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.
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
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
before the true Americans
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
or they’ll call me August
or April or arm
if they’re trying to honor my culture
where I have not.
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.