Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sijo

The other day, I was talking with my students in my Koreans in the United States class about how memories can be stored in tastes.  A couple weekends ago, Amul bought dried papaya for a picnic on the Bay with friends, and I was reminiscing about how dried papaya tastes like my childhood.  My mom, wanting to be the good, healthy parent, didn’t give me processed sugar until I was probably in grade school.  So “candy” for me as a child was dried papaya spears from the Harvest Health health food store.  I actually remember calling it candy as a child, which was a closer approximation than the “cookies” my mom tried offering me (the heel slice from a loaf of bread—I was inconsolably disappointed), and carrying a bright orange spear of papaya around at one of the cottages we rented in the summer in Northern Michigan.

After talking about fruit and memories and childhood, I introduced my students to the sijo poetry form.  Often likened to the Japanese haiku, this traditional Korean poetry form relies on a certain syllabic cadence, turns of phrase, and clever endings.  I had them write their own sijos, and still caught up in the flavor of childhood, I wrote my own along with them.

A sliver of dried papaya, burnished orange of summer sunsets.
"Nature’s candy,” my mother called it, fingers crossed behind her back.
Sugar crystals melt on my tongue like the sweetness of childhood.