I am thinking about the difference between what I think & what I say.
How I take a nebula of emotions & impulses and expect
words to find stable orbit in that space; and I am sure language
must be a kind of translation. If I had not failed as a musician, I would
play the piano and ignore words completely. Keith Jarrett moans
and we understand he means
you don't know what love is.
So maybe there is something universal about language.
When I argued with M, I was always two topics behind
because I kept going back to revise the point I didn't mean to make.
Every expatriate in Korea thinks woegukin means foreigner.
I didn't learn until I returned to Nashville and snapped at a Korean
friend in Starbucks
I can't be a foreigner in my own country,
that the best translation is not Korean. I'm more frightened
every year at how effectively my mouth misrepresents me.
What would you think if I told you I wished M a broken heart?
But what if I said this poem was once titled Duende? What if
this were a song called 마음을 잃다 but I didn't tell you how
to say that or what it means? What if my Korean friend spoke
no English and didn't hear my petulance? I don’t know
if I'm making myself clear. Pretend I elucidated the problem of turning
ideas into words. Pretend I did it with fewer words. If you asked
what I've learned, I'd say now I embrace my mind's slow system, send
thanks to the women who showed me music starts in the soles of the feet,
surges to the tongue. I have to thank those women who took what
I needed to lose to make room for the vowel of recognition I hold in
my mouth for as long as it takes to reshape the soul into a song.
This poem was first published in Connotation Press.