Joseph Han was born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in wildness, Entropy, AAWW’s The Margins, The Feminist Wire, and Bamboo Ridge Press. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English at the University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa, where he teaches creative writing and composition. joseph-han.com. @hanjoseph.
Getty Images: War Orphans
The war orphan sits on a bed in oversized fatigues
remembering the bitter taste of Hershey’s.
A group of children place their hands on
the shoulders of other children in front
of them, a safety measure so not one
gets lost. A girl stands in rubble carrying a baby
in a sling on her back, his heavy head leaning
to the left. War orphan Al, the mascot of a US Army
Signal Corps Unit, prepares to kick a football
held by a former Green Bay Packer. A boy crouches
in a rice sack-made-blanket, made-clothing,
as his nuna wipes his face with a clean towel.
A homeless brother and sister search discarded
empty cans for food while trying to keep warm
beside a small fire in the railroad yards.
They wince when the camera shutters, thinking
I’ve never seen a weapon like that before.
A century since the Korean War now stands this fourteen-foot wall of starphire glass completely separating Eternal Pyongyang and New Seoul. Stare in one spot, and if the time of day is right, you can imagine that it’s not even there. The wall used to be covered in smudges, handprints that looked like the skin of ghosts in moonlight. Then there were cheeks against glass and lips breaking into breath. Messages written backwards, sometimes in mud made from mixing dirt and spit in the palette of your hand. If you looked closely, you could see wrinkles from palms and mistake them for scratches on glass because that’s how hard citizens from Eternal Pyongyang and New Seoul have been pressing, as if they could push right through. The posters and signs never stayed up since tape always loses stick. Below hands over hands, sometimes you could have found a child’s fingertips. Now you can see, the wall is cleaner than ever. Before you leave, I ask you: confront the glass. Reflect. Do you see a face on the other side? Is it your mother, father? Your sister and brother? Pretend you are them on the other side. Walk away. They keep watching as you turn your back. Now do you see? Two houses share the same window that does not open. Our hands have always known this: it takes so many knocks to make any obstruction into a door worth opening.