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This  is  a  recurring  nightmare: you are a  baby when daddy leaves  you in a hot car. What
you  remember  is the slap of our mother’s  cold, hard hand. In  the  kitchen, she  throws a
glass at  daddy and  misses. Just a  baby, our  mother says.  Take the  baby  to the  shaman,
daddy  says. Mother  turns  to you and her face is like glass. She  leaves the room, but  you
can hear her weeping.

Daddy  draws  near. He  hesitates  before  splaying his  hand atop your head. You lean into
his touch and close your eyes. You don’t see his face as he leans down to whisper,

                                                                                                                            you are not my child

                                                                                                                                     you are a snake


You steal  a dream.  You  eavesdrop  on  the  prettiest  girl in  class  telling  her  best  friend
about a dream she had about a giant pig, a pig big enough to span the city. As she shouted
in  terror  at  the  city  big  pig,  the  pig  snorted  deeply,  and she  was swept up  like a dust
particle  into  the  pig’s  nostril.  On  your  way to  the  airport, you relay  this  dream to our
mother,  but  you say you dreamt it, you say the  dream is  yours. Our  mother  is so happy.
You  feel you’ve  done  the  right thing because our mother is so happy and she tells you to
tell her the dream again and again. You  tell  our mother  your dream  three times.  You are
naming  a  beast  you  will  never understand. You say, I’m  going to miss my best friend the
most, naming the  prettiest  girl in your class. Everything’s  going to  be  better  in  America,
our mother says. In America, you grow fat. You have  one friend. Her  name is Jessica. She
is  fatter  than you. You are her only friend, too. You  are  sitting on the floor of your school
gymnasium, home of the Longstreet Road Indians. All the pretty girls are on the bleachers
with  the  pretty  boys. You are supposed  to be jumping  rope, but the gym teacher is busy
with the boombox. I have a  secret, you  whisper to  Jessica. On  the  radio,  Larry  Sprinkle
says  Floyd  replaced  his  eyewall  this  morning. This  can  occur  multiple  times in intense
hurricanes.  During  this  period,  the  hurricane  may  level  off  or  weaken,  but  then  gain
strength as the  outer  eyewall  contracts  inward, replacing  the old inner eyewall, leaving a
larger  core  with a larger  wind  field. Jessica  breathes into your ear. Do you eat dogs? You
breathe into her ear.                                                                                                       You tell lies.


She  says  that you  were  born  without  a dream, but the  baby  lost  to  her  before you was
foretold by a ginseng flower. When  you  spot a  ginseng, you  have to  claim it  out  loud  for
it to be  yours. It’s  not  enough  to  see it  first. You  have to  shout about it. You have to call
down from the mountains  that you have seen the spirit. I HAVE SEEN THE SPIRIT. These
are the words. No, that’s not right.
심봤다. These are the words. And they mean something
else.  For  months,  she  didn’t  even  realize  she  was  pregnant  with  you. By  the  time  she
found out, she  couldn’t  remember a single  dream she’d had to foretell  your coming. It was
only  after  so  much  worrying  she  decided  you  had  been there  too, in  that  first  dream,
because  even  though she  didn’t  get to  unearth the  precious root, she saw the flower. My
first baby was the root, our mother says, but you are the flower.


They say, have  you  no allegiance to the  Viking  King who stained his teeth with blueberries
to  bring  himself a little  closer to  Mary,  Mother  of God? He said, ‘A  snake is  only ever a
snake. As a  kid, I  had a  deathly,  phobic  fear  of  snakes. I  can  tell  you  when  it stopped. I
was  nine  and my  old  man decided to  take  me to a pet  store to  get one. Told me to stick
my  hand in a  tank of  babies  and  grab  mine, so I did.’ We  tie him  down  with  ropes  spun
from our hair. We are not  careful  with our incisions, but we speak the incantation tenderly:

                                                                                                                                      eyes leave you
                                                                                                                                      eyes leave you
                                                                                                                                      eyes leave you

There  is  more  blood  than  we  can  cup  in our  hands. The  Viking  King  is  as  wide as  the
double  doors  of  his  church.  Our  temple has  no doors, only rock formations and earthen
tunnels  that  lead to  burrows  beneath  tall  trees, deep  where  we make  our  beds  shared
with  the  bones of animal  things: our  sisters  before us, and  red  foxes, and  white  rabbits,
and a black  bear  who  lost  her  cubs and so  never  woke up for  spring. We have seen it up
there, the domain of the Viking King. It is loud and it has  the  sun. We came to  understand
we are  moving  to  America  only when we are  hurt enough  for them to taste our tears are
salted  too, our  blood  just as  tinctured  with  minerals. There  is  little  light, but  down here
we  can  crystallize  and  in the  damp  dark of  his  head  where his eyes used to be, we plant
mushrooms  that  look  like  the  heads  of  snakes  and know we  will not be  turned  to  gold.


S.J. Kim was born in Korea and raised in the American South. She is a Lecturer in Creative and Critical Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London.

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