i. tradition: either dare to wear it
or tuck it away, blame the rough fabric
or the mismatched buttons on fraying threads--
ii. even the garment had come to resemble
an exhaled apology; when I asked her,
first only out of courtesy—what it was called,
she breathed “sorry,”
draped around her shoulders seeming, now, to bow
into a question, and I could not answer
but stood there a while in the ensuing silence.
iii. it seemed to fall to the ground like silken rain
fade into the ocean from where she came up for air
“kimono,” etymologically, “a thing put on”
worn like a costume, an actor’s colors that soon
fell away and off the stage,
left uncertainly in its wake.
iv. to veil is not to hide malice, she told me--
sometimes it is to shield, sometimes to wipe
her tears aside
but she has learned to hide behind her hijab; for now
when she weeps they choose to hear gunshots
and bury her into the rubble with their regrets,
leaving her tears to dry, unmourned.
v. I always take a deep breath before
fastening the ribbon on my New Year’s hanbok
around my ribcage, and hold the air before I exhale
as if to release the “han,” that intrinsically Korean sentiment
of unrequited injustice, stemming from a history
of oppression, of silent laments of the body and mind
unjustifiable with all the words in any language, and felt most
as I pay homage to my ancestors, a living apology
to those still unavenged.
vi. tradition: every step is a show of fashion and culture--
and perhaps in the runway lights the shadows melt away
and our stories, odd and strange and beautiful, shine through.
By Jisoo Choi
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