Written by Kristen Bialik

1-024Small Child

“Beach” by Sarah Chen.

눈에 보이는 것 모두가 신기했다
Everything I saw was new to me.

눈1

내 눈으로 그것을 직접 보았다
I saw it with my own eyes.

The hunched backs and bowed legs of ajummas,
backs that carry entire families.
___________The 108 prostrations of a congregation in repentance,
___________stationary steps on the long path to truth.
_____________________The grey hairs of 17-year-old boys who smile with nostalgia
_____________________at thoughts of the “good old days.”

눈 2

한쪽 눈이 멀다
to be blind in one eye

One eye to the immediate
One eye to the West
Home rests always in the peripheries
Clouding now’s rounded corners

눈 3

눈이 핑핑 돌다
to be dizzy

오른쪽 / 왼쪽                                           Right / Left
동쪽 /서쪽                                                East / West
앞으로 / 뒤돌아보다                                Moving forward / Looking back
눈에 설다 // 눈에 익다                            To be strange // To be familiar
시차: Constantly calculating the time difference between my past and their future
Feeling disoriented
___________and yet
______________feeling wonderfully at home

눈 4

눈을 감고
with one’s eyes shut

세상 사람들의 눈이 두렵다/ I am afraid of the eyes of the people
Eyes that stare
Eyes like laser beams
Eyelashes that bat in whispers
Pupils pointing out the obvious:
외국인 / Foreigner

눈 5

눈을 크게 뜨고
with one’s eyes open

To lower one’s gaze is to lose one’s sight
Where tongues fail, eyes connect
Shared gazes in a shared humanity
Look!
Raise your eyes to meet the stares
Smile.
Say hello in local tongue

눈 6

눈부시다
dazzling, glaring, blinding

Glaring: My otherness
Dazzling: The warmth with which I’ve been welcomed, in light of blinding otherness

눈 7

바람에 날리는 눈
snowflakes that come riding on the wind

Each new fact, new Korean word, new custom I learn is a snowflake
A small crystallization, distinct in form
refracting light in a flurry of culture
It is a particle of water, singular in form
but of the same water that spans its ancient history

It melts on my tongue
I cannot hold its shape
Can only wait for it to snow again

눈 8

눈이 그대로 있다
The snow is staying

Words crystallizing on a frozen tongue
Sticking as the ground beneath my feet feels
harder, more stable
눈에 덮인/ snow-covered
Language and culture falling
blanketing, like a dazzling mound of snow

눈 9

첫눈 // 첫눈에 반하다
the first snowfall // love at first sight

It was warm November when I looked up the road to Halla mountain
And in the distance saw the first snow-capped peaks
Snow with origins in the sea to my back
And I laughed in delight
눈 깜짝할 사이에/ in the twinkling of an eye
falling in love with this place all over again

눈 10

눈뜨다
to be awakened

To know I’ll never fully understand
To know I understand more than when I first arrived
That, in truth, I’ve never understood more
about the illusion of difference,
that our eyes have seen the same things:
Visions of pride and pain
Visions of heartache and love
Visions of people lost in a blinding blink of snow

* 눈 (pronounced “noon”) means both “snow” and “eyes” in Korean.

________

Kristen Bialik is a 2012-2014 ETA at Seogwipo High School in Seogwipo, Jeju.