‘I wasn’t dreaming of freedom…. I didn’t even know what it meant to be free.’ –Yeonmi Park, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom
Perhaps it was Titanic or Pretty Woman,
when words like love entered my lexicon.
Blame my father for selling cigarettes
during droughts, during unending famine,
not starvation-bodies, floating carrion for export.
I blame you, Incorruptible, for abducting me
at birth, eavesdropping on my thoughts
as though they were your own.
I buried him on a mountain without tears,
for a whisper can be heard by the birds and the mice.
My mother, stronger than any songbun
—even yours, Commander—
was raped in my stead by our conspirators
who freed us into China and prostitution.
Does it matter if we crossed three mountains or none?
Only the stars were with us as we fled, the stars
and a broken compass through a cold desert.
Does it matter if I prefer suicide to repatriation?
Although forbidden, I own
strange though it is to be master of myself.
Dear Leader, I understand juche better than you.
(Juche is the official political ideology of North Korea; in part, the ideal of ‘self-reliance’. Songbun is the North Korean caste system.)
Paula Persoleo is a 2011 graduate of Stony Brook’s MFA program in Southampton, New York. Recent work that has been published includes ‘New Speedway Boogie’ in Philadelphia Stories (2017) and ‘Then She Was Forever’ in Into the Void (2018). She is an adjunct at the University of Delaware and lives in Delaware with her husband.