Dust

By Jess McKay, a first-year ETA in Sejong


Zoya Hsiao, “Yellow,” Busan
My students know dust before air
dust before wind
and dust before breath.

In our classroom, we translate the world around us;
they point and pry for words to be known.

“How’s the weather?” I ask.
Misemeonji is bad,” they say.
Dust. In English, it is dust,” I reply.
The dust is bad.

My students know dust before clarity.
They string words together
hoping their speech prompts
a positive response.
“Dust is good,” they say.
Implying that we should go outside.

My students know mask before grin
Mask before laugh
And mask before breath.


Naomi Robalino, “Young Again,” Mokpo
My students wear masks
as they speak.
“The dust is bad,” I say.
“No, teacher. No, it’s okay.”
Their small brows scrunch on their face
as they search for justifications.

They can do this before
explaining the sensation
of a laugh as it rises
from the root of the belly.

They can do this before
explaining how rich the
air tastes
after a long swim.

They can do this before
explaining
the breath before a cannonball
the breath before a song.

My students know dust.