Emily Jungmin Yoon

From An Ordinary Misfortune



The trouble with trees is that their bodies and limbs are too capable, capable of burning, of living,

capable of leaves, of leaving, charcoal, ash, and we think we have power. Capable, 1561, from

Late Latin capabilis “receptive,” Unit 731 of the Japanese Empire inject us with monkey blood,

our limbs are not receptive, Capable, used by theologians, from Latin, capax “able to hold

much,” our living bodies and extracted children, not holding, not Capable, capere “to take, grasp, 

layhold, catch, undertake, be large enough for, comprehend,” how to take, how to grasp,

comprehend, our limbs catch fire, taken, our bodies not large enough, Capable, Sanskrit kapati 

“two handfuls,” two handfuls of intestines, are they Capable, Greek kaptein “to swallow, gulp

down,” pills, gas, what more, Capable, Lettish kampiu “seize,” our limber bodies, carve our

bodies, our eyes unseized by their sockets, Capable, limbs, capable of burning, of ash, charcoal,

Capable, Old Irish cacht “servant-girl,” her fallopian tube, cut, living, not Capable, of living,

leaving, Welsh caeth “captive, slave,” Capable, our names, maruta, from Japanese, “logs.”






Hunting ground with knife-ghosts. Clubbed raw. My body, ground down. You’d think a former

comfort woman would hate the Japanese. I don’t. I hate men and I hate sex. I hate the sight of

my son-in-law, who lives in this house. I’ve been living a robbed house. My room became unfit

for children. How could I put a child in a haunted place. Nothing can grow in this blubber and

blood. My husband found lovers somewhere else. I found my daughters somewhere else. I love

them with the longing of a house no one occupies. They sometimes put their hands on its

creaking walls and say What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Every door is closed. 70 years and no one

knows. No one who knows my past is alive. Girls at the comfort stations, we were all children








News reports that in the Philippines, more Koreans than locals are killed. Because of the

gangs. Because Filipinos think Koreans are rich. Because Filipino laborers return from

Korea with a bad taste in their mouths. More Korean Desks in the police for the safety of

our people. In other news, Korea leads in: tourists, businessmen, students looking for a

guiltless fuck, guiltless departure, saying, these Filipinas, these children can’t find me.

Nothing but a bad taste in their mouths. Nothing but an emptied desk. In other news, two

boys file a suit against their Korean father. Say, were you not in the Philippines with us

for 7 years? Say, won’t you take a DNA test? Do the same men read about comfort

women and rage with all of us, keep bibles in their desks and preach, violence begets

violence? Curse aloud, damn Filipinos taking Korean lives? The boys win the suit. Their

father says, this will break up my family.


EMILY JUNGMIN YOON  is a Korean-Canadian poet and translator. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Journal, The Offing, Catch & Release, Best of the Net 2014, and elsewhere. She is the 2015 winner of Ploughshares‘ Emerging Writer’s Contest and AWP’s WC&C Scholarship Competition. She received her MFA at New York University, where she was a Starworks Fellow and the Award Editor of the Washington Square Review. She is currently a PhD candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago and serves as the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the literary magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. http://emily-yoon-poetry.tumblr.com/