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The Sun and Moon Began with a Mother Working

by Su Cho

A torso tumbles down a hill and a tiger waits with unhinged jaws, still
hungry after eating the woman’s rice cakes, arms, and legs. The rice
cake saved after working at the rich man’s house, how she offered her
arms, then her left leg to the tiger so she could hop back to her children
on the remaining leg. After eating the mother, the tiger saunters to her
children for more. Brother and sister pray to the gods for a rope to carry
them off the tree they scurried up, the sesame oil poured down a useless
deterrent against the tiger. The tiger chops down the tree with an axe.
The sky drops an iron chain so the siblings climb, laughing at the
tiger. But even heaven needs to keep them busy, so the sister becomes
the sun and brother the moon. Not because a girl shines bright but to
preserve her modesty, the rays blinding anyone who stares at her a little
too long—

Tigers, rice cakes, mothers, and gore are all details I can't help but forget when I try to remember the stories of my childhood. When my parents immigrated to the US, they bought a lot of books for me, all in Korean. Apparently I could recite Korean folktales verbatim at a young age and loved doing it—or so that's what my mom says. So when I think about my relationship with language, the way Korean is mostly a private language between me and my parents, these stories come to mind. I'm fascinated by the difference between the story itself and my memory of the story. The mothers are always working, always gone, and never felt like the center. So this poem was a way for me to remember the acts of love easily forgotten—like the way my parents shipped over bookcases of Korean books, a big box of Korean kids' programming, all so I wouldn't forget, so I would remember even a little.

Su Cho received her MA in English literature and MFA in poetry from Indiana University. She currently serves as editor-in-chief of Cream City Review. Her poems are forthcoming and/or found in POETRY, New England Review, Gulf Coast, Colorado Review, Cincinnati Review, Pleiades, The Journal, Crab Orchard Review, BOAAT, Thrush Poetry Review, PANK, Sugared Water, and elsewhere. Cho is pursuing a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she is an Advanced Opportunity Fellow.