엄마 grew up by the water
where her 아빠 was a fisherman who left the house well before the rising sun
was gone for most of the day
As evening drew close and the sun began to set,
엄마 would make her way over to the water and wait.
She’d wait on the seashore,
waiting for his boat to slowly appear above the horizon make its way over to her.
As she waited, she’d try to catch crabs
the small white ones that would scurry over her feet then disappear teasing her
appearing and reappearing over and over again.
Decades later as 엄마 lay waiting in the hospital
I waited for her.
The doctors told me all about malignant growth
a tumour resulting from an uncontrolled division of cells.
But to me, it was an evil
hard to contain eradicate.
The disease clung onto her clenched jaws clawing away at her body
repeatedly repeatedly repeatedly
I recently learned that the word “cancer”
comes from Latin for ‘crab or creeping ulcer’
karkinos from Greek
said to have been applied to such tumours
because the swollen veins around them
resembled the limbs of a crab.
and just as soon as the crabs would disappear
they’d appear again.
*** The italicized phrases in this poem are dictionary definitions of the word “cancer.” ***
Born in Korea and raised in East Africa, Melanie Hyo-In Han recently moved from the U.S. to the U.K., where she is a Ph.D. researcher, teacher, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Flora Fiction. She is the author of Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips (Finishing Line Press, 2021) and the translator of several collections of Spanish poetry (Hebel Ediciones). Nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Han has received awards from "Boston in 100 Words," Valiant Scribe, The Lyric Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an M.F.A. in Poetry and Translation, an M.Ed. in Secondary English and Spanish, and a B.A. in English, Spanish, and Linguistics. Learn more about her at melaniehan.com.