On our long walk from my Manchurian birthplace
to our South Korean village,
when home became more than
a story my father told,
I borrowed a rich man’s
pleasure left propped against a red pine.
Ten years old, I was almost
a man. Scavenging breakfast while our parents
scouted the night’s shelter, my sister and I
spied it. Shiny metal and black wheels,
it beckoned us to steal
a thrill through Pyongyang streets,
speeding with feet in air.
I imagined bragging to cousins, envy burning
their eyes. Still I motioned to my older
sister to take her turn first. She
flushed and murmured, No one will
marry a girl, Father says, who
opens her skirt so easily.
Puzzled, I knew not to ask my elders why.
Maybe her skirt will tear, I shrugged.
She glanced both ways and gestured
towards an alley. Then excitement clambered
over us as I gripped the handles, straddled the
wobbling side to side, grasping and
shifting for balance. I touched the central bar
and pedaled into the alley.
Suddenly I sped ahead, heard the chain whirring,
saw the vendor stands blurred into buildings.
Sister clasped her hands over mouth, eyes
aglow. Air rushed past my body wheeling free til
she yelled--I crashed into a cabbage
vendor, his green leaves flying,
my body tumbling down on his, too stunned
to cry. She leapt beside me and yanked
me up. Brother, run before Father finds out.
Riding a Bicycle in North Korea,
by Mary Chi-Whi Kim
Limping fast, I watched her race the bike
on foot back to the pine. A handful of skirt
she rubbed over metal, wiping my sweat.
A pine branch she swatted to dust the wheels
then my clothes when I stood beside her. She
swatted my head. Then I
swatted her. We laughed and laughed
as red pine leaves fell around us,
the sun climbing the April sky.
Now the weight of eighty years grinds
my knees when I climb the stairs, I’m almost
old. Every April, I touch my right knee,
hold the ache the bike ride left, the one
Bo Ok would have taken
if she’d been born
a boy like me. In my dreams, her
skirt blossoms above the seat, her back
straight, her braid black
as the wheels spin her
away from me. I am straining to hear
her laughter, to see
her silhouette dimming in the distance.
Wait for me, my sister—it’s
my turn next.
About the Author: Mary Chi-Whi
Kim has published in The New York Times Magazine
and various literary journals and won two poem commissions
from The Ohio State University Multicultural Center. Her
poetry chapbook, Silken Purse was published by
Pudding House Press, and her multi-genre book, Karma
Suture, garnered an Honorable Mention in the 2007
Writers’ Digest International Self-Published Books Contest.
Currently she teaches writing at Savannah College of Art and