Story of My Name by Arhm Choi

I.

아름아, mom calls.

 

I’m talking to my partner on my mother’s couch,

telling her the same things I’ve been saying all my life:

Korean doesn’t have a ‘r’ sound, so it’s more like a ‘r d l’

all smushed together, not a roll like in Spanish.

 

I see this woman I love mimicking the sounds of it,

her lips turning the corner of the page, almost.

I fall for her harder in her openness to look wrong,

admit there’s a part of me that doesn’t come to her easy.

 

Rice is luck in Korean, and 아름 means lots of it,

also ‘big hug’, as in measurement of a tree’s girth,

or the armful of flowers that hides my face.

It can also be an adjective, meaning beautiful.

 

예쁘다

아름

아름답다

 

 

II.

My parents had just moved

to the states and couldn’t make

English work for them quit yet.

Hours before I was born

they ask the doctors

how to spell my name,

two white men from the nicer

side of Detroit.

Mama in thin blue gown

slows down the sounds for them

as if this

could translate

the hope they had

for me then.

The doctors pick out letters

between the testing

and drawing of blood.

 

My parents honor

the silly suggestion

letter by letter

bowing low

before the true Americans

even then.

 

 

III.

There is this market

in Korea’s corner of Manhattan

that is also called 아름

and sometimes I walk by

 

without a grocery list

to see myself

outside the crude answer

of my body,

 

but I don’t want to explain this

to every person I meet

so I let English conquer my tongue

and say Hi. My name is Autumn.

 

People will say your name is beautiful,

thinking trees not afraid

of chewing its own

apple foliage

 

or they’ll call me August

or April or arm

if they’re trying to honor my culture

where I have not.

 

 

IV.

In Korean autumn is 가을

which does not hold the time I fell

down the steps of the Jefferson Memorial

or the first time I bit someone else’s lip.

 

I catch myself wishing

people wouldn’t try

to say it right

like Arham or Arum

 

and let me deny

my parent’s immigrant ignorance

and the culture that lets me be hug

and rice and beautiful.

 

Autumn is how I make

reservations for tables and doctors,

Autumn gives me a mask

like everyone else

 

so why am I falling more in love

with the woman

who is listening so intently

for the way my mother commands my name

 

and I must convince her it’s ok

if she doesn’t say it right,

but I must admit

I am so happy when she does.

Arhm Choi
Bio Photo Arhm Choi is a poet from Ann Arbor, MI, with a MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She has competed nationally at Brave New Voices and has been published in an anthology by Wising Up Press, and by Split this Rock, Two Hawks Quarterly, Peal, Otoliths, and Scholars & Rogues.