaper, the ink bleeding into the center now. He is sure of it. He worries how it marks his skin.


He grabs a corner. Off goes the front page of the Choson-Ilbo. Down come sneering politicians embraced. Ripped are the obituaries. More bad news, the sports page, entertainment, comics, too many ads, and some crimes tossed to the floor. Until, finally, swaddling the heart of the matter is a reddish-brown rag. (From where did this object come? Her hanbok? His?)

 

The Captain holds his breath, wishing he could go after the guilty with guns blazing. It would be so much easier. But this is no American Western. Still, the situations are somehow related. The Reverend is more concerned about rooting out the devil in the details. The young Officer thinks of the pudding in the pie. He is hungry. He picks at the rag. He peels back a corner, exposing delicate fingers with milky white crescents on the nails. He unveils it, revealing soft rosy cheeks smudged in the ink of yesterday’s news, downy black hair, lips almost plant-like, and a purple kiss from the stork above each eye.


The men gasp. Blink, blink. The baby smiles. (Gas or some sort of cosmic laughter?) The men lean over, eclipsing the light that outlines their now faceless bodies. The Captain prods it with a pudgy hand. He grabs a thigh and pulls like testing the doneness of a roast chicken. He exclaims, It’s a girl! Aigoo! It’s a girl.

 

A little fist shoots out from beneath the bloody blanket. The men uncurl the fingers one by one, surprised at the strength of a newborn made for clinging to its mom. In her palm, they find a scrap of paper. “A note!” they cheer and unfold it, stumped by the numbers—no words!—written in a shaky hand—75.1.15.22.06.—like a combination to a lock no one knew was there.

hom 6

1998.7.17.

No, we don’t know . . . Yes, we come here all the time . . . I don’t drink . . . I never thought I’d search . . . I can’t stop drinking . . . They’ll put a few tables together for us on the patio. . . Each time I search, it’s like, this huge hole inside of me gets just a little bit smaller . . .To make it larger, more room . . . Oh, I don’t think you can stitch that up . . . It’s healing. . . Where are you staying? . . . What is The Novel after all? . . . Shut the fuck up . . . You just need a new pair of shoes . . . What is Form and Content? . . . Get out of town . . .After I had children of my own . . . It’s nice to sit outside, isn’t it? . . . It’s an act of love to leave your newborn . . . Don’t worry, I got this . . . How could it be anything else? . . . Cuttlefish . . .

hom 7

Nymphs Steal Baby From Windowsill, Cooling Like a Cherry Pie!

The baby was too hot! Mother covered her in a fine yellow crust and placed her out to cool. It should have been a brief stay, a short repose. Mother wanted her with her after her supper. But, the nymph tucks the baby into its armpit and makes a dash for home.


Touchdown!


Mother runs after Nymph in her apron. With her doughy fists she demands, Replay!


Too late. Nymph celebrates with a jiggly dance.


Denied and defeated, still clucking bok, bok—–Mother scratches into the barren earth.


Denuded and de-feathered, Mother finds not even a slice of broken body.

hom 8
sasha hom.png

Sasha Hom

she/her

Sasha Hom is a writer, adoptee-activist, farm worker and mother of four, with interests in soil regeneration utilizing Korean Natural Farming methods. In addition to homeschooling her small children, she herds small ruminants. She was a Holden Minority Scholar at Warren Wilson College where she earned her MFA. She has taught writing workshops to BIPoC tweens adopted by white families and presented scholarly work for the Global Overseas Adoptee Links 10th anniversary conference in Seoul (while wearing a child on her Back). She has been published in the Journal for Korean Adoption Studies, as well as One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory... edited by Rebeccah Walker (Riverhead, 2010), Echoes Upon Echoes: New Korean American Writings edited by Elaine Kim, and Laura Hyun Kang (AAWW, 2003), Kweli Journal, The Millions, and Literary Mama with work forthcoming elsewhere.

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