Exilée

Sometimes, book covers will tempt readers with a promise to take them along on a journey to “exotic” and “faraway” places. I recently found an entire section in Barnes & Nobles dedicated to “Escapist Fiction.” But if your body is already in motion, is the process of being transported from one place to another that simple and effortless? I imagine my fictive doppelganger stopping in her tracks, reorienting her body, and starting to walk towards the proposed direction with a sheepish grin on her face. That is, at least, how I feel when picking up a book about travel or migration.

Lately, I have been musing over how positionality affects my reading of Korean American literature while attempting to make sense of the winding path I found myself thrusted onto. During most part of the year, I stay in the United States. But I return home to Seoul every summer like clockwork. So, I consider myself a long-distance migratory bird that follows a regular rhythm of seasonal movements. The word “summer” or yeoreum evokes a distinct set of memories replete with bodily sensations: knees buckling as I stand for hours in the immigration line at the airport, fingers getting squashed against backpacks and totes on subways, toes threatening to slip out of sandals in the onslaught of monsoon rain, and skin tingling from the heat radiating off the asphalt covered roads. Spring, fall, and winter, however, are not marked in the same manner. They bring up a disarray of memories that do not meld into variations on a single note.

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Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Exilee is a poem sequence that describes the flight in terms of the sixteen time zones that separate San Francisco from Seoul. It traces, in reverse, the route through which I first came to the United States as did many other migrants both temporary and permanent. Poetry, unfortunately, do not compute in my head as prose does. But nonetheless, poems the collection left me with intense feelings, which I nursed like a cup of tea that is too hot to drink right away.

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