by Moose Song
할아버지1 gave me many nicknames when I was young:
개새끼2. 씨발놈3. 병신4.
할아버지 never served in the Navy
but he swore like a sailor to hide his affection.
I grew up wanting to curse the seas
to swear vengeance like Ahab.
할아버지 taught me well.
He let me taste the harsh dry words
like dinner made of saltine crackers.
He insisted every man should try them for himself.
Father once caught me calling my sister 개새끼.
That night, he washed out my mouth with shampoo,
conditioned for a smoother finish.
These days the words of the motherland:
- feel awkward in my mouth,
- are always too rough,
- are always too much.
They crawl around the back of my throat,
they cut my tongue a thousand times
as I struggle to find the words to say
do you speak English?
1 Hal-abeoji, meaning grandfather in Korean.
2 Gaesaekki, best translated as “son of a bitch” in usage and meaning.
3 Ssibalnom, literally “fuck-boy,” but closer in meaning to fucker.
4 Byeongsin, the Korean equivalent of moron, retard, or dumbass.