my mouth is full of words i don’t know by Monica Kim

like godingeo. full fish without the head, bones
still poking through flesh. americans like their fish
cleaned, served in bite-sized pieces you can pop
easily in your mouth, melting on your tongue and
swallowing with ease. we like the challenge
of the game: tongue working around a bone
the size of a hangnail, spitting it out onto
the plate, lifting a skeleton of bones with our hands
from the entire fish, making our own nonuniform
pieces with our chopsticks. what is godingeo
in english? i’ve never had to say it out loud
before.

before, i knew what this banchan was
in korean. now when my friend asks what
i ate for dinner the name sits on the tip of my tongue
but melts away before i can even recall
the letter in hangul. i don’t know the name
in english. americans don’t eat this type
of side dish, thin chewy strips of some squid
covered in a spicy sticky red sauce that coats
your tongue with tiny pinpricks. i can describe
it in english but i don’t know what
it is in either language.

when i eat i never ask what i’m eating. some dishes
i know, some i don’t. my mind can recall
the color and the texture and the smell and
everything else except the name. recognition
of food in my mouth but my tongue
unable to speak its name.

 

Monica Kim is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English. She is published in Stirring, and has an upcoming chapbook titled “An abridged medical family history & multiverse of selves” as well as a poem from the chapbook in the Michigan Quarterly Review.

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