Let Me Tell You How It All Began

There was once a time when my mother thought

she had a choice, so I was 선호, in hanja, leader.

I thought it was this simple, my name carrying me

to each lover, unchained. I met J and let my limbs loosen

as we danced in sprinkler water. Softened,

he cradled my skin until it bruised, my hands unable

to write it—my name, my unabashed—and so my mother

changed the last character: 선아, age twenty, rounded hangul:

supple and naive. My name, newborn, tripping

into a lover’s room as I stay when they say Stay.

선아  moving to him like a lucky omen. So gullible

to language. When she returned to Seoul my mother changed

to the ninth most common name, 민재. She exchanged

lives with others, handpicking the restaurant owner 민재,

the dancer 민재, the 민재’s whose only option was remain.

We—I thought 선아 could do it. My wrists reaching. For what.

My nascent name calls out to every lover who nearly

killed me. 민재 begins to forget Korean words.

한. Translation: suffering. 귤. Translation: clementine.

시민. Translation: citizen. 선호. Translation:


Sun Paik is a former Levinthal Scholar and recipient of the Chappell-Lougee Scholarship. She currently spends her time between Seoul and San Francisco.