The only Korean word I know is oma,
meaning mother. I sit across from her
in the low light of the Korean restaurant
downtown. We hold rice paper menus
up to the candle's glow. On the table,
the kimchi looks like freshly peeled skin
bleeding out on the white ceramic.
She tells me when I arrived in America,
it was as though I had been steeped
in it, the smell of fermented cabbage
stayed in my clothing and hair for months.
We leave it untouched on the table,
choose instead to look out the windows
and watch the strings of light suspended
between storefronts come on,
one by one and then all at once.
When I arrived, my mother had a broken
arm. Holding me was hard; I cried at the sight
of her blonde hair. In a drawer next to her
bed she keeps a drawing I made as a child.
I am a green circle. I sit on a shelf in a store
with other circles--babies waiting to be adopted
by people who walk the aisles with carts
and blue arms longer than their bodies.
They reach toward us to see how much
we cost. I used to think being adopted
meant that I wasn't born. My mother offers
me the sugar bowl before stirring some
into her own tea. It whirls, steam rising
from the surface. She brings
the cup's lip to her mouth, cradles it
with both hands so it doesn't spill.